When in 1898 Guglielmo Marconi, a 24-year-old Italian, began the world’s first commercial radio service, he probably did not foresee such a glamorous future for radio worldwide. Now, you can start a radio station of your own and enjoy the benefits of his invention.
Advances in technology have given people more ways to access an increasing amount of information. Today, local and international news can be read in the newspaper, listened to on radio, watched on television and found on cell-phones or internet.
For those with access to these options, a wealth of information is always readily available. In countries where free expression is suppressed, access to technology is expensive or illiteracy rates are high, radio continues to play an important role in sharing information and educating people.
Also, radio broadcasting services are playing a central role in the marketing of businesses in many countries all over the globe. The businesses pay so much money to market their services and reach their target audiences. Just one or two adverts that each run for 10 minutes on a radio station with a million and more audience can take care of all the bills for that month. And so, radio broadcasting business has become very lucrative in most countries.
In this piece, I try to make easy it for you, the setting up of your own private radio station.
Step 1: Decide On A Broadcast Format
A radio format or programming format (not to be confused with broadcast programming) describes the overall content broadcast on a radio station. It refers to what the radio station will focus her broadcasts on. Some radios focus on music, others on sports, others on business, others on news, etc.
Radio formats are frequently employed as a marketing tool, and are subject to frequent change. Having a general concept for the content you are going to broadcast is not only important for sanity’s sake. Knowing whether you will be broadcasting voice or music can have a bearing on how you develop your studio.
If your plan is to run a music-heavy show then, you are probably going to want to broadcast in stereo and on the FM band. If your plan on the other hand is to start a talk radio, you will be able to get by on AM transmissions. However, you are going to want to pay special attention to properly equalizing your equipment for voice.
Note. Does the notion of a live microphone and listeners make you nervous? You might want to consider recording your broadcast ahead of time to avoid some of the headaches of live broadcasts. This may prove a boon if you are new to mixing and audio production. You will therefore have to perfect little mixing tricks like smoothly fading between songs.
Step 2: Get Enough Space
While it is possible to operate a radio station in just a single room that can carry all your equipment, it is not wise to do so and jeopardize the quality of your services and status of your business.
An ideal situation is to have:
- A broadcasting studio which should be spacious and airy enough with two or three chairs, walls fitted with acoustics to prevent noise, and microphones
- A transmitter room with all the equipment that are used for transmission
- An editing/recording room with computers and recorders as well as microphones
- One or two offices, equipped enough to perform the necessary administrative duties
- A comfortable seating room for guests
Step 3: Get Your Equipment
The next step is to get the right equipment for your studio. If you are technically inclined, you will want to go the distance with a do-it-yourself kit, but if you are a novice, you should go to amateur publications and websites to find the right gear.
Although there’s lots of room for customization, the outcome is basically the same – you’re looking to chain together components that filter, convert, and broadcast your audio signal with good quality. Your gear will breakdown into three categories:
[a] Audio Sources: These are the 8-tracks, tape decks, turntables, microphones, CD Players, and MP3 players, etc. Almost anything people used to play music in the last 35 years should work, as long you are able to plug it into a mixer. However, aim for best quality as much as you can. In terms of size, programming playlists, and capacity, the MP3 player is an ideal starting point.
[b] Mixing Equipment & Filters: The secret you may like to know is to how to keep that signal clean. You may appear to love the sound of your own voice but rest assured, it probably does not sound as great over the airwaves. This is where the mixing equipment and filters come in.
The best way to clean up your audio signal is by employing a combination of mixers, filters, limiters, and compressors. The number of accessories in the market may make it a daunting task, but the goal should be two-fold.
1) To clean up your overall sound,
2) To keep your broadcast frequency in check.
Without both of these issues attended to, you are liable to sound like crap, interrupt neighboring frequencies, and attract unwanted attention.
[c] Transmission Equipment: The transmission equipment is like the life wire in the entire process. In fact, the transmitter itself is what ‘modulates’ audio over your chosen frequency, effectively making it fit for broadcasting via an antenna.
Ideally, look for a transmitter equipped with a Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO). The advantage is that you will be able to move your broadcast to any frequency supported by the transmitter. It might sound unnecessary now, but having the ability to change broadcast frequencies can come in handy if you are prone to moving your studio for some reason.
[d] Support Equipment/Materials: A radio station like any other business will require support equipment/materials in order to run smoothly. You need one or two computers for a start, a number of chairs and desks, stationary and writing materials, up-to-date, newspapers and magazines, notice board, just to name a few.You may also need radio frequency amplifiers, coaxial cable, and antennas, if you want your broadcast heard beyond your neighborhood.
The amateur radio market is flooded with options, so finding equipment that suits your desired range should not be too difficult. To avoid running into problems with the communication regulatory body, the advice is for you to be smart, and if possible, operate discreetly.
Note. Getting all of this equipment to work perfectly on the first try is close to impossible. Your best bet is to do extensive research on the equipment combinations you have chosen, and chain the components together one at a time.
Step 4: Find An Open Frequency
As soon as your studio is set, the next thing to do is to find an open frequency for your station, so you don’t interfere with frequencies of already existing stations. Unfortunately, it is not as easy a task as one may think. The best way to dig up some open frequencies is to hit the web. You may also want to study the local frequencies and see where you can comfortably fit in.
Bear in mind that even though there are tons of traffic flying through the air at any given moment, only a specific range is designated for “regular” radio broadcasts. For AM this spans 540 kHz to 1700 kHz, and for FM, 88.1 MHz to 107.9 MHz. If you pick a frequency outside this range, you are likely to interfere with television, or even air traffic control broadcasts. After you find a few open frequencies within the specified range, be sure to listen in regularly for activity.
Step 5: Get Qualified Personnel
As much as the quality of your programs lie in all the above I have mentioned, it lies more in the quality of personnel you hire. This is because the personnel you have are those to handle all the equipment correctly in order to produce quality sound. Also, they are those who attract the audience with the quality programs they run.
For a start, you will need to hire at least three journalists, an editor, one or two technicians and support staff. However, this depends on what your station will be focusing on. It will not be the same if your station will focus only on entertainment, as it would be if it will go into news broadcasting.
Step 6: Test Out Your Broadcast
Once you have found a couple of broadcasters to work with, it is time to take your broadcast for a test run. While running a test broadcast make sure that all input levels are within a reasonable range, and that you are achieving the desired tone. It is not uncommon for there to be some residual hum, but you should be able to track its source by checking your components one after the other and using deductive reasoning.
Once your test is running smoothly from the helm, you might want to check out your frequency range (and possible interference) by grabbing a radio and doing some traveling around town. If you can hear elements of your broadcast coming through on neighboring stations, then you have got a problem. Otherwise, you should be all set.
Normally, before you arrive at this level, you must have acquired a broadcast permit or full authorization to operate from the authorities that be. In most countries getting your radio station registered is another story that needs to be told.
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