Story Time

Apple’s iPod can hold a small library of unabridged audio books on its hard drive.

When radio stations start sounding the same, what can make the miles go by faster? For many truckers, the answer is audio books. Book lovers have more choices than ever now that books are available not just on tape but also on CD, MP3 files and satellite radio.

“With the radio you’ve got commercials, but the books are just a continuous story you don’t have to stop for,” says Monica Spencer, who often rides with her husband on long trips.

Thanks to MP3 compression formatting – the same technology used for music file sharing – up to 10 audio books can be burned to a single compact disc, effectively eliminating the clutter of keeping up with the multiple tapes or CDs of just one audio book. That technology also means audio books, downloaded to portable digital music players, are cheaper, more compact and more portable. Numerous websites offer pay-per-download services or subscription services for unlimited downloads of audio books from all genres.

For those who do not want to buy a digital player or spend $15 to $30 to buy an audio book, rentals remain a good alternative. Audio Adventures outlets, carrying more than 6,000 titles, are in more than 650 travel centers. A $5 annual membership fee gives you a rental coupon valued at $3.90 and a map of outlets. Rental rates range from $3.90 to $13.50 for seven days. The service is ideal for truckers because the tape or CD can be returned at any Audio Adventures location.

Those on a really tight budget have other options. Most public libraries carry a good selection of audio books that can be checked out for free. And if you subscribe to satellite radio, you already have access to books and other narrative productions.

XM Satellite Radio subscribers can tune in to Channel 163, Sonic Theatre, which includes abridged books and other programs, such as radio dramatizations of old Twilight Zone episodes. XM’s Channel 164, RadioClassics, includes plays and staged readings. Sirius Satellite Radio’s Channel 133, RadioClassics, airs programs from radio’s golden age.

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The entire range of fiction and non-fiction books, especially new titles, can be found on audio books, often in abridged versions. Sometimes the authors read their own works. Books by Dennis Miller and Bill Cosby, for example, are even more hilarious when read by the comedians themselves.

Owner-operator Kay Floyd says she listens to at least one audio book a week. “The books keep me interested and awake,” she says. “Music puts me to sleep.” Floyd says audio books, which can be stopped and started to fit her schedule, suit her better than satellite radio productions, which she often has to miss portions of.

Like many truckers, Floyd says she likes Stephen King stories and murder mysteries.

Tri-State Expedited Services driver Kenney Proctor also enjoys a good murder mystery. He says he listens to books because they are better for him than the radio. “My wife got me started on them,” he says. “She said I needed some education.”

Tired of fumbling with a dated portable cassette player? Or hearing skips on your portable CD player?

Whether you’re looking to play audio books or music, portable hard drives and digital music players offer a newer technology that fits in a shirt pocket and is more foolproof than older playback devices.

Apple’s iPod is the model that vaulted sleek, stylish digital music players into the public’s eye a few years ago. The newer iPod can hold a virtual library of books (or thousands of songs) on its hard drive. With a battery life of up to 12 hours, it can play uninterrupted throughout an entire day’s haul, and a quick two-hour charge will have it spinning again. The 20-gigabyte iPod retails for $299, while the 40-GB version sells for $399.

Though the unit is commonly played through headphones, some newer versions can be plugged into some vehicular audio systems. The iPod can download and play back songs on Macs and PCs.

Sony’s answer to the iPod is its Vaio line. The Vaio Pocket, which retails for $499, houses 40 GB, and also allows you to view digital photos on a 2.2-inch LCD screen. The battery allows for 20 hours of continuous playback.

Sony also offers the lower-priced Walkman line of digital music players. The Network Walkman NW-E75, for example, weighs 2 ounces and can store up to 170 songs on its 256-MB drive and play them for 70 hours straight on a single AAA battery.

For about $270, Dell offers the Digital Jukebox with 15 or 20 GB of memory. The battery lasts about 20 hours, and it has a 2-inch screen.

There are dozens of MP3 players with more than 40 GB of memory, so do your research to find a player that fits your needs and price range.

This audio book rental company lists travel centers where it does business.
These sites rent unlimited audio books for a single monthly subscription fee.
A year’s membership for $17 will get you unlimited downloads of audio books.
Check audio book titles for sale by searching under Audio CDs or Audiocassettes.