Now that we have the Christmas season safely in our rear view mirrors, a lot of people been asking me about what’s the best way to distribute music within your own home. Being a bit of a techie and also a radio station owner, I’ve had several ideas as to what the best approach to do this is.
The first thing is to actually define what it is you want to be doing in terms of distributing the music. The reason this is important is that there are really three or four different ways of approaching the problem pending on what it is you’re really looking for. If you’re looking just to listen to music on a small radio, and it’s capable of reading a USB memory stick, it’s simply a matter of putting the music on to the thumb drive, and inserted it into the radio. If you’re looking for something a little bit more sophisticated, you could set up a small server and then make the music available across your internal local area network. And finally, if you’re looking to have your music available on a large number of radios, some of which may be more technologically advanced, then possibly the real answer is to set up a small FM transmitter and broadcast your music throughout your house. You should really keep in mind that there are several laws that govern the use of broadcasting on the FM dial. Always a good idea to find out what you can and cannot do before you venture too far in any one direction.
The goal that I was looking for, wasn’t so much to have the music available on every radio, but rather to have every radio playing the same song at the same place at the same time, so as you walked around the house, room to room, you’d be hearing the same song at the same point everywhere.
My first thought was to set up the small server and distribute the music around the house by my local area network. The problem I ran into was the fact that the vast majority of servers today send out their information via unicast rather than multicast. The simple difference between the two is that in a unicast environment, every appliance picks up a separate feed from the server and then plays that feed. In a multicast environment, there is one continuous feed coming from the server that you simply listen to. Back in the mid-90s when I was first working with media servers, it was fairly common to have options to use both unicast and multicast services on anyone server. However, over time, unicast has become the dominant method of streaming music. If you want to check for yourself all you have to do is load a app like tune-in.com on both your smart phone and a tablet. Set both appliances to listen to the same radio station, and you’ll find out that the music is rarely at the same point coming out of both units. I have to confess that in terms of attempting to set this up, I spent a lot of time trying to get it to work but it simply just didn’t happen.
Being the owner of an FM radio station, I was quite aware that transmitting music on the FM band was a very efficient way of everybody being able to hear the same song at the same point at the same time. The problem that I had to solve was that of power. Radio stations run at up to 100,000 W in Canada and the United States. Both countries have regulations which govern who can broadcast and how much power they can use. To maintain compliance, you can purchase very small transmitters from retail stores which are designed to allow you to plug your smart phone into the device and transmit that signal a few feet to your car antenna or car radio. I knew this would be efficient way of distributing the music but had actually no idea of how I could build the range to cover the entire house. Over a period of time, and trying various connections and setups, I was eventually able to set up one of these devices so that it would deliver a fairly good stereo signal throughout the building. What I did was to plug the transmitter into the audio output from the device where the music was located. Generally speaking, the power cord for the transmitter is also the antenna for the transmitter. What I did was to wrap this power cord around the antenna I use in the basement of my house to pull in distant radio stations for my stereo. I took the wires that are the output from my antenna, and connected them into old cable TV wires that were not being used. I then went to each room in the house and connected each radio using a cable from the old cable TV jacks and connected it to the antenna on the various radios around the house that I wanted to listen to the music on.
It turned out to be a brilliant idea. Each radio in each room gets the same signal so that we hear the same music at the same point everywhere. The reason I wanted to do this, was that we were hosting various people for parties over the Christmas season, and we wanted to have Christmas music on all the time. The whole process worked really really well, but regrettably I think I was the only person who actually appreciated the sophistication of the solution.
Now that were comfortably past the Christmas season, I’ve converted the music we’re playing to my list of favorites, which I have to confess runs into the several thousands of songs. Another time we’ll talk about how to get the music to play in automation and the things that you can add to a player which can really improve the overall functionality of your home music system.