How to start an internet radio station: The Definitive Guide
An internet radio station —also called a web radio or online radio— broadcasts audio programmes via the internet.
Is it difficult to start?
"…Not at all."
Will it be expensive to run?
Do I need technical expertise or prior radio experience?
"Nothing that I can't teach you in this guide."
I'll also show you how to start an internet radio station from home!
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."
So, what’s driving this trend?
The top driver is the rising use of smartphone devices:
And what does the research say?
According to Statica, 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.
Do WEB Radios have any advantages over terrestrial radios?
- Easier to start because you'll need less equipment than when starting 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 components of a web radio:
- 1Studio or broadcast source
It's a room where you create your audio content and broadcast it.
As you set up an internet radio station at home, you can convert a spare bedroom or empty space in your house to a studio.
Your portable laptop computer can also become your studio.
An online listener will listen to your radio by first connecting to a radio server.
It’s a computer, running a radio server program like Shoutcast or Icecast, which takes your radio stream and serves it to online listeners connected to it.
Are you wondering how to start your station for free?
One of the costs associated with running a web radio is paying for a radio hosting.
If you don't want to incur this cost, you need to create your radio server.
You can turn your computer into a radio server by downloading and installing a radio server program. But…
You will be limited by 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:
The Downstream or download side: It refers to the rate or speed you receive files from the internet.
Upstream connection speed: It’s the speed you can send data from your computer.
Now, 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 make sure 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.
Your station will have two kinds of listeners: passive listeners and active listeners.
The latter group will be more involved with your station’s activities.
They will spend hours listening to your stream, engage with you on social media, and even buy your radio’s merchandise.
Let's move on...
Creating an internet radio station in four steps
Step 1: Furnish your studio with gear (Optional)
Step 1 is optional because you can get started with your computer only.
In fact, many people start with just a computer.
But, if you need more radio equipment, here are some options:
The primary work of a mic is to convert sound waves into electric signals.
You need one to speak to your listeners, host interviews, or create radio imaging like the station ID or sweepers.
There are three types of microphones:
I found out that broadcasters and podcasters prefer dynamic and condenser mics.
What’s the difference between the two?
a). Dynamic Mic
"A dynamic mic will be what a singer sings into during a live show."
It features a wire coil wound around a moving magnet, which is attached to a thin diaphragm.
When incoming sound waves strike the diaphragm, it vibrates causing the coil to move backwards and forwards along the magnet.
This turns sound into electrical signals.
What are dynamic mics suitable for?
They are suitable for recording loud instruments and powerful vocals.
If you haven’t soundproofed your studio, a dynamic mic will pick up less background noise.
They cost less than condenser mics, and they don’t require an external power source.
b). Condenser Mic
"It’s what our singer would use for song recording in the studio."
It features two tightly packed capacitor plates that are very thin.
When sound waves strike the front plate, it vibrates altering its distance with the back place hence changing the capacitance.
This converts sound to an electrical signal.
But, the microphones electronic components require an external power source, which can be phantom power or batteries.
What is phantom power?
It's power supplied on the same cable used for transmitting sound.
Can you use a condenser mic for a web radio?
Yes…but remember a condenser mic will pick up more background noise because it’s more sensitive than a dynamic mic. However, you will record crispy, high-quality sound.
So, before selecting one, consider sound-proofing your station.
You also need to know if the mic will use phantom power or batteries. Condenser mics also require maintenance, and they will cost you more.
You'll need to your tweak audio files you have created. And to do this, you require an audio program.
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.
Here is the link to the homepage:https://www.audacityteam.org
The mixer enables you to combine and control more than one sound input.
For instance, with a 4 channel mixer, you can connect your microphone, a second mic for your guest, a CD player or your music source, and your mobile phone to take calls.
Since a mixer can control the volume level for each input, –if a guest is talking loudly, you can turn them down. For your soft-spoken guest, you can turn them up.
Some mixers also provide audio enhancements like equalization, compression or filtering.
You can use microphones with professional cabling, and some mixers can supply phantom power to microphones and other audio equipment such as speakers.
Headphones & speakers
These allow you to listen in on your broadcast. For instance:
Radio personalities use headphones to monitor how their voice sounds as they speak or if the station does not employ a sound engineer, the DJ may also monitor the guest’s voice.
Headphones and speakers also allow the DJ to preview the next track in the playlist, or listen to background music as they talk.
Note that, if you're using a speaker and microphone during a live show, it can create a feedback loop or an irritating echo if there is a slight delay in the audio playback.
A computer with a reliable internet connection
What operating system should you use? Windows or Mac OS.
The operating system you choose will dictate the programs you can use.
On Windows, you'll have more options when selecting a radio broadcasting software.
Your internet connection is also vital. If your internet is slow, there will be delays in sending data to the server, which may cause buffering.
Moving on, let's look at the software side of things...
Step 2. Select a playout software
There are three programs a radio station can use to play music; DJ programs, media players and radio automation programs.
While iTunes or Windows Media Player allows you to play audio and video files....
....radio automation programs can do much more.
For instance, voice tracking, which is prerecording voice tracks between songs in a playlist to give the illusion of a live show.
OR unattended broadcasting or full automation –where you instruct the program to choose and play music automatically. It works like this:
You choose the categories or music folders the program will select music from randomly.
For instance, 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 a jingle, before repeating the cycle.
Some examples of radio automation programs include RadioDJ, Sam Broadcaster, PlayoutONE, RadioBOSS, among others.
DJ programs allow advanced manipulation of sound. They have decks where you can load your music, crossfade it, scratch it or apply effects.
Some examples of well-known DJ programs include Virtual DJ, Serato Pro, Mixxx, among others.
However, to broadcast music to your server, you will need an encoder program.
“How does it work?”
It first captures audio from your sound card, microphone, or playback device. Then, it converts this audio into the bitrate and audio format of your choosing.
The encoder will send the stream to the broadcasting server as data packets.
You'll hear a delay of some seconds when listening to your online stream.
The server is responsible for this, because it stores the audio data (buffering) before pushing it to the user's player.
This establishes a continuous stream of data and prevents buffering on the user's end.
The encoder also transmits the metadata of a playing song to your server. For instance, the artist's name and song title.
Where will I get an encoder program?
Some radio automation programs and DJ programs come with an inbuilt encoder. The alternative is using a standalone encoder.
There are both free standalone encoders like Altacast or paid solutions like Radio Caster.
We have a collection of DJ, encoder, and radio automation software guides in our help section.
OR check out our Radio Broadcasting Software review.
Step 3: Connect your broadcasting server to your computer or studio
It’s a straightforward process, which entails connecting your encoder with your server.
When you create a radio server on our site, we give you a unique address and password.
You input these details in your encoder program and click to connect.
Step 4: Start Broadcasting
Finally, when you have a playout software setup with an encoder set to capture and stream sound to the server, you’re ready to broadcast. Okay…
Let's answer some common beginner questions.
“So what can I broadcast?”
All kinds of audio content not limited to news alerts, music, talk shows, interviews, prerecorded shows, podcasts, and more.
“But, 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 audio.
But 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. Likewise…
If you plan on broadcasting talk shows you have produced, 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 are different for each country.
Check out our article on Stream licensing for more facts on this.
“How do I distribute my stream?”
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.
Do you want 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.
Start an internet radio station!
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