What’s your relationship with your mp3 player like? If you’re anything like my iPod Touch and me, you’re pretty close. My mp3 player comes with me nearly everywhere – on commutes to work; on short, long, and medium length walks; down to pick up my mail; as I’m writing this blog post. But, with around 2 years together (and several other mp3 players before it), I’ve come to realize one thing: I’m getting a little sick of just listening to music on it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love music. I’ve got a soundtrack that accompanies me everywhere I go in my head, so actually having one that accompanies me wherever I go is highly appealing. But, sometimes you’re just not in the mood for a tune, but don’t necessarily want to sit in solemn silence (on a dull dark dock), or take a walk and listen to cars pass by the entire time. And while most mp3 players have additional functionality like video, games, news, internet access, and so on, you don’t always have a reliable WiFi connection when traveling, and you don’t always have the ability to be staring at the screen. So I started thinking, what else can I do with my player?
In my search, I’ve seen a few solutions: I could blend it; I could wear it as a hat; I could use it as a paperweight. But, none of these solutions were really quite what I had in mind (and I’m pretty sure my Touch would win in a contest with my really cheap blender). That’s when I came across a solution from the golden age of audio: Radio.
No, not radio as in FM transmitter and “Morning Zoo” DJs. Radio, as in radio dramas and plays. And, no, not audio books (that’s another post); most are not really the same caliber as a good radio play can be.
So what is a radio play? The example that most people would be familiar with is Orson Welle’s classic The War of the Worlds,” from 1938 (the one that convinced a good portion of the US that there was a Martian invasion going on). The thing to keep in mind is that this particular form of drama was going on since the 1920′s, and continued well into the 1950′s and 1960′s (although it pretty much stopped there in the US, once television proliferated), so there’s a good library of work out there – at least the stuff that’s survived. Outside the US, you can still find these types of broadcasts being actively produced regularly, especially by groups like the BBC. And, of course, the internet has its own radio play producers of varying quality and quantity, putting out productions usually as podcasts.
Factoring this into your own mp3 listening time can be both simple and tough. Some older radio shows are lost to time with the recordings either being overwritten or too low quality to be used. Newer shows can be streaming only – which is tough if your mp3 player doesn’t have constant internet access (these are the ones you listen to in coffee shops/restaurants with free WiFi). The other difficulty is that these shows can vary in length from 10 minutes all the up to 2-3 hours; you want to make sure you have a little bit of time to listen once you get started on one, since interrupting mid-stream can be a little frustrating.
There are a few places that I’ve run across where you can easily download older radio broadcasts, probably the best being the Old Time Radio section of the Internet Archive which have a plethora of shows that range from Comedy to Horror, Science Fiction to Non-Fiction, most of which you can download and then load directly onto your mp3 player to listen to later. For those with a little more time on their hands, there’s also (like there is for almost any topic) a wiki (aptly enough, Audio-Drama.com) that organizes links to sites that host either archives of audio dramas, or currently produced ones. Because this is a wiki, the quality of the shows can vary from either very good, to pretty horrible – so listener beware. The BBC website also has podcasts available for download, many of which fall into the category of radio play, but since most of their selections for these are streaming only (or broadcast only), the options on this front aren’t huge.
So, while music still makes up the majority of my listening, I’ve started to find myself using my iPod more and more by mixing it up with a few radio plays (currently, I’m making my way through the Science Fiction series “X-Minus One”). If you’ve got a favorite series (new or old), or another unique way you use your mp3 player, let me know in the comments section.