Crazy Arms Radio Backend¶
Danger: Hic Sunt Dracones (Here Be Dragons)
Crazy Arms is currently under active development, however you can preview things right now.
This documentation is a work in progress. There are missing sections, and it may include incorrect information until the first release.
Crazy Arms Radio Backend is a flexible and fully featured Internet radio back-end written from the ground up.
It’s specifically written after its author built a few fully decentralized online radio stations with some common needs, but found no existing product fit. Crazy Arms seeks to fit those needs needs out of the box, but allows for stations to customize their stream if necessary to fit their unique use cases.
If you’re a technical user or a systems administrator wanting to install Crazy Arms, head over to the installation instructions.
Audio Infrastructure Overview¶
Sources, Harbor, and Upstreams Explained¶
The main audio component of Crazy Arms is called the Harbor. It takes care of choosing what to broadcast based on some simple rules. In a sense, it’s a stream picker. Think of the Harbor as a robot sitting at an imaginary console, deciding what to play and when, using its crazy arms turning volume knobs, and pushing and pulling on faders at exactly the right moment. (And just like that, we arrive at the reason for the project’s name! Okay, it’s not the only reason…)
The harbor has several input sources. A source is any audio input feeding into the harbor. In our robot example above, think of sources as input channels on the console. Out of the box examples of sources include the AutoDJ, scheduled, pre-recorded broadcasts, and live DJs streaming with Icecast 2, RTMP, or a Zoom room. Each input is assigned a priority, and the source with the highest priority that is active will be what the robot chooses to play. We call this concept priority-based streaming.
Active and Inactive Sources, Silence Detection
When a source goes from inactive to active, the Harbor will smoothly fade to it. What exactly constitutes active and inactive? The answer is that it depends on the source.
For example, in the case of the AutoDJ source, Crazy Arms will always have music to play so that source is always considered to be active. (You did upload music into the AutoDJ, right!?) The AutoDJ has low priority so it’s sort of an always-on default.
On the other hand, take a “live source” like a live DJ streaming using Icecast 2. When the DJ connects and starts streaming, that source is active.
That’s not the whole story. The harbor uses silence detection for live sources. This means if a live DJ is connected and streaming, but is broadcasting silence the source is considered inactive. Suppose their microphone isn’t working or a fader on their mixer is accidentally pulled down. Or maybe they forgot to disconnect. We wouldn’t want your station silent, would we? In short, if a live source is connected but silent, it will be considered inactive. The amount of silence before fading is configurable but defaults to 15 seconds.
The theory behind this feature is part of the Idiot-Tolerant™ DJing philosophy of Crazy Arms.
The Failsafe, the Real Always-on Default
Remember when I called the AutoDJ an “always-on default” just a couple paragraphs ago. Well, the AutoDJ can be disabled or end up in an erroneous state, for example if it chokes up on an invalid audio file1, or you start deleting music off the disk. If that happens, the AutoDJ will be an inactive source and as noted above Crazy Arms doesn’t like to broadcast silence.
For this reason, it’s not really the always-on default source with the lowest priority. It just acts like it. Enter, the failsafe. This is a track that plays on simple repeat. The preloaded track is ridiculously annoying hold music but can be changed using the Station Configuration module in the station admin site.
The last thing you need to know about are we Crazy Arms called upstream servers.
These are simply places where your station is being broadcast to, usually Icecast
2 servers. That’s where listeners connect to. They’re the final output of the
Harbor. Some radio automation suites call these “encoders.” These might be
remote partners like iHeart or SiriusXM,
a streaming provider like StreamGuys, or your own
infrastructure. You can configure as many upstream servers as you like. For
convenience and to kickstart your station, Crazy Arms bundles a local Icecast 2
server it streams MP3 at
128kbps to by default, using the popular
Harbor Flow Diagram¶
Now that you understand the basic concepts with the Harbor, here’s what it looks like.
Harbor Flow Diagram
(Scheduled, long-format shows)") subgraph live-sources ["Live Sources (Silence Detection)"] dj("2. Live DJ
(Icecast 2, RTMP)") zoom("3. Live Zoom Room
(if available)") end autodj("4. AutoDJ
(if available)") failsafe(5. Failsafe) end harbor(("Harbor
(Intelligent stream picker)")) prerecord -->|highest priority| harbor dj --> harbor zoom --> harbor autodj --> harbor failsafe -->|lowest priority| harbor subgraph upstreams ["Upstream Servers"] icecast1("Local Icecast 2 Server (mp3)") icecast2("External Icecast 2 Server (aac)") icecastOthers("Other Icecast 2 Servers") end harbor --> icecast1 harbor --> icecast2 harbor --> icecastOthers listeners(("Listeners")) icecast1 --> listeners icecast2 --> listeners icecastOthers --> listeners
|Description:||Audio uploaded into the station admin site, then scheduled for airplay at a specific time.|
|Availability:||Pre-recorded broadcasts are always available in Crazy Arms to users with the Program and schedule pre-recorded broadcasts permission.|
|Example:||Two hour show recorded to an mp3 called
|Description:||Live DJ streaming using either Icecast 2 or RMTP.|
|Availability:||The ability to live DJ is always available to users provided they are authorized on the harbor.|
|Example:||Diana Disk Jockey uses Audio HiJack from her Macbook to broadcast a live show with USB microphone and iTunes on Wednesday from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.|
|Description:||Live streaming using a Zoom room.|
|Availability:||The ability to use a Zoom room is only available if it is enabled for your installation (
|Example:||Video Conference Charlie starts a Zoom room, enters the room link into Crazy Arms web interface and click start for one hour broadcast at 10:00am on Thursday.|
|Description:||Audio uploaded into the station admin site that plays at random. More information here.|
|Availability:||The autodj is available if the station configuration
|Example:||Steel Guitar Sally uploads the entire Ray Price catalog to the AutoDJ through the station admin site so music from that plays except during for the shows with higher priority scheduled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.|
|Priority:||5 (Lowest, always available)|
|Description:||Audio that plays when nothing else is available. (You’ll likely only to hear this if the AutoDJ is disabled.)|
|Availability:||The failsafe is always on. That’s kind of the point, right?|
|Example:||Station Manager Mike Bob disabled the AutoDJ for the radio station. When no one is streaming a live show, the failsafe track plays on repeat. Listeners are probably annoyed! For shame, Mike!|
Customization & Settings¶
The Harbor is customizable. There are several settings you can choose from and technical users can add additional sources or program the Harbor to do all sorts of novel things. This level of customization, while for advanced users, is an important feature of Crazy Arms. Every station is different some may have nonstandard cases, so there may be no one size fits all solution for everyone.
If you’re an administrator, find out how to customize the Harbor by reading more here.
Features At a Glance¶
- Priority-based Streaming
- Crazy Arms operates on the concept of priority. This means it chooses the source (audio input) that is streaming, properly operating, or online with the highest priority. For example, a live DJ takes priority over the AutoDJ. See more info on this concept below.
- Live scheduling via Google Calendar
Scheduling of live DJs using Google Calendar. An invite to a calendar event means a DJ is authorized to play. Simple as that.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, Google Calendar was chosen because of its wide adoption and east of use — and implementation of recurring events.. Your web front-end can integrate with that, rather than a complex, custom API.
- Scheduled playout of long-format audio files, ie prerecorded shows
- A major use case is taking long-format audio files (ie two hours) and scheduling them to play at specific times, superseding the AutoDJ.
- Broadcasting for non-technical users with Zoom
- This is implemented with Zoom for Linux using a Docker container. A “runner” bash script does its best to connect to a user’s Zoom room and listen in. It’s inherently a bit brittle, but can be troubleshooted somewhat easily in a web browser running noVNC by an admin.
- Idiot-Tolerant™ DJing
- If a live DJ or Zoom room is broadcasting silence, Crazy Arms picks another source to stream from.
- Completely Docker-ized
- Easy development and easy deployment using docker-compose.
- Useful and informative station administration and status tools.
Leveraging Django‘s admin interface much of Crazy Arms can be managed by administrators (or users with the necessary permissions).
A status page is also provided that uses server-sent events in which the Harbor service script communicates directly with your web browser in real-time.
- Uploading audio from varied sources
- An AutoDJ that plays blocks of advertisements and station IDs (stop sets)
- This feature can optionally be enabled in the “Server Settings > Configuration” section.
- Fine-grained user permission structure.
- If a user is not an administrator, there are several permission groups to allow them some administrative privileges.
- Accessible Logs
- Less technical users can see server logs without
sshor command-line knowledge to help troubleshoot. Maybe a DJ got their password wrong or tried to broadcast at the wrong time?
- Streaming Customization
- At your own risk, you can modify Liquidsoap Harbor scripts. This gives pretty high flexibility for various use cases.
- RTMP Support
- Support for RTMP, so anyone who’s familiar with RTMP-based tools, notably Open Source Broadcaster (OBS) can stream to the harbor. Of course, video is discarded.
The following are non-features of Crazy Arms.
- Front-end Not Included
- Crazy Arms is designed to be a backend for your radio stream only. A user interface that includes calendars, a fancy stream player, and metadata isn’t included.
- station admin site Look and Feel
- The station admin site for Crazy Arms has a fairly inflexible look and feel. It’s not necessarily a beautiful, easy to use interface but instead meant for somewhat technical users. This is by design and was chosen for ease of programming. The technical reason for why is that we chose to build it on top of Django’s admin module module.
Crazy Arms tries very hard to reject invalid audio files, but it is theoretically possible for it happen. In this case the AutoDJ could temporarily fail and become inactive for a short time. ↩