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Review: USB device lets you listen to worldwide radio

2:45 PM Wed, Jul 22, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
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It’s all but impossible to get good radio reception in an office building. Steel, metal and concrete conspire to do everything they can to seal your receiver off from AM and FM radio waves.

So if you’re consigned to a cubicle for eight hours every day, it can be difficult to keep up with your favorite news, sports or music.

Hundreds of enlightened radio stations, understanding this listener dilemma, are sending out their audio signals on the Internet so that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection (anywhere in the world) can tune in.

The problem is that broadcast radio stations have a fixed frequency; tune in to 104.1 FM in Dallas and you can listen to the sports talk station KTCK. Unfortunately, there is no consistent naming convention for online radio stations; heck, there are even a variety of “streaming” audio formats that can be used.

Can anyone help simplify and streamline the reception of online radio?

Aluratek’s USB Internet Radio Jukebox comes to the rescue in the familiar form factor of a flash drive that can hang on your keychain.

Plug it in to a Windows computer (Windows 2000, XP and Vista are supported), and within a minute you can be listening to your favorite stations.

Inside the USB Internet Radio Jukebox is a software player that links to a database of more than 13,000 radio stations in over 150 countries. The simple interface lets you browse the “Top 10” stations by genre, and with more than 65 choices — including tango, techno and trance — you’re sure to find something of interest. “Happy” and “sad” icons give you a reading on how satisfactory other users have found each station’s online service and reliability.

The Aluratek player also lets you search for a favorite station. I was able to track down local stations WBAP and KRLD in seconds, but it failed to find KLIF (even though its sister station, The Ticket, is in the database).

The player window does offer a handy function to request that a missing station be added.

There are some thoughtful touches to the Aluratek player. In the same way your car radio lets you assign buttons to your favorite stations, the USB Internet Radio Jukebox lets you preset your most listened-to channels as “My Favorites.”

I set up the player on my Windows XP notebook computer, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the station I was last listening to began playing back automatically when I plugged the Aluratek device into my desktop PC at work.

The Aluratek does not install any software on the host computer, so it should be especially useful for users at work who have limited privileges, but I have read some reviews from consumers who have had problems getting it to work on XP and Vista computers. I was going to test it on a Vista machine, but that computer crashed before I could give it a try (and that is a story for another day!).

The Aluratek USB Internet Radio Jukebox carries a list price of $40, which I think is a bit steep. However, I had no trouble tracking down the product for less than half that price from online merchants like Amazon and Buy.com. Users who left comments seem generally satisfied.

There’s no real magic to the Aluratek device; you can locate most of the stations in its database on your own and listen to them if you have the correct player. But it’s hard to top the variety of content from the U.S. and around the world. And there is no subscription involved because you’re accessing freely-available audio streams.

So as I listen to WGRV, an upbeat smooth jazz station broadcasting from Melbourne, Fla., give some consideration to a software product that simplifies the often-confusing task of tuning in online.

E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com

Blog: WFAA.com Computer Corner Blog



6 Comments

I am a little disappointed you are promoting listening to internet radio at the office, and also bringing in personal usb devices. Aside from the security threats from bringing in usb drives into work. Using corporate bandwidth to listen to the radio can become quite expensive.

Why not see if an IT department will allow a user to purchase a radio shark or similar am/fm device, and install it? It allows time shifting (a-la-tivo) but only uses bandwidth to download the song information.

Either that, or get an iPod or some other device and listen to music that way.

For the record, I do not approve of my readers doing anything that conflicts with the established policies of their workplace. Audio streams are typically very modest in their bandwidth demands, and — as pointed out in the article — the Aluratek device does not install any software on the host computer. The problem with a device like the RadioShark is that it relies on off-the-air reception, which can be difficult in many office environments.

Chris P. you’ve been working in an office too long. The I.T. dept doesn’t own people although its clear you are afraid of them. Not everybody is in an environment where the I.T. department cares you are listening to internet radio or not. Secondly it’s not an issue for the product reviewer to worry about your corporate I.T. department.

Just go to www.pandora.com on the Internet. It’s free. You can create as many ‘channels’ of different types of music as you like– Willie Nelson, Bach, Radiohead, whomever. Switch among them during the day. There are no commercials or radio BS. Check it out, enjoy! (I have no connection with the company.)

Chris P you are on crack. You jump all over a usb device yet recommend bringing in an ipod (otherwise known as a mass storage device)? If an IT department doesnt want you to bring in a usb device they will just turn off all your usb ports like I do in my corporate envrioment. Streaming is handled on the firewall level. L2Administrate!

One thing this article (and comments so far) shows is that most companies have this desire to micro manage their employees. Being retired I no longer have to worry about this, but when I was working, and when wirless mouses became available, I brought one into work. They had fits over it. They said “they will decide what workers can use”. The same story when I tried to bring in wireless headset, or a more comfortable chair at my expense. No way are they going to allow you to be comfortable even if you pay for it.


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