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Software to automate/schedule playback within a playlist
January 24, 2014 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Need advice from desktop productivity nerds, radio nerds, MP3 playlist nerds, and general problem solving nerds. I volunteer at a community FM radio station. Everything we play is a stream from a Winamp playlist (look inside for the reasons for this). We need a piece of software (or a creative solution) that can be automated to jump to a place in a playlist and then schedule itself from there. Very complex details inside.

Disclaimer: I don't know anything about radio, but I'm just starting to learn.

We are an all-volunteer station that just recently got its FM license. Since we don't have a full studio yet, we are streaming from a Winamp playlist. Programmers send in their recorded shows and a "traffic controller" (or stream manager) "schedules" them by putting them in the playlist. Using combinations of promo spots, station IDs, and general fill-in material, the playlist is carefully crafted so that each program begins right on schedule, which corresponds to our calendar on our website. The stream is sent to our FM transmitter in a far away location. We currently don't do live programs, except for on special occasions.

We use Winamp for several reasons, one of which is that it talks directly to the stream broadcast software which I believe is Shoutcast(?).

Our programing runs on an 8 hour loop, which begins at 6PM and then loops three times until it arrives at 6PM again the next day, for the new round of programming. Here's how it works:

-Every afternoon, a stream manager builds the playlist so that all the programs "land" at the right time for the day.
-The broadcast day begins at 6PM with a news program.
-At this point, the playlist contains the programs for the day BUT ALSO the previous day's programs, because up until 6PM, the previous day is still looping.
-At any point after 6PM, but before the loop kicks in, the stream manager must delete the previous day's programming, so that when the day's programming reaches its end, it will not begin paying the previous day's programming, but the new fresh 8 hour block.

The problem: It's not always easy to predict how long the stream scheduling is going to take, and we don't always want to just sit there and wait around until the new day's programming starts (or we just don't have the time to), so we usually build the playlist, then come back a few hours later when it's convenient to delete the previous day's items.

This is a ridiculously awesome/nerdy solution except for the part where everyone forgets to log back in to delete the previous day's programming and the playlist gets totally off schedule and we get angry phone calls from listeners.

There's gotta be a piece of software that will automatically "jump" back to the beginning of the NEW loop, disregard the previous day's programming, AND loop back to the CURRENT day's 6PM program after the playlist ends. I'm also pretty sure that we can find a piece of software that will route audio from whatever software we use to the streaming software. For rerouting audio on my Mac at home for unrelated music stuff I use a program called Soundflower, I'm sure there's a solution for Windows.

So far, I've considered Ableton Live, which has a "follow actions" feature which dictates what should happen after an audio clip finishes playing through. This would have been perfect except that there is no "whenever the clip ends" criteria. It's all measure-based, which makes sense musically, but not for clips of random length such as radio programming.

iTunes: If only you could put PLAYLISTS in the "Up Next" menu, it would work perfectly, but you can't.

One more detail: there is a different "traffic controller" for each day, and what we do is we use LogMeIn from home to get into the machine at our office, so take into consideration that the machine at the office (the streaming machine) must be Windows based, and that we won't actually be sitting at the streaming machine while we do this. With that being said.....we are open to a complete re-imagining of the entire process if anyone has any ideas! Preferably a solution that does not require us to hire someone. Thanks!
posted by DJ Broken Record to Computers & Internet (4 answers total)
I see two relatively easy solutions that don't require changing your current workflow at all, just your timing.

1. Wait until 5pm (or earlier if needed) for your traffic controller to login and begin building the new playlist. This way you are already on the new day's programming when you finish the playlist and can immediately delete yesterday's without having to remember to login.

2. If your traffic controllers are only available earlier in the day, change the time your "day" begins - move it back to noon, or another time that is more convenient, so that again you will already be on the new day of programming by the time you complete the playlist and can immediately delete yesterday's.

Of course, both options assume you can build the playlist faster than it plays, and that you wouldn't need to move anything around that has already played, since that would make your first run-through different than the later two.
posted by trivia genius at 1:33 PM on January 24

Alternatively - I haven't used Winamp since around 2002, but I seem to remember that I was able to add a playlist file to the end of my current playlist, which told Winamp to load the new playlist. If it still does this, and loads the new playlist file in place of the current playlist, you can just create a new playlist with the date and add it to the bottom of the current playlist any time during the day's last repeat - then Winamp will automatically switch to the new one at 6pm.

Of course, if Winamp allows you to create "playlists of playlists" that go back to the "master" playlist at the end of each individual playlist, that would just give you a 16 hour playlist with both old and new material, which is obviously worthless.

Test it with a couple small playlists of a few songs each and see what happens.
posted by trivia genius at 1:42 PM on January 24

Wait, if you're looping the playlist three times, can't you just load the day's playlist in the queue three times consecutively? Then when the next day is created, just add that playlist in the queue three times. Once a week or so, you can delete the old stuff.
posted by dobi at 1:47 PM on January 24

WOAH! Very good ideas re: manipulating playlists!!! That might be the ticket! I will huddle with the other volunteers and test things. Thank you guys!!
posted by DJ Broken Record at 2:10 PM on January 24

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