Morning Edition Stuck in My Head

Does it make me totally lame if I've got NPR’s Morning Edition theme song stuck in my head?

(I have a daily scheduled task which rips it to mp3 for me and I listen to it while I'm at the gym and while I walk from the parking garage to the office.)

Update, 2005-09-29: Just as a warning, don’t even think about reading that linked BBC News article if you’re especially susceptible to getting songs stuck in your head. Damn you, Henry Mancini!

E.J. Junior Senior Junior High

NPR has a weekly game show called “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” which they describe as “The Oddly Informative News Quiz” (and I’d say that’s a fairly apt description). There’re various panelists — P.J. O’Rourke, Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, and others — and either the host asks the panelists questions or listeners call in and the panelists ask listeners questions. It’s actually a lot of fun & mdash; a lot lighter than the usual NPR fare — and I’ve recently taken to ripping the episodes to mp3 to timeshift them.

One of their favorite games is “Bluff the Listener” where a listener calls in and hears a weird news story from three panelists. The catch is that two of the stories are fake and only one of them is real — and the user has to guess which. On last weekend’s show, they were playing a “best of” set of clips from years past. And, one clip in particular featured Roy Blount Jr and his telling of a news article about basketball player E.J. Junior (yes, his last name his “Junior”).

Spoilers below — including whether Blount’s story was the fake or real story that week.

Blount concocted a fabulous tale about how E.J. Junior had been named as father-of-the-year and a middle school was being named in his honor. Naturally, Junior’s son was also named “E.J.” and so the father was known as “E.J. Junior, Senior”. And, the middle school in question was a Junior High. I’m afraid that words alone can’t really do justice to Blount’s diction; however, as I already had the episode as a stand-alone mp3, I edited it down to just Blount’s pontification and uploaded this clip on the dedication of E.J. Junior Senior Junior High (1 min, 24 sec mp3).

Man, I must have listened to that clip a dozen times, but I laugh every time :). It’s too bad, though, the listener calls Blount “Ray” at the end (rather than “Roy”). D’oh!

PS Mad propz to Audacity, an open source sound editor (which is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux). I made use of it to trim the original 60:00 mp3 (the entire show) down to the (01:24) clip of Blount’s bit.

Ripping NPR to MP3 for an iPod

I bought an iPod Photo just before Thanksgiving and I’ve been enjoying it ever since. I bought it primarily for the gym and for traveling, and it’s worked well for both of those. However, I thought the sessions on the elliptical machine might be more fun with some news or a talk show to listen to.

I listen to NPR in the car anyway and have often wished that I could time shift their shows (a “TiVo for radio”, if you will). Of course, none of their shows are available in MP3 format (well, except for On The Media). I was aware that many NPR stations offered MP3 streams off their websites, but I still didn’t have a way to record and schedule recordings.

After some searching, I discovered Streamripper, a command line utility that records MP3 streams. I then found which lists the MP3 streams for hundreds of NPR stations. Putting those together, I’ve been able to record NPR as MP3s and, with some scheduling, grab individual shows for my iPod.. Here’re the steps which I went through, in case you wanted to try this on your own. I run this on my PC but this process may be adaptable to other platforms as well (in particular, I’m pretty sure Linux or FreeBSD could be made to work).

  1. First, download the latest version of Streamripper and extract the zip to a directory of your choice (I put mine in “C:\Program Files\Internet\Streamripper\”).

  2. Then, load up PublicRadioFan and set your time zone and, if you like, you can set some other preferences as well. But, be sure to set your time zone — if you don’t, none of this will work.

  3. After that, it’s time to start looking for programs which you’d like to record. So, head over to the Schedule Grid: Advanced Options page. Here’re the settings which I’d recommend:

    • What time? — choose the “starting at” radio button along with “6 hours”. Then, it’s just a matter of choosing a day and time which is kinda close to a program which you’d like to record. So, for Morning Edition, you could choose 5:00am; or, for Marketplace, you could try 2:00pm (keeping in mind that those represent 5:00-11:00am and 2:00-8:00pm, respectively).

    • What Stations? — you could leave this at the default or you may find that setting it to “USA” (assuming you live in the USA) may yield more relevant results (since Europe probably doesn’t have many NPR affiliate stations).

    • What audio formats? — since Streamripper can only grok mp3s, you should uncheck all of these except for “mp3”.

    • What programs? — feel free to narrow this down but “all programs” is probably fine to start; you can always narrow it down later if you end up with too many results.

    • Display format — I find that the “grid” is easiest to work with.

  4. After all that, click on “display listings” to get a list. Look through the programs to find one which you’d like to record and, once you’ve found one, right click on the lightning-bolt icon next to it (the Winamp logo) and choose “Save Link As” to save the link to your local drive. Yeah, this may seem a bit weird, but those links only point to a playlist and we need the URI for the actual mp3 stream.

  5. At this point, it may be helpful to open up a text editor to make a few notes. Anyhow, once you’ve downloaded the playlist file (which should have the extension “m3u”), open that file in another text editor window and copy the path in there to your “notes” text file. Then, going back to your web browser, make a note of these attributes from the show which you’d like to record:

    • Its name
    • Its starting time
    • The recording time, in seconds (which would be 60 x the time in minutes)
  6. Now it’s time to build the batch file (we’re almost there!). Open a third text editor window and enter these two lines:

    • C:\path\to\streamripper.exe -a D:\path\to\name-of-the-show.mp3 -s -l 7200 -o
    • del D:\path\to\*.cue

    Of course, the “\path\to\” bits represent your respective paths for streamripper and the path you’d like to use for the mp3 file. And, is the server which you extracted from the .m3u file earlier. The port “12200” is just hypothetical — use whichever port was listed in the m3u file (which may be a different number or there may be none at all). And, you'll also need to specify the time length to record (in seconds) which is the “7200” above.

    So, what’s the “del” statement in there? Well, “.cue” files are a meta-file which are created through the mp3 extraction process; but, they’re useless for our purposes. So, deleting them just makes for less hard drive clutter.

    And, if you’re curious, here’s what each of those parameters do:

    • -a: this records the mp3 to a single file. Without this, Streamripper may try to rip the show into several separate files (which could be useful if you’re ripping an Internet radio station, but not really for public radio).

    • -s: this prevents Steamripper from creating a directory for each stream. I find it easier to just sort the files on my own afterwards.
    • -l: as mentioned above, this specified the length of time to record, in seconds.

    • -o: this tells Streamripper to overwrite tracks in the destination directory. I find this handy since I only really want the most current episode of (say) Morning Edition at any given time.

  7. That’s it for the batch file, so just save it with a “.bat” filename, such as morning-edition.bat or marketplace.bat.

  8. Just two more steps left: scheduling (this one) and id3 tags (the next one). Now that you have a batch file set up, it’s just a matter of telling your OS to run that file at the program’s starting time. To do that, go to Control Panel -> Scheduled Tasks and choose Add Scheduled Task. You can probably figure out the scheduling from here — you choose the batch file which you just created and set it to run at the program’s start time.

  9. At this point, you’re all set to record mp3 streams from NPR but they’ll probably have weak (if any) id3 information in there (which is the data inside an mp3 file that describes the artist name and track number, among other things).

    So, after each time a file is downloaded (or at least just before you sync those files with your iPod), you’ll need to add its id3 information. For that, I prefer to use Mp3tag (which is free). And, here’s the naming scheme which I like to use:

    • Title: the show’s name, such as “Morning Edition”

    • Artist: “NPR”, which ensures that all my public radio mp3s are grouped together

    • Album: the date, in YYYY-MM-DD format. This way, after selecting the Genre and then Artist on my iPod, I can select a date and see all shows from that day.

    • Track: I generally choose a number the chronological sequence of the shows for that day, so that they’ll play back in the same order in my iPod. So, Morning Edition might be “01” followed by Day to Day (“02”) and Marketplace (“03”).

    • Genre: I’ve set all of my NPR recordings to “Public Radio” for the genre.

So, that’s how you can set up Streamripper to record MP3s from NPR. I know it may look like a lot of steps, but it's not too hard once you get into it. And, if it doesn’t record what you’re expecting, you may find it helpful to try setting your recording time to five seconds or so (temporarily), and then running the batch file manually; that way, you can see whether it’s recording the right station or even whether it’s recording at all. Or, if you get stuck, leave a comment and I’ll try to help out.

More on Marketplace

Yesterday, I wrote about how I had written in to Marketplace about playing music during their midday report. At the time, I was apparently the only one who had written in about the topic, so yesterday’s segment was primarily a call for other listeners’ opinions.

And from the way Tess (the host) was ribbing David (the producer) yesterday, I figured that the music idea wouldn’t really have much of a chance. But, I wrote another short e-mail to them just to offer some encouragement in case they were still considering it.

I listened to the Marketplace Midday report today, as usual. They discussed the background music briefly but I think it’s been driven into the ground (no big deal, really). But, they did mention me by name on the show (around the 6:30 mark), including my call sign ;).

Marketplace Midday Report

In case you’re not aware, Marketplace is a business news show on NPR. It airs for me at 5:00 and 5:30pm CST, but those are Sirius Radio times, so it may air at slightly different times in your area.

In addition to their regular show, they also produce several mini-updates on business news throughout the day (a Morning Report, a Midday Report, and perhaps others). They’re each a couple minutes long, and NPR member stations generally air them between other shows.

I typically listen to all of them on the web, out of convenience if nothing else. Ideally, I’d listen to Marketplace on my way home from work, but that only works when I’m able to leave work at a reasonable time (there always seems to be just something that appears at 5:00pm, eh?).

Anyhow, during Friday’s Midday Report, producer David Brown asked listeners whether they’d like to hear some music in the background of the report and to write to (letters (at) about their opinions. I figured that a little music couldn’t hurt, so I sent off a short e-mail and thought little of it.

Well, during today’s Marketplace Midday Report, host Tess Vigeland was chiding David that they only received one letter about his idea for background music. At this point, I’m thinking “Nah, they must be kidding around. It was probably a few letters, at least…”.

Then, David breaks into “CQ DX CQ DX, we hear your request sir!” and Tess quips back, “What? What are you doing?”. David then explains that “the guy is a ham radio operator” and that CQ DX CQ DX is a request from one ham operator to another for a long-distance contact (in hamspeak, “CQ” is “I Seek You”, while “DX” stands for “distance”).

At that point, I knew that there really must have been just one letter and that they must have been talking about me ;). And, yeah, I am a licensed ham with my call sign (KB3BZG) in my sig.