Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 31/07/2003If you’ve bought an iPod, you’ve probably found it’s taken over from most of your other forms of music listening. Earphones aren’t always convenient, and while you can hook the device up to your hi-fi at home with a standard lead it’s more difficult if you’re in a car or the bathroom.

Thursday 31/07/2003
If you’ve bought an iPod, you’ve probably found it’s taken over from most of your other forms of music listening. Earphones aren’t always convenient, and while you can hook the device up to your hi-fi at home with a standard lead it’s more difficult if you’re in a car or the bathroom. The solution, of course, is a small FM radio transmitter that plugs into the iPod and relays your glorious stereo to a nearby wireless. Such things are gratefully received in the US and elsewhere, and of course they’ve trickled into the UK. One such is the iTrip, which is a neat little device with lots of clever features, but is basically a tiny transmitter for unwired iPod enjoyment.

Oh no you don’t, says the Radiocommunications Agency, our guardians in matters Hertzian. You must have a licence for any radio transmitter, and we don’t give them out for things like that. They may interfere, you know. And so those who would sell the toy are forced to turn away all comers, and anyone intent of being truly piratical is forced to dirty, desperate measures like buying them off the Internet from the US. Where they cost less. Ahem. Or you could buy one of the many legal-to-buy-but-not-to-use DIY kits, but I didn’t tell you that.

So how come these things don’t interfere in the US, where they have exactly the same frequencies used for broadcasting and, outside Texas, the same laws of physics? A quick check on the law over there shows that if you run your transmitter at a low enough power, you don’t need a licence -- no, not even on the FM waveband. Furthermore, attempts to find instances where this has caused any sort of problem whatsoever, fail. It seems that if you have your ten milliwatt iPod transmitter in your front room, then next door is unlikely to hear it over the megawatts of Radio Earache.

What does cause interference to people are the myriad FM pirates who rampage up and down the dial, getting detected and shut down by the powers that be at roughly the same rate as weapons of mass destruction. In the spirit of choleric motorists who fume that the police should be out nabbing burglars instead of harassing innocent speeding lunatics -- oops, sorry, careful drivers taking advantage of good conditions -- I say fie on the Radiocommunications Agency and fie on their pettifogging rules.

Rise up, citizens, and play your easy listening music over the liberated airwaves! Just do it quietly, there’s a dear.

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