Written by: David
Several times, we have had the question on this list, how to find and implement radio stations in MaPlEr. The scenario is, just about always, the same. You have a favorite station, that you want to add to the station list of MaPlEr, but you can't get the link to work. There is a few reasons thereof, and also a few work arounds, at least in some cases. In this article, I will try to deal with a somehow technical issue, in as little tech terms as possible.
Before digging into the matter, though, let me encourage all of you to give feedback on my articles. Are they helpful, do they increase your knowledge and use of your computer, and what can be done to improve them.
First of all, I want you to understand a bit of the nature, of a radio
station on the internet. Without going into too many
details, let's tell it this way:
A good old radio studio, would have a microphone, that was attached to an amplifier, which again was attached to an antenna. When a person spoke in the microphone, the sound was converted into electronic signals, that were boosted in the amplifier, and shot out on the antenna. These electronic signals, flew through the air, and hit your local radio antenna, underwent a load of electronic treatment and conversion inside your radio, and finally were transformed into audible sounds in your speaker. Most of this process is still going on. Only, now aday, the studio sends a parallel stream of signals, on a cable to their local server.
What is a server? In very short terms, simply a powerfull big version of your desktop computer. In fact, many small studios, decide not to use an air-borne distribution, and solely rely on distributing their material on the net.
You could, basically, do it yourself. You would speak into the microphone, the sound would undergo an electronic treatment inside your computer, and the whole thing would be streamed out on the net. Here, me and a thousand other people, could 'hook on to' this stream, and listen to your broadcast. This is the very basic of an internet stream, and will make up the basic understanding for the rest of this article.
In the prior paragraph, I only told you the very physical parts of the story. But you know, from all other operations you are performing on your computer, there always need to be some kind of software installed to handle your operation. That is the case when comes to streaming as well. The streaming software firstly will convert your speech, or the music you play, into electronic signals.Next, your streaming software will connect to the internet, and send out all these signals on the net - also called uploading the stream. But the story doesn't end there. When you upload your stream, it is actually send to a big server, the one of your Internet Service Provider - or ISP. This is where your website is located, and that is where the rest of the world would find your stream.
OK, so now we have finally got your stream out there, on the internet - ready for all the world to hook on to it. Then what happens next? And, how can you and I hook on to, or connect to, such a stream?
Before we deal with that point let me leave
the computer world for one short second. I will need to take you inside your
home, and out in your car. You will soon enough
realize, why this break away from the computer is necessary.
Let's just turn our attention slightly away from your computer desk. In your living room, you might likely have a stereo, or even a home theatre system. These are units, that let you listen to radio, or TV broadcasts; as well as playing your CDs and maybe even DVDs. Now, let's have a walk outside, and look into your car. Here you have a car stereo, yet another unit, that will let you listen to music, and even radio broadcasts. Allright, let us now go back inside your house, and put your hand in your pocket. Oops, what did you find? Your nice little MP3 player. Again, a unit that will let you listen to music, and receive radio broadcasts.
All of this equipment, will do the same job. Yet, are you able to use them at the same place? Could you, for instance, have brought your home theatre system in your car, and have it work? Hardly! First of all, you don't have a wall outlet in your car, hence nowhere to plug in your home theatre system. And, even IF you happend to arrange the cabling for it, it would never have worked. Your car runs on a battery, giving out 12 volts. Your home system is based on the power from your wall socket, which means 110 volts, if you are located in the Americas, and parts of Asia; and 230 volts, if you are in Europe and Australia. Likewise, you could not bring your car stereo inside your house, and have it work there - at least not without certain extra equipment, and a good portion of hazzle. After all, the ONLY equipment, that will be operational both places, is your little, PORTABLE, MP3 player.
We are now ready to enter back into the computer world again.
An Internet-based audio stream, can be streamed in different versions, or formats. Several providers, or radio stations, do their streaming in a browser dependent format. This would compare, to streaming on your car radio, in the above example. Just as little as you can take your car stereo inside the home, and use it there, you cannot take such browser dependent streams outside your browser. And, similar to the fact, you cannot have your big floor standing home speakers connected to your car stereo - whatever nice that would have been - you cannot have MaPlEr playing browser dependent streams. Yet, you can have music on your portable MP3 player, and have it playing in your car, and also connect your player to your home system, with whatever benefits that includes for your listening experience. Likewise, there is - let's call them - PORTABLE streams, that you easily can implement in your audio player on the computer, like MaPlEr. Such streams would have to be in a portable format, supported by MaPlEr. The most common formats are MP3, and WMA. If you get a link for such a portable stream, it is a matter of a breeze, to have it added to the radio list in MaPlEr. I will deal with the process of doing so, near the end of this article. However, there is a couple more questions, that we want to have sorted out, before we get that far.
There would be a few reasons for doing so. Some of it might be understandable, the restt will be more. . . Well, here is a few reasons:
Whichever of the above does apply in a given situation, the same end result is always applicable: What is browser-based streams, MaPlEr is out of luck in implementing - at least as per date. Does that mean, that such stations are out of reach for the MaPlEr users? Not necessary.
When I mention accessibility, it is due to the fact, that some of these streaming services are on a 'paid-for-basis', meaning you will have to subscribe to their services for a monthly or yearly fee. Such services might be hard to add to MaPlEr, since they often would require some kind of log-in information to be communicated to the server, every time you want to connect. As per date, MaPlEr does leave you no chance of communicating such log-in information to the streaming service - in the radio section - hence you would be out of luck in connecting; even if the stream itself would be portable enough. Most of the services though, are free for the user, does require no log-in, and are good to go with MaPlEr.
Very shortly told, it 'records' the browser dependent stream, converts it into a portable format, and 'replays' it as a portable stream. This process will of course, take a short time. Therefore, a stream that is delivered through a streaming service, will always experience a slight delay from the original stream, a fact, I will deal with in a few paragraphs. The quality of the conversion will vary greatly, from one service provider to the other. Keep in mind, this process has to be continuously ongoing, and the provider might do it for several streams simultaneously. Some of the bigger streaming services, do literally stream THOUSANDS of stations at the same time. Of course, this calls for tremendous amounts of computer resources. Depending on how much computer resources are available, the number of streams that has to be converted, ecconomy and so forth, the provider might decide to have his conversion set to a rather low level of quality. This could result in you finding the streamed service of little interest from one provider, yet you would find the same station streamed at a much better quality from another provider. When adding stations to the list, that ships with MaPlEr, the sound quality of the stream has been one of the parameters taken into consideration. Little use in implementing a stream, that has all that low a quality, that it hardly is bearable to listen to it.
Another fact, that has been a matter of consideration, is the stability of the service. Since the streaming service is yet another extra add-on to the chain between the studio itself and you, there is at least one more place that could cause corruption and instability of the sound. If a station is often experiencing 'off-air' periods, will it be of intrest to have it implemented on the list of available stations? A few other things have been considered, hence you might realize that there is available streams for many a station, that is not implemented at the moment. And, time to add it on to the list, is always a matter of fact as well. :) Also, be aware, that since the stations might have reasons for blocking their material from the streaming service, and other similar reasons, there is quite a few streams, that tend to come and go. They will be available in periods, and next time you check on the streaming service, they are gone; just to reappear at a later time. Again, care has been taken, not to implement such stations on the MaPlEr list. If you want, you are always welcome to add them on to your private list. And if you find them to be stabil enough, send them to the Mar-Dy team, and they could be implemented for all users.
One more thing to keep in mind, is that the streaming service would have to make use of a conversion software. There is several such software out there, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. If you took one song from your collection, and converted it with two different software, it would leave you with two slightly different-sounding songs. This even if you have the same settings in both software. Specially, this is the case when converting to MP3. Two streams, that both are provided in 128kbps quality, might give you slightly different sounding experience. In a later article, I will be dealing with conversion of music, and here give some more reasons for such differences. Why I mention all of these points, is for you to be aware there is chances what you find for a bad quality stream from one provider, you might be able to find from another provider in a sound quality that is more to your liking. You cannot always determine such things, simply by the text on the screen, stating the kbps, but might have to try out the different streaming alternatives, and determine which suits your needs the better.
There is at least three ways of doing so, except from asking your friends if they would happen to know. The three ways are as follows:
Now that you have found your favorite station's portable stream on the net, you are finally ready to add it to your MaPlEr station list. Follow these steps, and you should be ready to listen to your favorite in a few seconds:
If you had turn on your hardware radio, and your internet stream, on the same station you would have noticed a delay between the two of them. This delay is due to the fact, that the streamed sound has to undergo a long line of steps, before it reaches you. Below, I have made a list of the most important steps. Your hardware radio, which likely would be an FM radio, would need far less steps, and each step would be les vulnerable for interference, leaving the signals the chance of reaching you far quicker. (for your curosity, it is worth to mention that a DAB radio, will have a slight delay from an FM radio, due to the fact of it having to undergo some of the steps that applies for the internet stream. It would still be ahead of the internet stream.) Adjusting your clock from a streamed radio is not adviceable, if you want to have it set exactly. How much of a delay would you be looking at? It might vary from a few seconds, to most of a minute or even more. It will depend on the actual time, each step in the following list takes:
As you can see, there is several chances for small delays. Only fractions of a second on the different steps in the list, would add up to several seconds delay in the end. In addition, we would have to calculate the total distance the signal has to travel - from the studio to the local ISP, further on to the streaming service, from there to your local ISP, and finally from their server to your computer - all in all, it might be hundreds, or thousands of miles. This is specially the case, if your streaming service is located in another country. Imagine this scenario: You are sitting in Canada, wanting to listen to a station just cross the border, in the USA. In air span, this might only mean 100 miles (or some 160 km). This will basically be the distance your FM signals might have to travel. Thing is, you might be connecting to a streaming service, that is located in Germany, Europe, which might be as much as 5000, or even 10000km away. The signals will have to travel from the US, to Germany, and back to Canada, before they finally reach you. And, on their way, they will have to undergo several conversions, and security checks. The fact that you can listen to the stream this close to realtime, is no less than amazing. You might have little control over where the streaming service provider have their server located; although the above example might be of more extreme, and rare character. The fact that the stream has to undergo all these steps, and travel this far, does pose yet another chance of sound degradation. Depending on how good the cabling through all this travelling is, for instance, you might experience static noises that will have entered the sound on its way. Again, if you find the quality of one streaming service unsatisfactory, try see if you can find another provider. They might have shorter distance, better hardware, and more adequate software.
I stated earlier, that in cases where the radio station is being streamed through a streaming service that require login, MaPlEr is not capable of handling it. That is not exactly true. It is possible to work-around this, but the solution will not show up in the radio list, cannot be added to your favorite list, and the information will have to be entered for every connection. Furthermore, I cannot guarantee it to work in all cases. I therefore, have not been talking too much about it, and won't do so in this article. You can play with it on your own, if needed. It is found under the Extras menu, and is called FTP. It all depends on the way your streaming service has been set up.
It is my hope, this article has been of help to you. Although MaPlEr holds close to 3000 stations in its list today, there is several thousands of stations yet to be implemented. 13 countries are represented, but many more could have been in the list. You can add your own to your private list. If, on the other hand, you find stations that has general interest, holds a satisfying quality, and generally is stabil; you are always welcome to send the information to the Mar-Dy team, for implementation in future lists. MaPlEr is a sparetime project, and all the radio stations has been added by volunteer work. Hundreds of hours has been spent in finding, testing and adding the many stations so far. More addings will come, as time permits. Yet, even more time has been put into the project of developing, testing, releasing and distributing the software; all done by the Mar-Dy team in their sparetime. Enjoy your MaPlEr, and hopefully this article will have helped you doing so even the more.