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February 10, 2007 1:42 AM   Subscribe

What software am I looking for in order to organize and play a bazillion mp3 files as if my computer were a mini radio station?

Yeah, I suppose I could do it with Winamp and a variety of playlists. I'm hoping to discover something a wee bit more robust.

Here's the background:

My mother is in a managed care facility. She (along with most of the others there) has alzheimer's. She simply lacks the motor skills, concentration and mental ability to perform basics tasks. This means that she can't really participate in many of the activities she formerly enjoyed. So, she sits and gets depressed. REAL depressed. All of us have been wracking our brains to come up with something that can bring her a bit of pleasure. I think I hit on something.

She lives in two time-frames at once -- her mind reconciles them into a hybrid world. I thought I might play to that.

I've collected thousands of Old-Time Radio (OTR) mp3 files from the 40's and 50's (public domain stuff, btw!). Now I want to set up a computer in the facility's common area such that a nurse needs only to flick a switch and click a button to get hours of Jack Benny, Gunsmoke, Fibber McGee, Dinah Shore and the Shadow. Toss in some Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller maybe -- you get the idea.
posted by RavinDave to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What's wrong with iTunes? Okay, I'm sure you'll get a lot of comments answering that, but it's free and works for both Windows and Apple, and I've always loved the way it's organized and how user-friendly it is.
posted by Brittanie at 2:12 AM on February 10, 2007

I'm confused. Do you literally want it to sound like old-time radio? As in a couple of hours of music, and then an hour of old-timey news at 6pm, and then an episode of The Shadow at 6:30pm, and so on? Or is it okay if it's just a giant mishmash of stuff that doesn't adhere to any particular schedule? Because if it's just the latter, I don't see why you couldn't just throw everything into Winamp, hit Shuffle and Repeat, and leave it playing. Setting an actual radio schedule, on the other hand—that's going to involve more work, and I don't think there's an automated way of doing it that'll suit your purposes.

Another possibility to consider, if the computer has an internet connection: there are plenty of Shoutcast stations that play OTR. Many of them appear to play only serials, so maybe not quite what you want, but it's an option.
posted by chrominance at 2:59 AM on February 10, 2007

I envision a stand-alone system. I need to keep the frontend reasonably simple; if the nurses are intimidated, it's not likely to be played. The notion of using Winamp is something I considered -- I was just wondering if there was something better.

A mishmash is better than nothing, but I'd kind of like to schedule it in broad blocks -- a loose routine is probably better in this situation.
posted by RavinDave at 3:14 AM on February 10, 2007

The something better is an XM or Sirius satellite radio. Turn it to the old time station and leave it playing. Turn it off when you're done.
posted by yclipse at 3:44 AM on February 10, 2007

yclipse ... I'm not opposed to that idea, but the pricing would be cost prohibitive. Even though it's playing in a common area of a nursing home, it would require a business-class subscription rate -- just as if you were piping it into restaurant.

Besides, as a long-time OTR fan, I can assure you that the OTR offering on both stations sucks big-time.
posted by RavinDave at 3:54 AM on February 10, 2007

I actually used a combination of iTunes and OpenOffice (or Excel or whatever you prefer) to do a 24-hour radio program for actual FM broadcast here on WHRB in Cambridge.

As I actually wanted to get some sleep during the overnight parts of my broadcast, I needed to reliably and accurately program in station IDs, PSAs, and the like into the schedule. So, I made a huge playlist in iTunes (including all the plugs and spoken bits), Shuffled it, exported it as a file list, dumped it into Excel, and set up a formula column whereby one column would calculate, say, starting at 12:00 Noon and going forward, at what points I would need to dump in an announcement. The column simply added the song times against the running "clock," and basic math told me when to drop in the spoken segments. All I had to do was drag-and-drop the songs to reorder them to match my newly-timed Excel playlist, and voila: instant radio simulation. (Except, of course, I was actually on the air.) It worked like a charm and the whole program ran ... well ... like clockwork.

Sounds like a pain in the arse, but it only takes about an hour if you're good with spreadsheets and don't mind combing through files in this manner.

(I also had to do some fancy-pants things with the Party Shuffle in order to get it to randomize artists and albums within the playlist, but you can probably figure that one out.)
posted by mykescipark at 4:23 AM on February 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sounds like what you are looking for is a way to hack Windows so that your mp3 player and playlist startup automatically when the PC is turned on. This guy built an MP3 box for his car that accomplishes that:

Don't boot into Explorer:
Edit your system.ini file:

shell=C:\Progra~1\Winamp\Winamp.exe C:\win\startm~1\programs\startup\startup.m3u

Instead of booting into explorer when Windows comes up, I have it launch WinAmp and a playlist in this example. You can replace what comes after "shell=" with a batch file and have it do whatever you want, load anything you would have loaded in the startup folder, etc.

So, you could get a cheap older PC and put Windows 98 on it, Winamp and hack the system.ini file for one touch operation. The MP3Box guy states that there were no ill effects from simply powering off the PC rather than shutting down. He also disables ScanDisk. Details are on the linked site.
posted by Otis at 8:20 AM on February 10, 2007

DRS 2006 is designed for automating radio stations. Perhaps you could use it for your purposes?
posted by fvox13 at 9:32 AM on February 10, 2007

Even though it's playing in a common area of a nursing home, it would require a business-class subscription rate -- just as if you were piping it into restaurant.
I'm pretty sure you will run into the same issues with your MP3s. My father used to play CDs for his waiting room music, and he had to pay an additional license fee to RIAA or whomever.
posted by misterbrandt at 9:43 AM on February 10, 2007

misterbrandt -- that's the beauty of OTR. For a variety of reasons, most of those recordings are in the public domain. Granted, most of the Big Band, Crooner and Swing stuff is probably out (alas!), but there are tons of royalty free stuff. Not all, mind you -- but a huge percentage.
posted by RavinDave at 10:03 AM on February 10, 2007

Banshee for Linux can do this. Set up an X session that does nothing but call banshee in shuffle mode. Then nurses can just push the button to boot, and power it off when done.
posted by QIbHom at 2:19 PM on February 10, 2007

I made a standalone headless music system for the house here. You can easily do what you want by building a small, simple machine, loading up the hdd with linux and the tunes and using mpd to play the tracks in a never-ending random loop that restarts whenever the machine is turned on - no screen, one button. It doesn't need X and so will run on an old Pentium II with no video card quite happily.

I have done this with a fanless computer in a hifi style case with excellent results.
posted by Gamecat at 8:55 PM on February 10, 2007

I'm on a Mac but had great luck doing something similar with iTunes and Nicecast. Anybody who wanted to listen in could just click a link on my web page and listen to what I was playing. As the "broadcaster" you know when someone is online and listening so you can tailor the selections to order.

They could even rig their computer up to an actual radio and play the audio through that if you want to complete the illusion.
posted by bink at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2007

There were some great ideas here, I was particularly impressed by mykescipark's clever approach and may explore it further -- but I was really intrigued by the program that fvox13 led me to (ie: DRS2006).

(Oh, and I loved that article Otis provided about the makeshift mp3 player. Not right for this project but I just might build one for myself.)
posted by RavinDave at 1:54 AM on February 14, 2007

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