Free
Radio
Walkthrough
How to Start A Radio Station for Free

How to Start A Radio Station for Free

November 21st, 2023

Ever wondered how to start an online radio station for free? Many people want to start their own independent or community radio station but might not have the funds to do so.

Let’s see just how far you can get on a literal shoe-string budget. Some other internet radio providers out there have pretended to cover this topic but they just end up recommending starting a free trial on their own service. This blog isn’t like that. We are going to see just how far you can get for free.

Let’s get going.

Requirements

I hate those recipes that tell you how to make a meal for less than $5 but require you to own 20+ ingredients already. We’re going to try and avoid that here.

The first thing you’ll need is a computer with an internet connection. It would be silly to write an article on how-to start a radio station for free and begin it by telling you to drop $1000 on a laptop and an ongoing $50 for an internet plan. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get far without some sort of computer.

If you have a computer then keep reading. If you don’t, find a friend and steal their library card (make sure it has funds on it) and get down to your local library to get going for free. (Please don’t do this, friendships are broken over library cards).

With your computer with internet access sorted we can get you streaming in no time.

How to

Now you have a laptop, you’ll need some way to broadcast your audio out to the world. Internet radio has to be reachable via the internet after all. I don’t know if I would consider blasting audio locally a “radio station”. Else, every 13 year old on the bus considerately blasting dubstep on their phones could be considered a radio station.

So, we need to get the audio on your computer up into the cloud and out to your listeners (you were thinking of having listeners, right?). To do that you’ll need to have some sort of streaming server set up that takes your audio and streams it out to multiple listeners at once.

The time-tested solution for streaming audio is Icecast. It scales up to more concurrent listeners than you could imagine and, most importantly, it’s free.

You would normally want a streaming server running on an actual server. However, those things cost money and we aren’t about that here. So, we are going to make the incredibly awful recommendation to run this on your own computer/laptop. That means your computer, running 24/7, accepting network connections from the wider web.

Is it a good idea to let random people connect to your computer? No, it really isn’t. Do you have a choice if you want to do this thing for free? Not really, no.

Now that we have made the incredibly irresponsible decision to open that poor community library computer up to the world wide web, we need to find a tool that can actually do this for us. My recommendation would be Ngrok.

Ngrok allows you to open up your local network to the internet. In simpler terms, Ngrok can generate a URL that points to your computer. This means you can start up Icecast locally and have an Ngrok generated URL that points to Icecast.

The last step is connecting to Icecast itself. There are a bunch of tools out there that let you connect to Icecast — like IceS or BUTT. Download one of these programs, input the connection data for your local Icecast instance and click “connect”.

To summarise:

  • Download Icecast, configure and start it up on your machine

  • Create an Ngrok account, install it to your machine and start it up pointing towards Icecast

  • Download a connection tool (like IceS or BUTT), input your Icecast details and click connect

There, that wasn’t too hard was it? (I’m going to assume you were technical enough to actually manage to configure all of those tools.)

Now you have a valid streaming URL which you can share with your friends! It’ll be just like when you were 13, curating the listening experience for all your fellow dubstep fans on the bus.

The audio

The one thing we haven’t talked about is what you are going to stream on your radio station! Since we don’t want to spend any money, playing real music is going to be a bit of a problem. Royalties can be a large cost of running a radio station. Musicians make great music and deserve to be paid.

You’re going to have to find audio that is royalty-free. There are some great sites out there that provide royalty-free audio. Else, you can always connect with a microphone (your laptop’s inbuilt one to save money of course!) and chat away. Your dulcet voice is 100% free to broadcast.

Ongoing maintenance

Now you’ve got your station going what do you do next? Well for one, you’re going to have to keep BUTT, Icecast and Ngrok up 24/7 to make sure your stream never goes down. You’re also going to have to make sure you keep feeding your beautiful voice into the stream unless your fans love silence.

You can’t really take any breaks or perform any maintenance on your computer. And god forbid anything happens to your internet connection.

You’ll notice all of this is very manual. You can’t schedule a playlist or a mix to play at a certain time. It’s all you, all the time, feeding audio into your streaming server.

You can see how running this past a fun 1-hour live stream poses some difficulties. What we have essentially created with this setup is something akin to a real radio station but with a lot of hard work, large and very, very real security risks; not to mention the wear and tear you are going to put on your machine by running a streaming server 24/7.

But… we did it! That’s right. For zero dollars you now have your very own internet radio station. You have a link that friends and family can connect to and hear audio on the other side of.

The easier way

You might be thinking that what I described doesn’t sound very fun. And you would be right, it isn’t very fun. However, there is an easier way. (Now this is where we plug our streaming service!)

With Radio Cult you can have a real-life radio station up and running in 5 minutes. Your streaming server will be off in the cloud and you will never ever have to deal with it. You can schedule mixes, playlists, live sets whenever and wherever. You can leave your house even! There’s no need to continue to feed audio into your stream. With our powerful scheduling logic running an independent or community radio station couldn’t be any easier.

So while we’ve shown you how you could start an internet radio station for free, you really shouldn’t. Why don’t you come and see how great running a radio station can be on Radio Cult. You’ll be glad you did.

Create your own online radio station and start streaming today!

Click here to try Radio Cult for free - the streaming platform designed for independent and community radio.

Download the Radio Cult app on iOS and Android to listen to that original pirate material 24/7.

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