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Starting an Online Community Radio Station in 2024

Starting an Online Community Radio Station in 2024:

The definitive guide

January 10th, 2024

This post has been updated for 2024.

People may think that radio is a thing of the past. With the rise of online streaming tools, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The doors are open for everyone to share their voice and build their own community. No longer do you need to have money and connections to acquire a FM streaming license. You can start an online radio station right now.

This comprehensive guide will show you everything you need to start your own online radio station in 2024. From planning and equipment to launch and monetisation, we’ll cover all the basics and give you the tools you need to shell down the airwaves.

I. Planning your online community radio station

Before you start broadcasting you should know why you’re starting your station. Are you trying to revolutionise the radio industry? Are you building a space for you and your friends to DJ on the weekends? Are you trying to build a community, a space to belong? Are you adding excitement to an existing space (i.e. pub or record shop) by using it as a live streaming venue?

There are many reasons to start a radio station. Having a clear purpose will enable you to make the right decisions for your station.

Here are some key things to think about and decide on before you start your station:

  1. Identify your target audience and goals: Who do you want to reach with your radio station? Is there a specific community you are building for? Are you aiming to be local or global? Consider what kind of content your audience might be interested in and plan accordingly.

  2. Choose a name and branding: Your station’s branding is important for attracting and retaining listeners. Branding is more than a marketing exercise. Branding says who you are. Branding is the experience your station delivers, the feeling people get when they lock in. Develop your branding and stay consistent.

  3. Decide on your format and programming: There are many different formats for online radio, from talk shows and news programs to music and cultural programming. Consider what kind of content you like, what genres you’re interested in and how you can make your station stand out.

Take some time to think about your target audience, branding and programming. Look at what some of the great radio stations have done. You need to be unique, but there’s no reason you can’t take inspiration from those that came before.

II. Tools and resources you need to get started

Once you have a plan in place for your online community radio station, it’s time to start thinking about the technical requirements. While there is some technical know-how needed to start your own station, it is much simpler and cheaper than it used to be.

Gone are the days of needing specialised sound engineers, hundreds of thousands of dollars and permission from the gatekeepers to start your own station. I mean, you can always aim to hire 10 sound engineers and have a warehouse filled with the blinking lights of your streaming servers, but let’s start small for now.

Here is an overview of the basic tools and resources you’ll need to get started:

  1. Streaming services: To broadcast your station online, you’ll need a reliable web hosting service and a streaming platform. There are many options to choose from, including streaming services like Shoutcast and Icecast that you can host yourself, or all-in-one hosted solutions like ourself - Radio Cult.

  2. Equipment: You’ll need a few pieces of equipment to get started, including a computer, microphone, headphones, and mixing software. Depending on the complexity of your setup, you may also need a mixing console, sound card, and other accessories. You can go as high-tech or low-tech as you wish here. If you are mainly streaming pre-recorded and guest mixes then you shouldn’t need to invest as much in physical hardware.

  3. Online presence: It’s all well and good having a stream but you’ll also need some way for people to lock in. The simplest way is by having your own website. There are many tools out there to create your own website without needing a technical background.

  4. Mobile presence: Having a website is an excellent first step. However, people consume a lot of content on their mobile devices these days. Listening to radio via a website is not ideal for mobile users. Having a mobile presence means having a native, streamlined way for your users to listen on the go. However, we would be silly to not mention that mobile is a harder platform to build for than the web.

Research different web hosting and streaming services, as well as equipment and mobile applications that can help you manage and broadcast your station. Consider your budget and needs when choosing the right tools for your station. While the rise in software tools has opened up the radio market for everyone, costs can quickly spiral out of control.

III. Choosing the right streaming provider

Once you have your content and equipment ready, it’s time to choose the aforementioned streaming provider. There are many providers available, each with their own pros and cons. Which one you choose will come down to your budget and what your station is set out to do.

Here are some of the more popular options:

  1. Radio Cult: Radio Cult is a dedicated streaming provider designed specifically for independent and community radio stations. Our streaming platform allows you to broadcast live or pre-recorded content, such as playlists, sets or mixes. We also offer features to make running a community radio station easier, whether that be our powerful scheduling tool or our artist management suite.

  2. Mixcloud Live: Mixcloud Live is a popular choice for live streaming music, with features specifically designed for DJs and music producers. It offers high-quality audio and video streaming. However, it is primarily focused on music and may not be the best choice if you plan to produce other types of content.

  3. Twitch: While primarily known as a platform for gaming, Twitch has become a popular destination for live streaming of all kinds, including music and talk shows. It offers a range of interactive features, as well as the ability to monetise your streams. However, it can be difficult to build an audience on Twitch if you’re not already an established streamer.

As you can see, your choice of streaming provider can have more impact than first thought. When choosing your provider, it’s important to consider your specific needs and goals for your community radio station.

If you want a video livestream then choosing a platform like Mixcloud Live, YouTube or Twitch is your best bet. However, if you go this route you might not have a dedicated audio link to hook up to platforms like TuneIn. Additionally, platforms like Twitch & Youtube are fantastic at live streaming, but not so hot at the management of your station.

If you want a solid audio option centred around the needs of a radio station, then Radio Cult is a good bet.

Be mindful as your choice of streaming provider can make up a large portion of your monthly bill.

IV. Build your online presence

Building a website for a new community radio station is an important step in making sure your listeners can find you and lock in. There are several different options for building a website, each with their own level of technical difficulty and cost. Here are some of the most popular options:

  1. Website builders: Website builders like Wix and Squarespace have been soaring in popularity in recent years. These builders offer an easy way to create a website without needing any technical expertise. These platforms provide templates and drag-and-drop tools that make it easy to customise your site. You can use something like Radio Cult’s embeds to quickly add functionality to one of these sites. From player embeds to let your fans lock in, to whole chat rooms that allow you and your listeners to debate the finer points of gabber vs hardcore. In terms of cost, website builders are generally more affordable when compared to building a custom site. Rather than a large upfront cost to a contractor or design shop, the cost is spread out over every month.

  2. Content management systems (CMS): CMS platforms like WordPress, Drupal or even Radio Cult provide a more powerful and customisable option for building a website. These platforms require more technical expertise, but they offer greater flexibility and control over your site. CMS platforms are generally free to use, but you will need to pay for web hosting and any premium themes or plugins you use. While CMS is a good choice, these sorts of websites can have slow load times if serious work is not put in.

  3. Custom development: If you have a more complex website in mind or need a high level of customisation, you may want to consider developing your own site. This option is obviously the most expensive, time consuming and technically difficult. However, a custom built website can be truly unique and powerful with many features not available with a cookie-cutter site.

For most stations, using a website builder or CMS platform should be sufficient to create a professional-looking site. If you have specific functionality or design requirements, a custom option may be more appropriate.

Overall, building a website for your community radio station is an important investment for your station. Choose the right platform, make your site look beautiful and invest in quality content. You won’t regret having a website that reflects your brand and provides a top-tier home for your listeners.

V. Build your mobile presence

In today’s mobile-first world, it’s essential for community radio stations to provide their listeners with a way to tune in on mobile devices. Here are some of the most popular options for providing mobile access to your station:

  1. Using a mobile app offered by a streaming provider: Certain streaming providers offer mobile apps as an add-on to their core broadcasting service. As a general rule you’ll have to pay an additional monthly fee for these apps, unless you’re subscribed to a more premium plan. Radio Cult is the exception though, all of our streaming plans give you access to our mobile app at no added cost. However, our app is an aggregator like the examples described in the next point, where the cost and benefits of such an app will be explained. If you’re after an app which is yours and yours along, then reach out to see how we can help!

  2. Mobile streaming services: The cheapest and easiest is to pick an existing mobile streaming platform to make your station available on. Some examples are TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Audacy. These companies provide mobile apps that allow listeners to access your station, and many others, from their mobile devices. The benefits of using an existing mobile aggregator service is exposing your station to a wider audience and avoiding the upfront and ongoing stress and cost that come with developing a custom mobile app. However, you may have less control over how your station is displayed and the stations it lives beside.

  3. Developing your own custom mobile app: If you need complete flexibility and control then your best bet may be developing your own mobile app. Developing your own mobile app means your listeners can lock into your station in isolation. You have full control of how the app looks and the data on it. This can be a great choice if you already have the technical chops required. If you don’t, however, then expect to pay significantly more to have a mobile app built than you would for a custom website. Mobile developers cost more than web developers to begin with. Factor in the cost of developing the app for each operating system (e.g. Android and iOS). Add on top of that the initial Google Play store fee and the yearly cost of $99 USD for an Apple Developer license. This financial burden stops many community radio stations from building their own app. Additionally, your users have to know about you before they can download the app and add it to their collection of 20 other custom station apps. If you do decide that a custom app is right for you and you can afford it then go ahead, you may be left with a truly stunning app like NTS’.

  4. Responsive website design: Another option for providing mobile access to your station is to ensure that your website is optimised for mobile devices. Rather than a separate mobile app, you can engineer your site to respond to smaller screen sizes. This ensures that listeners can access your content on the go, with an interface that looks relatively native. This is significantly cheaper than building your own custom mobile app. However, you will have to ensure your site builder (e.g. Wix or Squarespace) supports responsive design. If you go down the custom website route, then be prepared to pay some additional developer fees for responsive design. The downside of the responsive approach is that it is notoriously difficult to ensure audio compatibility with all the mobile phones and mobile browsers out there. Additionally, what is displayed on the home screen of phones while your users are listening will most likely be the underlying stream link, like, rather than your station name. The metadata of your stream will also not be displayed.

  5. Social media: Social media platforms like Instagram and Youtube can be used to provide mobile access to your station. You can use these platforms to share links to your live stream or even to broadcast live shows directly from your social media accounts. This option is free and easy to use but it may not offer the same level of engagement or control as a dedicated mobile app or website. It also limits you to a single provider, unless you put in more work to hook your live stream up across multiple platforms.

VI. Build your social media presence

Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for you to connect with your growing audience. With a successful social media presence you can promote your shows, events and share engaging content with your listeners. Here are some tips for starting and managing your social media presence:

  1. Choose the right platforms: There are many different social media platforms to choose from. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are some of the most popular platforms for community radio stations. The benefit of these platforms is that you can live stream through them, as well as, through your website and mobile app. Starting a livestream on Instagram, for example, will notify all your followers, ensuring they don’t miss any sets.

  2. Develop a content strategy: Once you’ve selected your platforms, it’s important to develop a content strategy that will help you engage your audience and promote your station. This may include sharing links to live shows, posting your station’s schedule for the week ahead and sharing interesting news or music content.

  3. Engage with your audience: Social media is a two-way conversation, so it’s important to engage with your audience and respond to their comments and messages. Be sure to monitor your social media channels regularly and respond to comments and messages in a timely manner.

  4. Use analytics to track your success: Social media analytics can provide valuable insights into how your content is performing and how you can improve your strategy.

You get out what you put in. Remember to be authentic, engaging, and responsive to your audience. With the vast range of larger stations, your community radio won’t survive if it looks like the rest.

VII. Launching your online community radio station

With your plan in place and your tools at the ready, it’s finally time to launch your online community radio station! Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Test your equipment and stream: Before you go live, make sure you’ve tested your equipment and stream to ensure everything is working properly. You don’t want to go live, blending 4 tracks at once, only to discover technical issues mid-broadcast.

  2. Promote your station: Once you're ready to go live, start promoting your station on social media, in online communities, and through word-of-mouth. The in-app promotion feature of Radio Cult mobile is a great way to start.

  3. Monitor and analyse your performance: Use analytics tools, like the ones provided by Radio Cult, to track your performance and see how listeners are engaging with your station. Use this data to improve your programming and promotional efforts. For more information on getting the most out of analytics click here and click here if you want more detail on the analytics provided by Radio Cult.

VIII. Managing and growing your online community radio station

Congratulations! Your station is live. Now begins the journey of growing your fledgling station. Managing your online community radio station is a full time job. Here are some tips for reducing the workload, keep your station running and grow your audience:

  1. Engage with your audience: Build a community around your station by engaging with listeners on social media, responding to feedback, and encouraging user-generated content. Use Radio Cult to create your own chat room. Providing a space for your fans to chat can help to build community and to get feedback on what’s working. Plus, who doesn’t like real time validation of their mixing skills? For more information on creating a chat room, refer to this blog post.

  2. Consistently produce quality content: Your content is what will keep listeners coming back to your station. Make sure you’re consistently producing high-quality programming that appeals to your target audience.

  3. Collaborate with other stations and content creators: As the name might suggest, community radio is all about community. Collaborating with other stations in your space can help you reach new listeners and create unique programming.

  4. Keep an eye on costs: Running an online community radio station can be expensive, so it’s important to keep a close eye on costs. Look for ways to save money without sacrificing quality.

IX. How to support your station

Community radio stations often rely on the support of their listeners, sponsors, and advertisers to stay afloat. Here are some strategies for monetising and supporting your station:

  1. Listener donations: One of the most straightforward ways to monetise your station is to ask for donations from your listeners. You can set up a system for accepting donations through your website or mobile app. Many stations use platforms like Patreon, Ko-Fi or BigCartel to allow their listeners to support. Be sure to offer incentives for donations, such as exclusive content or merchandise, to encourage your listeners to support your station.

  2. Station subs: From the heyday of pirate radio, station subs were a common method of keeping stations running. Simply put, your presenters and DJs all chip in with the cost. This is community radio after all. It is a platform for everyone, so why not let everyone help?

  3. Advertising: Another option is to offer advertising spots during your streams or on your website. The total amount of money you can make here depends on your popularity and the types of listeners you have.

  4. Grants and funding: There may also be opportunities to secure grants or funding from government agencies, foundations, or other organisations that support community radio stations. Be sure to research available funding opportunities. There are more of them than you might expect.

  5. Merchandise sales: If you have a great brand then use it. If people want to rep your station then let them. Selling branded merchandise, such as t-shirts, stickers, or mugs can be a great way to support your station.

  6. Events: Hosting live events is a great way for your listeners to experience what you have to offer in person. Consider hosting a live gig or a charity event to raise money and build community support.

By diversifying your revenue streams and seeking out opportunities for support, you can help ensure the long-term success of your community radio station. Always remember to keep your listeners and supporters at the centre of everything you do. If you're after a more thorough explanation on this, then click here.

X. That’s a wrap

While it still takes dedication and hard work, starting an online community radio station is the easiest it has ever been. Running your own station is a way for you to leave a mark on the music scene in your local community and, who knows, maybe even the world!

Remember, the key to success with your online radio station is to produce high-quality content, engage with your audience, and consistently look for ways to improve and grow your station. While it can be challenging to get started, there are many resources available to help you along the way. If you ever have any questions or need any additional services, feel free to reach out to us here at Radio Cult. We are the home of community radio and we can’t wait to help you.

So, whether you’re just getting started or you’re looking to take your online community radio station to the next level, we hope this article has provided you with the information you need to succeed. Good luck, and happy broadcasting!

As always, keep it locked.

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