Is it hard to learn how to start an internet radio station?
"…Not at all."
Heads up: you don't need any audio equipment. It may take you less than one hour.
Is it expensive to run a web radio?
Do I need technical expertise or prior radio experience?
"No, and you'll learn all the basics in this guide."
I'll also show you how to start an internet radio station for free by self-hosting!
Taking first things first, let’s begin with:
Why should you start an internet radio station?
We all have our motivations:
Maybe, your dream is to become a famous radio personality.
Possibly, you want to start a radio station as a business venture, hobby, or college project.
OR, have you collected music over the years, and now you want to share it with the world?
Whatever your reason be, —remember that:
"Internet radio is growing as a medium."
What’s driving this trend?
The top driver is the rising use of smartphone devices:
- Use of smart speakers and radios equipped with WiFi.
- Deployment of internet radio technology in vehicles.
- Penetration of mobile broadband.
- The transition from 3G to 4G & 5G implying faster internet speeds.
- Soaring use of mobile phones for streaming music.
- Adoption of in-car WiFi by car manufacturers.
And what does the research say about the popularity of internet radio?
According to Statista, 65.85 million Americans used radio streaming services in 2017.
And in the US, radio is the third most powerful medium. Also, American teens stream audio than they listen to AM or FM stations.
Internet radio still has a bright future ahead, and figuring out how to start an internet radio station is a worthy endeavor.
Do web radios have any advantages over terrestrial radios?
- Easier to start because you'll need less equipment than when launching a terrestrial radio.
- Cheaper to run.
- You can broadcast without specific geographic restrictions.
- Web radios have a better sound quality than AM/FM stations.
- Fewer advertisements (which is good for the listeners)
- Require less technical knowledge to run.
- You won’t need a license from the Federal Communications Commission in the USA or an equivalent body in other countries.
How does an internet radio station work?
There are three main components of a web radio you should know of:
a) Studio or broadcast source (You)
b) Streaming media server (Hosted on radio hosting platform)
a. Studio or Broadcast Source
The broadcast source can be a studio room equipped with computers, microphones, mixers, broadcasting desk, etc.
For instance, you convert a spare bedroom or unoccupied space in your house into a studio room.
Do I need a studio room to start an internet radio station?
No, many internet broadcasters only have a streaming computer that's running a radio automation program. They create playlists, rotations or automated playlists, and pre-recorded programs that are broadcasted to listeners.
What if I don't have a computer for broadcasting?
Your broadcast source can also be a cloud-based auto DJ or radio automation program. You only need to upload your music files or pre-recorded programs.
The online Auto DJ then broadcasts to your listeners 24/7 without any interruption.
CloudRadio's beta auto DJ is currently available for sign up. It's all you need to start broadcasting online.
You can upload your files, get a sharable listen link, and listeners can tune via your own custom HTML5 radio player.
Example of radio player for website
b. Radio Server
The schema below shows how the broadcast server distributes an audio stream from the studio.
Listeners tune in by first connecting to a broadcast radio server.
How does the broadcast server work?
It’s a computer running a radio server program like Shoutcast or Icecast. Listeners use the same public stream URL to tune in.
Radio servers have to broadcast to hundreds of listeners simultaneously. They must be reliable to run all-day.
How can you start an internet radio station for free?
One of the costs associated with running a web radio is paying for radio hosting.
If you don't want to incur this cost, you need to host your own radio server.
You can turn your computer into a radio server. Just download and install a radio server program. But…
There might be a limit to the number of people who can connect to your self-hosted server —because of your internet connection. Now…
I’m not calling you out for having a slow connection.
There are two sides to an internet connection:
- Downstream or download side: It refers to the rate or speed of receiving files from the internet.
- Upstream connection speed: It’s the speed you can send data from your computer.
Let’s look at an example of a home plan with a downstream of 20 Mbps and upstream of 5 Mbps.
If you broadcast at 320 Kbps, how many listeners can you accommodate?
We'll look at the upstream side:
- 5 Mbps X 1000 = 5000 Kbps
- 5000kbps/320kbps = You will accommodate about 15 simultaneous listeners.
Let’s be honest. Upstream speeds on most home plans aren’t that great.
Plus, you need some expertise to install a radio server program, make it secure, and ensure it’s never offline.
What’s more —you need an optimal location for your server —the closer to your targeted audience the better.
"Sure, it seems like a lot of trouble...”
Yeah, that’s why internet radio owners opt to host their radio with hosting providers like Services Cloudradio.
Listeners are people who listen to your station. There are two kinds of listeners: passive listeners and active listeners.
The latter group will be more involved with your station’s activities.
They spend the most hours listening to your stream. You can count on them to engage with you on social media and even buy your custom merchandise.
Let's move on...
Which equipment will I need to start an internet radio station?
Note that: Buying equipment is *optional. You can get started with your computer only.
Many web radios have a computer or laptop as their only equipment.
But, if you need more radio equipment, here are basic options:
Radio hosts need microphones to speak to their listeners and host interviews.
You may also need a mic to voice radio imaging items like station IDs or sweepers.
The primary work of a mic is to capture and convert sound waves into electric signals.
There are three types of microphones:
You can also buy a USB mic that you can plug into your computer without the need for additional sound equipment like mixers.
Professional broadcasters prefer dynamic mics with XLR connectors. Condenser mics are preferred in recording studios and mostly used by singers.
See a list of the top microphones for broadcasters.
What’s the difference between the two?
Dynamic mics are also popularly used on stage during live shows. Their top feature is their ability to limit background noise.
Neumann Mic, Image by Andrzej Rembowski
It consists of a wire coil wound around a moving magnet that is attached to a thin diaphragm.
Incoming sound waves strike the diaphragm. It vibrates and causes the coil to move backward and forward along the magnet. They don’t require an external power source.
With this mechanism, they convert sound into electrical signals.
Dynamic mics are suitable for:
- Recording loud instruments and powerful vocals;
- Studio rooms without adequately soundproofing (the dynamic mic will pick up less background noise);
- Anyone who needs a less costly mic option. They are relatively cheaper than condenser mics.
Few radio studios use condenser mics for broadcasting. But you'll not miss them inside studio vocal booths.
The mic's sound mechanism consists of two very thin and tightly packed capacitor plates.
Sound waves strike the front plate causing it to vibrate. Its movement alters its distance to the back plate, changing the microphone's capacitance.
With this mechanism, sound waves are converted into an electrical signal.
Condenser microphones have electronic components that require an external power source to work. They get power from phantom power inputs on mixers or from built-in batteries.
What is phantom power?
It's power supplied on the same cable used for transmitting sound.
Can you use a condenser mic for web radio?
Yes, but remember...
The condenser mic will pick up more background noise because it’s more sensitive than a dynamic mic. But it records crispy & breathy vocals.
Before choosing a condenser mic, consider soundproofing your studio room.
Also, ask if the mic will need phantom power or batteries? Condenser mics also require more maintenance and cost more.
2. Audio Mixer
It's primary function is to combine several audio inputs into one output signal.
The signal may be sent to your computer for recording or broadcasting via an aux cable or USB.
Image by Joe007
For instance, if you have a 4-channel mixer, you can connect:
- One microphone;
- Extra mic for your guest;
- CD player or computer dedicated to playing music;
- Mobile phone to take calls.
The mixer allows you to control the volume level for each input. If a guest is talking loudly, you can reduce their levels. Soft-spoken guests can be turned up.
Digital audio mixers may provide audio enhancements like equalization, compression, or filtering.
The audio mixer also allows you to use microphones with professional cabling (not USB).
3. Headphones & monitoring speakers
You'll need to monitor your voice or guests during the broadcast. That's why you need speakers or headphones.
If the station does not employ a sound engineer, the host may need to occasionally monitor the stream quality. CloudRadio offers free stream monitoring, whereby, our system samples your stream for dead air.
Headphones and speakers also allow you to preview tracks as you fill in a playlist.
Note that, if you're using monitoring speakers while your microphone is still on, for instance, during a live show, it can create a feedback loop —an irritating echo if there is a slight delay in the audio playback.
4. Computer + Reliable internet connection
Which operating system are you planning to use? Windows or macOS.
Well, most radio automation software, DJ programs, and encoders run on Windows. Therefore, the OS you use dictates the programs available.
It's also vital to have a reliable internet connection. Slow internet causes delays in sending data to the server.
Your stream will buffer. Listeners will get annoyed.
Moving on with our guide on how to start an online radio station, let's look at the software side of things.
I have a computer: Which programs do I need to broadcast from my computer?
You just need two programs.
And I'll show you free options you can use to get started:
a. Playout system
Its primary function is playing media files. Web broadcasters use a wide range of programs for playout, including DJ programs, media players, and radio automation programs.
Do I need a radio automation program?
iTunes or Windows Media Player can play audio and video files. But radio automation programs have advanced broadcast functions, for instance:
- Voice tracking - You record voice tracks. The voice tracks are then inserted into the playlist to create links between songs. It gives the illusion that the show is live.
- Unattended broadcasting or full automation – You can create rotations and define playback rules. They instruct the program on to choose and play music tracks.
If you have a collection of 80s songs, 90s songs, and jingles, you can tell the program to pick one song from the 90s category, followed by another song from the 80s category and one jingle. The program will repeat this cycle.
Example of a radio automation software - ProppFrexx
Which free radio automation program can I use to get started?
Most paid radio automation programs have free trials, including Sam Broadcaster, PlayoutONE, RadioBOSS, ProppFrexx, among others.
But if you need a free broadcast program, check out these two options:
- PlayIt Live - Learn how to install the program here. It comes with an encoder.
- RadioDJ - Learn how to install Radio DJ. You will need a standalone encoder.
If you're using macOS, check out Mixxx.
It's a djing program but comes with an integrated encoder making it suitable to broadcast right out of the box.
What's more, it's an open-source project and free for life.
The role of the encoder is to convert audio into a streamable format. It sends data to the broadcasting server.
Most radio automation programs have integrated encoders. If not, you can also install standalone encoders that capture audio directly from your sound card or application.
BUTT - a free encoder
“How does a standalone encoder work?”
After capturing audio from your sound card, microphone, or playback device, it converts it a defined bitrate and audio format.
The encoder sends the stream to the broadcasting server as data packets.
When listening to your online stream, you'll hear a slight delay of several seconds.
Both the broadcasting server and encoder are responsible for this delay. For instance, the server will store the audio data (buffering) before pushing it to the player.
This establishes a continuous stream of data and prevents buffering on the listeners's end.
The encoder also sends the metadata of the playing song to the server. This info includes the artist's name, stream title, or song title. Review more encoders and programs here.
3. Additional software
Recording and editing software: You'll need to record and tweak audio files. And you need an audio software for this task.
Screenshot of Audacity
Audacity is a popular choice among podcasters, musicians and radios. It's open-source, easy-to-use and free.
You can use it to record and edit multi-tracks. And, it's available for Windows, Mac OS X and GNU/Linux. Learn more about audacity here: https://www.audacityteam.org.
Broadcasters also need tools for collaborating, communicating, interviewing guests, building websites, and more. Our genius broadcasters kit can help.
I've a computer & radio automation software: What else do I need?
You need to create a broadcasting server. Choosing the right host for your radio station is key.
The most important considerations include:
- Do they provide an Auto DJ?
- Is their network reliable?
- How much are they charging every month?
- Do they provide a website player that's customizable?
- How many listeners does the server support?
- Is the bandwidth limited?
CloudRadio offers broadcasters unlimited bandwidth. Some hosts may limit your usage.
We have a modern custom hosting panel. Creating a radio broadcasting server takes a few clicks.
Example of radio hosting console
Now, there are two ways to broadcast on CloudRadio:
Creating a Shoutcast or Icecast server without an Auto DJ. The broadcast source will be your computer.
For cloud-based automation, you can try out the Auto DJ that's currently in the beta version.
Are there any guides I can use to get started?
Check out our guide on how to create a new radio server at CloudRadio.
Frequently Asked Questions
Once you start your station, you may have more questions.
Just review these....
...common questions on how to start an internet radio station.
"I don't have any content to broadcast?"
Well, you can broadcast all kinds of audio content not limited to news alerts, music, talk shows, interviews, prerecorded shows, podcasts, rebroadcast streams, and more.
If you don't have anything to broadcast, try out these sources of free syndicated radio content.
"Do I require a license to get started?”
No and yes...
The purpose of licensing your station is to ensure that the artist or record label receives payment (or royalties) if you play their copyrighted content.
Not all tracks require you to pay royalties. Such tracks are called royalty-free-music.
Note that, they have specific laws on usage, and because they are royalty free doesn’t mean they are free to download and stream on your station.
You can check out our list of royalty-free-music sites here.
If you create original content such as talk shows, you will not need licensing. But…
If you’re broadcasting commercial music that requires royalty payments, you will need a license.
Note that, licensing requirements, conditions, and terms differ from region to region.
Check out our article on Stream licensing for more facts on this.
“How do I get listeners? Do I need a website?"
First, create a website for your radio. On this website, you can embed a virtual radio player.
We provide our HTML5 player for free, whether you're hosting your radio with us or on a different host. What’s great about this player, is that it displays album art automatically.
Also, it’s HTTPS enabled, and it’s fully compatible with mobile and desktop web browsers.
You can also submit your stream to radio station directories like Streema. People searching for radio streams use directories to discover new stations or to access their favorite stations.
Getting listed on multiple radio directories gives your stream added exposure and a higher chance of getting found. Another brilliant idea is…
Offering part of your content as podcasts or videos, for instance, radio interviews or talk shows.
“How can I promote my station to gain new listeners?”
There are many ways to promote your radio station. You can open a fan page of your station on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
You can optimize your radio website to rank higher on search engines like Google. Running advertisements online or through traditional channels is another way.
You can print flyers, posters and business cards to promote your radio.
“So what makes a radio station successful?”
It could be building a relationship with your listeners by listening and engaging with them on social media.
It could be having a good radio voice, but this not always the case. Some presenters have raspy voices, but manage to entertain their listeners!
Great programming, tailored to your targeted audience, may also win you a following. For instance, if you target your locality, doing the local news can earn you some loyal fans.
Your stream quality really matters. You also need a clear sounding stream, or you might turn away potential listeners.
Need more tips? Do this little assignment…
On a sheet of paper, write five things you love about your favorite radio station. OR, ask someone to list five things they like about a particular station or radio personality.