Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Streaming audio over the Internet is an easy way to enjoy music and other programs. Streaming audio can, however, expose flaws in some media players.

I stream a radio station all day. I use Internet Explorer 8. I have an E-Machine that is 1 year old. Everything works fine for about 8-9 hours, then without warning it stops streaming. Any idea what causes this?

Yep.

I do the same from time to time - stream a radio station on one of my computers, sometimes for days at a time.

And yes, it used to stop after some amount of time.

I'll describe what was going on, what I did to fix my situation, and the kinds of things you should be looking at for yours.

The Memory Leak

As you know your computer has a certain amount of memory in it. The amount of RAM you have installed, and the size of the paging file define how much memory is available to all the running programs on your machine.

When a program runs, it requires memory, not only for the program instructions but for any data on which it might operate.

"... the best thing you can do is to make sure you have the latest version of the media player that you're using."

Windows manages the memory in your system by handing it out to running programs as they request it, and then returning it to the pool of available memory when they're done with it.

A program "uses" memory by asking Windows "could I have X amount of memory to use, please", and assuming there's X amount free and available Windows responds with "sure, here it is, it's yours until you say otherwise". When the program is done using that memory it tells Windows "here's that memory you gave me to use, I'm done with it now".

A memory leak happens when a program asks for memory repeatedly, but forgets to tell Windows it's done with the memory. It asks for more and more memory to use for itself until there's no more to be had.

No matter how much memory you have installed, or how big your paging file, a memory leak will eventually use it all.

Memory Leaks and Media Players

Media players are notorious for memory leaks.

Actually, let me be clearer: media players are notorious for having their memory leaks exposed.

Lots of programs may well have memory leaks, but it's immaterial because when the program exits Windows cleans up everything that they had asked for, whether they released it or not.

And even in media players, if the memory leak happens while playing a song ... well, you may never notice since the memory might well be released when the song is over. Even if the leak happens across an entire album or playlist, the fact is that the album or playlist will typically end in some defined amount of time.

And then there came streaming media; especially radio stations.

Streams where the audio never ends.

Now, even a small memory leak that happens, perhaps, each time the media player gathers the next chunk of digital music to be played, adds up. And up and up and up as the media player just keeps running and keeps playing and... keeps using more and more memory.

Until there's no more to be had.

And it stops.

Plugging the Leaks

It's important to realize that memory leaks are programming errors; i.e. it's not something you can fix, per se. It's a problem with the media playing software you're using.

That little fact defines your options:

  • the best thing you can do is to make sure you have the latest version of the media player that you're using.

  • in fact, many media players make use of common components that are part of Windows; make sure that Windows is up to date.

  • many internet audio stations and sites make their streams available in more than one format; try another one.

Hopefully the media player vendor will get reports of the problem and the first item - keeping the player up to date - will easily resolve the issue.

It did for me.

Other Causes

Memory leaks are by far the most common cause for what you describe, but they're not the only reason that playback can stop after a lengthy period of time.

Other Resource Leaks: there are other resources that programs use on your computer besides memory that are handled in much the same way as memory: they're requested from the operating system when needed and returned to the operating system when done. If they're not released, then they can also 'leak' in the same way that memory can. The solutions are much the same as that for memory leaks.

Connectivity Issues: different streaming protocols have different tolerances to connection problems. One protocol might just drop at the first hiccup; others might automatically reconnect without your even noticing much more than a stutter. Once again, trying a different format is one possible solution.

Intentional Disconnects: many streaming stations simply kick you off after a certain amount of time. The reason is simple: having lots of connected listeners costs them, so they want to make sure that there's actually someone listening - someone who'll restart the stream if it's interrupted.

Article C4501 - October 23, 2010 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

13 Comments
Daniel Stuhlman
October 26, 2010 10:01 AM

There is another possible answer. If you are streaming in a place not your own such as a library or business, the organization may put a daily limit on bandwidth. When reached, you won't be able to download more bytes.

Michael
October 26, 2010 10:10 AM

I run the streaming audio for a radio station and we do intentionally disconnect listeners after a period of time, exactly for the reasons Leo cited - bandwidth is expensive. A restarted stream is, hopefully, one that is actually being listened to.

Thanks Michael. Good to have confirmation on that. I don't know how common the practice is, but I suspect it's fairly common.
Leo
27-Oct-2010

David
October 26, 2010 10:55 AM

I listen to a radio station where you open the streaming audio from their web page. As such, it doesn't seem to be using a media program...just a new web page window with the audio controls. Is there any way to check on the suggested problems/solutions in this type of scenario?

Actually even when on a web page it is still using a streaming media player of some sort. Often the media player is embedded on the page in some way. For example when I listen to my local classical radio station (http://king.org) there's a n audio control that's provided by Windows Media Player.
Leo
27-Oct-2010

Pauline
October 26, 2010 10:59 AM

What are some of the reasons a computer is running slowly? We've had it upgraded, reformatted once due to a virus and it was a bit better....but has slowed again. Is it because the graphics and information files being viewed via the internet are too large? poor partitioning? Three of us share the same computer and I have quite a storage of family photos on my partition. Is it a RAM/ROM memory problem?

It could be any of those things and more. There's no way for me to really tell from here. You might try this article: Why is my machine slowing down?
Leo
27-Oct-2010

David
October 26, 2010 11:39 AM

A station like Pandora, for instance, may give you a temporary chop. It runs for an hour (I think) and then a pop up asks "Are you still listening? We try not to play to an empty room", which I personally think is a little silly, and you then have to confirm you are still alive and kicking and away you go again. I would hope a paid-for account wouldn't do this.

JohnC3
October 26, 2010 1:25 PM

David, what's silly about Pandora's approach? Their pop-up sounds positively polite, considering that you're obviously enjoying a NOT-paid-for service, but Pandora ARE paying for the bandwidth you're taking for granted.

Virginia
October 26, 2010 2:27 PM

That's why I like Pandora's free site--I can tune in at night and after a while it will ask me if I'm still listening. Hopefully I'm not, and it will turn itself off. I'm grateful to Pandora and don't mind listening to the ads just for that reason.
And it IS polite :-)

Yodin
October 26, 2010 3:17 PM

Pandora sucks...try "RadioSure.com" non stop music from 1000's of sources, no; are you there?, will record streams....etc.

johnpro2
October 26, 2010 6:37 PM

The above link to virus protection is not my doing ..I suggest that either this site has been compromised or someone here is an affiliate?
In any case I would not recommend Stopzilla as linked ..Microsoft Security Essentials would be my choice and it is free.

If it is/was a douible-underlined link than that's simply one of the advertising programs that allows Ask Leo! to exist. While I can't speak to the specific product that might be promoted (it changes, and I don't know every product), the service is quite legitimate.
Leo
27-Oct-2010

Ken664
October 26, 2010 9:01 PM

I have similar issues with Skype. Is it the same mechanism causing that to drop out after a period of time?

Not typically, no. I'd expect connectivity or network issues to play a larger issue with dropped Skype calls.
Leo
27-Oct-2010

Keith Griffiths
October 26, 2010 10:34 PM

I have a download restriction from my ISP and continually get near the allowed 10gb per month. I don't download much unless it is streaming radio stations.

Does streaming radio cause a lot of internet usage? How can I monitor it?

Most streaming radio stations will tell you what the bandwidth usage is - for example a 128kb stream is (very roughly) 128,000 bits per second. That's (again very roughly - divide by 8) 16,000 bytes per second. Do the math and you can see how long an hour or whatever time you're spending online will cost you.
Leo
27-Oct-2010

Mungo
October 27, 2010 12:50 AM

Thanks for a very helpful answer to the "lost streaming" query, I am not at all technically minded but I found this to be very easy to follow and understand

Dave Reamy
October 27, 2010 6:37 PM

I like Pandora.com, which is a Pay site. I was listening for free, but that's only good for a brief period of time. After awhile the music stops. Sheerly by accident, I discovered that if I played Windows Media Player with the sound OFF, I could actively listen to Pandora at the same time, for an unlimited amount of time.

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to http://askleo.com/ask to ask your question.