Log in

Starting a School Internet Radio Station

At the end of Term 2, I decided to involve students attending our technology centre and our host school  - Parklands  - to start a radio station that would be broadcast over the internet. I did not know anyone else who was doing this, whom I could copy from. Noone in our ICT cluster or in the Tasman / Nelson region was yet doing this. I searched the internet and really couldn't find any sort of "how to's" from other school teachers who may have done this before me. This is why I am writing this blog article now - to hopefully fill that gap!

The only relevant website that I managed to come across was Whangaparoa Primary's student radio station called Splat, so I got in touch with them - as I was curious how they overcame copyright laws in relation to broadcasting music and I had other questions just related to starting up that I wanted to ask the teacher in charge. The teacher in charge informed me that they would buy the CDs and the students would then broadcast them. She told me that she received a management unit for managing the radio station and had teams of students in charge each day. The best time was at lunchtime, when they would sometimes broadcast thier radio over the loudspeakers. She encouraged me, saying it is a lot of fun. Whangaparoa School invested in FM broadcasting equipment  - they are able to broadcast within about a 3km radius of the school, and anyone with a radio can tune into them. Set up costs were about $4000. I could not see our school being ready to fund that.

Software necessary for an internet radio station.
Broadcasting over the internet seemed to be the obvious cost-effective solution. This article in the PC World website was particularly useful in getting my head around what would be involved. Our school uses Apple Macs, so I downloaded a free trial broadcasting program called NiceCast. Because it is a trial, then after one hour of continuous broadcasting, then it covers over the song being broadcast with a sort of scratchy noise. This is not a problem for us at the moment, because we decided to start with initially just broadcasting during lunch hours. The program is really really easy to use and it only takes about 3 minutes to teach the students. Once we want to start broadcasting for longer, then we will pay the $59 to get the licensed program. We use Garageband to record student voiceovers and introductions, and iTunes to make playlists. These all come on discs provided by the MOE and so there is no extra charge involved for the school to install these.

Hardware for an Internet Radio Station
We installed an old desktop computer - important that it was running Snow Leopard (OS10.6) because previous versions could not run Nicecast. I bought a couple of microphones and stands, along with some adaptors.  It is important to get unidirectional mics because they cut out all the surrounding noise (a big problem in a school environment). The unidirectional microphones cost $35 each at Dick Smith, adaptors to stick the mics into so they could go into the computer were $5 each, stands were $20 each from Jaycar Electronics (half the price of what they cost in all the music shops). I only purchased small desktop stands, because I didn't see the need for a tall standing one for the time being. So all up the hardware costs were about $100.

Talking to the Experts
Next, I got in touch with the manager at Fresh-FM, Mike Williams. Fresh FM is a community radio station that is based in Nelson. I talked to him about copyright law and broadcasting rights. He got in touch with the necessary people at PPNZ and APRA to ask them about what we would need to know as a school if we were to broadcast and how much licensing would cost. They agreed to charge us half price once we were ready to register - which would cost about $150 for an annual subscription with each organisation. This would keep us completely legal.

Mike then came over to our technology centre to talk with about 15 students from Mot South school and Parklands about what rules and protocols are necessary when running an internet radio station. I took notes while he was talking. Here is a summary of what the pertinent rules were that the kids needed to be aware of:

Radio Broadcasting Rules

  1. Decency – good taste and in music and plays, conversations, proper language
  2. Nothing racist, or making people want to hurt each other, don’t call names or spread rumours or bad stories about people. Don’t allow people to do that either, if you are interviewing them.
  3. Music is legally obtained. Fee to Australasian Rights Association. These organisations look after the artists and songwriters.
  4. Can use YouTube, RDIO, Deezer, Mog, Spotify, iTunes, Amplifier. Can download the music from YouTube
  5. Can’t use stuff from piratebay, megaupload. Big fines if you use stuff that you aren’t legally allowed to use.
  6. Can’t provide tracks for downloading, or sell CDs from show.
  7. Can’t use 3 songs from the same album in a 3 hour period, or 4 songs from the same artist (even if different CDs) in the same time period.
  8. Weird Al Yukovich is allowed to make parodies, but we can’t.
I printed these rules up and put them in the small room that we have now dedicated for the radio station.

We were surprised to learn that we could download tunes from YouTube using websites such as www.flvto.com to convert the tracks into mp3s. I asked if this was OK, and Mike said that YouTube would have taken care of the necessary broadcasting issues and copyright. I am still not 100% sure about this, but we have started downloading some songs from there in the meantime. I only recently learnt about a whole host of copyright friendly music sites this month, so I have bookmarked this page for the kids to use for future reference and downloading instead of using YouTube.

Programs on a radio station
Mike showed us a diagram of how a radio station plans an hour radio program. Every 15 minutes or so, commercial radio stations make sure that they mention the name of their station - either the presenter saying it or a splash recording. He told us how they make lists of music into about 6 categories and play music from category A every 15 minutes, music from category B every 30 minutes etc etc. There are special radio station programs that you can buy to do the programming for you - you just drop the songs into each category. Category A songs are the songs that are popular at the moment (maybe about 10 or 15 of them). Category B are songs that were hits, but are now on the way out. Other categories can be things like local musicians, new artists downloaded internationally etc etc. We are not that expert yet - so that is something for when we decide to broadcast 24 hours a day!

Going on Air - Trials and Tribulations

We canvassed all the 400 Y7&8 students who come to MoTEC for a name for the radio station and then voted on it. The final name decided on was "The Pulse" although a close second was "Potatoes on Air"!! I couldn't help but smile and have a secret laugh as I saw staff horror when "Potatoes on Air" started creeping up in the polls. Staff pressure pushed through "The Pulse" although the more I thought about it, the quirkier and quackier the second name seemed to be!

We decided that we would try to be broadcasting on air by Week 4 of Term 3. This has not happened though until this week - Week 9! First, we spent the first 4 weeks just downloading and sourcing music from the kids collections, YouTube and the school library. We currently have about 300 tracks on the radio computer. These all had to be vetted by the radio club kids to check that they had no swear words etc etc. Obviously this took time, because they ended up listening to them! Students come in on their lunchbreak to do this work.

Next, students had to make playlists of 15 songs each. Once they had selected the songs that they wanted to use, that also followed the rules listed above - then they had record tracks of themself introducing the song. Playlists are saved under their names in iTunes.

The students work in teams of two - 2 DJs on each day. There are 10 DJs in total from Parklands school where we are trialling it first. I told them that once we have 5 playlists ready, then we will start to broadcast. It has taken forever to get those 5 playlists ready as they have a tendency to get sidetracked and sit in the little room listening to thier favourite songs rather than recording!

Today we broadcast for the first time ever. We can play the radio station from any computer, so I put the link up on our technology centre blog, turned on Nicecast and then we went to the classroom which is closest to where the kids all eat thier lunch outside. This was when we hit our first snag. The wireless was too slow for us to put the computer outside on the verandah with a laptop connected to the boombox speaker. We have to be connected via cable. Hmmm... we will look for a longer cable tomorrow. Of course, with our little inaugural playing, then the station centre was flooded by a group of keen students wanting to request songs. This will be the next step, as the DJs are still gobsmacked when it comes to talking on the mic live. But it will be a fast transition. I can see us using a mixture of pre-recorded and live DJ-ing (using Nicecast, you can interrupt your broadcast at any time to talk live on air).

Being able to pre-record themselves using Garageband and then exporting each clip to iTunes when they are happy with how they sound has been a good first step in scaffolding. I can see that in the future we will need to do some more lessons on interviewing people, talking without ums and errs etc - huge oral development and integrated learning opportunities are here!

Where to next?
I hope to develop a unit on radio broadcasting which we will do with all the 13 schools who come over to MoTEC. The students will create a playlist and also have to record some more information related to the genre of music that they decide to do thier playlist on. I can see this as an excellent way of integrating music and technology.  

With student DJs from other schools, this will then hook them into listening to our interschool radio station at thier school. I was going to try to train them up on actually broadcasting from thier school into the Pulse so that for example, each day we could have different schools managing the broadcasting from thier school site, but the logistics of doing this are a bit beyond me at present (because there would be different computers with different IP addresses broadcasting) but we'll take it bit by bit. I think if we somehow get a dedicated server for the radio station, this would work, but at the moment, we are working behind our Parklands school server. Getting the content for the shows is the hardest thing - and to get it coming in regularly, so in the meantime, we'll get students to create the content and save it when they are at MoTEC (our technology centre). And we'll broadcast from here.

More work needs to be done on interviewing with the kids and creating programs with different content besides music, such as competitions etc. 

I will keep you updated as we discover more things.


  • Hamish McLean

    Thanks Kate,

    This has been a great read.  I've been looking at a hard broadcast kit for my school, but also thought of an IP radio broadcase.  As you said much cheaper.  

    Any update in this since you first posted??