You never again have to miss your favorite AM (or FM) talk radio program! You’ll be amazed at just how easy it is to record the sound from your radio onto a video tape in your VCR. A typical VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) is capable of recording up to 10.5 hours of radio sound on just one T-210 video tape. This length tape may be difficult to find, but you get the idea, I’m sure.
This modern miracle of technology provides a built-in timer that allows us to set the time to turn on and off to record our favorite programming for playback at a more convenient time. This is known as “time shifting.” Did you know the same timer device can also provide the same flexibility to radio listeners? You see, most audio tape recorders do not have a built-in timer to give us this time-shifting flexibility. And NO audio cassette recorder can capture 8 hours of uninterrupted recording. So, combining the VCR’s multiple timer programming capability and the long recording length of video tape give added benefit to radio listeners who may want to record their favorite RADIO programs on video tape. Your VCR can make superb audio recordings, which you can hear through the sound system built into your TV!
Not all VCRs have the capability to do this, but most do. Some older models or low-end units simply can’t do the job. It’s best to look in the instruction manual of your VCR to see if it even discusses “auxiliary audio input,” “simulcast recording,” or a switch called “input select.” If it does, and most do, you’re on your way. Even if it doesn’t, the cost to try is very little, so you might just give it a shot anyway. Even if you can’t figure out how to set and use the VCR timer, I have a way that might get the job done for you. Keep reading.
One way is this:
You’ll need a radio, either plug-in or battery-operated. The simplest connections are between non-stereo radios and VCRs, although nearly any radio will work. The radio must have a headphone or earphone jack. Most portable radios have a small-size, 1/8-inch jack, but any size will work. Next you’ll need a 6-foot audio cable available at Radio Shack, probably catalog number 42-244 priced at $2.49. One end is the plug to fit the earphone jack on your radio. The other end of this wire is known as a phono or RCA plug, to fit the audio input jack on your VCR. If your radio is stereo or looks as if it might be somehow different, take it with you to Radio Shack or another electronics store and they will provide the proper cable or adapter for your connection. You might want to take these instructions with you to help explain what you’re trying to do!
Once you have the cable, the connections are next. To prepare your VCR, determine where the audio and video input jacks are located, either visible on the front panel or under a front panel door, or on the rear of the VCR. Some VCRs have multiple input jacks, both on the front and the back. Next, determine how to activate these jacks so the VCR will recognize the radio sound you’ll put in instead of the TV sound usually recorded. (Note: The TV does NOT need to be switched on to record on your VCR. In fact, it is likely that the recording will be better and free of really annoying interference if recording is made with the TV OFF.)
Your VCR may have an “input select switch” with choices such as “Tuner,” “Simulcast,” “Aux” or “Line.” Or, you might “turn on” one of these jacks on your VCR by switching the tuner or channel selector to the “Aux” position. Sorry, but you may need to actually read your VCR instruction manual! Some older machines might work by simply connecting the cable to the jack. If a cable is connected, these VCRs sense the connection and assume you want to record what’s plugged into it. The switching is automatic. But, be careful in these cases. DON’T forget to remove the cable from the VCR when you’re done recording from the radio, or your VCR will not operate normally. Some trial and error might be needed.
Once you’ve determined how to get to this point, turn on your VCR to the mode and setting necessary to hear the alternate input from the radio you’ll feed it. Then, turn your TV to Channel 3, just the way you would when watching a video tape.
Now use the wire you bought. Attach the wire between the VCR and radio, after setting the radio to the station you wish to tape. If you have a stereo VCR, use the left audio channel input.
Turn on the radio and adjust the volume on the TV to the normal setting for your viewing. Now adjust the radio volume, which you won’t hear out of the radio at all, because its speaker becomes inoperative when you plug something into the earphone jack. You should hear the radio out of the TV speaker. Adjustment of the radio volume is critical to avoid overdoing it on the loud side as well as avoiding the volume being too soft to record. Adjust the volume so the sound is clean and undistorted. Locate your radio sufficiently away from the TV and VCR so as to avoid interference that creates hum or buzz. Test this by moving and turning the radio to obtain the cleanest signal unless the radio is digitally tuned. If this is the case, additional tuning will neither be possible nor needed. Find where the interference is negligible within the 6-foot wire tether you will use between the radio and VCR.
Next, program the VCR to turn on and begin recording a minute or two earlier than the show you want and to end recording a bit after the program you’re taping concludes. This way, you won’t miss a thing, even if the VCR clock isn’t exact.
If it’s in the “AUX” mode, the channel setting on the VCR won’t usually be possible. In the “Simulcast” or normal mode, choose any channel, as it is only the sound you want anyway, and that will be taken from the radio.
Now, just leave the radio on until the programming you’ve taped is over. Rewind the tape and listen to it played back on your TV channel 3 just as you would any video.
If all else fails, call the store where you purchased the VCR or the service department of the manufacturer of your VCR. Phone numbers are usually in the owner’s manual or consumer information pamphlet that came with the VCR.
Even if you can’t figure out how to program the timer on your VCR, you might be able to get the job done. Nothing would prevent you from setting everything up to do the job, with the radio on and ready to go, and the cables in place between the radio and your VCR. If you buy one of those extra long video tapes and push the buttons to manually record a program, the VCR will run until the tape ends. So, if the program comes on at any time while the tape is running, you‘ll get it. You can start recording before bed or as you leave for the day’s work and record for many, many hours. Then, on playback, simply fast forward the tape to the beginning of the show you want to hear.
If you want to get fancy and you have an audio cassette recorder with either an input marked “Line In,” or one with a built-in microphone you can just as easily transfer the sound from the video tape to an audio cassette for more convenient listening. Skip this next section and procedure if you are experiencing technology overload about now. You can always come back to it at another time!
Home audio cassette machines as well as portable audio systems, such as “boom boxes,” have these inputs. You’ll need another cable, such as the “Phono Plug to Phono Plug” in 3-, 6-, and 12-foot lengths, also found at Radio Shack, and priced at $1.99, $2.49 and $3.49, respectively. Simply connect the “Audio Out” from the back of the VCR to the “Line In” jack on the cassette recording device, either left or right (it doesn’t matter, it’s not stereo anyway!) Now, insert the video and audio tapes in their respective machines. Avoid using C-120, two-hour cassettes, as most audio cassette machine makers recommend against these thinner, more delicate tapes. C-90 cassettes, which record 90 minutes, should be just fine. While you play the tape in the VCR, record onto the audio cassette, changing sides and/or tape as necessary. Adjust volume controls on the audio recorder if and as required according to the instructions for your particular machine.
If you want to use a portable cassette recorder with a built-in microphone, don’t worry. The quality won’t be quite as good, but you can place the portable recorder as close to the TV speaker as possible, play the video tape through the TV and successfully record the sound as it comes from the TV speakers. You will probably need to experiment with both TV volume and placement of the audio cassette recorder to get the best results. Also, you’ll need to remember to turn over the audio tape and put in a fresh one as necessary, pausing the VCR while you do this. It might also be a good idea to go out for a walk, muzzle the other family members or otherwise make things as quiet as possible during this method of transfer or you’ll immortalize all those family fights on the tape along with the radio show you’re transferring! I know you’ll find what method and setup is easiest and works the best for you.
Good luck! I hope you enjoy this new use for your VCR.