Griffin Technology’s much anticipated RadioShark is a USB-based radio that not only feeds audio into your Mac, but also allows you to time-shift, pause, and record live radio broadcasts—it’s essentially a TiVo for any local AM or FM radio station. If you’ve been waiting for the RadioShark, you’ll be happy to know that it works as advertised, though its software could use quite a bit of refinement.
The RadioShark combines a hardware radio receiver and a software application. The receiver is a 7-inch-tall, shark-fin-shaped device. When you plug the RadioShark into your USB port, three blue lights in the shape of gills or radio waves are faintly illuminated. On the back is the RadioShark’s white USB cable and a headphone jack that doubles as an external antenna plug.
In testing at the Macworld offices and a few Macworld staff members’ homes, we found the reception to be decent, though not quite as good as a quality radio’s. However, since radio reception is so variable, we can’t vouch for what the reception would be like at your home or office.
To be honest, the concept of a USB radio isn’t very interesting. What makes the RadioShark more intriguing is its included software.
The main RadioShark application’s interface is a metallic, iTunes-style window. A slider along the top lets you change frequencies, and a second slider lets you adjust the volume. Buttons allow you to switch bands and find the next strong signal. Most important, if you click on the Rec button, the RadioShark starts recording what you’re listening to. To schedule a recording for a particular station at a particular time, or to play back those recordings, click on the Sched button. Clicking on the TS button slides out a drawer, below the main window, containing “time-shifting” playback features that let you pause and rewind the live broadcast in case you need to step away from your Mac or want to listen to something a second time.
Scheduling a recording with RadioShark is fairly straightforward, though not as easy or elegant as it could be. For example, the application can display time in either 12-hour or 24-hour clock mode. You can toggle the AM and PM options in 12-hour mode, but to do so, you need to click on AM or PM. We barely noticed this because there are no check boxes or other tip-offs that denote these as changeable options. Despite the annoyances, I was able to schedule recordings rather easily.
You can schedule repeating recordings, too. Recordings can repeat hourly, daily, weekly, on weekdays, or on weekends. I do wish that repeating recordings could be set at other specific intervals, such as every half hour.
Once you’ve set a recording time, you can give your scheduled recording a name, choose which station RadioShark should record, and select what audio format you’d like to have your recording saved in. Right now, the only options are AIFF and AAC. With AAC, you can record at one of five different bit rates, from 64 to 320 Kbps, and at one of three different quality settings.
You can play back recorded items from within RadioShark’s scheduling window, but an easier way is to set the program’s preferences to automatically add your recordings to iTunes, in a special RadioShark playlist. The downside here is that final recordings are not labeled in a helpful way: our recordings of a radio show called Forum showed up as Forum 1, Forum 25, and so on.
RadioShark’s time-shifting features work as advertised. You can listen to music and then switch to news for 30 minutes—and still listen to what you missed on the music station when you switch back. The size of the recording buffer is completely configurable (as long as you have enough hard-drive space), and you can also configure just how many seconds to jump when you click on the Rewind and Forward buttons—a 15- or 30-second skip works great for ignoring ads.
RadioShark is actually two different applications: the interface application and a background application. That means you can quit the RadioShark program and it will still grab your scheduled recordings. However, you must leave your Mac on for this to work. And if you select the Accumulates When Closed preference, RadioShark will even continue to record the live-radio buffer while the app is closed.
People who were excited by last year’s RadioShark announcement, take note: at the time, Griffin claimed that the product could record Internet radio, but that feature didn’t actually make it into the final, shipping version.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The RadioShark is what it is—a USB radio that lets you time-shift and pause live radio, and record what you’re listening to. Its software could use more polish, but for NPR addicts, dittoheads, sports fiends, or anyone else who enjoys the cornucopia of options on the airwaves, the RadioShark delivers the goods.
Tune In: RadioShark lets you listen to any local radio station, as well as pause and rewind it.
On Schedule: With some minor irritations, you can schedule recordings of your favorite radio shows.