iRadio 'Pirates' Take to the Highways


Oct. 11, 2004— -- While Tim Lynch is wading through traffic on the way to his New Canaan, Conn., corporate consulting job, he may be the only person on the Merritt Parkway wearing a grin.

That's because he's a kind of radio pirate. And with the iPod, Apple's innovative digital music player, all it takes to hijack the airwaves is a car and a bumper sticker.

Lynch, 31, is one of a handful of iPod owners using the device to transmit FM radio stations from their car. He uses a bumper sticker on the back of his fender that reads "iPod @ 89.1 FM" to let passers-by know how to tune in.

"Every now and then I get someone who flashes their lights or I get a wave as I turn away," said Lynch. "It's just fun."

As portable as the iPod was, for Lynch and other iPod owners, it wasn't portable enough.

"For the longest time there was this gap of 'How do you get your iPod into your car?" recalled Lynch.

The answer, he said, is "easily."

"The whole thing about an iPod is it's convenient," he said. "It's natural, it's like an arm, it's an extension of you."

So how do you get the tunes in the iPod to play on your car stereo? An FM transmitter allows users to tune in to an unoccupied FM radio station and beam their tunes directly from the iPod to their car's stereo.

But using his iPod to listen to his favorite tunes on his morning commute was just the beginning for Lynch.

"I go on this road trip with a friend of mine," he said. "I'm driving along, listening to my iPod and for a goof I was thinking, 'I wonder, if it's so strong, I wonder if it's leaking outside my car.' "

In order to test the theory, Lynch did what any good scientist would do.

"I put on some profanity. Comedy, R-rated comedy, Chris Rock's early stuff. Then I called [his friend] up on his cell phone and he was two cars behind me. I said, 'You're not going to believe this, but somebody up here is broadcasting swear words! Tune to 89.1FM.' He turns to the station and he's like, 'I can't believe I'm hearing this!' It was a big joke for a few minutes."

Once a friend suggested using a bumper sticker to advertise the frequency on which he was transmitting, Lynch was off and running. He became his own mini-pirate radio station.

"For four car-lengths around me was this little bubble of — me! Whatever I wanted to listen to! So I could be listening to Chris Rock talking about dating and meeting women in a club and then the next song go straight to Neil Sadaka."

The pirate wields a lot of power. He never has to listen to anyone else's music.

"Its great if you're stuck in traffic next to someone who has a big booming stereo or something," said Rik Myslewki, editor-in-chief of MacAddict magazine. "You can just override his frequency if you have a powerful enough iPod antenna and have like little birdies singing or something. It's fun to be a little bit smarter than the guy next to you."

Myslewki sees a lot of the innovation by iPod owners as a declaration that if they can think it, they can do it — or at least try.

Peter Rojas, editor of, agrees.

"A lot of this stuff is proof of concept, a lot of it's just for fun," said Rojas. "The point is, you know the more people are experimenting with this stuff and trying out the weird things, that's when you stumble on to the thing that turns out to be a totally brilliant, practical idea."

Rojas believes iPod fans are motivated by the same desire to tinker that drove transistor radio fans to spend hours tinkering in their garages.

"When you have a device that so dominates its market like the iPod, it's only natural that people are going to focus a lot of attention and energy on it," said Rojas. "Whether it's writing about it, whether it's inspiring clothes, whether it's inspiring art, whether it's appearing in movies or on TV, whatever."

With more than 3.5 million iPods and iPod minis sold, Apple's pocket-sized marvel is still in charge of the digital music player market. But they may also be the victim of their own success as other electronics manufacturers, such as Sony, Rio and Creative, rush to get their piece of the digital music pie.

But don't bother telling Lynch about the next generation of players.

"We all should have iPods," Lynch said. "As an American, you should have an iPod."

Lynch says that due to the iPod's simplicity, portability and accessibility, Apple has found that perfect niche between doing too much and doing too little. Rival devices may win praise, but not from him.

"Every month releases a new news story for the new 'iPod killer.' It's like, OK, it weighs more than the iPod, it's bigger than the iPod, the screen is bigger than the iPod, you know, everything is bigger. It'll drive your car and record your television — but nobody's buying them, because nobody's doing that," he said. "You have to get into their life, you can't add to it."

He also believes that iPod tweakers and accessory manufacturers have just scratched the surface when it comes to innovation.