SH Sean Harding/blog
News in war time
Tuesday, March 18th, 2003

I’ve always been a news junkie. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is read a bunch of news websites and the first thing I do when I get home from work is turn on the TV news. I have email "breaking news" alerts from nearly a dozen different news organizations, just so I don’t accidentally miss something important. This means that when something big happens, I get ten or twenty messages about it, but that’s ok.

Even with all of that news input, real time reporting is hard to come by when I’m not at home. I don’t have a TV or radio at work and most of the online streams have one problem or another (they cost money, they are unreliable or they aren’t completely focused on news). So with a war impending, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get a real time news fix from work. Buying a cheapie radio is one option. But I decided to take a different path: I set up my own streaming audio feed.

I plugged an extra VCR into one of the audio input ports on the Sun Ultra 1 in my closet and cobbled together some software to make an mp3 stream of the audio from whatever TV channel the VCR is tuned to. I wrote a small program to read the audio from the input ports and do some basic processing. Then it writes the audio to a FIFO that ices reads from, and then I stream it to clients with Icecast. To be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with Icecast. It’s doing the job, but it was kind of a pain to get working and the documentation sucks. But I have very little patience for the common failings of open source software (a rant for another day), so I may be oversensitive to such problems.

In any case, I did finally get it working and both iTunes and XMMS successfully play it. Unfortunately, since it’s just plugged in to a VCR, I don’t currently have any way to change the channel remotely. Right now I have it on CNN, as they seem most likely to go to always on real time coverage mode. But I can imagine getting annoyed at being stuck with CNN if their coverage is lacking. The program I wrote can get the audio from either of the Sun’s input ports (and can easily switch on the fly), so I could conceivably have two sources to choose from at any given time. But I don’t have another suitable audio source to plug in to the other port right now. For a while I had a radio scanner plugged in there, but that piece of equipment has been repurposed.

It’s not the best solution in the world but it works, it gives me some flexibility and, best of all, it’s free!

Oh, and in unrelated news: I’ve added a WAP version of this site, for anyone who might care. It’s available at Have fun.

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