We've just gone live with our school radio station this week. The children (and staff!) have worked really hard to get it up and running and we're all really pleased with it. It broadcasts over the internet so children and parents can listen to it on their computers, mobile devices, TVs, etc and we've managed to do it on a very tight budget. This article documents how to set up your own school radio station cheaply.
I visited a local primary school a few months ago and was really impressed with their radio station setup. They were able to broadcast live and had a specially equipped studio with furry microphones, mixing desks and on-air indicators. When I got back from the visit, I was really enthused by it and looked into setting up our own school radio station, in a similar vein but on a budget. I figured that if we didn't need to broadcast live and could use exisiting hardware/equipment then we could save a lot of money.
The requirements we had for the radio station were as follows:
- it should be fun and interesting and contain samples of the children's work
- all children in the school should contribute to it
- the children could take ownership of it after it had been setup
- it should be manageable from school by pupils and staff
- budget is a maximum of £10 per month
- it should contain no adverts
Our solution was the following, which is expanded on below:
- the children record their content on the ipads
- PCs are used to finalise the files into ogg format
- files are uploaded to the server which streams the files via Icecast
- the children manage the playlist on the server
Recording content for the school radio station
The children use ipads to record their content, using an app called micpro (other apps are available). This then broadcasts the files over WIFI to any PC which the pupils then download an .aiff file from. All teachers in the school and pupils from each class have been trained how to use this and they drop all the .aiff files into an incoming directory on our school server.
On the PC's, we use an online converter to convert each .aiff file into an .ogg file. We then use an app called freac on the Windows machines to manage the ogg tags (setting up artist and title accordingly) and and then normalise the files before saving a copy locally for backup and uploading them to our server.
Serving the radio stream
We looked into using a service provider to stream our radio station for us but ran into problems with our local council's firewall. Only one of the numerous service providers that we tried allowed us to upload and listen to the stream behind the firewall but their stream contained adverts and as they couldn't control what adverts we'd received, this was no good to us. So we decided to set our own streaming server up.
Our excellent ICT technician set up a VPS server for us (which is where our monthly cost of less than £10 comes from). The server consists of the following:
- an icecast server running on port 80 (this streams the transcoded ogg files)
- ices2 (available from the icecast website - this transcodes the ogg files, ready to stream)
- a text file which sites on the server and acts as a playlist
- a script which is run every time the playlist changes to restart the icecast server
- an app called Extplorer which runs on port 8080 and is used to upload and manage the ogg files and edit the playlist text file
Uploading the files
We set up folders on the server for each of the content types (e.g. Jingles, Literacy, Topic, Jokes, etc) and then the children upload the files to the relevant folders. The files are named 'firstname - content type - name': for example, 'Millie - Literacy - The Cat in the Hat'.
Managing the playlist
Editing and updating the playlist is a little complicated but I was really pleased how the children managed it. The structure of the playlist looks like this:
/home/radio/files/Literacy/Millie - Literacy - The Cat in the Hat /home/radio/files/Jokes/Alice - Jokes - Banana Joke /home/radio/files/Jingle/Billy - Jingle - Jingle Rap
When the playlist has been updated, the children go to the website and click on the reload button. This then runs a script, written by our ICT technician, which reloads the icecast server and starts the stream again from the first song in the stream. Songs are played, as per the playlist, and the playlist is looped through again and again. At the time of writing we have about 30 pieces of content which are looped through and are being constantly added to.
Please note, with the current setup we cannot stream live but we didn't need that functionality. We have old tablets around the school which stream the radio service all the time and parents/carers can listen to their children's content through their phone (just search for icecast player in your favourite app store). People can listen to the school radio stream on our website and we are in the process of creating QR codes to stick around the school and on the notice board so people can scan them and listen to the school radio.
I realise that this is quite a complicated process and it took us a couple of months to get up and running, so if you need any help or assistance in setting up your own cheap school radio station then don't hesitate to get in touch and I'll see if I can help you out.