Distributed, freeform, collective webradio

When I saw this last week I immediately thought … now that would be fun. I started stirring around a few ideas and experimenting with a few streaming technologies, mp3 playlist formats, XSPF options, and the like. There were a couple things I was looking for:

  • the ability to automate playback for a volume of MP3s
  • the option to interrupt an automated track rotation with a live broadcast stream and return automatically to the rotation when the live broadcaster disconnects
  • the ability to group and schedule automated playback of tracks or pre-recorded shows
  • a mobile capable audio stream

As I already had a Dropbox account I thought I’d take a shot using it to collect submissions. I had some success but encountered an issue with the uploading larger files. Not wanting to spend too much time I noticed that Dropbox had a bunch of extensions – one of which was http://dropitto.me/. To expedite things I set up a drop at http://www.dropitto.me/ds106 to easily collect submissions.

After playing with a few options I decided to experiment with a hosted IceCast streaming service that offered the CentovaCast front end for track automation and broadcast features.  http://shoutcastautodj.com/ offered Icecast, CentovaCast, 5 GB of storage, unlimited bandwidth, and 100 concurrent listeners. Done. After poking through the docs and exploring the options in CentovaCast I discovered I could have set up a volume and a mount point on a remote server for audio submissions but had already put http://www.dropitto.me/ds106 in the wild so decided that I would just run a process to FTP things from my Dropbox folder to the IceCast server storage volume and randomize the playlist. I fully expected to get maybe 20-30 submissions … enough to experiment and toy with the features. Instead radio received 280 audio submissions in 2 days with a peak of 35 concurrent listeners on the first day.

As you can see – my process involved many shortcuts so I could get things broadcasting. I am having a blast exploring CentovaCast programming options, exploring possible FOSS alternatives for track automation, and testing the live broadcast capabilities of IceCast. CentovaCast has the ability to interrupt automated playback with a live broadcast from WinAmp, Nicecast, or other such broadcast capable media players. While I was getting the IceCast server up and running I ran a few test live broadcasts by hooking up my laptop to my turntable and live broadcasting The Mothers of Invention – Live @ The Filmore – worked like a charm. Haven’t had a chance to go back to the live broadcast tests again, but looking forward to playing with this more in the coming week. At this point I am basically dumping submissions wholesale into sequential rotation that currently loops every 5 hours – free form in the extreme. I took a shot at assembling and scheduling the show -Convoy! from Nicole’s truck song submissions Saturday afternoon and it seemed to work well. Great collections of poetry, mashups, original recordings, audio oddities, and allsorts file in steadily.

If you are interested in programming or a thematic show, how about assembling your tracks
into 30 minute, single MP3 file submissions or submitting a series of MP3s with some sort of naming convention that will help with sorting into shows/themes … for example:

  • truckershow1-1.redsovine_teddybear.mp3
  • truckershow1-2.willienelson_onroadagain.mp3

The same would go for any bumpers & stationIDs. If you could use the prefix bumper
then it is easier to space them out throughout tracks. Looking forward to scheduling some programs and tuning into live broadcasts next week.


23 thoughts on “Distributed, freeform, collective webradio

  1. Clint says:

    Grant, this is really cool work. Yesterday as I was at work and had Radio DS106 looping in the background I thought about how this audio experiment was becoming a powerful tool for your learning community to develop their social presences – a way for the learners to project something of their own into the courses, ala Anderson, Garrison and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model.

    And then I began to think about how this radio model could be a great way for an educator to become a curator of content. I mean, how much great audio subject matter could an instructor gather about their field and have loop 24/7 for students to listen to in the bg while they work – set the learning mood and atmosphere. Say, for example, you’ve got a course on something, like history of the labour movement. Why not have a curated instructor list of songs about unions or labour that students could tap into when working on projects at home – something playing in the background as a way to get them in the mood and perhaps reinforce themes.

    And then I thought one step further and have students curate the collection – find, identify and submit their own pieces to the collection, as part of their learning process.

    or, or maybe have them find a spoken word piece from the course content that resonated with them and set it to music, mash it up, submit it and have the students create original work..in English take a poem and recontectualize it and use music to reinforce the them – or completely reinterpret it. ee cummings auto-tuned.

    My point with my comment rambling is that you’ve got my head swimming with possibilities in a most wonderful way. The old radio geek in me thinks this kicks serious butt…cool on so many levels.

    1. Grant says:

      You hit this on the head regarding social presence. What I started to pick up on as listener count increased and Twitter comments unfolded throughout the day Saturday is that as #ds106 participants were contributing music to the radio stream they were establishing a voice and connecting with each other through sound. Utterly random in sequence and diverse in genre and form, the audio told it’s own story about the participants. I see this as the polar end of music recommendation services like LastFM and Pandora … don’t get me wrong, I think those music recommendation services are a great tool for exploring new sounds – just different than what I saw emerge on #ds106 radio. The setup I stuck together facilitates and broadcasts the sound of a community – not generated by an algorithm, but by people.

  2. Fine, fine work. Many thanks indeed.

  3. Grant, first – thanks for doing this. Radio #ds106 has been by far the most compelling course experience I’ve ever been a part of. Clint’s absolutely right, in that it ramps up social presence to new levels. I can tap into Radio #ds106 at any time, and hear voices contributed by others in the course (and beyond). Something that somebody wanted me to hear. Amazing. And that anyone can contribute _anything_ – powerful stuff.

    This sounds like a session at NV2011…

  4. Scott Leslie says:

    Nice find on the http://shoutcastautodj.com/ site – $30/month for unlimited bandwidth and 100 listeners is awesome. If this ends up going for a while let me know, happy to chip in on costs. Viva la revolucion libre.

  5. Pingback: Radio! | Abject
  6. Grant says:

    #ds106 radio is the most fun I’ve had online in 10 years – comparable probably only to my DNS and Proxy shell games with The Great Firewall of China NetNannies while living in the PRC … I am absolutely thrilled that people enjoy it … this experience is inspiring me to dig into P2P broadcast technologies and other decentralized methods of broadcasting online. I am energized, learning so much, and having a blast listening to submissions.

    “Despite all the amputation, you can still dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station”

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