A Junk Box Digital Radio Server

In the modelling world you occasionally hear of a junk box creation. It is when you take parts left over from old projects and other items that are no longer used and create a new masterpiece. Well I don’t claim this is a masterpiece but it fits the description in every other way. I took various components I had laying around and solved a problem I had.

The Problem

I live just outside a major city in an area where television and radio reception is poor. Although I can pick up major city FM stations they can be poor in quality.
Another issue is that the more interesting, at least to me, programs were often on the digital back channels. The only way to receive them is with a digital radio, if it worked in my area, or by streaming. The internet here isn’t very great either. Technically it is ADSL2 but performance isn’t great. However it can handle streaming a radio broadcast, well most of the time. I tested that on my laptop.

The Solution

Somehow it is easy to accumulate various pieces of hardware that are no longer used. What was once the latest toy that was proudly set up on the main system but is now laying in a cupboard unused, almost forgotten.
There are 3 main items I used for this project. First is my netbook. This still runs well even if the battery life is a little less than it used to be. However it is only 32 bit and feels quite slow even when doing something basic.
Next was a Creative Sound Blaster LX USB audio card. This was never state of the art but worked well for its original application. From memory that was to restore sound on an old pc where the audio output didn’t work.
Last was an old stereo receiver amp. It is probably 40 years old but still runs well. It does its best to receive the FM signals that do find their way this far out. But importantly for this project it has plenty of audio inputs on the back. Actually it is the centrepiece of a retro audio setup complete with cassette deck and vinyl turntable.

Putting It All Together

Okay this was the easy part. The netbook was running Korora 23 Xfce when first set up. Even though recent versions of Korora are only 64 bit it is still possible to upgrade existing 32 bit Korora installations to 24 or 25. However initially I didn’t worry about that. First I wanted make sure it all worked.
The only software involved was Audacious and Pulseaudio Volume Control. The later was only needed to tell the system to output sound on the usb sound card.
After getting the streaming urls from the websites of the stations these were saved in Audacious. The analog output was plugged into a spare input on the receiver. Actually this did give me my only problem. I don’t think these inputs had ever been used and maybe they were dirty or oxidised or something as I needed to unplug and replug a couple of times before they started to work.
Only changes I made to Korora was to disable the screensaver. As I was running off AC I also disabled power saving. The netbook has a hotkey to turn the display on and off so that was useful.

The Result

For zero cash outlay, I also had all the cables I needed, I have a working digital streaming radio system. It works well and consumes very little data. I’m pleased with the result. I did upgrade the Korora system to 25 which worked without an issue.
It isn’t perfect there are occasional minor dropouts, some stations are more prone to dropouts than others. I have considered trying other applications to see if that will help.

The Future

Now I’m looking into X2Go so I can control it all from this computer when I’m working. But maybe I need the exercise to get up and walk across the room so I’m not in a hurry to do it.