Downloading Great Audio
By Eric M. Jones
I WAS BORN LONG ENOUGH AGO to have owned a crystal radio. It had a cat’s whisker touched to facets of a real Galena crystal melted into a slug of lead. A long antenna and some surplus B-17 headphones carried me to distant places.
When I was a teen, I had an old radio that I used to listen to late-night talk radio and the occasional Pirates baseball game. Over the years I have kept the habit, and enjoy it, but am not compulsive about it. I fall asleep in thirty seconds whether or not I have a bedside radio.
I have always enjoyed radio dramas since I began listening to them on my grandmother’s huge cabinet-sized radio filled with glowing-filament vacuum tubes. Warm bass on that big wooden Philco.
But alas, most of the radio shows and dramas went to TV land or perished. Still there were some. PBS ran several series, like the 1982 ZBS radio drama “Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe.” But alas, the first episode was great, then they lost their way entirely.
A few years ago I got an Asus Air Tabletop Internet Radio with lots of connectivity, auxiliary line-in, and remote control. Amazing! Ten thousand stations, crystal clear reception. But, alas, Asus didn’t keep up the software and firmware updates, so the thing has become very difficult to operate.
One of my early explorations of the cyberspace ether with this Internet machine was Antioch Radio ... the Antioch Broadcasting Network. ABN broadcasts the collected old-time radio plays from the 1920s through the early 1960s. All the old favorites before TV became King-of-the-Airwaves: comedies, detective shows, spy stories, adventures, westerns, and most important to me ... science fiction. I gobbled up shows like “2000 Plus,” “Beyond Tomorrow,” “Exploring Tomorrow,” “Dimension X,” “Space Patrol,” “Tales of Tomorrow,” “X Minus One.” ABN says they have 243 science fiction shows to air.
Now, truth be told, I like these radio plays so much that, upon hearing the intro, or just a minute into it, a wave of dopamine sloshes over my brain and I am gone. The next thing I know it’s daylight.
There is a big difference between radio plays, which are lavishly produced presentations complete with sound effects, and audio books where there might be nothing more than a single person reading the printed words. Sometimes the person reading the book is a little unqualified as these are often strictly volunteer efforts.
So the Asus Air became an occasionally operable pain-in-the-butt. Besides, I had heard every one of the Antioch science fiction offerings twice (I think). But I could still use the Asus as an audio player via its line input. What to do ...?
I purchased an eight-disc copy of a reading of Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” on Amazon and downloaded it to my iPod. This kept me happy for a couple years, because it is a seven-hour-plus tale. I prefer the radio drama versions, but the book reading was fine. There are a number of free downloadable versions, mostly rippable from YouTube.
My iPod finally needed a new hard-drive, so I replaced it. Soon it needed a new battery, so I replaced it. Soon it needed a new earphone line connector, so I replaced it. My cat chewed through the line connecting the iPod to the radio, and he chewed through three more. Soon it needed a new case, so I swapped a bunch of parts and sold the device with the scratched case and a bunch of problems on Ebay for parts. Did I mention the charger failed? So I fixed it. Like old VWs, if you rebuild your iPod often enough, you will eventually have enough parts to assemble another of them.
All this repair work demanded another iPod which I found on ShopGoodwill.com for a few bucks. Early iPods, of course, had their own proprietary file types, whereas most audiobooks use MP3. But everything is interchangeable and newer iPods will do most formats.
Many audio book and radio plays are offered for sale. I find it is very convenient to download from the Internet or from CDs the complete works to my iPod, which then plugs into my Internet radio which is good for nothing else.
On a whim, I bought a used Cowon A2, an elegant, slick, Japanese audio recorder-player with some very neat features and a seamless interface. Of course it needed a battery, and then needed new unavailable software and a new hard drive. Too bad, because it was too-nice-a-device to be obsolete.
I recently decided that I had to rise to the 2010-technology level at least, and bought a Sony Walkman NW A35 (B) with 16 GB and what-the-hell-I’m-crazy, threw in another 128 GB. So now I have a bedside Sony Walkman with enough power (144 GB!) to play all the science fiction that I could possibly download.
So why not just use my smartphone? It’s a good solution for many. Battery life is not as long. Useful life is probably not as long. Storage is probably not as great. And I only use my smartphone while traveling. It usually sits in a pile of chargers and cords on the kitchen counter.
Where is the free science fiction audio stuff, then? YouTube has most of the content on the Internet worth seeing or listening to. Of course, YouTube has tons of video, and some of this works better as strictly audio. There are free programs that download the video files and strip off the audio for you to use. I like Peggo.
A caveat: many of these early radio plays are of poor quality. A preview before committing to storage is a good idea. Listeners have their own standards. Mine require at least telephone-quality audio.
Another great compilation of 431 downloadable free science fiction audiobooks is found at a Librivox.com. Many of these are collections of short stories. Many are by famous authors. Why these are free is hard to fathom, but a donation to Librivox is always welcome to keep your karma balanced.
If I have to be hospitalized for an extended time, I’ll surely take this little audio player with me stuffed with hundreds of audiobooks and dramatizations.
But I still have the same problem:
... They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian ...
A word on copyrights: many works of science fiction are copyright free, usually because nobody renewed the rights. Many works of any variety can be used if they are copyright free in another English-speaking country. Australia, for example. The Internet makes everything accessible, but not necessarily free.
You can get into trouble if you try to make money off someone else’s creative works. But for your own use, there is no real issue. Enjoy.
Where to Download
Mindwebs offers approximately 153 classic science fiction stories. All can be downloaded as a 3.2 GB zip file.
Gizmo’s Freeware. 36 places for free science fiction and fantasy audiobooks online.
And here are 114 thrilling episodes of “Space Patrol.”
Eric M. Jones is the Associate Editor and co-founder of “Perihelion.” He is a design engineer, consultant, entrepreneur, and pilot, working in the experimental aircraft community, NASA, space transportation companies, and the ISS.