BBC radio stations on the iPhone

Updated to add FStream. This is recommended by a commenter, and again I’ve not tried it. Mixed reviews, suggesting a few problems, but it’s free – so it’s probably worth a shot, eh?

From time to time, I get emails asking if I’m ever going to make an iPhone version of the BBC Radio Widget. The answer is always the same – I’d love to, but the iPhone doesn’t natively support the formats that the BBC broadcast in. That’s because the BBC only broadcasts in RealPlayer, Windows Media and Flash-wrapped formats, which are not only closed but not really licensable; you have to wait for the appropriate plugin from each vendor – Real, Microsoft, and Adobe – to be available on your platform.

Now, that’s not entirely true, as there are open source projects which have reverse-engineered RealAudio and Windows Media Audio. Getting them to work on the iPhone, though, would be totally non-trivial and well beyond my abilities. However, it seems like an extremely select few of the available iPhone radio apps actually have managed such a feat! The apps which should be compatible are:

(All prices are correct at time of writing.)

There may be more, but they’re the ones I’m pretty certain about; blowed if I’m paying for a bunch of apps just to test them! Of these, I’ve only actually tried Internet Radio Box, and in brief testing it seemed to work solidly – even if the interface was a bit ugly and awkward. For the price, it’s hard to complain.

There are some caveats to this. Firstly, the format each of these seems to have implemented is Windows Media. The problem with that, is only the dozen or so major national stations – Radio 1, 2, 3 etc. – are available as WMA. Local stations aren’t streamed in that format, only RealAudio, so you’re out of luck with them… but you can still listen to the cricket (Five Live Sports Extra).

Secondly, I have no idea if these stations will work for you outside the UK. RealAudio streams are available worldwide, Flash streams aren’t; but I know nothing of the WMA streams. So, no guarantees.

Finally, and least importantly: just because the application is compatible, doesn’t mean the streams are listed by default. You might have to add the locations of the stations yourself. If that’s the case, the easiest way is to browse the BBC Web API; click on “More Information” for a channel, then “Get Locations”; you’ll need the windows-media url. Update: Commenter Hywel has done what I was too lazy to do, and collected the urls together below. I do know that at least Internet Radio Box includes them in its built-in directory already.

I’m quite impressed to see that some apps have gone the extra mile to get these annoying formats working, because I think it’s an order of magnitude harder than just supporting the native formats (MP3, AAC) as most do. Oh, and no-one’s paid me to advertise their app, either. Unfortunately. :)

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