If you’ve been wondering how one goes about setting up an online radio station then you’re in luck. There are a number of simple ways to make an online radio station involving nothing more than some free software and a microphone attached to your computer. There’s also a lot of variety in costs and radio types depending on whether you’re a professional or a hobbyist – or somewhere in between. So, here’s a run-down of the best tools you can use to get your radio station up and running. Then all you need to do is to keep it interesting and get some listeners!
Hardware & Software
If you’re going to make online radio station, you’re going to need a microphone, headphones and computer in order to speak, record and hear yourself as you go. Obviously, the better the tools, the better you’ll sound. Some of these methods involve using web software or software developed especially for the radio host. But for many methods, to create and record the sounds required for radio on your computer you’ll need to have a way of playing music and a way of recording voice and the music that’s playing. There are lots of free tools available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Many of these tools can also convert your recording into a stream for you too with or without extensions. Try using Winamp or Audacity for two good, free starting points.
Hosting your online radio station might sound like fun, but you will need to ensure you stay on the right side of the law. To top that off, there are certain rules you need to follow under the United States’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The EU is taking steps to make online TV and radio programmes more easily available throughout its territory. The Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the future directive. The directive will provide users in any EU member state with a wider choice of online TV and radio programmes originating in other EU countries. It will do so by facilitating the licensing of copyright-protected material contained in these programmes.
Also ensure that you have the rights to broadcast all music played online and check different country’s authorities to see if there are any local broadcasting rules you need to be aware of. For some locations, you may be able to pay rights for digital broadcasting to a collector who will calculate your costs according to how many listeners you have.
Shoutcast is a simple, free way to host your radio station. The tools you need vary according to your operating system, but Shoutcast have made every effort to keep the process simple. If you have any problems, there is a forum of broadcasters who can help you with your questions, plus give you advice on how to make your station great. We’ve previously gone through the basics of creating a Shoutcast station. Things have changed a little since it was written, but it’s still worth a read if you’re having trouble with the settings. Another free host to consider is Free Stream Hosting, which lets you have up to 1000 users for free before charging for the service. They make money by placing ads on your site in the radio streaming player.
Many stations get on the air for under $15,000 and can stay on the air for less than $1,000 per month. The main start-up expenses for a radio station are engineering fees, studio equipment for producing radio shows, and transmitting equipment for sending your signals out to the world.
When you get your license to run an internet station, you are supposed to agree to pay digital royalties. Many international online radio stations (and some Asian stations) that operate on the internet pay these royalties through SoundExchange. … They cover BMI, SESAC, SoundExchange and SOCAN (Canada).
Advertising makes up a major part of online radio station revenue, both on-air as well as via station websites, social media profiles and streaming services. For example, stations sell airtime to companies that wish to reach the audience with messages about their products or services. Spots vary in price depending on their length, the time of the day they run and the show during which they air. The positioning of each spot can also impact its value, with those aired immediately after the show moves to commercial and immediately before it returns commanding the highest prices. In some cases, advertisements are read by on-air personalities in hopes that more people will pay attention when their favorite host is the one speaking. These spots tend to cost more than the traditional commercial.
Online radio stations often hold special events, sometimes on their own and sometimes in concert with advertising partners. These sponsored events serve the dual purpose of attracting new listeners to the station and bringing in extra revenue through ticket sales and merchandising.
Online radio stations are always on the lookout for the next big on-air personality, in part for the ratings and ad dollars it will bring the station and in part because of the potential for syndication that a popular show offers. Radio stations are able to sell the rights to air one of their shows to other online radio stations in exchange for big money.
Online radio stations with a news focus sometimes sell hourly feeds and direct news wire product to other online radio stations around the country. The idea is to eliminate the need for every station to manage its own staff of reporters and news anchors to create an hourly broadcast and breaking news updates.
Step by Step
Step 1: Get Your Gear
You don’t need any special audio gear for this project–aside from a mic, if you plan to say anything (song introductions, station identifications, or whatever). What you do need is a handful of different apps: one to play your music files, one to turn the audio feed into a streamable source, and one to act as a server for sharing your stream with the world.
You have plenty of options to choose from in all of the above categories, and each app has its own merits. In this tutorial, we’ll use Winamp to play the music, Edcast (the Winamp plug-in, not the stand-alone version) to turn it into a stream, and Icecast2 to serve it up. The Edcast/Icecast2 pairing is unusually easy to configure for different types of radio servers and audio formats.
You’ll also need to download a special .DLL file (lame_enc.dll) if you want to broadcast in an MP3 format (which is more compatible with older audio players): Download the zipped version, unzip it, and put lame_enc.dll in Winamp’s root directory (it usually is located in C:/Program Files/Winamp).
Step 2: Set Up Your Server
Before you start streaming, you’ll need to estimate the size of audience you expect (or want). Your capacity to stream music depends on your Internet connection’s upstream speed–the speed at which you can send data to other computers. At faster upstream speeds, you can accommodate more listeners with a higher level of audio quality.
Since both connection speeds and digital audio quality are measured in kilobits per second (kbps)–not in kilobytes per second (KBps)–you can figure out how much bandwidth you need to serve your radio station by plugging the numbers into this formula:
Simultaneous listeners x Audio bitrate = Required bandwidth
If you’re hosting the station on a home PC with a typical cable or DSL connection, your upstream speeds probably aren’t great. The home DSL’s upstream speeds tops out at about 500 kbps (about 50 KBps), and a high-quality MP3 feed requires at least 192 kbps, so I’d be able to accommodate only two listeners and I’d barely be able to do anything with my Internet connection.
We could lower the quality of the feed to, say, 96 kbps, but then the audio quality of my stream would be significantly worse. For talk radio, it would probably be fine; but for music, it might sound as though songs were being transmitted over a phone.
Fortunately, the stream server doesn’t have to live on the same PC as the audio source. You can use your PC to play the music with Winamp and to source it with Edcast, and then send the stream over the Internet to a dedicated radio stream server equipped with a high-bandwidth connection. If you use that approach, your broadband connection needs to strong enough to send out one stream to the dedicated server–but it doesn’t have to be any stronger. Also, you don’t have to monopolize your Internet connection to keep up your radio station, since you’re sending a single stream to the server, which then handles each listener with its own broadband connection.
Typically, you have to pay for a dedicated radio server; the rates start at about $6 per month and increase as your radio station’s traffic grows. But some free Shoutcast radio servers rely on ads to pay the bills. One such server, FreeStreamHosting.org, invites you to broadcast a 128-kbps stream to up to 1000 users at no charge–and the ads stay out of your audio stream (instead, they get displayed on the Web page you use to advertise your station).
We recommend signing up for a dedicated radio server: The cost is far less than what you’d pay for a home Internet connection (which for practical purposes you wouldn’t be able to use for anything else), and such servers are slightly easier to configure.
If you opt for a dedicated streaming server, make sure that you know the host’s IP address or URL, the correct port number, the stream password, the server type (usually it’s either Shoutcast or Icecast2), and the maximum bitrate (if applicable) before moving on.
If you want to run your own server, download and install Icecast2, open the app, and select Edit Configuration from the Configuration menu. This will open a text document called ‘icecast.xml’, which you’ll have to tweak a bit. From top to bottom:
- For the ‘sources’ tag, enter the maximum number of listeners you want your station to have.
- For the ‘source-password’ tag, enter the password you want to use for your stream app (Edcast).
- The ‘relay-password’ and ‘admin-password’ tags aren’t important for this how-to, but change them from the default ‘hackme’ anyway.
- For the ‘hostname’ tag, enter your IP address. If you want to broadcast only to your network, use your internal network’s IP address. Otherwise, you can find your outside IP address at WhatsMyIP.net.
- The ‘port’ tag refers to the port you’d like to use to stream the music. I left mine on the default 8000. Remember, you’ll probably need to open this port in your firewall in order for your radio station to work.
Step 3: Configure the Source App
Now that your stream server is running, you need to give it something to stream. That’s where Edcast comes in. Grab the Edcast Winamp plugin, open Winamp, go to Options, Preferences, Plug-ins, DSP/Effect, select edcast DSP v3 [dsp_edcast.dll], and click Configure active plugin.
Here you can set Edcast to use either your microphone jack or your Winamp playlist. Just click the mic picture to enable or disable the mic; when the mic is disabled, Edcast will use Winamp for its input. You can test this yourself by clicking on the sound-level meter to activate it, playing some music through Winamp, and toggling the mic off and on to see whether each input is working.
Next, click Add Encoder to add a new entry (Vorbis: Quality 0/Stereo/44100) in the box below, and double-click the new entry to configure it. Here you’ll need to plug in your server settings–make sure that the server type is set to the right protocol (Shoutcast or Icecast2, depending on which server you chose in step 2), enter your server’s IP in the Server IP field (if you’re hosting the Icecast server on the same PC, it’s your IP address), and enter the corresponding port and password.
You’ll also want to set your encoder type here: AAC and MP3 tend to be the most widely compatible; AAC+ is optimized for lower-bitrate audio applications (perfect for streaming), but it sometimes doesn’t sound as good; and Ogg Vorbis has fairly high audio quality at lower bitrates, but certain music player apps (iTunes, for example) don’t natively support it.
If you’re using Icecast2, note the ‘mountpoint’ entry in the Basic Settings tab. You’ll need to put a path here depending on your encoder type: Ogg Vorbis streams can be called ‘/whatever.ogg’; AAC streams, ‘/whatever.aac’; and so on. This string will eventually appear at the end of your radio station’s URL, as in ‘http://xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx:8000/whatever.aac’.
When you’re satisfied with the way your station works, you’ll want to click over to the YP Settings tab to configure your public listing information (station name, URL, genre, and so on), but for now you don’t need to mess with it.
Step 4: Play That Funky Music
Icecast2 (or your dedicated radio server) is up, Edcast is configured, and your Winamp collection is ready to rock. So click Connect in the Edcast window to connect Edcast to your radio server, and start spinning away.
It’s no fun if you don’t have an audience, though. If you opted for a separate radio server, you’ll probably have your own URL (something like http://s3.myradiostream.com/24212.htm) but if you’re using Icecast2, the URL to access your radio stream will be http://(youripaddress):(port)/(mountpoint), without parentheses.
If your IP address is 192.168.0.1 and you are using port 8000 and you set the mountpoint to ‘/stream.ogg’, your listeners can tune in by pointing their audio player of choice to http://192.168.0.1:8000/stream.ogg.
Linking your radio station URL to your IP address can be a pain–particularly if you don’t have a fixed IP address for your home broadband–because your listeners will have to keep up with your IP changes. To avoid this complication, you can register your own domain name; but if you don’t want to shell out the cash, you can sign up for a free DynDNS.com domain name instead.
Step 5: Don’t Get Sued
The intricacies of broadcasting and copyright law are outside the scope of this how-to. Generally speaking, however, if you want to broadcast someone else’s music legally, you need to obtain the permission of both the artist and the recording company that produced and distributes those recordings, which can cost a small-time broadcaster a lot of money and time.
Rather than play Russian roulette with the RIAA, consider acquiring licensing through a service such as Live365.com, the JPL program of the SWCast Network, or LoudCity. These organizations offer different ways to get your station appropriately licensed for a monthly fee based on factors such as how many listeners you have.
You also need to ensure that your radio station complies with the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) when you program your playlists. Live365.com has posted a summarized list of rules you must follow.
Alternatively, if you play your own music or if you get permission from independent bands that don’t have a recording industry contract to play their music, you’re all set. Music licensed under the Creative Commons can work, too, though it depends on the specific license that the artist uses: If you run advertisements on your station, you might not be able to use music licensed for noncommercial broadcasting only.