Pity the poor office-bound baseball fan. While America’s national pastime is being waged on fields from coast to coast, he or she is stuck in a stuffy office, deprived of the sights and sounds of the game, with only cold, stinting Internet score updates to keep them apprised of the action.
Or, more to the point, pity me.
A year ago at this time, I was working out of a home office with a television set equipped with
the Extra Innings cable package
within arm’s reach. Circumstances have changed so that I now commute to an office—which has its advantages, though unfettered access to the baseball games of my choosing is not among them. Frequent, furtive glances at the
Scoreboard widget on Dashboard
are helpful, but not really satisfying and certainly not conducive to my productivity.
This simply will not stand. So I’ve been looking for ways to make my office set-up a little more baseball friendly, using the tools—a PowerBook G4 and an iPod mini—that I happen to have at hand.
I could shell out the $15 for Major League Baseball’s
Gameday Audio package, which delivers streaming audio to your computer via Windows Media Player. However, my primary interest is in receiving and listening to games involving the
Oakland Athletics; since that team plays its home games a scant 20-minute train ride from my office, however, Gameday Audio broadcasts involving the A’s are “blacked out” in my area. (Even if Major League Baseball were to rethink its arcane blackout rules, I’d still hesitate about paying for that service. My admittedly limited experience with Gameday Audio has found the service to be pretty spotty, with dropped audio and frustrating experiences. Mac users can at least take comfort in the fact that this doesn’t appear to be a platform-specific issue—I’ve noticed these problems on a Windows machine as well.)
Instead of streaming audio, I’ve turned to broadcasting of the over-the-air variety, with the help of
Griffin Technology’s Radio Shark. The $70 AM/FM tuner plugs into a USB port on your Mac and lets you listen to local radio stations. The accompanying software, which runs on OS X 10.3 and later (as well as Windows) can record live broadcasts or a specific program airing at a later time. While listening, you can pause the broadcast for up to 10 minutes, which can come in handy if the A’s have loaded the bases just as you’re about to go into a quick meeting.
Radio Shark is really intended as a desk-bound option, but I’ve had some success using it on the go. When the A’s are on the East Coast, their games are reaching a critical juncture just as it’s time for my evening commute. What I’ve been doing is carrying the Radio Shark receiver with me to and from work—if the A’s happen to be playing while I’m on board the ferry that takes me to and from the office, I just fire up the PowerBook, plug in the Radio Shark receiver and my headphones and listen to the play-by-play. Reception is pretty good, though I occasionally have to reposition the transmitter as the ferry makes its way across the San Francisco Bay. (My attempts to pick up game broadcasts while riding on the BART train have been less successful, which I attribute to the fact that much of the commute involves underground tunnels and that the
A’s flagship station
on the AM band apparently beams its signal from a boat anchored in international waters off the coast of California.)
While more or less effective, this setup is not exactly optimal. To make my setup work, I need space on the ferry to set up a laptop and an AM/FM receiver. While lightweight, the fin-shaped Radio Shark receiver is not exactly tiny—it’s about seven inches (or two iPod minis) tall by my estimate, which does not make it an ideal travel companion. Plus, you start waving around a fin-shaped antenna on public transit these days, and people are bound to look at you kind of funny. And that doesn’t even address the problem that I can’t use the Radio Shark while walking from the office to the ferry depot—that’s a 15-minute period where I’m oblivious to the action on the field. And that’s 15 minutes too many if you ask me.
What I need is a portable device that fits easily in my pocket. Oh, if only Apple made such a wondrous product!
Of course, Apple does make a
portable media player
—you might have read something about it in the funny papers. What it doesn’t make, however, is an accessory that lets you dial in AM radio signals and listen to them on your iPod. FM signals, no problem—the
iPod Radio Remote
or any one of several third-party products will handle those just fine. But if you’re looking for an AM tuner that plugs into the iPod, let me save you some trouble and tell you there aren’t any.
And why is that? Heck if I know. But my colleague, Christopher Breen, who I would never go in against when questions about the iPod are on the line, tells me that it has do with the antenna. An FM tuner like the Radio Remote can have the headphone cable double as an antenna, whereas an AM model needs a dedicated antenna. And to date, no one has figured out to make one that would fit the iPod’s miniature design. (There’s also some sentiment on the Internet that the hard drive in a full-sized iPod might interfere with the AM signal.)
Of course, that just raises the question: Why
someone figured out how to make a workable antenna fit easily onto an iPod accessory? We live in an age where there are very smart people building very clever products. We’ve managed to create a palm-sized device that can store thousands of songs, display photos, even playback videos. And somehow, something that apparently seemed mastered during the era of transistor radios has been lost to our earth scientists? How did this happen?
I’d like to know if the ability to listen to baseball games on the AM dial via my iPod is just around the corner or some pie-in-the-sky fantasy I should resign myself to abandoning. We’re a month away from the All-Star Break—there’s still a lot of season left to get this one.