Make an Internet Radio Station on a Budget

Out of the podcast revolution it’s now possible to broadcast to the world using just your computer and a microphone. Obviously you may need a little more than that, but those are the basics. What more do you need to know to own your own radio station?

In this article, we tell you how to record your shows, how to sequence them and broadcast them automatically using a hosting service and how to broadcast live.

Ideas for some programmes: talk shows, music shows, news, documentaries, anything you want. It’s your radio station. But you can’t just play anything, like commercial pop music for example.

Google “radio broadcast music rights” or visit this Wikipedia page for more info about broadcast rights. You could get yourself hit with a lawsuit, so ignore this at your peril.

You have to make sure what you are playing is cleared for broadcast. Safer is “Podsafe music” or music safe for broadcast because the artist has allowed those rights to be free. Google “podsafe music” for sources. You can also make use of these lists to get started.

internet-radio-ccmixter

Of course there is nothing stopping you from broadcasting your own music, which is the safest of all.

On the simplest level you can just record voice or music directly into your computer with open source audio software like Audacity. Attach a good quality USB microphone and some decent headphones for monitoring, press Record and you are good to go. Or you could kill two birds with one stone with a USB headset like these.

Mixing voice with music or sound effects can also be done in Audacity, but of course you should use Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) like Garageband or Logic if you have them.

internet-radio-audacity

Remember, professionals separate the process into three steps: recording or “tracking”, “mixing/editing” or combining pieces of audio together, and “mastering” or balancing the audio for optimum loudness of output.

A full tutorial on how to do this is outside the scope of this article, but there are many tutorials out there on the wider web. The short version is to record what you want, cut out the bad bits and combine and layer them in a way that is pleasing and well balanced with no regard for overall loudness. Just make it all fit together. If it sounds distorted, then bring down the level of everything till it’s not. Then load the finished track into Audacity, choose “Effect -> Compressor” and accept the defaults.

internet-radio-audacity-compressor

You can also broadcast live. You could even host a phone-in for people in your area (provided you wire the phone output into your mixer). To broadcast live you will need a mixing desk as well as headphones and microphones. The mixing desk is to combine the music and other stuff with the live feed from the mics. Or you can also use DJ software.

Along with those things you are going to need some kind of software to send the live audio to a SHOUTcast server on the web somewhere (more on this in a minute). Here are two options to get you started.

Mixxx is a free open-source DJ software that allows you to cue up tunes and speak in between them. It also has dual decks for a bit of mashup action. It optionally sends the output directly to your SHOUTcast or ICEcast server. Available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

internet-radio-mixxx

Butt – broadcast by Daniel Noethen runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X and is free for unlimited use. Butt is an open-source and cross-platform app to connect your computer to your SHOUTcast server and will encode and stream audio from your mic or line-in.

internet-radio-butt

Once you have all that you will need a SHOUTcast server to broadcast to the world.

There are many services out there that host radio stations and provide URLs where computers and Internet radios can find you, plus supply methods of playing recorded stuff when you are not broadcasting live.

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To give you an idea of costs, Voscast, for example, hosts your radio stations, and all you have to do is pay a monthly fee (based on the amount of bandwidth you need) and upload your shows. They charge the following:

  • $6.95 for 24kbps
  • $8.95 for 32kbps
  • $12.95 for 48kbps
  • $16.95 for 64kbps
  • $24.95 for 96kbps
  • $32.95 for 128kbps

What is a good bandwidth size for a show? A lot lower than you would think. Radio is commonly much lower quality than CD, and a lot of the shows on Internet radio are 32kbps or 64kbps. Obviously if you are broadcasting high quality stereo music, you’re going to need as much bandwidth as you can afford, but for most applications, 32 or 64kbps will be enough.

Voscast also offers a free AutoDJ subscription so you can play recorded shows from your schedule (files you upload to their server) when you are not broadcasting live or if you only play recorded shows and don’t want to have your computer serving them up all day.

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Have you had any experience with Internet radio? Do you have any questions about setting up a station? Please let us know in the comments below.