Dept.: Geek Guide
Tech: DIY Internet Radio
Time: 10 minutes and up
Dabbler | | | | | Master
It doesn´t have to be this way: Sitting there night after night, listlessly turning the radio dial trying to find something, anything, decent to listen to. Unchain yourself from the Clear Channel melody, the droning clones playing Justin and Jay-Z three times an hour. Nowadays you-yes, you-can provide something better. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection, and you can beam your own soundtrack to the world. Stop searching for the radio station you´ve always dreamed of, and go make it yourself.
According to online-audience trackers Arbitron and Edison Media Research, Internet radio is rapidly becoming a major part of the country´s entertainment habit. In one March week alone, more than nine
million Americans tuned in to the thousands of Web stations broadcasting music and chat. Webcasting-transmitting multimedia content over the Internet-is not new, but the broadband explosion has spurred the development of a vast range of tools allowing wannabe DJs to create, organize, and deliver programming to anyone who will listen. At the low end are basic free programs such as MP3Mystic, which lets you stream songs to an audience of one. At the top are full-blown studio systems like the $2,850 WorldVibrations device-an Internet radio station in a box. These expensive solutions offer better-quality audio, fully automated programming and announcements, and advertisement- and program-guide creators all rolled into one. In between, there are tools for all levels of amateur DJs. Turn the page to learn how to start your own superstation.
TWO WAYS TO WEBCAST
TO A FEW FRIENDS
Before you start scripting bits and booking guests, decide how big an audience you´d like to reach. If it´s small-say, 10 friends-you can use software that relies on your own broadband connection to deliver the tunes; but add too many listeners, and the audio quality will suffer. Shoutcast is the most popular free service, although setup is not for novices. You´ll need to download the Winamp MP3 player, a software plug-in called Shoutcast Source and a software server called ShoutcastDNAS (click here). Once installed, simply hit Play, switch on the broadcast module, and your audio will be available to anyone browsing the station listings at shoutcast.com. Newcomer Mercora offers a similar service that uses a proprietary player and sets restrictions on the amount of material your listeners can access each day to keep you from violating copyright laws. (Shoutcast leaves the legal up to you.) Setup is a snap, but the service costs $4 a month.
The above are best suited for streaming simple playlists. Ambitious webcasters who want jingles, advertising or call-in segments should pick up a software package such as Pirate Radio; $40
or SAM Broadcaster; $200. The dual-deck players with automated crossfade and the playlist-rotation features of SAM are the kind of technologies that real radio stations use to create professional shows. SAM also lets you compress your audio so that you can reach twice as many listeners on the same connection.
TO THE WORLD
If your broadcasting aspirations extend beyond your social circle, you´ll need some way to share the burden of
distributing your sound. That´s where Live365 comes in. For $10 a month, you get a ready-made station with 100 megabytes of storage and a quota of 25 simultaneous listeners. Pay more (from $15) and you can have 1,000-plus listeners and two gigabytes of space. Ironically, the basic service doesn´t let you transmit live audio; you have to upload prerecorded material as MP3 files. Pony up $15 a month, though, and you can hook up a microphone and audio player and start DJ´ing live and dangerously.
The free alternative to Live365 is a peer-to-peer app, which relays your audio along a chain of listeners to share the bandwidth load, allowing you to serve your sounds to a theoretically unlimited audience. Peercast and IceCast are the leading programs, but beware that both involve a fair amount of configuration and setup (find directions here). And remember, if one of your listeners´ Internet connections goes bad, everyone down the line will suffer too.
Keep It Legal
If you´re playing major-label artists, you should learn about licensing fees, lest Britney´s lawyers come knocking. Live365 and Mercora include fees in their charges; otherwise, refer to copyright.gov/carp to see what you owe. Or avoid the issue altogether by playing music from unsigned artists with their permission. There are literally millions of tracks available on the Internet (start at redferret.net/pmwiki), and most artists are grateful for the exposure.
Stay small Keep your audio files as small as possible. If you just want to beam out a late-night talk show, you don´t need high-quality stereo, so convert it to mono and use a format like Ogg.
Mic up Nothing makes a broadcast sound more amateurish than crackly, hissy mic sound. Use a studio-quality broadcasting microphone such as the MXL 770; $90.