pirate car radio! finally!
May 22, 2005 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Roadcasting is an idea bandied about for ages: create ad-hoc low power FM networks that let you share the mp3 music you're hearing in your car with those driving around you. It's basically a blueprint for shared pirate radio as you drive, surfing the dial for a variety of music from nearby motorists. They've got screenshots and source code and it looks just like the system imagined in Cory Doctorow's books. I can't wait to see where this project is headed. [via unmediated]
posted by mathowie (37 comments total)
Wow, this is really neat! Just like Cory Doctorow! Finally, not content to assault people with bowel spasming sound systems and mind debilitating levels of bass, your fellow motorists will actually be able to reach inside your car and use your own radio against you.

I am not in any way defending the existing system of radio, just that I always thought that it was nice that there was a system of free radio that, through the joys of government regulation, was able to offer consistent and sometimes even useful or interesting programming. Soon we should expect to be unable to pick up weather, traffic, and news reports because some jerkoff in the next lane is broadcasting Dead bootlegs in slow and go traffic and we are only on this stupid expressway because we didn't know there was construction and we didn't know there was construction because some other jerk was broadcasting a discussion of Star Trek history that interfered with the all news station that might have warned me about the goddamned construction.

Just kidding! This recent technological development is certain to make life more pleasant and to result with a net increase in overhall happiness.
posted by mokujin at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2005

Taxi! Follow that car! He's roadcasting the Smiths!
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:33 PM on May 22, 2005

Wait, this post is tangentally about Cory Doctorow. Shouldn't he be posting it himself, then?
posted by secret about box at 2:42 PM on May 22, 2005

this rocks.
even though I don't have a car anymore.
posted by Busithoth at 2:51 PM on May 22, 2005

Here's the iPod widget & advert to go with the idea. (actually, It's just a spec spot from a budding director, but it's a good one).
posted by dabitch at 2:53 PM on May 22, 2005

Pirate Radio Rules!

I want it to go Talk radio, too, so I can rant to those around me about politics, and to tell them to get the hell off the cell phone when they decide to cut me off!
posted by Balisong at 2:59 PM on May 22, 2005

Can someone explain to me why this is a good idea? I mean, I already keep the windows rolled up so that I don't have to listen to 50 Cent every time somebody passes me. Am I just Not Getting It?
posted by jokeefe at 3:18 PM on May 22, 2005

Seriously, interference with my normal radio stations is a bitch -- and illegal (beyond the usual copyright violation), right?
posted by NickDouglas at 3:20 PM on May 22, 2005

Am I just Not Getting It?

No, I don't get it either, but for different reasons.

The way I see it, you're going to have everyone wanting to be the DJ, an no one wanting to be the listener.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:26 PM on May 22, 2005

A low-tech version of this already exists.
posted by O9scar at 3:31 PM on May 22, 2005

I can't imagine being able to close enough to any particular car for long enough for even a whole song to play. Even on the highway I'm rarely next to the same car for a long period of time. If you make the FM broadcast much stronger than all the cars you can see around you, you're definitely going to be clogging up the airwaves.
posted by themadjuggler at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2005

If the FCC's stance on LPFM so far is any indication, forget about it.

Plus, anything powerful enough to really make this workable is illegal. LPFM licenses were offered awhile back, but most of those were taken up by the churches/Christian broadcasters. It was linked here, IIRC.

The way I see it, you're going to have everyone wanting to be the DJ, an no one wanting to be the listener.

It would seem so wouldn't it? But then, there's the whole podcasting thing going on...
posted by First Post at 3:39 PM on May 22, 2005

See, I wanted to snark about Cory Doctorow, but everyone beat me to it. I'm glad it's not just me -- weirdly, he seems to sell a few books here and there. mathowie is the second person I've ever heard of that read any of his books.
posted by blacklite at 3:52 PM on May 22, 2005

What's up with all this knee jerk techno phobia? Where on the site does it say that they will be broadcasting on commercial FM signals?

I assume that they will use some kind of wireless internet network, so it wouldn't actually be pirate radio, because it wouldn't be taking any illegal bandwidth. I don't really understand how they can claim to get up to a 30 mile radius, but the site is seriously lacking in technical details.

Seems like a good idea to me, though I think that when driving through the countryside I still might be forced to listening to Christian radio, or country...
posted by afu at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've done this with friends on roadtrip caravans with low wattage FM transmitters, usually on our way to art/music events out in the middle of nowhere where we're also planning on broadcasting the output of the main PA. It's a lot of fun to be able to share music between cars on long trips.

Yet another grand idea that someone else thought up first. (I'm certainly not saying I thought it up first, at all. The idea probably predates truckers singing over a CB or broadcasting commercial radio or prerecorded tapes back out over CB channels)

The thing about these microtransmitters is that they don't usually overpower commercial stations. Commercial stations run thousands or hundreds of thousands of watts in extremely well-tuned footprints. You really need to tune your microtransmitter to at least a mostly empty frequency.

It's much more likely that microtransmitters will interfere with college/public radio, as they're often at a few hundred watts or much less, with much smaller antennaes.
posted by loquacious at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2005

The way I see it, you're going to have everyone wanting to be the DJ, an no one wanting to be the listener.

Hmmmm. That doesn't worry me so much; DJs tend to be listeners too. And the web has a number of ways where we can all be both (see Audioscrobbler, for example). I just can't imagine how hearing passing fragments of two or three seconds of music can lead to anything other than a headache.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on May 22, 2005

Probable? No, not really. But imagine the theoretical ad-hoc social networks, barrelling down the road! Looks like we got ourselves a convoy...
posted by dammitjim at 3:58 PM on May 22, 2005

So let me get this straight -- people generally don't like Clear Channel and their nefarious ways, and they like to sample random music online, but for some odd reason the majority here think it's a bad idea?

And you're even going so far as to defend the sacred holders of radio frequencies, like Clear Channel?

I would much prefer random yahoo radio over what shows up in the commercial spectrum where I live. It's why I've been listening to mp3s for the past four years instead of radio.
posted by mathowie at 5:05 PM on May 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Commercial stations run thousands or hundreds of thousands of watts in extremely well-tuned footprints. You really need to tune your microtransmitter to at least a mostly empty frequency.

Thousands of watts, sure -- but thousands of feet away. It isn't how much energy you radiate, it's the voltage at the detector that counts.

A 1mW transmitter at 1 feet can put more power into the detector than a 10KW transmitter miles away. And, thanks to the Capture Effect., whoever wins wins completely. If it's a tie, the signal will jump back and forth.

Sure, your microwatt iPod adapter isn't going to cause much of a problem. But, you know, CB/11 Meter radio is limited to 4W AM, 12W SSB, and doesn't cause problems -- except for the large number of idiots running 100W+ AM, and splattering all over the high HF and lower VHF band.

(Those who think CB is dead? Think again. There's less problems now -- but that's because TV is mostly cable or digital satellite, not broadcast.)

There's a reason that FRS radios are so constrained, and why the FCC enforces the GMRS licenses more strictly. We tried this "broadcast to the people" before, and it turned into a frigging nightmare for responsible radio users (never mind TV watchers. The ARRL would have gone out of business if they tried to hand out all the WAN[1] awards that were quickly earned by CBers.)

So, I'm waiting for this to take off, and people to start wanting MORE! POWER! One bad exciter coupled to a 3W FM amp, and nobody within half a mile gets to listen to anything but that DJ.

Worse: look up what uses the RF spectrum just above FM Broadcast -- in particular, 108-118MHz. The only good news there is the FCC and the FAA will come down hard on anybody splattering across a VOR or an ILS locator.

The FCC has been very protective of the 88-108MHz spectrum, mostly because of commercial interests, but also because of what borders the band: TV 5-6 are just below, and Air Navigation is just above. Add to this the capture effect, and it's very easy for an FM pirate -- esp. a technically incompetent one -- to cause real problems, including life threatening ones.

[1] WAN: Worked All Neighbors. Not an award you want to win.

(Spell Checker Note: For "frigging", it suggests "rigging." Everybody sing!)

On preview: Yeah, I hate Clear Channel too, and I even live in a city with a radio station that doesn't suck. But there are real and compelling reasons for frequency allocations, and real reasons not to just blast your signal into the air whenever and wherever you want. For one thing, where do we stop? I want to broadcast on 88.1, you want to do the same, so does KDHX. Thanks to the capture effect, the biggest signal wins.

What if I want to listen to KDHX. Who are you to be broadcasting against them?
posted by eriko at 5:25 PM on May 22, 2005

So let me get this straight -- people generally don't like Clear Channel and their nefarious ways, and they like to sample random music online, but for some odd reason the majority here think it's a bad idea?

Well, as much as we hate Clear Channel and their minions, we still like the idea of radio. Disk jockeying is an art form, so while the idea of letting every tom, dick & harry play wolfman jack sounds good on paper, we're a little wary of how the results might turn out.
posted by jonmc at 5:31 PM on May 22, 2005

Okay, okay, I'm about to coin a phrase that will in all probability get me a book deal and launch my ailing and ancient weblog into A-list territory.


Same principal, applied on public transport. Why are we all applying this fabulous technology to cars, anyway? If you catch the bus, you could broadcast a signal to the other passengers! Wear a cap with iPod @ 88.3 embroidered on it. Invite your little nugget of humanity to tune into your tunes on their walkmans. (after all, I'm sure you can make a better choice in what they want to listen to than they can!) It's got one up on roadcasting already because it avoids the problem of flicking past stations as you pass a car, and most importantly, it encourages environmentall conscious transport.

Come to think of it - the "radio" stations they give you on planes are terrible. I think I'm about to invent planecasting as well...developing.
posted by Jimbob at 5:41 PM on May 22, 2005

Disk jockeying is an art form

Ha! I hate to say this, and to jonmc of all people, but that sounds like self-important hipster crap. DJing has been reduced to just a playlist now. iTunes on random is a pefectly capable DJ, and filtering my high rated songs makes it even better.

I borrow random CDs off friends and family and I'm sure random folks driving around would be just fine as well, not to mention all the filtering their mockups show (you can limit it to genre, quality, etc).

I love sampling music off audioscrobbler friends and all the random crap you used to find on Napster. I'm not necessarily sure if this roadcasting idea even uses the radio spectrum or if it uses 802.11, but either way, it sounds like a fun way to discover music on crowded roadways during the commute, and it's all commercial free (the other big reason I don't listen to radio anymore).
posted by mathowie at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ha! I hate to say this, and to jonmc of all people, but that sounds like self-important hipster crap. DJing has been reduced to just a playlist now.

Touche. But most of the music I hold dearest, I first heard on the radio. Sure, any dipshit can play you his favorite songs, but it takes a special combination of listening skills, sensitivity, and knowledge to create radio that draws you in and blows your mind open. In the hands of the greats (and countless other commercial and college DJ's whe names escape me), the broadcast booth is a powerful thing.

Now I'm not arguing in defense of Clear Channel hegemony, just saying that just like picking up a guitar don't make you Jimi Hendrix, merely spinning a few records dosen't make you my child hood role model.
posted by jonmc at 5:55 PM on May 22, 2005

I'm still wondering about the "a few passing seconds" problem someone mentioned. I've spent zero time in city traffic, so can someone tell me if that's where all the bumper-to-bumper takes place? Because I can't recall many times I've had to stick next to a car. And there's no way in hell I want people clogging the lanes because they're addicted to the hip-hop broadcasting from the Hummer in front of me.
posted by NickDouglas at 7:26 PM on May 22, 2005

This will do wonders for the Bang Bus.
posted by glider at 8:44 PM on May 22, 2005

after all, I'm sure you can make a better choice in what they want to listen to than they can

It's precisely this kind of arrogance that's going to doom the idea. Everyone thinks their taste is the best. What happens when you've got two iPod'ers broadcasting on the same bus? "Hey, man, this is a rare Beastie Boys cut!" "Screw that, man! This is a fabulous Miles Davis recording!"

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:56 PM on May 22, 2005

Since "The research and development arm of a major automaker commissioned us [roadcasting] to create a revolutionary application and service for the car that uses mobile ad-hoc networks for a release target of 2010" I highly doubt that they are designing this to pirate commercial frequencies.

If they could make it cheap and easy enough I could see it catching on. I could see radios having mp3 player or laptop adapters in the near future, all you would have to do is add the software and a wi fi antenna and you are set.
posted by afu at 9:47 PM on May 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

As a radio and club jock for many years I can assure you it's not "self important hipster crap".

DJing is one of those things that is easy to learn but difficult to truly master.

Real DJs tell a story with the songs they play. They pick things up and pull things back, feeling their audience, taking them on a journey. Cats like Larry Levan come to mind.

Now, sure, you're probably not gonna hear anyone like that on Clear Channel. Virtually no DJ chooses the music they get to play on commercial radio these days. But setting your iPod on random play does not in any way make you a superjock. It's about selection.
posted by First Post at 9:54 PM on May 22, 2005

(Hoping Civil_Disobedient detected that I was being sarcastic, but nonetheless congratulating him for identifying the arrogance implicit in this kind of broadcasting)
posted by Jimbob at 10:17 PM on May 22, 2005

Five-plus years ago, there were convoys from SoCal to LV for the defcon convention. They would have a low power FM broadcast and play music, etc for the long desert drive across the mojave. I dunno if they still do it.
posted by SirOmega at 10:21 PM on May 22, 2005

Ha! I hate to say this, and to jonmc of all people, but that sounds like self-important hipster crap. DJing has been reduced to just a playlist now.

Ha! For you hipster iPod toting dorkwads, maybe. Some of us still use turntables, CDs, or laptops to DJ and mash two old songs into a new one, live. No nets or nothin'. No editing in Garage band. Hell, I first learned to DJ on reel-to-reel and cassette decks with tiny little pitch knobs. Talk about killer lag.

I play with my music like a ninja plays with his foes and his food: Slicing and dicing, usually while it's still alive.

Most of my at-home music listening these days isn't even really listening. I'm makin' new shit as I see fit and loving it. I get bored and nervous just sitting and listening to any given stream - analog or digital.

I want to combine two or more streams and fiddle with them. I want to jam. I want to interact with my music. Almost all of the time - though I reserve the right to just listen when I want to. And I know I'm not alone.

Just building a playlist does not make you a DJ. Segueing and window-mixing between tracks doesn't make you a DJ. Making an entirely new song out of two old ones in realtime makes you a DJ. Sometimes.

Or, in the traditional sense, providing an experience and a set and setting for music makes you a DJ. Sometimes.

I'll concede that building good playlists is an art in itself. I do it myself. I've even programmed sets to sequentially play and walked away from the mixing booth at outdoor renegade parties just to go sit and listen with the daytime mellow happy people in the sun, and just to annoy the motherstuffing crap out of my promotor-slash-soundguy friend.

Yeah, everyone can be a DJ. By all means, please do, the more the merrier, and the more DJs there are, the more music and dancing. But learn some skills, willya?

Anyways, to tangent wildly: my main point being is that there's some truly, absolutely weird shit going on out there in the technofetishistic audiological world that's so far beneath even the hippest anti-hip radar it'd blow your brains out like ballistics jelly stuffed down the muzzle of a live howitzer. Quasi-religous cultures, practically. Check into the "free techno" or "broken techno" music cultures of San Fransisco or Portland, where they're doing mad profane Dr. Frankenstein shit to music, unspeakable things, unnatural things. Things that haven't been done to music since P-Funk started freakin' on everything they could get their hands on. We're not talking about those 'oonce-oonce-oonce' anal-leakings or the hair-rock-minded guitar-solo noodlings of psytrance. A lot of this stuff is barely even recognizable as techno or IDM or the like. Mash-ups and juxtapositions so profound they defy rational, sober explication. It's going on in NYC, Chi-town, Detroit and more, lots of places, and most people can't even tell it's there because not only is not being broadcast, a vast majority of it isn't even being recorded - much less distributed or sold. It's like the "no spectators!" rule of Burning Man taken to fanatical, militant-extremist levels. You have to be there participating to hear any of it, and you get from it what you bring to it.

But it's raw and pure and immediate and free of mediation and is redefining/breaking media and so hands-on punk rock it's raping Sid's corpse even as we speak. But most imporant of all, when you cut it, it bleeds. Because it is wholly human and fleeting and not media. It is music. And music is life.
posted by loquacious at 1:41 AM on May 23, 2005

Hoping Civil_Disobedient detected that I was being sarcastic

Oh, suuure you were being sarcastic. /sarcasm
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:01 AM on May 23, 2005

Most inspirational comment ever.
posted by Jimbob at 3:46 AM on May 23, 2005

Metafilter: Making new shit as we see fit and loving it.
posted by Busithoth at 7:23 AM on May 23, 2005

I would be more interested in snagging data (maybe including music and movies, but also speed trap warnings and road conditions) from other vehicles. Let me record the song and decide for myself whether to add it to my roadtrip playlist. And then if I in turn let people grab the song, the hottest songs of the day would be passed down the highway. This would be especially effective in traffic jams and at toll booths, rest stops, and drive-throughs, when you are very close to the same cars for a relatively long time.

And everyone could play DJ in that everyone would choose which songs to offer for others to download, but others might not be interested.
posted by pracowity at 8:12 AM on May 23, 2005

Yeah, pracowity, I think that's what Doctorow actually wrote about. But despite his fairy-tale ending, the implementation of car-to-car filesharing will be more like Bittorrent than anything corporately sanctioned.

(Granted, as of today Bittorrent is officially corporately sanctioned.)
posted by NickDouglas at 8:24 AM on May 23, 2005

I play with my music like a ninja plays with his foes and his food: Slicing and dicing, usually while it's still alive.

Actually, I've always found ninjas to be very polite at the dinner table.
posted by aki at 5:05 AM on May 24, 2005

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