Senior Editor & Radio Host
Campus radio plays an important role in college life.
College radio broke new ground and broke bands. Groups like REM, Goo Goo Dolls, and grunge darlings Nirvana found a home on college radio long before hitting the mainstream. Most of the alternative rock genre owes its existence to college radio.
College radio gives a home to student perspectives on a variety of important issues.
It can serve as a marketing tool for the college to prospective students and donors.
Most importantly, it’s an instructional tool to raise up a new generation of radio professionals.
Maybe your institution is considering a low power FM (LPFM) station to add to your student activities or educational programs.
I worked for a medium-sized university in the South. I launched a LPFM station in 2016.
Hindsight is 20/20. Here’s what I wish I knew all those years ago.
LPFM verses Streaming
If you work for an institution of higher learning, you know money is always a sticking point when creating or expanding any program. It’s not unrealistic to approach building a radio station with some hesitancy.
The easiest — and most cost effective — route is to start a streaming station online. At least, the university I worked for thought so.
Here’s why LPFMs are a superior investment to internet radio:
- Real world application: Streaming radio has no governance or rules unlike broadcast radio. Students will learn to avoid breaking federal guidelines and implement skills required by the broadcast radio industry.
- Listenership: Who wants a station know one listens to? It’s wrong to assume that kids nowadays listen to streaming radio, because they’re tech savvy. Radio listenership is double that of streaming radio.
- Profitability: Streaming radio may be cheaper in terms of equipment, but if your institution is relying on outside sources of revenue, you may not have the listener numbers to entice donors and sponsors.
While LPFMs may be perceived as a more costly option, it’s not altogether expensive.
Funding A Station
I built a LPFM station for $39,000. Of course, inflation needs to be taken into account.
There are multiple ways to fund the start-up costs for your station.
- Donate: Alumni are great sources of revenue for special projects. So are businesses. Ask local stations for gently used equipment as a donation for a tax write-off. Stations are always upgrading equipment.
- Collaborate: Seek support from another department or college that has more funds. Athletics is always a good place to start. Perhaps new student recruitment has money to spend. Come up with proposals on how the station can benefit the mission of another department.
- Grants: Grants are available. Speak to a grant writer for your institution.
Because public colleges and institutions are nonprofits, you may receive special pricing or discounts from broadcast supply companies or broadcast automation software creators.
It’s always a good idea to seek outside counsel from experts in engineering, architecture, and law.
If the station plays any type of music, you must secure copyright licenses. Contacting the institution’s intellectual property lawyer is a wise idea.
For licensed stations, a certified broadcast engineer must be on retainer. Some engineers specialize in building low-power radio stations.
If you plan to modify or build any structure on campus, contact facilities and the chief architect and involve them in the process.
Lastly, consultants are available to help you with the application and building process from start to finish.
If your institution decides to apply, there is no obligation to launch a LPFM.
Once approved, there is a three-year period to get the station up and running.
Public educational institutions receive first priority over other organizations when it comes to approval from the Federal Communications Commission.