OK, I’m inspired…
Lauren Heywood recently wrote a post on her blog about her #ds106radio show with her friend and colleague, Alex Masters. And I’m now inspired to do the same. Lauren is someone I follow online for professional inspiration, and I have great respect for her work. I’ve also started tuning in for her radio show with Alex, and as Jim Groom would say, I’m a big fan! Lauren’s post captures what is so great about this rhizomatic, energetic, creative, and supportive community of designers, creators, and scholars. It’s accessible and technical, professional and personal, and it records and shares the how-to and the why-it-matters. Here is my attempt at something similar, and also an expression of genuine thanks, for everything.
Last weekend I made my #ds106radio debut
It was exactly this time last year when my colleagues and I began seriously discussing the need to depart campus in order to avoid spreading COVID-19 among our vulnerable students, faculty, and staff. As we mobilized to adjust our classes, I don’t think anyone could have imagined we’d still be dispersed and mostly working from our homes nearly a full year later. I recognize how lucky I am to be working, housed, and healthy. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a few dark turns, especially as the nights grew their longest and coldest this year. My near constant peeping at screens has meant aural engagement is a precious part of my routine. Listening to radio — the streaming kind and the transmitted kind — is a huge and welcomed rediscovery.
I’ve been an infrequent listener to DS106Radio for several years. I learned about DS106 and DS106Radio when Muhlenberg College adopted Domain of One’s Own and the Reclaim Hosting folks came to campus to help bring us into that outstanding community. When I attended the first Domains conference, DS106Radio was set up right across the event space from where I had small PirateBoxes set up to stream .mp3s from RaspberryPi single board computers and cheap, tiny WiFi routers I’d hacked to show how we could carry our domains along in our pockets and backpacks.
Since I’ve been home due to this pandemic I’ve had a few gnarly bouts with insomnia. That lead to my listening during times of the night when I normally wouldn’t. The #GlobalLivingRoom of DS106Radio has become a really important part of my life — my new old radio friend. I’ve reached out to folks via the #ds106Radio Twitter hashtag, which then lead to connections with great folks like @RadioEUG, @ammienoot, @easegill, and @phb256 and hopefully more still.
I’ve always loved college radio
and Muhlenberg College is extremely lucky to have its own radio station where students and members of the Allentown community come together to provide local, eclectic, original programming 24/7. WMUH 91.7 is an amazing radio station, in fact, it’s “The Only Station That Matters”. I support it as a listener, a financial contributor, and on a couple of occasions as a very early morning DJ putting together a post-classical, ambient, avant garde, and electronic show I hoped to call floating radio. I gave it my best effort, but leaving home at 3 a.m. for a 4 a.m. radio slot, and then working a long day after just wasn’t something I could pull off. But I’ve still held a secret hope that I might get back on terrestrial radio again some day. Until then, I have my own AzuraCast station. How about that?!
Reclaim Cloud and AzuraCast FTW!
When Reclaim Hosting announced Reclaim Cloud, they very generously let me into their beta test. After tinkering around with some of the one-click installers and learning a bit about how everything works, I set up my own instance of AzuraCast and wedged Simulacrumbly Radio into this site. As I got familiar with AzuraCast, I got some critical early help from @TaylorJadin and @RadioEUG and Tim Owens, of course. My big breakthrough, and perhaps the unique bit of insight I can offer, has to do with my use of a podcasting board called the RodeCaster Pro, and the F/LOSS DJ mixing application, Mixxx. If you’re interested in another technical setup besides Audio Hijack, and if you’d like to use a mixing board upstream from your Icecast connection, this is what works for me. It’s required a bit of tinkering, but I think I have settled on something that works.
The RodeCaster Pro
Two years ago, I was invited to participate in a grant-funded research experience by my colleague and friend, Ben Carter. Ben was among the earliest adopters of Domains at Muhlenberg, and he has several amazing projects he’s built with students on the web, most notably I think is the Iron Allentown Wiki. Ben is an incredible teacher, and his creative field experiences with his students are something I’m always eager to support. It was one of these faculty/student research collaborations focusing on charcoal production in the Lehigh Valley that got me thinking about podcasting as a way to engage non-technical audiences. There is a lot of general interest in industrial history from members of historical societies, genealogists, and residents who may just wonder why their local landscapes look the way they do. Ben and I thought a podcast about his research on charcoal and iron production in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania might make for good listening. I had no idea just how much work goes into producing these kinds of podcasts. The shortcomings of the project are 100% on me, and I still hope to bring some radio stories in for a landing, because the subject matter is, no kidding, amazingly interesting. And I think 2021 is the year….
But this is all to say, this grant enabled me to purchase a podcasting mixing board, the RodeCaster Pro, that turns out to be really, really good for DIY radio production, too. I want to emphatically say that none of this is necessary to get on the air with either your own AzuraCast radio station or on DS106Radio. I swear, I had this stuff literally collecting dust and I felt I should make some further use of it. But my fondness for LoFi makes it necessary that I underline that nothing but a laptop mic and an internet connection is needed. In fact, the WebDJ features of AzuraCast make it as easy as bookmarking a webpage. Maybe I’ll write another post about WebDJ soon.
So once more for the folks in the back, you don’t need a mixer, but they can be fun, if pricey. There are several other entries into this gadget space that are less expensive and there seem to be new ones every year. I also expect the prices will come down over time, so long as the growing popularity of podcasting supports their release. In addition to the RodeCaster Pro, you can also check out the Zoom PodTrack P8, the Zoom PodTrack P4, and the Roland Go:Livecast, and likely others.
The main features of the RodeCaster Pro that I find so useful for doing a streaming radio show are 1) the programmable pads, 2) the mute microphone buttons, and 3) the bluetooth connection for mobile phones. I’ll go into just a little detail on each of these, but please reach out if you might have a use for these either personally or professionally. This is a fruitful area of exploration for designers and technologists working in higher education, and I’ve spent enough time on this stuff now to at least help out a little or to know where to look if it’s beyond my understanding. I’d be thrilled to help if I can.
PADS are amazing and I love them. They let you pre-load public service announcements, bumpers (short bits of music), promos, pre-records, show IDs, whatever. The RodeCaster pro connects to my laptop to let me drag and drop sound files onto pads. I can specify what color, and whether they latch (play only while I press) or play through with with a tap of my finger. Even more amazing, each pad lets me overdub, too! In other words, I can upload 15-30 seconds of music or sound effects, then overdub my voice onto the pad, without needing to mix it down in multi-track editing software. There are 8 programmable pads, in two banks, for a total of 16. Having this versatile way to cue up elements of a radio show is helpful, for sure. And it’s a fun way to add some humor and interest to the formatting.
MUTE buttons are great, especially with the way Mixxx works. The sliders are great for setting levels, but I try to not move them once I’ve got everything checked out. The little red button at the bottom of each channel lets me mute and unmute quickly. The light is a visual indicator that helps me avoid dead air (but I still mess this up). The small green button beside mute determines whether that channel comes through my headphones and/or the monitor, in my case that black speaker in the corner there. I never use my monitor when my mic is hot because it causes feedback. But the monitor is nice when I just want to listen to programming coming in through the mixer, like DS106Radio!
Bluetooth might be the most amazing component built into this mixer. I can sync my mobile phone to this bluetooth channel on the Rodecaster Pro, and bring in phone calls or streaming music from an app. If it is a caller, they hear everything coming out of the mixer that isn’t muted. This means call-in guests can queue up the next song, for example. The Rodecaster Pro has special effects built in that prevent people from talking over each other (called ducking), and there is an automatic filter that prevents the caller from experiencing a feedback echo. Using the bluetooth channel in combination with a pad means I can record a short phone interview, store it on a pad, and then play that interview when the time is right during my broadcast. There are tons of uses for the bluetooth/pad combo that I’m still just learning.
These are just the highlights. Truly scratching the surface. The Rodecaster Pro has 4 XLR channels (the three-pronged plug on the back of fancier microphones), a USB 3 channel, and a 3.5mm input channel (that small headphone plug), in addition to the pads and the bluetooth channel, for a total of 7 channels. There is an onboard MicroSD card slot that will record your show or anything else you want to bring into the mixer. I use this a lot when I find old stuff on the Internet Archive or YouTube that I might want to use on my AzuraCast radio station, or perhaps on #DS106Radio. I found a great, inexpensive 3.5mm to XLR cable that I can use with Skype or Zoom that doesn’t take up my precious USB channel on the mixer.
Ok, that’s enough about the mixer. Onto Mixxx
Using Mixxx software and Icecast
I think it’s nothing short of amazing that both AzuraCast and Mixxx are Free/Libre Open Source Software (F/LOSS) applications. And the communities around both are really something. Mixxx has a great support community online to help folks learn how to use the software. And if you need evidence of the awesomeness of the AzuraCast community, check this out (and thanks again, Silver Eagle).
But back to Mixxx. I won’t go into much about how to use Mixxx, because the online support documentation and forums are really good. But I will show a couple of screenshots for how I set up Mixxx to work with #DS106Radio, specifically.
First, after installing Mixxx, you’ll need to visit your preferences. I use a Mac, so the Mixxx interface may look a little different on Windows or Linux, but not much different.
The first thing we’ll configure is the Input of the Rodecaster Pro. I have the entire mixing board coming into Mixxx as the Microphone 1-2 channel. This totally works, but it means that the Pads, Bluetooth, and Microphone are all activated and brought into my broadcast stream when I click on the MIC TALK button, which I’ll show in a second. If you are connecting a USB microphone, for example, life will be very simple. Just find your USB microphone in the dropdown and set it to channels 1-2, as I do.
There are tons of configurations, and I’ve ignored most of them. I’m happy to explore all of this stuff further, or document things with greater specificity, if there is interest. Here, I’m showing the fewest things necessary to connect Mixxx, through Icecast, to DS106Radio. But seriously, if you’re interested in more exploration or if you have tips of your own to share, please reach out.
I’m skipping the Output settings, presuming that most folks will use the headphone jack of their laptop to monitor their broadcast downstream from their Icecast connection. Just keep in mind if you do use a mixer like mine — it cannot be both the Input AND the Output or you will get some serious echo. I mean, that can be fun to play with, but it won’t make for a, shall we say, typical radio broadcast.
Next, we want to select the Live Broadcast settings in the Mixxx preferences.
You will want to create a new connection, specific to DS106Radio. All of the settings depicted above are: Type = Icecast2; Mount = live; Host = ds106rad.io; Port = 8010; Login = source. Please reach out to the #DS106Radio hashtag on twitter for the password.
I also have automatic reconnect configured. This is a good idea if you think your connection might drop during your broadcast.
Pro Tip: If you are using a VPN, you may want to disable it prior to going live on DS106Radio. While using a VPN is an excellent practice under most circumstances, my VPN kicked me off a couple of times during my debut broadcast until I disabled it. I think this occurred whenever I was handed a new outbound identity or IP address, but that’s just a guess. It makes sense that a VPN service like mine would have trouble maintaining a stable connection to a server over the course of 2 hours. However, I’ve never had trouble with my VPN while using the WebDJ feature of AzuraCast on radio.simulacrumbly.com.
Finally, there are two things remaining for you to do in order to broadcast. Once your settings are configured, you’ll need to click on the small satellite dish icon in the main Mixxx screen.
That should do it! I hope this is helpful and please reach out if I can be useful to you. Also, please let me know if I’ve gotten anything wrong. Thanks, and I hope to see you on the radio soon.