I wanted to create a web-base radio station; I did not want to manage one
This gets to the heart of “distributed, freeform, collective webradio” – from the get go Grant gave away the keys to the station, the username/password for managing it. The way the first system worked, a playlist of uploaded content was always in rotation AKA “Auto DJ”. When someone broke in with a live broadcast, it superceded the playlist, so essentially there was always something on the radio.
Things were not always smooth on the server side, and in the early part of this year, Grant rebuilt the system using Airtime, an open source internet radio station managing software. Some things that are different as that there is no set autoDJ list, the system is designed to let multiple people manage the scheduled content via a calendar, creating blocks of times for shows, and managing content in playlists.
It is a different mindset, something many of us never quite wrapped our heads around, and, from what I can see, not too many people have figured out how to program the stuff that plays on schedule. With that, we have… well a lot of dead air.
Dead Air is Not Our Friend.
I’ve been trying to better understand the system. For some, the new software might be seen as a step back (the meta data from live streams is not picked up form Nicecast, and the Twitterbot is sick, its not quite as easy to know when there is a live broadcast.
But I put a higher trust into what Grant sees for the next wave. And the thing is, we need some more people willing to go in on a semi regular basis and help fill out the scheduled content. A real radio station never plays the same things every Monday at 4pm, so what is needed is to pre-fill the calendar ahead of time.
I hope I can explain all of this, but bear in mind, I am only learning by trying. To understand it, get a hold of the Airtime Manuals. Or try to follow my path.
The leap of understanding is that there is first content (audio files) that can be uploaded to the media Library. You can also create entries for web stream, URLs for live streams from radio stations (this allows us to easily crosscast).
The uploaded media can be organized into playlists, either static like you do in iTunes, or as you can also do in iTunes, “smart” lists (or blocks), meaning you can have the system play stuff of a particular genre, or search for keywords in the title, artist, or even stuff that was uploaded before or after a certain date. Smart Blocks are the keys to understanding.
Shows are scheduled on the calendar; these are merely blocks of time marked to be in the mix. For each block, you have to load content into the show, which can be any mix of single uploaded audio items, a web stream, a playlist or smart block. But what is tricky is that I can create a show that repeats every Monday at 8:00am, but the only things that repeats is the schedule, each week content must be added to the block.
Going Inside the Station
First of all, you have to login into the station
You get a dashboard view with a lot of things going on, the top will show what is playing, or shcheduled. One key thing to remember is the station runs on Pacific Time.
You do not have to upload media to program the station! There is plenty on the server that can be put into new playlists. But the upload process is much easier (and direct) then before
Any audio uploaded should be mp3 files, and if you can, they should have useful metadata. Just click the Add Media button. You can drag and drop files to the upload window:
Once the uploads are done, they will appear in the Library (it is useful to have the list sorted by Uploaded Date (rightmost column) so you can see newest uploaded content first, here are the ones I just added:
You might notice that a few of the songs lack meta-data, this info is useful for building SmartLists If you click on a line, you have an option to edit the meta data:
Creating shows is easier if you use playlists to create sets of audio to play. The most familiar is a playlist, where you manually select shows and add/order them. Use the menu on the right pane to create a New Playlist.
A description is useful for others to understand what the list is for. You then go to the Library window, and use the various menus and search tools to find different audio files, which you can add to the Playlist via a button near the top of the Library screen. You can re-order and even shuffle the items in a Playlist.
Smart Blocks are a special kind of playlists that are assembled based in criteria rather than manually adding files. For example, with the ones I uploaded, they all have an Album name of “ccMixter”, so I can use that to create a Smart Block- the advantage here is that when I add new media in the future with the same metadata, the show when used will include the newest content.
This is a “Static Smart Block” meaning the song order is explicit as listed (or re-arranged); but if you switch the mode to “Dynamic” the list will be updated as content is added to the server that matches the criteria.
Or I could build one that looks for songs that are identified in genre as “Rock” music:
There are quite a few criteria available to build a smart list.
As you change the criteria and change, a static smart block will display what it finds,a good way to test your criteria selections.
The last kind of organizer/item is a web stream, a holder for cross cast radio shows- you will need to find the stream URL that plays in a browser (not a .pls or .m3u playlist)- it often ends in .mp3 We have a few already in the library, so check them out (edit) to see how they are filled out:
Scheduling Shows in the Calendar
This has been the hardest part for me to understand! The calendar has blocks of time where content is scheduled, and as you can see, up til now it had a lot of holes.
So you can schedule a block of time that you want to manage or add content that will play on the radio when there is no live broadcast. You click the “Add Show” button and fill out the info
When it is saved, it will appear on the calendar, but note that the bar which indicates the amount of content (which is orange when full) is empty– that is because we have only just reserved a block of time to have a show. So click on the box, and select “Add/Remove Content”
You then have access to the Library window to add content to the show, the bottom of the list of songs/audio will give you a measure of how much time you have filled; I am little short here:
The top of the Airtime interface shows what is currently playing- and the right side shows that there is a broadcast going from “Scheduled Play” (which is the calendar). If someone is live broadcasting, the “Master Source” switch is lit up.
And just to show, the information is indicated on the Radio Status page- note that the “Current Song” displays the name of the playlist AND the song:
Now what I got messed on was, I thought if I added some content to a show that was set up repeat, it would repeat that content every time. But that is not what happens, so if you make a show that plays every Tuesday at 3:30pm PST, you will have to add content to its block ahead of time for each time it is scheduled.
Filling in the Schedule
I am not sure that best way to have multiple people help manage the schedule (Grant is not going to do it all the time, neither will I). I thought about people staking their own blocks to manage, but worried we would end up with a patchwork.
But for this week, I have gone in an pre-scheduled shows and content for 24 hours each day, in a simple format of 3 eight hour blocks per day. I have a variety of content spread about there- web streams, playlists, smart blocks…
The full orange bars means that there is 8 hours of content added per block. And at least for the next week, something is always playing on the station.
But.. content will need to be added for the week after that and beyond). Otherwise we will get dead air.
I am not sure at all how to make sure we get content in the calendar. Maybe someone can schedule a full week? or just look for blocks without content and see if you can fill it.
There is a lot here, and I am not 100% I full explained or understand how Airtime works.
Just remember that radio is fun, but serious fun!