Best way to play podcasts in a car?

I would like to listen in my car to some of Doug Kaye’s IT Conversations and perhaps other podcasts and audio streams from the Internet.  The car has a Pioneer stereo with a fantastically horrific user interface (all faceplate and bouncing lights display; a handful of tiny buttons; the factory Toyota system was much better but it is no longer being made and the 1998 original is dead) but thankfully an AUX input and the ability to play MP3-encoded CDs.

What is the best way to get podcast items into the car?  An MP3 jukebox of some sort?  Burning CDs every now and then?  If an MP3 jukebox is the right way to go, which one makes the most sense given that a big part of it will get wiped and refreshed every week or so?

[Please don’t suggest an iPod.  I have used friend’s iPods and find the user interface to be confusing compared to the Creative MP3 jukeboxes (they have more buttons).  Additionally, various commenters on thought that I might be gay and therefore it seems unwise to appear in public with anything made by Apple.]

[Resolution:  I bought a 1 GB miniSD card for my Motorola MPx220 mobile phone and I burned an MP3 CD that does in fact play in the car.  I still can’t figure out MP3 music CDs.  Is there a standard format for a playlist that you also burn onto it?  If not, how does the average player figure out in what order to play the tracks?]

18 thoughts on “Best way to play podcasts in a car?

  1. You’ve already mentioned no iPods, so this should just reinforce your opinion: I have an Alpine head unit with a little interface box (the KCA-420i) that makes an iPod look to the head unit like a CD changer. While I, for one, find the iPod UI quite intuitive, the UI through the Alpine unit is abysmal (mini-review here). But if you’re playing from a smallish collection of (possibly large) audio files, it should work OK. Or here’s one that takes USB thumb drives and SD cards.

  2. Here’s my dream. C’mon you smart hardware/software people… you can do this.

    I want a device (phone? PDA? whatever) that senses when it’s able to slurp up my latest podcasts (via WiFi? Bluetooth? IR? whatever). Then, I want that same device to be able to push those podcasts out to my car, again I don’t care how, and deliver the user-interface on the dashboard. I don’t want to have to touch this device ever — it just needs to be a smart courier between my podcast-downloading system and my car. Pleeeeaaase? I’m whining here… I really want this rig. I sooo tired of all the wires and plugging-in and fumbling around with the UI’s on both ends.

  3. If you want to go the cheap and easy route, consider this:

    VR3 MP3 FM Modulator (you can get this at other retailers)

    This will work in any car, you don’t need to find one with an AUX jack. It’s all semiconductor based so it is likely more reliable than units with rotating magnetic storage to scratch or LCDs to break. If it gets lost or stolen you aren’t set back very much. You might not like the interface though if you prefer a lot of buttons. You have select station, forward track, back track, and pause.

    I wouldn’t suggest that you use it for music, but I use it for a very similar application, Dot Net Rocks (, and it works great. This option is especially cheap if you have a bunch of old USB drives lying around.

  4. The FM transmitter is your last resort option, especially if you live in an urban area. My Sirus radio has one, and it’s just a PIB. FM Capture effect ensures you’ll be constantly distracted when FM Stations overpower your FM Modulator as you drive around. If you have a cassette deck, use that with an adapter, otherwise get a radio with an aux input.

  5. If you have an AUX input and don’t like the iPod, I’d pick from any one of the other hard drive, or flash-based players. There’s a Rio in my house that takes a SD card, as does the Palm Treo and one of their Zires. Looks like SD cards come up to 1GB these days. I might give that a shot myself.

  6. Why not just burn one time use cds? It sounds like you have the equipment without any extra cables and complexity while you’re driving. Mostly empty cds take so little time to burn, what’s the hesitation?

  7. iPod + Aux

    Don’t understand the iPod aversion, other than price, which is a significant downer, it is awkward (the UI) at first, admittedly, but after the initial curve, it is a hell of a lot easier to operate (especially with one hand only, as much travel time has shown for me, I used to have another mp3 player product, and the iPod usability (once you figure out the spinner deal)) is far superior. Also, getting podcasts on it, requires no effort whatsoever, as it “syncs” automatically with iTunes now.

  8. FM transmitter does not work at all in Phoenix area, at least the iTrip deal I had that worked OK in other cities. But Aux > FM xmitter…

  9. I was using a Creative Zen NX with an aux input in a VW Golf. It sounded great but was a bit of a pain to control while driving. Recently I picked up a PhatBox ( and really like it because it interfaces with the car radio buttons/display and has voice prompts so you can control it without having to take your eyes off the road. You can get the VW version for $120 (maybe it’s being discontinued). The versions for other cars are horrendously expensive ($799) but maybe some other company offers a similar product that interfaces with your existing stereo.

  10. I use a Creative Zen because my ipod refused to talk to my new computer despite spending hours on it. It talks to my awful Pioneer car radio via a Belkin TuneMasterII which only works well enough when it’s powered off the cigarette adapter. Otherwise the signal is too puny (it’s barely strong enough with the DC supply) and there is more QRM, QRN. But the thing is, it’s a stupid setup, because:
    1) I never ever listen to the radio (I live in singapore — radio sucks here)
    2) I never use my zen except in the car

    So what would be ideal for me is to rip out the radio entirely and then have a small computer that plays mp3s and that talks to my home pc network via 802.1b wireless, so I can push music and podcasts easily to/from it.

    Of course that doesn’t exist, and I don’t have enough time, and not quite enough motivation to bother to build it myself. It SHOULD exist though…

  11. I use a Pocket PC. Lets lets me not only output the audio into the stereo, but I can also pickup wifi connections and check email, IM, etc.

  12. The UI is much better on the latest generation of iPods in that it now has buttons you physically have to push (under the click-wheel) rather than just touch or brush past. The new design is much less prone to accidentally hitting a button you didn’t mean to. So if that was an issue, you might want to take another look.

    And the term you’re looking for is “metrosexual” — it means you’re hetero, yet have unusually good taste and design sense. 🙂

  13. Oh, and you might as well burn CDs if you want quick and cheap — if your Alpine reads MP3 discs on CDR, you could keep adding until it overflows.

    And damn all of you that have aux inputs on your radio — I spent $60 and a couple of hours adding the capability to my factory car stereo, and now the inputs only work about half the time.

  14. >Mostly empty cds take so little time to burn, what’s the hesitation?

    You don’t want to throw the CDs away mostly empty for the sake of the environment. What you should do is burn multisession cds. When you burn the next session you can either mask the privious content if you already listened to it or append to it. Most MP3 players will not have a problem reading them. Keep adding podcasts to the cd until it gets full. *then* throw it away. I used to do just that (until I got sick of podcasts) with a little perl script and everything was automated, with the exception of carrying the CD to and from car.

  15. A Palm Lifedrive – 4 GB hard drive, WiFi, Bluetooth and an SD slot. It is a wonderful car audio jukebox. I’ve been using one for 2 months now. What I like is the reasonable interface, the fact that it also doubles as my GPS system and it fits in a pocket.

  16. I’ll second the Neuros. I have one. It includes a plug that powers it from the cigarrette lighter and I use a cassette audio adapter into the headset plug on the Neuros. You can queue up many hours worth of music on the 40GB disk drive. The user interface is reasonably clear (enough buttons) and having control from Linux is a plus.

  17. I found the best way to organize podcasts on CD is to create a top level MMDDYYYY directory (this corresponds to the download date) with a subdirectory for each podcast. Most players allow to play tracks in alphabetical order or by using a .m3u playlist. the playlist is a simple listing of mp3 files which are played in the specified sequence. Usually m3u is placed in the root directory.

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