Airtime 2.1 for Broadcasters

What is Airtime?

Updated for Airtime 2.1.3

Airtime is the open broadcast software for scheduling and remote station management. Web browser access to the station's media library, multi-file upload and automatic metadata verification features are coupled with a collaborative on-line scheduling calendar and playlist management. The scheduling calendar is managed through an easy-to-use interface and triggers playout with sub-second precision.

Airtime has been intended to provide a solution for a wide range of broadcast projects, from community to public and commercial stations. The scalability of Airtime allows implementation in a number of scenarios, ranging from an unmanned broadcast unit accessed remotely through the Internet, to a local network of machines accessing a central Airtime storage system. Airtime supports the playout of files in both the commonly used MP3 format and the open, royalty-free equivalent Ogg Vorbis.

Airtime manages the Liquidsoap stream generator, which is at the heart of the system. Liquidsoap generates streams from files in the Airtime media archive, which is indexed in a PostgreSQL database. Live shows are automatically recorded with Ecasound, using the soundcard line input. Editors and station controllers can use Airtime to build playlists and manage files (upload, add metadata, manage advertisements) inside the station or via the Internet, using a standard web browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.

The scheduler in Airtime has a calendar view, organized by months, weeks and days. Here the program editors can schedule playlists and shows for their broadcast station. In some scenarios, the transmitter is situated outside the reach of the broadcaster and all program management has to be maintained through the web interface. Possible reasons for this scenario might be of a pragmatic nature (running many stations from one central office due to limited human resources) or an emergency (running a transmitter in a crisis area without putting staff at risk).

A fully managed Airtime Pro service is available from Sourcefabric. Airtime source code and packages for Debian and Ubuntu are also available for download, under the GNU General Public License version 3. If you're an Airtime Pro user, you can go straight to the Getting started chapter of this book and log in. If you wish to install Airtime on your own server, you should start at the Preparing the server chapter, and work your way through the installation steps.

Airtime workflow

This typical workflow is intended to clarify the difference between the various components that make up a complete Airtime system. 

1. There are media files on a server, which include metadata in their tags (title, creator, genre and so on).

2. A PostgreSQL database contains the location of those media files and their metadata. This means you can search for and select a set of media files according to the specific metadata that you require.

3. There is a Liquidsoap stream generator on the server which can take individual media files and assemble them into a continuous stream. This stream can be sent to a sound card (e.g. for a broadcast mixer, on the way to an FM or DAB transmitter) or to a streaming server for IP network distribution, such as LAN, local WiFi or the Internet. You can stream to a sound card and to IP networks with the same server, if you wish.

4. Icecast (http://www.icecast.org/) is the default streaming server, and there is also support for SHOUTcast (http://www.shoutcast.com), but in theory you could stream from Liquidsoap to any online service. If a suitable software interface is not available for your streaming service of choice, you can send audio from Liquidsoap to a separate encoding or streaming machine via a sound card.

5. Airtime manages all of these components, and provides an easy, multi-user web interface to the system. It enables your station staff to:

a) upload media files to the storage server

b) automatically import the file metadata into the PostgreSQL database

c) search for and download media files, and edit the metadata of individual files, if required

d) create and edit playlists of media files, and audition them (playlists are also saved in the database)

e) schedule broadcast shows (which can contain playlists, pre-recorded complete shows, or be live) for specific dates and times on a calendar

f) automatically record live shows at specific times and dates (in 256 kbps Ogg Vorbis format) from the sound card input with Ecasound, upload them to the storage server and import them into the database

g) manage presenter and other staff access to the broadcast schedule calendar

h) see what is about to be played by Liquidsoap in a scrolling list view

i) upload media files from Airtime to a third-party hosting service, such as SoundCloud

j) audition live Internet streams from the server

k) check the status and resource usage of system components.

Example system

Combining Airtime, the Liquidsoap stream generator, the PostgreSQL database and file storage, you can supply a broadcast station with all the functionality needed for automation.

In the diagram below, the media files are stored on a server which also includes a PostgreSQL database, accessible through the local network. Liquidsoap outputs streams to both the transmitter and a streaming media server. The machine running Airtime is behind a firewall because it is connected both to the local network, and to the Internet for remote access. This enables Airtime to offer password-protected access to the media database and scheduling from both inside and outside the studio building.