Putting The BBC In Seattle


Among great British traditions, there’s tea, knowing how to lose an empire, tea, Parliament, big ben, tea, incalculable wit, Parliament, big ben, tea, and BBC radio. While Britons in foreign lands may not be able receive BBC radio over the airwaves, there is the remarkable BBC iPlayer that allows online streaming of all those awesome BBC radio stations. Unfortunately, moving away from the Prime Meridian means the BBC radio schedule deviates from the schedule ordained by divine right. In Seattle, for example, a Friday evening comedy would be broadcast in the middle of the afternoon. Basically, it’s like listening to  Prairie Home Companion on Saturday morning. It just feels wrong.

[Adam] came up with a clever solution to this problem. Yes, it’s really just a Raspberry Pi-powered web radio, but there’s a twist to this build: everything from BBC radio is buffered and time shifted. A program that airs at noon in London will now play on [Adam]’s radio at noon in Seattle.

The hardware portion of the build is an exceedingly British radio which [Adam] deftly modified to include an auxiliary input. The software portion of the build uses ffmpeg, mplayer, and a PHP script to stream the iPlayer audio to a file, wait 8 hours (or whatever the offset from GMT is), and start playing the audio.

In the end, the time shifted BBC radio works perfectly, and even caught the attention of a few people at BBC Radio 4. [Adam] was interviewed about his project, and was even able to listen to his interview several hours later.

57 thoughts on “Putting The BBC In Seattle

    1. Shame BBC Radio 4 is the absolute worst radio station known to man. (As judged by it;s aSHPM score (attempted self harms per minute while listening.)
      Give me KISS and Capital any day of the week.
      Infact timeshift it so KISS and Capital aren’t complete crap after 6pm…

        1. @EA (@E54607613): Over a decade ago, I was messing around with a PC TV card. The control software in Linux didn’t have a lower limit on frequency, so I went exploring the FM radio range. Somehow the TV card would pick up multiple radio stations simultaneously – resulting in a late-night mix of the shipping forecast and some phat jungle beats.

          I took a recording – I really wish I could find the file again. I think it’s on an old PC somewhere the other side of the Atlantic…

    1. Hey if your going full on, then don’t forget Trains, Under ground railways, suspension bridges and the vacume cleaner ^_^
      Great build, Listening to radio from the US is also kinda weird because of the time delay. But this is a great solution.

      1. Amusingly, the Radio-4-Matic is using a transatlantic SSH tunnel anyway – I found streaming was a bit more reliable, and gives AAC audio at 128kbit/s instead of 48kbit/s. (The latter is still surprisingly good quality, though – and the tunnelling is entirely optional.)

        A friend asked if my appearance on Radio 4 means the Beeb is giving implicit thumbs-up to such behaviour.

    1. I remember reading the the BBC were going to make the iPlayer content available worldwide at some point. I believe they were weighing up the options of the subscription based service against an advertising based one

    2. Agreed, it is a shame. Licensing issues :( A comparable example would be Hulu restricting content to the U.S. Hopefully with time these kind of virtual borders will be broken down!

      1. I guess that aside from the licensing issues, there’s also the whole thing about the British having to pay a ‘tv licence’ fee which funds the BBC. Regardless of whether you have a cable/satellite TV system with absolutely no interest in BBC offerings. So I guess some might argue that the Brits would be paying for the rest of the world to watch it.

          1. Well yes that’s true. But nonetheless, it’s still an example of a potential complaint that might arise if the BBC were to get the licensing issue sorted and then started allowing ‘foreign’ access to the iPlayer video streaming service. In the UK you only need to pay for a TV licence if you actually *have* a TV.

  1. The British Empire did not collapse, nor was it overthrown. It simply ran down. The U.S. could learn a lot from its cousins across the pond.

    @Brian perhaps you could have just found another duplicate article to post again, instead of this slur :)

      1. @Brian I have to a agree thou im sure it was meant without malice, you might just as easily have an article start with “Among great American traditions, there’s murder, knowing how to steal oil, murder, racism, whitehouse, murder, stupidity, 5 amendment, whitehouse, murder, and….” Stick to duplicating other sites articles if you cant write one of your own without generalising a race, culture, or otherwise. And as said above the British Empire was not lost, maybe one needs to go back to the history books….

        1. Merits proven. But agree, shame people like you would refuse to pay up. Thank god we have the license fee, or tax if you must. Trust me, taxation is generally a very good idea. Impossible for a Tory to compute I know, and I do smell a greedy Tory. Remember, profit almost always != quality and ‘The Mass Market’ lowest common denominator almost always != quality! love you ;)

          1. Again, why can’t the BBC stand on its own merits, and people who like BBC programing pay a subscription to support it, like newspapers, magazines, non-BBC radio stations, without mandating everyone to support it?

            Why must people be forced to support the BBC? Sounds undemocratic.

          2. It does stand on it’s merits.

            you need a TV to recieve live broadcast television, that’s all. you can still have a TV and watch box set documentaries etc.

            It’s a public service broadcast that’s paid for by the public that chose to be able to receive it.

            it doesn’t stand on it’s own in the same way that companies like BskyB don’t stand on their own, even if you chose to go with a different service from sky, and get VM cable in order to get an entertainment package to watch selected UKTV (an in ukstyle, ukg2-as was before it became dave and free) channels you need to order an entertainment pack and will fund bskyb/newsinternational etc even if you don’t watch those channels.

            in the UK if you want a TV, you are capable of receiving BBC and have to pay.
            if you want certain entertainment or certain documentary channels you buy a pack that includes bskyb channels and you pay bskyb for the privilege of being able to recieve them, even if you never watch them. (and then bskyb get paid by advertisers also). even if you only wanted the channels that were VM/Living/UKTV owned channels and would never watch sky…

            You see now?

          3. @Eddie,Listen very carefully… The BBC is NOT newspaper or a magazine. It is NOT sky, fox or itv. It is a uniquely democratic public service. In fact you can’t get any more democratic than a publicly funded (again, tax if you like, I don’t consider tax a dirty word, I’ve no problem with public taxes funding public services) service. It shouldn’t be competing in the market, there should be no market forces involved here. Its providing public broadcasts, often possibly not widely popular, possibly very niche programming… and that’s a very good thing. It’s worth the 30p or whatever a day for Radio 4 alone, never mind the 10 tv channels, countless radio and iplayer.

  2. > Basically, it’s like listening to Prairie Home Companion on Saturday morning. It just feels wrong.

    Oddly enough, that’s exactly what was broadcast on the BBC here in the uk at 8am on Saturday morning. Do I detect an infinite loop bug in the making?

    1. @ Hirudinea: Heh! Actually, I already though about integrating a Teasmade – possibly the only way to make this thing even more ridiculous. (The whole project was in part an elaborate, affectionate joke about how Radio 4 listeners Fear Any Kind Of Change to the schedules.)

      The radio mod itself is utterly minimalistic – cutting one wire and adding two more. It’s fully reversible in ten minutes or so. I initially had plans on doing a full-scale casemod, replacing the old electronics with modern stuff and cutting holes in the back for USB, ethernet and HDMI port extensions – but when I discovered how good the radio sounded and how easy it was to inject new audio, damaging it in any way just seemed cruel.

      So from the outside, the only way you can tell it’s changed from the original is a wire for the Raspberry Pi’s power supply (to be merged with a power supply for the radio itself) and the faint flicker of activity LEDs visible through a grille at the back.

      Switch to VHF and you get real FM radio (tuned to NPR right now), while MW and SW give startlingly clear audio from the Raspberry Pi. LW also gets audio from the Pi, but it seems the radio passes it through some kind of low-pass filter, giving an authentic LW-style muffled sound. Bonus!

      1. Yea, I read your site, really nice. I just like the radio so I thought that a transmitter would have been more radio friendly, but your changes are about the most minimal you could get so I won’t complain to much. Now all you have to do is set a delay of about a month so you can listen to the Queen’s Speech again. :)

    1. yes, indeed 198 longwave has pretty good worldwide coverage of radio 4.
      it’s a shame that they changed it from 200 as that actually made a very good and completely free signal that could be used for providing ultra accurate timing in projects, (that was easily workable in the head)

      but the hack is about time shifting, not that he wasn’t able to receive R4

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