Free Software for Radio Stations

We all love a bargain – and free is the best bargain of all! Decent free software for radio stations can be hard to come by, so to help you out I’ve made a list of the best free software for use at radio stations. Hopefully you can find some value in these tools, and save yourself a few dollars in the process.

This list focuses exclusively on the radio side of things, instead of the web or admin side of things. I hope to write about free software for the other departments of a radio station in the coming weeks.

 

Edcast Stream Encoder

Edcast is the best (if not the only), open source streaming audio encoder. It’s capable of taking your line-in from your computer’s audio card, encoding it into a variety of formats and sending it to a streaming media server such as Icecast. It also has more advanced featured such as support for metadata. Formats supported include Ogg Vorbis, MP3 and HE-AAC (the last two need you to install a free plugin) amongst others.

The Edcast project died a sudden death a couple of years back, but has since been reborn and lives a happy life over at Google Code.

Icecast

Icecast is the “other half” of the streaming puzzle. It takes audio from an encoder (such as Edcast), and redistributes it to anyone who wants to listen. While Edcast will live on a PC at your station, Icecast generally lives on a web server somewhere capable of sustaining high levels of continuous bandwidth. It is very configurable via the XML config file, and runs on either Windows or Linux. I use this for a number of stations, and have found it to be highly reliable.

Pira.CZ Silence Detector

I’ve written about this before, and will write about it again because this is a pretty awesome bit of software. It take a line in from your audio card and then listens for “silence”. In reality, silence is determined by a set audio threshold. When it’s detected and lasts for a pre-defined period of time it triggers a variety of alarms such as emails, SMS, audio playback, contact closures, and phone calls.

This is the easiest way to have your computers wake you up in the middle of the night when something goes wrong!

NewsBud

NewsBud was introduced to me not long ago by a Twitter friend, and I must say I’m impressed. It is a great little software package to create and output news bulletins, including copy and audio grabs. It works by sucking in stories in RSS format, and allowing you to edit them and place them into a script. It works either standalone, or in a networked environment by writing flat files to a network share. If you want to startup a news room, or need a better way to read copy in a studio, then it’s worth giving NewsBud a try!

If your rip-and-read provider or wire service provides content in a format other than RSS, it should be a fairly easy process to take than and convert it to RSS using a little custom script. Failing that, you could always just cut-and-paste it.

MP3Gain

If your music library happens to consist of MP3 files with inconsistent volumes, then MP3Gain is the app for you! This software will analyse your audio files for perceived loudness and adjusts them losslessly. This means it is not re-encoding the files as it makes the volume changes, sacrificing audio quality as it does it. It achieves this by tweaking the headers in the MP3 file itself, rather than turning it into a WAVE file first, making the changes there, and re-encoding.

Of course, if your music library is made up of a lot of MP3 files – now is a great time to consider moving to an uncompressed format. Large hard drives are very cheap these days :-)

Audacity

While not able to boast the same quantity of features as professional DAW packages, Audacity is probably one of the best audio editors when it comes to ease of use and no-nonsense editing. It features full support for multi-tracking, and basic processing functionality such as normalisation, compression, limiting and gain. It even has basic effects such as reverb and echo. It supports WAV file reading and writing out of the box, and will support saving to MP3 via the LAME plugin.

For those who can’t afford, or don’t need the power of Adobe Audition, I highly recommend Audacity. I know countless community stations who use this,

Fideliphone

Consider Fideliphone as a free, software-only alternative to those expensive audio codecs (Tieline, Zephyr, et al) stations use for remote broadcasts. While it may not pack the smarts a lot of the newer models may come with, it’s still a solid package with fully bi-directional stereo audio support. It does require UDP ports to be opened in your firewall, but it does function at bit rates of 17 to 320Kbps. It also boasts automatic jitter correction, although I wouldn’t expect much on a congested 3G network.

I’ll admit it’s been a year or two since I last used it, but I did get satisfactory results out of it when operating over a pair of ADSL2+ connections. It was easy to get going, and functioned as advertised. What more could I expect?

ZaraRadio (1.6.2)

I was almost not going to include this here, as choosing the right playout system for you can be very difficult and perhaps not something that should be picked by some random blog post. However, ZaraRadio is a great little playout system that needs no database and almost zero training. It allows you to pick audio files in common file formats from your local drive, load them into a playlist with various macros, and then hit play at the appropriate times. It needs no fancy audio cards or database. It even has an event-based playback area, so you can automagically trigger macros and playlists at certain times – great if you need to play the news at the top of the hour. The biggest downside in my mind is the lack of mix points – everything is a fixed fade time (unless you name your files in a certain way to redefine this time).

If you need something simple or super easy, give it a shot. I know people who use it and are happy. I even use it myself to replay audio for an internet stream.

What’s Up Gold Syslog Server

I’ve recently written about this for the August 2013 Telos Alliance eNews, so I won’t bore you with the details again. Basically, you can setup your Axia gear to send messages to this software and then trigger email alerts if any of the messages meet certain conditions. If you gear is complaining about some major error, then it can tell you and you can fix it before it gets out of hand. Other gear also supports the Syslog protocol, such as Cisco switches. There are other Syslog server packages out there (it’s a common protocol), but at the moment I think this is the best one.

 

Have I missed something? Post it in the comments below!

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I'm Anthony Eden, and I'm a broadcast technologist. I've been working in broadcast media since 2008 (getting my start in Community Radio while still at school), and developing software and websites for just as long. Right now, I work full time for Hope Media, and provide some freelance services through Media Realm.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden or Google+