WGXC-90.7 FM

Free and open source tools for community radio

Oct 12, 2011 11:14 pm
From the Prometheus Radio Project:
“Free software” is a term used to describe software which is free to use, free to share, and free to modify. In technical terms, this means everyone can access the part of the software that was written by humans, called the “source code”. For a computer programmer, that means being able to understand how the software works, fix things that are broken, and add new features. For a non-programmer, it means not being beholden to the whims of a single company that holds the license to the software. If you use free software, you can use it however you want, whenever you want, on as many computers as you want, and ask anyone you want for support if it isn't working. Read below for more about specific tools.

“Open source software” is a related term that describes software that typically has the same freedoms as free software, but is created for reasons that are less about freedom and more about producing good software. Because free software and open source software have similar implications for the people using them, we'll talk about them somewhat interchangeably in this article.

Free software is an excellent match for community radio not only because it is affordable (most free software is also free of cost, though we encourage you to donate to the software projects you care about!), but also because the principles of free software align well with the principles of community radio. If you are using radio to take back the airwaves from corporate control, why not use tools that are free from corporate control along the way? This article presents a survey of some of the free software tools community radio stations can take advantage of. Read below for more details about specific tools.


Audacity is a free and open source sound editor that runs on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. Audacity includes many editing tools such as the ability to cut and paste sections from multiple tracks of audio, remove hisses and other background noises, and change the pitch without changing the tempo.


Airtime, along with its predecessor Campcaster, is open source radio automation software designed with decentralization in mind. It includes a scheduling calendar and the ability to drag and drop pre-recorded programs into the calendar. Airtime only runs on computers with Linux, but can be remotely controlled from any computer with a web browser.

Rivendell was the first large-scale open source automation program and is more suited to studio use than remote use. Rivendell offers more control from the studio but has a higher learning curve than Airtime, so we only recommend it for stations that have an enthusiastic engineer available to help with troubleshooting and training. Rivendell only runs in Linux.


There are many free and open source tools available for internet radio, including the ices encoder and the icecast streaming server software. Additionally, Prometheus put together the Key to Internet Radio, a free and open source web-based tool to help stations that are new to streaming figure out what software is best for them! It includes an interactive survey to evaluate a particular station's resources and recommend a way forward, and documentation on all of the potential options.


If you want to contribute to some of the up-and-coming free and open source tools for community radio, or to keep an eye on what's down the road, check out these newer projects!

Prometheus is supporting the development of RFree, free and open source radio frequency engineering software. RFree builds on existing software created by the FCC and WGXC engineer Al Davis. This software will allow engineers who don't have access to commercial engineering software to do engineering studies during the upcoming Low Power FM application window (and beyond!)

Al Davis, a long-time radio engineer who now works with WGXC, is spearheading an effort to create an open source Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) system that will allow station to transmit emergency alerts in the new CAP format. Al is looking for stations that will contribute money up-front to support this project – interested stations should contact him at ad328@freeelectron.net.

Todd Fisher Wallin and David Klann of WDRT are putting together a web portal for community radio at opensourceradio.org. The website will feature a wiki and forums to facilitate knowledge-sharing among community radio stations. Stations will be able to add content themselves, and the more content, the more useful it will be! To learn more or get involved, email info@opensourceradio.org.