The past year has been a rocky one for state and national public radio in the United States. These popular stations have had to defend their funding and implement changes to catch up to the Internet age.
So, in a decade dominated by online music services like Pandora Radio, Grooveshark, Spotify, and (the ubiquitous) iTunes, what is the role of a student-run college radio station?
This is a question that all student-run radio stations must ask themselves constantly. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I invite you to join in the conversation in the comments section.
This fall, the general manager of our station wrote an editorial which ran in the local newspaper. Though the editorial was focused around the general difficulty of dealing with student government and gaining funds for the station, it also touched on some larger issues.
•1. Running a radio station is costly.
Though student-run stations are inherently non-profit, they do have expenses to keep up with. Maintaining station licensing, keeping up with software subscriptions, and paying directors all adds up. I know that, at our station, director pay is less than minimum wage. But, at a time when the web is everything, it’s easy to see why universities would strongly consider cuts to a student radio station.
•2. Student-run radio stations are now moving toward online streams.
The station I work at has two stations— the “main” studio which broadcasts online and over the airwaves, as well as an online-only station. Creating and successfully maintaining streams for the radio station requires a website, and all of this requires servers, computers, and other equipment. (Did I mention that running a radio station is costly?
•3. Radio stations attract fans through events, as well as the broadcasts themselves.
Marketing a radio station isn’t free. An easy way to gain followers is to throw an event like a concert or a remote broadcast. Potential listeners connect more when they can put a face to the voice of their favorite DJ. These sorts of events, however, require equipment and other resources.
•4. Anyone can start their own online radio station, so there’s lots of competition.
Using tools like Shoutcast, anyone can create their own radio station and broadcast over the Internet. Though these free stations are a lot less professional and reliable, the cost difference between maintaining a Shoutcast station to a professional station that broadcasts 24 hours a day is huge.
•5. Pandora, Grooveshark, and Spotify are so convenient.
If a listener wants to hear their favorite song, or something like their favorite song, they can. With just a few inputs by the user, a personalized playlist becomes available. Though, I personally like college radio because I get to listen to music selected by my peers, a lot of people don’t have the patience to sit through a metal show or a topic-specific talk show if that is not what they are interested in.
Generally speaking, our station is in decent shape. Our web streams are very popular and our website gets tons of hits. In the past year, we have launched a concert series by partnering with local venues and we have started hosting free in-studio performances by artists that are open to the public, among other things. Yet, our budget is not even half of what other peer institution’s college radio stations receive. The fact that we are able to do a lot with a little is great.
For me, I actually like dealing with a small budget because it leaves so much room for staffers’ creativity to shine through. But it would be a dream come true if we could receive funding to send some staffers to the College Music Journal conference and awards ceremony. As it stands, we have no travel budget and can’t afford to even nominate our station for any accolades.
I want to know—what are your thoughts? How does your station cope with the changing times? Should universities be allotting more money to college stations in this day and age?