Accessing internet radio (or eRadio) stations in Ubuntu is pretty simple. Most of the media players installed by default in Ubuntu can handle the task, and you can easily find and install many other great apps (like Amarok) via Synaptic Package Manager.
The current default for this is “Movie Player” (actually called Totem), and it does the job well, but there is another app installed in every system that can do even better: the default “Music Player“, Rhythmbox.
What we’ll look at is the basics of eRadio in Ubuntu (using the default Totem Movie Player), how to set up a web radio station in Rhythmbox, and why it’s a good idea to do so.
Finding web stations to your liking is a simple matter of a few minutes in Google, and when you find some you’d like to listen to, they generally have a clearly visible link to click.
When you click the stream link, Firefox will ask what you want to do with it, so just go with the default of opening it in Totem (or “Movie Player” as it will be listed).
Totem will open, and the station will be visible in the Playlist pane. You might even find it lets you access more than one station, as some will have US (English) and European (often German) versions. Simply double-click the station name and it will start streaming music within a second or two.
Now, while Totem does the job, and all that was pretty quick and painless, there isn’t a way to bookmark the station or anything, and from the lack of any additional information you wouldn’t even be aware many stations broadcast the artist and song names along with the music data. This is why setting up stations in Rhythmbox is a great idea, but you’ll still probably need the help of Totem to do so.
As you probably know, when Firefox wants to know what to do with a specific file, you can actually choose a program other than the suggested default. Usually, a list of apps will even be presented to you, but in the case of links that point to a .pls (“MP3 ShoutCast playlist“) file, you probably won’t find a way to open it in Rhythmbox. That’s because (currently) no apps at all are suggested for that filetype, and manually specifying the command /usr/bin/rhythmbox may not help. Same goes for other formats, like .wax (“Windows Media Audio Redirector“) files (more on those at the end of this article), but there is a simple way to get around this.
Now, when you click a link that points to a playlist file, the URL will be something like http://www.heavymetalradio.com/listen.pls, and (currently) Rhythmbox seems incapable of handling that (which is why nothing happens). But if you open the station in Totem, you can right-click the station and choose Copy Location, and you’ll find the URL is something like http://www.heavymetalradio.com:8000 (the numbers on the end are the port to connect to).
When you go to Rhythmbox, just right-click the Radio icon in the left pane and choose New Internet Radio Station…
Once you’ve pasted in the address and clicked Add, you will see your station(s) in the right-pane. Once again, just double-click the desired station to begin streaming, which you can of course pause at any time, and it will begin streaming again when you click Play.
Now you will notice that not only do you have the name of the station in the title bar, but also the name of the artist and song currently playing. That information is also visible beneath the media control buttons.
It doesn’t end there, as you can do one more thing, and that is customise the “cover” artwork. You’ve probably noticed when accidentally hovering your mouse over the artwork area that a tooltip saying “Drop artwork here” appears, and this is what we’ll do for the radio station (so pick a picture you like, or download their logo).
The option for album cover artwork is actually supplied by a Rhythmbox plugin, which should be installed by default; if it isn’t, you should be able to get it easy enough in Synaptic by searching for “rhythmbox“. If you don’t have artwork visible, it is still probably installed, just not enabled, so go to Edit > Plugins and enable Cover art.
Then simply drag a picture file from an open folder window onto that area, and it will be displayed every time you activate that station.
As you can see, that’s all pretty easy to do, only takes a few minutes, and is well worth it if you want to access your favourite internet radio stations in a flash (not to mention have the current track info broadcast along with the music).
Some notes on WAX files
When you go to open a station via a .wax file in Firefox, it should go to open as expected in Movie Player.
Once again, all you need to do is copy the URL in Totem, create a new station in Rhythmbox, and paste in the address.
But you may find that the name of the station doesn’t automatically appear, but is instead just the URL.
But that’s only a minor issue, as all you have to do is right-click the station and choose Properties to edit its information.
Simply replace the URL (or whatever text you want to replace) next to Title: and click Close.
Your new station will now have the proper name, or any that you desire.