Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Another idea that could prove to be a business venture for some Linux geeks.

After writing about the POS systems last week, I started going through my list of other past lives--things I have done either professionally or as a hobby in the past. This got me thinking about broadcast radio, or more accurately, what Linux could do for broadcast radio.

Although most of my experience has been at the transmitter end--I have a commercial radio-telephone license and have tuned and repaired broadcast transmitters--I am pretty familiar with the other pieces that make a radio station work. Back when I did systems testing on an operating system for big iron (yup, another past life), some of our commercial customers ran programs on our computers to keep track of what music had been played. This was mostly an accounting issue--that is, it kept track of royalties.

Computing has changed a lot since then. Now, computers essentially are free instead of costing millions of dollars. Thus, this simple radio tracking application could be run on any old PC today. But much like the old days of having to write something down and then enter it into the computer, there must be a better way.

Enter Station Automation Software

The better way would be for a computer to run your station completely. That is, you store copies of all your program materials on the computer, and then tell it what to do when. Materials can include music, pre-recorded programming, commercials and practically anything else. Toss in a few voice features, such as a digital voice announcing the current time and the output of a weather station, and the only time you need a human is when you have a live program.

Expanding a little on the "what to do" idea, there really is no reason you need to be too specific. You could, for example, tell the system to select randomly from a pool of songs, never playing one more often than every 27.5 hours.

This radio design isn't far-fetched; in fact systems like this already exist. For example, Radio Paradise pretty much has this radio model in place--with Linux. In fact, Radio Paradise is well worth a look and listen simply to see how such a solution works. But, a lot of radio stations are out there, and Radio Paradise is the only one I know of that's running the automation on Linux.

So, what's wrong with this plan? I have two local (that is, Costa Rica) examples to draw from, and both are shortwave stations. There is nothing special about that fact; shortwave stations simply happen to be the stations with which I have talked. In reality, an Internet-only station could use the same software for its work.

Back to the examples. First, right up the street from my house is what is supposed to be the world headquarters for Adventist World Radio. I put a slight disclaimer here because the sign on the street announces this, but I didn't discuss it with anyone at the station. In fact, I was at the station for an auction of radio equipment when the following discussion developed.

The person I talked to, one of the few that spoke any English, said the station was using a station automation package that runs on Microsoft Windows. He then went on to explain that the system wasn't reliable enough. That is, it would fail and someone would have to reboot a computer--which pretty much defeats the purpose of station automation.

Of course, I bought up the idea of using Linux. To my surprise, he was familiar with Linux and said the station had tried loading it on one of its computers. His big concern, however, was that if the station found a Linux-based solution it would have no support. That is, what if Linux failed? Or a possibly free software package? In his case, he was a one-year volunteer; even if he got up to speed on the solution, he would be gone within a year.

The second example is Radio for Peace International. RFPI is located about 20km from where I live, but the back-haul to its Internet connectivity is supplied by a wireless link whose antenna is about 20 feet from me as I write this. I am much more familiar with RFPI's operation and expect it is typical of many stations.

RFPI downloads much of its program material from the Internet--using a Linux system, of course. Rather than save the material on the computer, RFPI saves it on mini-disks. Broadcasts, then, are done with a live announcer filling in between pre-recorded material. The live broadcast also is recorded on tape for re-broadcast later in the day.

In the RFPI example, the only missing link to full automation is some software. That is, the program material already is in a form that could be saved on the computer, and that same computer certainly is capable of doing the editing to add the local content.

Why doesn't RFPI make this change? Simple--it already has something that works. Making this change to full automation would require procedural changes and training. And, when the automation breaks, the station needs someone to bail it out.

______________________

Phil Hughes

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Is it Time for a Product?

Kenneth Fine's picture

Try Rivendell Radio Automation System.

Is it Time for a Product?

Kenneth Fine's picture

Try Rivendell Radio Automation System.

Is it Time for a Product?

Kenneth Fine's picture

Try Rivendell Radio Automation System.

Costa Rica

James Pellow's picture

Interresting how small the world really is. I was the guy you talked to down in Costa Rica. I did leave them with one machine running linux, and as far as I know it ran for them for years without ever being touched. That system wasn't doing automation, because as I said down there, being core to what they did, I didn't want to leave them with something they couldn't maintain. I currently work with a low power radio station here in the States that I have set up entirely on linux. Linux does its automation, audio processing and STL functions. It has been working very well for the last couple of years, and we estimate a 10k savings over more traditional setups. If you are familiar with linux and are willing to experiment a bit, I would definitely recommend looking at rivendell. Its been rock solid for me. Another radio station I work with is using BSI Simian on Windows XP and we have had nothing but problems with that product... constant reboots, strange configuration issues nobody seems to be able to fix, etc.

Cheers,

James

simian

Anonymous's picture

saw your commments on Linux journal about simian. we also have had a "great" time with it. Lots of configuration problems, windows issues, driver problems, etc. and surly tech support. Must have a generic type computer -non-proprietary -(definitely not Sony) and never use Raid. Ghost a backup once in a while. Then it MAY work ok. Not a fan of windows, anyway. We dropped simian. Possible alternative to Rivendell is Tunetracker. Costs a little bit ($700 for program, or $1200 for station in a box), but tech support is fantastic. In that case, however, you must have specific hardware that will work with the program. Good thing is, the right old Pentium 3 works better than a new computer -faster, too. Cheap if you are willing to deal with a different operating system.

realtime audio processing

Witold Wojciechowski's picture

Hello
I am looking for audio processing software like MBL4 (burnill.co.uk), EnergizeII or SoundSolution but working natively with linux (jack support would be nice...). These windows programs can be used with wine but it's not a good way... Any free reliable alternatives?
If anybody knows something usable for broadcasting, please let me know.
Witek

Louderbox

James Pellow's picture

I have been using Louderbox for that. It supports Jack, and has been running stable for us for about 3 years. I did have to modify the code a bit to remove some of the non-linear distortion added to make a loud sound. The code is fairly easy to understand if you have some programming background.

Radio automation for Linux

Al S.'s picture

Interesting to read about radio automation for Linux. I put a low power fm radio station on the air a couple of years ago having been out of the radio business for a lot of years. During my time out of the business I started a company that developed a computer system for livestock auction markets. A couple of years ago we rewrote the system for Linux and have converted most of our customers. Since we have gained some experience with Linux I decided we should write a system for our fm radio station. We did and it works great. It schedules music, joins networks, does temperature announcements, allows for the broadcasting of sports and news events through an unattended control room and more. It is a cake walk to install. Glad to see a little activity for radio broadcasting software.

Re: Linux Radio Automation

Boz's picture

Our station has now been running solely on a Linux Server with zero downtime (except for the occasional operator error, see mashing buttons, above) since the first of September.

It allows us to run either totally automated, semi auto, or 100% percent human controlled.

We are working on the ability at the moment to connect to the server, do a "live remote" and log back off

http://members.cox.net/305213 or connect directly to the stream @ http://amber.streamguys.com:4100/live.ogg.m3u

Linux radio automation

John Schad's picture

Phil, our two companies, Smarts Broadcast Systems and On Air Digital, USA have been developing Linux systems for a number of years. We have the first Linux product in the field now and have a second product about to launch. It does everything you want it to do.

John Schad
President
Smarts Broadcast Systems

LiveSupport 0.9 released

Douglas Arellanes's picture

We have released version 0.9 of our LiveSupport radio automation/playout system, which is released under GPL and available at http://livesupport.campware.org. Its Freshmeat page is at http://freshmeat.net/projects/livesupport.

LiveSupport 0.9 is a 'technology preview' release intended to get the server backend out into the open source community.

A maintenance release, 0.9.1, is coming in the next few days, with the 1.0 version expected at the beginning of May. 1.0 will include a user-friendly client written in C++ for GTK, and includes 'Live Assist' functionality. The 1.1 release is scheduled for the beginning of June and will include radio program exchange and networking components, as well as portal functionality.

LiveSupport uses the Helix Player, with a custom-built playlist scheduler written in C++ and multimedia archive written in PHP on top of Postgres. Components communicate via XML-RPC, and the 0.9 release includes a user-friendly web interface that enables remote administration of the station.

We're eager to get feedback from the community on the project, so please check out what we've got so far.

LiveSupport 1.0 rc1 is be out Now!

Frans van Berckel's picture

The LiveSupport 1.0 Release Candidate 1 is be released. It will include the following features and improvements over 0.9.1:

Replacing audio player Helix with GStreamer and a working C UI for LS Studio.

- Fixing issues related to GStreamer
- LiveSupport Studio, including 'Live Mode'
- First draft of the end user manual
- Sample database with jingles
- UI improvements on both LiveSupport Station and Studio
- Language support for English, German, Czech, Serbian, Hungarian,
Spanish, Dutch and possibly others
- Countless bugfixes, including: Scheduler System V init
- Easier localization for LiveSupport Station

===================================================

After beta testing the full release of LiveSupport 1.0 "Adam" will will be include:

- Completed user manuals
- Bugfixes after testing
- Additional language localizations (including possibly Arabic)
- LiveSupport Knoppix installer/demo CD with 1.0 preinstalled

====================================================

LiveSupport 1.1 will include:

- Conversion of LiveSupport SMIL playlists to RSS 2.0 + enclosures
(for syndication, interoperability with Campsite and podcasting)
- Smart playlists
- Recurring playlists
- LiveSupport Network
- Cue window
- Advanced Playlist Editor (possibly)
- Windows port of LiveSupport Studio (possibly)
- Mac OS X port of LiveSupport Studio (possibly)
- Improved documentation including videos

The date has not yet been set for LiveSupport 1.1, but is likely around the end of summer.

There are a number of items we would like to have, but are unable to do on our own because of limited resources. These include:

Support and ports to other platforms, including

- RPM packages (both Mandriva and Red Hat)
- Gentoo eBuilds
- FreeBSD port
- Windows
- Mac OS X

LiveSupport 1.0 released

Douglas Arellanes's picture

LiveSupport 1.0 was released yesterday (8 September 2005) and is up on SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=136949).

The LiveSupport home page is at http://livesupport.campware.org

The LiveSupport developers' page is at http://code.campware.org/projects/livesupport

Campcaster

Frans van Berckel's picture

LiveSupport is renamed, it's Campcaster now and there's a new website ...

http://campcaster.campware.org/

The Campcaster developers' page is available at ...

http://code.campware.org/projects/campcaster/

The 1.3.0 version is just released. It mostly changes to the Studio component.

* standard Gtk widgets using libglade
* multiple select
* drag and drop

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

Well, I've found this.

http://www.salemradiolabs.com/rivendell/download.html

>

SuSE Linux Professional 8.1
XFree86 Supported Video Card
AudioScience Audio Adapter
Mouse or other Pointing Device
Optional: Touchscreen Monitor
>>
alluz4hs@hotmail.com

Rivendell

drew Roberts's picture

Just an update on Rivendell.

It will run on debian. It will run with jack which uses alsa and so will send sound out to the sound cards that alsa supports. (I think I can make it work with no sound card - see below.)

I seems like a fairly complete package. It doesn't seem to include the music scheduling module and the commercial (traffic) scheduling module. Well, the logmanager can perhaps do some of this. I have to learn more.

Just a heads up. Darkice can now run with jack as the input. Since rivendell can use jack, you can send the playout from rivendell to darkice and encode it before sending it to a streaming server like peercast. (I think that I can use the alsa dummy driver if I only want to do streaming, I will have to test this.) At the same time, via jack, you can send the same playout from rivendell to the sound card and out to your broadcast chain.

all the best,

drew

(+1)/10 to email me

Automation system

Bruno Gabuzomeu's picture

Rivendell only supports *.wav storage.

Other projects of radio automation:
mediabox404.org
reboot.fm/software

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

The Stewie project:
http://www.wolfteck.com/~jschind/stewie
Is a simple radio automation solution. It would not be ideal for commercial use because of its lack of support for commercials. It does support liners, multiple playlists, legal IDs, and ogg/mp3 music files.

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

Well, I think that is exactly what he's talking about. Can't figure out how much the AudioScience sound cards cost though.

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

This is a professional grade of broadcast audio card. Depending on the parameters of the card, they can cost anywhere from $500 to like $2000. Another way to go is to use the JACK audio system and use your generic Soundbaster like card. Not as good of quality, but definitely cheaper

question about JACK

Rob's picture

Which Jack application would permit a user to use Rivendell with a standard sound card/sound cards?

Thanks in advance!
rob

re: question about JACK

drew Roberts's picture

Rivendell is a jack application. Rivendell will play to a sound card through jack which sits on alsa. So, if the soundcard is supported by alsa, rivendell can play to it.

Also, IIRC, the new version of Rivendell has direct alsa support so you can leave out jack if your needs are simple.

Jack does let you do some cool things though. Like play to the sound card and stream at the same time.

all the best,

drew

(+1)/10 to email me.

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

Hi my name is Craig Carley and I am a DJ out of Bradenton, Florida and I was looking for a company who could help me with getting a grant for a building and assisting me in starting a LPFM radio station for the Manatee and Sarasota County minority communities. If you could point me in to the right direction please respond.

Sincerely,
Craig Carley

My number is 941-812-9439 Email: djbigdawg@hotmail.com

try these

Anonymous's picture

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

Hi,

there is currently a discussion going on in the Hospital Radio Community in england over which is the best server o/s to use and we are having the same problem. Nothing which is affordable is Linux compatable. Most of us use Myriad form Psquared.net or Raduga with a couple of others using other systems.

Any ideas would be appricaiated.

Ash

chairman@radioroyal.freeserve.co.uk

isdn transceiver black box

Peter Thalmann's picture

Hi, we are an FM radio broadcaster community in northern italy and recently have been looking for high-quality audio transmission and broadcast over ISDN or Lan/Wan and have come across the Telos Zephyr that even features beside all the other goodies the mpeg 4 compression algorithm with transmission times reduced up to 80 percent.

The issue is the price, and we are thinking about building a system like the Zephyr with nearely the same features based entirely on open source wherever possible and commodity hardware.

Any suggestions and/or ideas would be very much appreciated.

Thank you, Peter

peterth@gmx.net

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

An old DOS based system now runs on Linux very well, which is UDS, Ultimate Digital Studio. I forget who owns them now but a simple google search would work. They are as well known as Master Control.

I have to add, while I think there is much better than just settling for Windows, I've never had a single problem with $1,500 up to the $10,XXX automation software packages running on 2K/XP. Never a reboot, never slows down, never lags. Like anything I blame it on the driver of the vehicle. A lot of systems are assembeled and setup by distributors of that software and don't know all the ins and outs of how it works.

Then to make a sale, they convince budget operators to go with something not suitable for the job such as Windows 98 or older Windows NT leaving you worse off. Not for profit usually settle for these problems the most.

I've worked with a lot of systems, and the only honest person I blame for their problems, not Bill Gates, not the software makers (although 5 times out of 10 its programmer bugs of the automation software its self...), but the radio announcer, for finding a way to break the computer pressing or mashing the wrong buttons on a keyboard... otherwise I never see a single crash or need for reboot unless its time for upgrading the drives or ups.

The next biggest killer I find in automation systems is their attitude where 'run internet,email,production,on-air' all on the same pc. I beleive in one pc for production/internet, and a stand alone air pc running only one programme for the rest of its life reliably and efficiently. The next is a lot of widnows small-end automation developers use directx this, software compression/decompression realtime playback that. Instead of relying on quality sound cards with their own processing/hardware codecs. I wouldn't get a software ugprade for my car's fuel injection system if I wanted more power, I'd go by a bigger engine.

Just 2 cents worth from a very experienced radio engineer that's put up with all the bugs and wooes that came from the development of radio automation software, and all the bugs the programmers make more than the OS.

Gavin.

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

I've been looking for a solution suitable for a small not-for-profit low power FM radio station. There are a few affordable (less than US$200) options that require Windows. I haven't been able to find a polished solution that could be used by a Linux iliterate person. Too bad, since I really hate to run any Windows flavour on a PC that needs to run anattended in a remote location.

Linux based automation system

Sandy Haga's picture

We caught your question on linux journal about a linux based automation system. We are looking for one. We have a couple of AM stations and want to simulcast them via DSL cable and have an internet station as well. Need Linux to be able to do this. Have you found a linux based program you could use. Would appreciate any info you have. school@nlcm.net

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

can you say cronjob?

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

im interested, you can send me some informations about this subject
ange2@nativeweb.net

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

IM VERY INTERESED BUT CAN YOU GIVE SOME INFORMATIONS

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

I've been researching this same topic for a recently licensed Low-Power FM station in SE Minnesota. There are many new LPFM stations starting up in the US and automation software would help these non-commercial, community stations fill the hours between volunteer live hosts.

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

I run a small FM station myself. I ran a program called OTSDJ on WIndows. I love the program, but I can't stand WIndows. After my station's LAN got wormed last month, I'd had enough. I've now only have one machine here running Win2k pro, which we have to keep, but it will be dual-booted with linux.

Of course, it definitely made for a long week in switching over, and as much as I LOVED (AND PAID FOR) OTSDJ, I just can't take windows for an answer any longer. I've just had it crash & burn too many times.

We're running Mandrake 9.1 and XMMS with the crossfader plug in on air at the time being, but at least that virus of a OS is gone. The station doesn't sound as smooth as it did, but I am waiting for a solution... either a native Linux one or a way to run OTSDJ in Wine. I haven't tried it yet, but I'd say it probably won't fly... at least the current version, but maybe an older one will. It's something I'll have to tinker with on another machine. But, from my experience thus far, Linux is solid as a rock, once you get past the initial bumps.

I'll also see if the old app called "playlistbuilder" will run on Wine... it's a pretty simple, yet effective m3u generator which lets you arrange a simple format clock by directories and generate a playlist. It's a VB6 app, don't know how hard/easy that would be to get running... also, would windows apps choke on the fact that paths are separated with a / instead of ??

I guess I'll have to set another machine up with MDK 9.1 and the latest build of WIne and start to see what I can get running on it...

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

While it may not run on Linux, TuneTracker (which runs on BeOS) is an excellent system. Since BeOS has (or had) such great native multimedia support/performance, setting up a completely automated system is very simple - even for me.

It's at http://www.tunetrackersystems.com/

Still, it would be nice to see a nicely polished open source system that can perform well on Linux too.

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

For commercial stations that need a Linux solution for mission-critical use, Scott Studios was shipping products for Linux before the industry had ever heard of Linux. They design their products to interoperate on open systems. http://scott-studios.com/

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

their web site looks like it has been non-critical designed...

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

Community radio stations all over the world could make use of something like this. A station like Triple R in Melbourne, Australia http://www.rrr.org.au is an ideal candidate for trials of something like this. The radio is un-playlisted and a very diverse range of music is played. One important thing for an un-playlisted station is to get track and disk information from CD's played to air. With CD Databses being more available the reality is just around the corner. They would also need something to play station ID's and other announcements triggered remotely from the broadcast console.

Be sure to check out Rivendell.

drew Roberts's picture

Be sure to check out Rivendell.

http://www.salemradiolabs.com/rivendell/

From their site:

"Rivendell is a complete radio broadcast automation solution, with facilities for the acquisition, management, scheduling and playout of audio content. It has all of the features one would expect in a modern, fully-fledged radio automation system, including support for both PCM and MPEG audio encoding, full voicetracking and log customization as well as support for a wide variety of third party software and hardware."

all the best,

drew

Re: Helping Broadcast Radio with Linux

Anonymous's picture

The opensource base application for your idea has been available for a while. Although its project founder (darkeye) regards it a beta, it works without any problem for some radio stations right now. Darkeye is a true radio enthusiast and supports civil radio project everywhere with his experience and work:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/darkice/

darkice?

LVB's picture

It seems that this darkice is a streaming solution that takes audio input from a sound card. This is not the "radio automation" solution that was asked for.

reboot.fm - community radio tool box

pit schultz's picture

in berlin, germany we had such a system up and running for 3 month on FM, and now in webcast mode.

streamer
ogg vorbis based, ices/icecast, automatic fall-back on outages (silence detection), seemless switching between streams, encoder/decoder solutionto stream directly from different studios to a transmitter via internet (dsl). based on a couple of python scripts.

scheduler
realized in open acs, multiuser editorial system, focused on
community radio (not playlist but show-based), lots of features.

archive (DAM)
EBU dublin core supported, open tree system, perl/postgres based.
generates static web pages ready for search-bots.

still missing is the studio module, with mixing desk etc, midi
controler and playlist/jingle support.

too much to describe, if you are interested, contact: reboot@XSPAMreboot.fm

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