Tech Talk: Tune in for next episode

The BBC's radio player lets you stream programmes to your phone, but only when you're online
The BBC's radio player lets you stream programmes to your phone, but only when you're online
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David Behrens listens out for radio downloader apps.

ONE of the many conveniences of the BBC’s iPlayer is that you can not only watch TV programmes beamed from the internet but also download them to a phone or computer, to access when you’re not online. But if it’s radio you prefer, you’re out of luck.

The corporation’s online radio player preceded its TV counterpart but development has fallen behind since. Today, there are dedicated BBC and third-party apps which stream live and recorded radio – but downloading programmes is out of the question. This means that listening on the train to work, for instance, when internet reception is patchy, is impossible. Even if you have a signal, the cost of streaming over your mobile network can be prohibitive.

The absence of a “download for later” option mattered less until recently, because a free PC program called Radio Downloader filled the gaps in the BBC’s service. It discovered and downloaded new episodes of your favourite shows automatically, then converted them to mobile-friendly MP3 files.

But Radio Downloader’s developer was forced to take the program offline when the BBC complained. The corporation says it will introduce a similar facility itself, but not until next year. So to bridge the gap, I’ve sought out some alternatives.

The easiest way to get radio programmes off the internet and on to your memory card is to play them on the iPlayer and record what you hear, the way you used to do with a cassette recorder. A number of programs, among them Free Sound Recorder and Wondershare Streaming Audio Recorder, will do this – but they do so in real time, which makes the process tedious. Search online for “audio stream recorders” – and try out the free versions.

A quicker method is to download an entire programme as a single file. This is what Radio Downloader did, but the BBC hides the relevant file name in acres of hieroglyphics. A program called HiDownload will sniff out the audio stream and fetch it to your hard disk almost instantly. It can then be converted from Flash format to MP3 and transferred manually to your phone. HiDownload is fiddly to use and costs around £10 – and may become redundant when the BBC starts its own service – but it does allow you to grab video as well as audio from pretty much any streaming site on the web.