June 10, 2009

The Death of TV on the Radio

Note: This post is not about the band TV on the Radio.

This Friday, June 12, TV stations nationwide will cease broadcasting analog signals and switch to digital-only broadcasts. That’s fine with me. I have a digital television, and I have cable anyway, so it won’t affect me. At least that’s what I thought. Only recently did I realize that one of my favorite ways to enjoy television will go away. Starting Friday, I can no longer get TV on the radio.

As a kid in the 1980s, I enjoyed the same TV shows my friends did. But I also loved listening to old time radio shows, most of which I checked out from the library on vinyl records. I especially enjoyed comedies like Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, Abbot and Costello, Jack Benny, and the Great Gildersleeve. I couldn’t get enough Dragnet, or Dimension X. In my head, as I pictured whatever action was happening in the show, I also imagined the studio where it was recorded, the actors with their microphones, the audiences at the comedy shows, and the sound effects man simultaneously adding door slams and footsteps in real time. Theater of the mind was so great, I wished I could have been around when these shows were still on the air. The library only had a few episodes of each program. Why didn’t radio networks do this sort of thing anymore?

For my Bar Mitzvah, someone gave me a gift certificate to the Sharper Image. There were so many cool gadgets to choose from, I had trouble deciding. I considered the telephone in the shape of a bulldog whose mouth moved in sync with the person you were talking to. That would have been a riot. But then I saw the Sony Tap Tunes Shower Radio that received AM/FM and TV Audio. A radio that gets TV signals? I had to have it.

I didn’t use the radio in the shower as it was intended. Instead, I put it next to my bed. At night, I went to sleep listening to Johnny Carson or, if I stayed up late enough, David Letterman. During prime time, I could stay out in the living room and watch TV with my siblings, or I could retreat to my bedroom and listen to a sitcom while I did my homework (on those rare occasions when I did my homework). It’s true that some jokes or plot twists didn’t work without the visuals, but I could make sense of most shows. It was never my prime way of enjoying television, but it was a great supplement.

Years later, when I moved to New York, the radio came with me. I lived in a tiny apartment without a TV for the first couple years and the radio was the only way I was able to enjoy TV programs. When I took up running, I bought a walkman so I could listen to music while I exercise. I was pleased to discover a walkman model that received TV signals. I sometimes brought it to work and listened to Ed Koch on The People’s Court during my lunch break. (Unfortunately, daytime TV is just as bad without the visuals).

Today, that original Tap Tunes shower radio is still with me in my apartment. I’ve finally moved it to its intended destination, the bathroom, where it mostly plays the local NPR station while I shower. It’s rarely tuned to TV. But I also have a bedside alarm clock that gets TV audio, so I can still tune in at night. In the two weeks that Conan O’Brian has been hosting the Tonight Show, listening to him as I go to sleep has already become a tradition, and I only have a few days left to enjoy it before all my TV radios stop working.

Is there a future for TV on the radio? There are already so-called “HD” radios that receive digital broadcasts over AM and FM. Could they be expanded to receive TV audio as well? And if so, what kind of reception could I expect without needing a rooftop antenna just for my alarm clock radio?

This wi-fi clock radio by Aluratek may be my best compromise. It gets thousands of internet radio stations, and allows you to add your own, so I could listen to one of the streaming Old Time Radio stations found on-line and pretend that I live in the 1950s. But even with all the options that internet streaming provides, I’ll still miss the ability to listen to live TV on the radio.

Previously: Idea: “CSI: Drive Time”


Hmm, I don’t know anything about digital TV but I have to imagine it’s possible to build a radio-only receiver cheaply. Alternately you could go buy a digital TV tuner that has RC audio out and plug some speakers in to it — not quite as elegant as a little radio but you’ll get the same effect. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before someone builds a DTV tuner into a portable radio like you have now.

I think this gadget may do the work… http://www.geekalerts.com/portable-multimedia-player-with-digital-tv/

I’ve seen people down here in Brasil using those in the subway trains and they weren’t using headphones with it.

I remember when I was younger sometimes my dad would tune the radio to a tv station when we were out working in the garage. I never thought anything of it, until now…

As for a DTV radio, I suspect that the best best would be one of the small screen portable TVs (like the one J Moretti posted, but for ATSC), you can find some on NewEgg.com for around $100

“You can’t stop progress.” Sometimes the old die before you do. It hurts.

I wonder if, in a few decades’ time, radio will be so outdated that you can have your own radio station without any permits whatsoever, since it wouldn’t disturb the digital radio at all? Just like ultralight aircraft. It’s so “minor” that you don’t need a pilot’s license. Maybe radio will be so “minor” that any bloke with an antenna can broadcast?

Here in canada, one of our main stations is called Global TV and it broadcasts its analog signal on a wavelength that you can get on your radio. I just put the radio on FM and tune it all the way down to the lowest frequency and there it is! before i got a DVR, i used to put on the simpsons or the office when i was in my office. When canada goes digital (i don’t know when but it will happen), I will miss that. When I lived on the street, that was the only way I could watch TV. Many a sunday night I would find a quiet spot in a park and listen to the newest simpsons.

Thanks for putting that disclaimer at the top! You scared me for a second!

i brought a ge uhf/vhf, am/fm radio back ahounf 1970. it worked fine all these yeas and it was great for use outside on nice summer days and evenings. batteries (c type) lasted forever. now what am i going to do? i really enjoyed that radio.


I was just about to say the same thing. I was so frightened that one of their new releases was really horrible or something.

A couple years ago, I picked up a compendium of Old Time Radio on 12 DVDs. I think it set me back about $40. It has thousands and thousands of hours of audio, including all of the shows you mentioned. It also has important speeches, radio coverage of World War II and all sorts of other stuff - including obscure shows like Orson Wells’ “Black Museum” series for the BBC.

I’ve been listening to stuff from this collection for years on my iPod and I still have years to go.

I’m sure you can find one like it today on eBay.

now that TV has switched over to 100% digital, i guess radio would be the logical next development

Sony has a AM/FM/TV/Weather band walkman that used to work great with local tv stations. I could listen to any station between channels 2 - 13 while on the job, or working outdoors.

@warwick, sorry do disappoint but that model no longer works for tv. Love the thing, use it all the time at work, but the tv portion is no more.

The Sony AM/FM/TV radio was my constant companion. I had my favorite radio shows but use the TV feature daily. I could listen to my favorite TV shows and move about doing my yard or house work. It has been a long 3 days. I hope sony or someone recreates this wonderful device. When it comes out I hope I know it is available and will be the first one in line to replace my radio.

If you’re interested in old time radio shows, you can find tons of old shows at alt.binaries.sounds.radio.oldtime

Here’s a service that indexes usenet groups:


Great idea. But i would definitley by a scled down version. Say 10x10 sockets, attached to MDF that can be screwed to the wall behind my appliances.

Sorry, wrong post

When I was young my dad had a multi-band radio and I too discovered tv on the radio. CFTO Channel 9 in Toronto if I recall, it became part of my love of radio.

It could also tune in HAM (amateur radio) signals including morse code transmissions. I never got good enough to simply “listen” to morse and much of it, even back then, was automated and tremendously fast.

Some nights I could get broadcasts in other languages, clearly from very far away. I was too young to know what languages I was listening to.

My favourite was to fall asleep listening to Leaf games, the radio announcers were so much more efficient than the TV announcers and you could paint the entire ice in your mind. And the Leafs were much better then.

You’re not alone. I was in Radio Shack a few days ago, and some guy came in asking for the same thing, a radio that can receive digital TV broadcasts. The clerks barely understood what he wanted and had nothing to offer.

It’s undoubtedly possible to build what you want, but it’s not clear anyone will bother. On analog you got the TV stations for nearly free by simply expanding the frequency range of the tuner a little bit, since the modulation was the same. For digital, someone might have to specifically add it as a feature to a tuner chipset, which is easy enough if a chip company thought they’d make money, but maybe nobody cares about radio anymore. It’d be too costly to add tuning in digital TV to a cheap analog radio. Maybe when radio goes all digital as well, it’ll be an easy feature to add.

Hulu on iPhone is probably under a year away. From there it’s a path of incremental upgrades to add live TV such as sports, historical library, first availability time same as broadcast, etc. Add an HDMI jack to the phone and it displaces the need for AppleTV or other set-top boxes.

If you live in a reasonably urban area with 3G (eventually LTE or WiMax), your smartphone is your radio and TV tuner, if your content provider puts their content on the Internet as well as broadcasting it.

I miss my local cable news on my portable radio as I get ready for work. Does anyone know if the post from J. Moretti on 6/10 that links to:

is a radio that would work here in the states?

If you like TV that much and have a smartphone that would support the app you might want to consider something like the slingbox or Hava. I have the same dilemma and will from now on have to listen to my morning TV in the shower on my smartphone, hooked up to two iPod-type speakers (that will remain outside the shower stall, of course). The added bonus is that I am no longer restricted to just the stations that came over air, but I can listen to whatever is on my regular TV.

Hey there’s a solution to this that really works. I have done it. I listened to TV audio at work and was in desperate shape when the transition happened. Here’s the solution and it’s not too bad…YOu get one of those digital converter boxes paid for with the government issued coupon. Make sure it is a model with with the two audio OUT plugs on the back. (Most have this I believe) Then hook up an antenna (preferably one of those digital amplifying antennas commonly available) then you hook up your headphones to the back of the digital converter box using two adapters from Radio Shack. (The radio shack people will get you them..they’r not that common) Then you connect up a tv (one time only) navigate to the auto scan and scan in all your stations. Then get rid of the tv and just use the converter box remote control to tune in stations and adjust the volume. The sound is great. And all you need is a converter box, the headphones, antenna and those audio cable adapters,(about $10 at Radio Shack). IT works!!!

Additional notes on what I just posted. Instead of headphones you could also connect the audio out on the converter box to a stereo system. Also, one drawback, you have to flip through the channels blindly with no indicator to see what channel you are on. But you get used to that. Someday the converter boxes may have some kind of signal channel display. Hope this works for you. The FCC and broadcasters around the US are ignoring this issue and not providing for any solutions for the general public.

Here’s a web page and photo I just setup to show people how to tune into audio signal of new Digital TV without a TV or radio.

Rick: Thanks for the info! I’ve ordered my coupon & printed out the instructions. I’ll be sure to share this with my coworkers also. Finding a replacement for my dependable Sony Radio has been very difficult.

Awesome Rick! Now can you rig up something so I can listen to tv news on my CAR RADIO during my endless commutes? haha I can just see myself cruising down the highway with a gigantic antenna on my car, hooked up to a digital converter box, plugged into my car stereo, with my ear plugs on.. that oughta work!

Even if you can find a way to modernize it, I still feel your pain and your sadness about the passing of a really nifty, useful, omnipresent way to watch TV. I have many memories like yours growing up. Ah, well.

We here on the coast relied of the tv signals coming in to keep up up on what went on during the aftermath of Hugo, and some of the later storms that came through. Too bad our tv radios and hand held tvs are now useless.

I have a grandfather who is blind. He has a tiny tv in his apartment that he uses to listen to his favorite show, The Price is Right, and the news. He got a converter box so he can still listen to his favorite show, but he is finding it too difficult to use because he can’t look at the tv screen. If there is anything he could use to listen to his shows, that would be perfect.

And to think I thought I was the only one on a quest for TV broadcast via a radio! My next trip was to Radio Shack, but after reading the posts I won’t bother.

I also am looking for a new Radio that gets TV sound. FM/AM/DTV/Weather Bands that can run on batteries.

Great when the power goes out and you want to listen to tv programs including the news/weather.

Anyone found good product out there yet?

Rick — doesn’t your audio set up require electricity to work? My mother (and I) are looking for a battery-operated option to use during hurricanes — when Ike hit in 2008, the TV band on the radio was a godsend!

It’s 2010 now, is there anyone making a battery-operated radio that can pick up digital TV bands yet?

Thanks so much!

After reading through the threads, I realize how valuable our “ole” hand-held portable TV’s truly were!

I too have been searching since the digital transition to find a way to continue listening to my local TV via a battery operated walkman.

I have a blackberry and have downloaded MobiTV, which is partially like having the “ole” handheld portable TV … but … I get about 1 hour of usage before my battery is drained.

Has anyone yet discovered a “digital transistion” ready portable TV that is battery operated yet?


You can do an internet search to find old time radio broadcasts. There is a .org site where you can download thousands for free as mp3.