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Losing Winamp and Shoutcast is bad for internet radio

Shoutcast logoThe news last night that AOL is shutting down its Nullsoft division, which makes the venerable Winamp music app, hit me like a ton of bricks. Now, I haven’t used Winamp regularly in at least 7 years, so the loss of this software won’t have an immediate effect on my daily life. But what’s not being widely discussed yet is how a Nullsoft shutdown would impact internet radio, especially independent internet radio, because of the widespread use of its Shoutcast streaming software. Nullsoft’s Shoutcast Radio Directory is home to tens of thousands of live stations.

Now, today there is a report from TechCrunch indicating that Microsoft is in talks with AOL to buy Nullsoft, potentially saving Winamp and Shoutcast from the chopping block. That would be a welcome reprieve, assuming Microsoft is willing to at least maintain the status quo of keeping Winamp and Shoutcast software available as free and accessible tools. But not enough is known yet to feel optimistic.

This is important because Nullsoft jump-started the proliferation and accessibility of internet radio with the creation of its Shoutcast streaming server and software that makes it very easy for just about anyone to set up a station using their own server or an outside service. While not open-source, the Shoutcast software has always been free to download and use.

Internet audio streaming existed before Shoutcast, but typically required the use of more complex software like Real Server, Apple’s Darwin Server or the Windows Media Server, that was either expensive to purchase or was bundled in with expensive server operating systems. Anyone who used internet media before 2006 should recall the days when audio and video didn’t play in the browser. Instead you had to download player software like Real Player in order to access audio or video streams, and that these players typically would only play streams encoded in their format. Especially prior to 2000 it wasn’t uncommon to find a station that only streamed in Real Audio or Windows Media, which meant that the listener had to make sure several players were installed and updated regularly. It could be a pain.

Shoutcast changed all of this by adopting the widely available MP3 format for its streams, and building plug-ins for Winamp that turned it into a broadcaster, too. The Shoutcast protocol was so simple that media player apps of all kinds began supporting it. You didn’t need to have Winamp to listen to a Shoutcast MP3, which was important for users of MacOS and Linux computers, because Winamp–true to its name–was Windows only. Pretty soon all major media players, including Real Player, Windows Media Player, Quicktime and iTunes would all play Shoutcast MP3 streams, turning it into the de facto internet radio standard that is still in use today.

Nullsoft was founded as an independent company in 1997 and bought by AOL in 1999. Not everyone was happy with AOL’s stewardship over Nullcast, Winamp and Shoutcast over the years. At the very least the company has been accused of benign neglect, investing very little resource into maintaining and updating these platforms. Folks in the open source community were upset over the requirement that Shoutcast Radio users install a toolbar they said was full of “spyware.” That requirement didn’t extend to all of Shoutcast streams, just those found using the Shoutcast Radio directory.

14 years later the Shoutcast streaming technology has propagated so far and wide that it will live on just fine with or without AOL. The open source Icecast platform provides a comparable server platform that is still under regular development, and plenty of other proprietary applications provide both broadcaster and server tools.

Yet, some 50,000 internet stations, many of them independent, still depend on Shoutcast Radio to index and advertise their streams to listeners who use Winamp–now available for MacOS and Android–as well as internet radios, A/V receivers, game consoles and other devices that use the Shoutcast directory.

If AOL shuts down all Shoutcast servers millions of listeners will suddenly have much more difficulty finding their favorite stations. Thousands of independent broadcasters will see huge swaths of audience disappear. It would be a bad thing for internet radio.

Here’s to hoping that Microsoft really does save the day, and that any transition is smooth for the thousands of stations that still rely on Shoutcast to make internet radio a rich, diverse and accessible medium.

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8 Responses to Losing Winamp and Shoutcast is bad for internet radio

  1. p tomlinson November 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    ” as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced”

  2. T Miles November 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I have used Winamp every day for the last 15 years!
    I will miss them dearly. I started to tear-up when I read the news about the death of my favorite media player.
    I certainly can’t think of any other media player out there that does so much, so well.
    Not only can one play .mp3s, there are numerous audio and video file types supported and internet radio stations by the thousands as well as visualization and CD burning and ripping capabilities. Both I-tunes and Windows Media Player lack in comparison.

    Many of the internet stations I listen to with Winamp have ,”Donate Now” buttons that are tied to your PayPal account. A small donation from thousands of listeners adds up.

    I would certainly be willing to pay a small fee to keep Winamp alive.

  3. Patrick November 21, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    We have been using Shoutcast for 15 years. Very rarely do we get listeners from the Shoutcast directory. We have had more luck with TuneIn, iTunes & Windows Media Guide as well as other 3rd-party content aggregators than we ever received from the Shoutcast directory. This even when we appear in the top fold of the genre list. I personally don’t find the Shoutcast directory relevant either due to the fact that there is a lot of “spoofing” of listener numbers in Shoutcast to make their stations appear at the top of the list.

    • Neil November 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      TuneIn, iTunes and Windows Media Guide all use Shoutcast, what is your point? If Shoutcast disappears, none of those players will be able to play those streams, you don’t seem to understand that.

  4. John Schuster November 22, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    So Sad…… I’ve used WinAmp for 15 years and when it worked on my phone and tablets I was in heaven. I don’t use iTunes and got most of my new music selection from the stations I listened on SHoutCast.

    Somebody need to take over the index…. Microsoft is not the best candidate.

  5. Lucas McCallister November 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    At least there is still icecast, an open source alternative. More complicated to set up, but I think I remember it having more features and handling bandwidth better, though it’s been years since I dealt with all that.

  6. Mir December 9, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    NooooO! I’ve been listening to shoutcast radios for the past 5 or 7 years daily at work. What am i gonna do now!?


  1. There's a petition to save Winamp. What about Shoutcast? | Radio Survivor - November 25, 2013

    […] of the veteran media player app Winamp and its related Shoutcast streaming platform remain in limbo after AOL’s announcement last week that it would shut down Nullsoft and end support of these p…. Although there have been reports that Microsoft is in talks to buy both Winamp and Shoutcast, […]

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