We can define a student radio simply as a radio station that's run by the students attending a learning institution.

Students contribute most of the programming, but it might also feature other members of the community.

Some college radios are run and funded by the educational institution. It is even possible to create your student radio as part of the learning curriculum.

Either way, you'll learn about the basics of starting student radio. We tackle things like:

  • Why student radios are important.
  • Terrestrial student radios vs. online-only stations.
  • Reasons to first start online before moving terrestrial.
  • Summary of five steps to start a student radio.
  • Bonus section with college radio tour videos.

Awesome! Let's get started.

1. Why student radios are important

Is it still relevant in this day and age —and with the rise of streaming platforms — to start a student radio?

Well, the first college radio stations served to help lecturers broadcast lessons.

Moving on to the late 80s and early 90s, college radio stations were playing a huge role in the music industry. Unlike the tightly controlled and run commercial stations, there was room for creative fun and randomness in the shows created by students.

It allowed audiences in the vicinity of the station —where signals from their towers reached —to catch never heard before music by upcoming artists. It helped formats like Indie rock to thrive.

And in case you need more reasons as to why student radios are important, check out these 4 points:

  • Programming freedom: College radio is as restrictive as radio gets. There is no bottom line to strive for or competitors to outdo.

  • Plays real music & variety: On commercial radios, for instance, the core playlist has to be decided in a weekly meeting. The same songs remain in the rotation and are dropped once the listeners lose interest or as new songs come out. Student radio stations play music across different genres by popular or upcoming artists.

  • A tool for creative expression: Students get the chance to express their struggles, likes, dreams, experiences, and more.

  • Promotes local broadcasting: Student radio stations are part & parcel of the communities they call home. They delve in local issues, promote events, report on local news, etc.

  • Training ground for fresh talent: Students who participate in college radio get to sharpen their media skills. They go on to become successful radio hosts, DJs, producers, etc. Not only do the skills come in handy for radio broadcasting, but also in other industries.

2. Traditional student radios vs. online-only stations.

Broadcasting to FM/AM receivers from the broadcasting tower is a dream of many radio stations.

However, it is a difficult & lengthy process as you'll need the approval of the FCC.

Transmitting terrestrially also requires lots of equipment, like a medium-to-low transmitter, transmission lines, mixers, microphones, monitoring speakers, cables, computers, etc.

If you choose to start your college radio station online, it is a much simpler process since you don't need a license from the FCC, or inclusion into the reserved band (8.1~91.9 MHz).

Because you need less equipment (minus the transmitters & towers), you're going to find it to be cheaper. There are no licenses to be obtained either. Some stations start broadcasting online as they work towards broadcast in FM.

Top 4 reasons to start your college radio online

i. Possible with a shoe-string budget: College radio stations are already small operations, and running them online makes them cheaper.

ii. Broadcast shows remotely: Djs don't have to be in studio to create and broadcast shows. As long as they have the internet, they can go live from anywhere. Well, of course, if they are recording any speech, the location must have a studio-like quality with minimum noise.

iii. Not bound by the tower's reach: Your radio FM receiver can't pick up stations that don't have their broadcasting towers within close proximity to you. But online radio stations can be heard around the world as long as the listener has access to the internet.

iv. Simple & Easy: It makes creating online radio achievable for most people. Since college students are not out to make money they might have fewer resources to go around.

3. Five steps to start a student radio.

Next, let's examine the five general steps you'd take should you decide to start a student radio online.

These are just pointers and not a complete guide to a fully functioning student radio.

i. Come up with a winning concept

The most important thing to a radio station is keeping the airwaves full of unique programming, often 24 hours a day.

Therefore, figuring out the types of programs that will be featured or music, are essential starting points.

It is a good idea to take stock of the other radio stations, and find out what's missing. The college radio station should fill a gap that exists, and have something unique that will draw listeners to it.

Otherwise, it might be a failed project before it's launched. You can even ask the target audience (the students) about the kind of station that they will always tune-in for.

ii. Create the station's personality (look, name, & feel)

Radio stations have different feels. Some make you want to relax.

Others educate you and make you smarter. Your college radio station can feel free, fun, and adventurous, just like your core listenership.

At this stage, you start thinking about a name as you experiment or go over different concepts.

iii. Have a team & build up support

Your college radio lives and breathes as people put their energy into it. Long after you have graduated, it will need more volunteers to keep it running. Similarly, it must evolve and transform until it becomes a top radio station with a premium feel.

Since monetary rewards are a faraway dream at this stage, you'll need to highlight other benefits of joining the new startup. Present it as an opportunity for people to pursue their passions or improve and prepare for the world of broadcasting.

Some of the positions you'll need to fill for your radio station include the radio hosts, announcers, production manager, program directors, manager, producers, and more.

iv. Calculating the costs & writing a proposal

There are many types of equipment that the radio station will require. Things like the studio room have to be considered.

Funds have to come from somewhere, and it might be far-fetched to expect the school to fund all the costs. You can think of creating a fundraiser and getting students to contribute.

If you're looking to receive support from the school, they will likely need to see a formal proposal detailing all aspects of the station including the team members, name, etc.

v. Start broadcasting as soon as you can

You don't need to have all your ducks in one row to start broadcasting.

Aim to find the minimum amount of equipment to get started. Then, acquire the rest of the equipment as you go on.

For instance, start with a makeshift desk, and buy a broadcasting desk months down the line. Have a few members and recruit more people as the demand denotes.

4. Bonus section with college radio tour videos.

In this section, you'll see some videos put out by other college radio stations.

They serve as an introduction & inspiration to the world of college radio.

Let's get started:

WRGW Radio Station. It's run by students from The George Washington University.

WITR radio Station is run by students from Rochester Institute of Technology.

When you begin broadcasting online, you'll require a radio hosting platform.

CloudRadio provides hosting to hundreds of radio stations.

You can choose from the radio server option or get the auto DJ that allows you to create playlists online.