Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DIY: Sports Radio Delay

I don't know what it is, but I can't stand to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver call the games for my beloved San Francisco Giants.  It probably has to do in part with the fact that the Giants have one of the best broadcast teams in the country.  And after spending an entire season with them, why on earth would I want to listen to anyone else??  During the 2010 World Series run, I gritted it out and dealt with it, but I always made sure to go back and find the KNBR call of big plays.  Leading up to the playoffs this season, I decided I had to do something about it.

The standard issue for people with this first world problem is that their radio broadcast is usually real-time and their HD TV broadcast is delayed.  Thus, in order to sync up the broadcasts, the radio needs to be delayed.

Googling "sports radio delay" turns up a few reasonable results, the most promising being this and the most kitschy, not-sure-I-trust-this being this.  The former link is actually pretty good, but what I really wanted was a step-by-step example of a working system.  This is my attempt at it.

Materials needed:
  • AM/FM radio
    (or another method of listening to your sports team's radio broadcast like the MLB At Bat app)

  • Griffin iMic
    (this just acts as an external sound card)

  • Male to male 1/8'' stereo audio cable
    (like this one)

  • Computer
    (this example uses a laptop running Windows 7)

  • Stereo system  (optional) 
    (that can plug into the laptop's headphone jack)
~$25 (I had everything already laying around except for the iMic)

  1. Download a freeware audio delay software and launch it.  For this system, I used Audio Delay by Fountainware.

  2. Tune your radio to your sports team's broadcast.
    My radio has an analog tuner and so I was anal about getting the dial exactly to the best frequency with the least amount of white noise.  Get a digital tuner if you want to avoid this.

  3. Plug one end of your male to male 1/8'' stereo audio cable into the radio.

  4. Plug the other end of the audio cable into the iMic input jack labeled "IN."

  5. Make sure the iMic switch is set to "LINE."

  6. Plug the USB end of the iMic into your computer.

  7. Once the computer recognizes the iMic, click on the "Choose Input/Output" button in Audio Delay
    This should open up a sound configuration window.

  8. In the first tab, labeled "Playback," you shouldn't have to do anything.  Out of the possible playback devices options, your default one should already be selected.
    Do not select the one labeled "iMic USB audio system" as we are not using the iMic to playback sound.  We want to use whatever the computer's playback device is for that.

  9. In the second tab, labeled "Recording," select (click) the recording device labeled:
    iMic USB audio system

  10. Click on the "Set Default" button and click "OK" to close the window.

  11. At this point, you should be able to hear the radio broadcast through your speakers.
    If not, make sure the radio volume is turned up and the computer's volume is turned up.  Also make sure that if you open up your computer's sound audio mixer/control, none of the channels are muted.
    Another thing that I ran into was that my laptop has four USB inputs and when the iMic is plugged into some of them, I don't get audio, but I do in others.
    Still, even if you don't get audio at this point, try going to the next steps as sometimes, audio begins to play after the delay is set.

  12. In the "Delay" field of Audio Delay, set the delay to your best guess for the delay between the radio and TV broadcast.
    For my TV at home, one day it was 8 seconds and the next day, it was 23 seconds.  Go figure.

  13. Hit the "Play" button.
    After the number of seconds you have specified for delay have gone by, you should begin to hear both the live audio and the delayed audio simultaneously.  If you only hear the delayed audio, then skip to step 16.

  14. Launch your operating system's sound audio mixer/control.
    Most people will have a sound icon at the bottom right of their start menu.  Right click on it and select "Open Volume Mixer" or equivalent.

  15. You should see the two channels that have audio playing.  Mute the line input (or equivalent) as this is the live broadcast.
    This should leave you with only the delayed audio.

  16. Now you can begin the process of matching the delayed audio to the TV.  
    If the audio is still ahead of the TV action, hit the "Stop" button, wait for the software to return control to you, increase the delay to your next best guess.  
    Decrease the delay if the audio is now behind the TV action.

  17. Once you have hit the sweet spot that works for you, you can plug in an additional stereo system into your computer's headphone jack to augment the sound if you wish.
I realize that this system is convoluted and probably only for the most hardcore fans.  The first time I tried it, it took a little tinkering so give yourself some time before the game to get things working so that when the game starts, you only need to focus on matching audio.  Subsequent uses became much faster and made the game much more enjoyable.  Still, it is quite an odd feeling when your brain tries to match the audio of the radio commercial to the visuals of the TV commercial.  

I'm thankful that my Giants pulled out a miracle comeback against the Cincinnati Reds because with each additional game (that's not during freaking work hours) my small investment feels sweeter and sweeter.

Go Giants!

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