Funding your college radio station

Funding your college radio stationWe have been running the IBS Student Radio Network for years now and have over 40 stations as members. One question we often ask our schools is how are you funding your college radio station? As you all know every school is a bit different and that impacts how the stations are funded, organized and how they operate.  Let me provide you with a high level overview of how schools are getting their funding.  I will also provide a preview of things we are investigating to help with the broader funding effort.
Student Government – The school has a number of clubs and provides the student government a budget to operate the clubs.  Depending upon interest, budget and drive of the students they generate the necessary interest to get their share of the student government budget.  The stations at Goucher College, Long Island University and Babson are funded in this manner.
Communications/Journalism Department – The school has one or both of these departments and offer majors in these subjects and other closely associated fields.  What we are starting to see is a move toward consolidated “media” departments that encompass the student newspaper, its radio station and where they have a program “television”.  The trend we are seeing is a move to transition the “Communications” department at some schools to become the “Journalism” department providing more focus on the research and reporting aspect of communications and the associated skill required.  This is reflected in what is happening out in the commercial world.  The stations at Franklin & Marshall, Lehman CollegeTowson, Oklahoma State and Simmons College are organized in this manner.
Underwriting/Commercials – Some schools augment their budgets with underwriting and commercials.  Traditionally if the school ran a terrestrial radio station they were non-commercial.  As such they were required to comply with FCC regulations on what it means to be a non-commercial radio station.  These stations took underwriting spots instead.  While Internet radio does not have the same restrictions most stations are operating as if they were FCC non-commercial regulated because it is good training for the students.  Oklahoma State University takes underwriting spots from the local pizza parlor and a few other sponsors.
Other – One of the schools we had worked with runs a radio station and a record label.  The radio station is used to promote the music of the record label and vice versa.  The school offers programs in both to help the students gain valuable experience in their desired fields.
We are investigating how to help schools with some of the above efforts and other synergies they may have within the school and elsewhere.  Our fundamental view is that the stream belongs to the school, our efforts are intended support the station in how they would like to operate.  Anything we do will be opt-in by the school/station.
Underwriting/Commercials – While many of the schools would like to fund their efforts through underwriting they may not be set up this way.  Some have asked Backbone to provide underwriting spots for them.  At the network level this is easier but it also needs to have significant local flavor and buy in from the school.  For example, a school would like to opt-out of ads that do not align with the mission of the school. 
Other schools would like all fund raising to go through the development department.  Others are looking to align their suppliers with their externally focused efforts.  For example, the cafeteria has all Coca-Cola products, they would like to make sure they run Coca-Cola underwriting spots on their station and not plugs for their competitors.
Local Events – Many schools have a community service requirement for their students.  We are investigating ways to help the radio station work with local events as a means of community service and outreach.  For example, a number of our schools have broadcast the Jamaica Plain Music Fest.  Local stations can broadcast the event and promote the causes of the community.  Additionally, the event sponsors may want to underwrite spots on the local stations.
Departmental Synergies – Some schools have significant athletic department budgets and their teams are a source of great school spirit and pride.  Backbone Radio enables the broadcast of remote events quite easily.  We are looking for schools that want to work with their athletic departments to broadcast their games, i.e. Lacrosse, Field Hockey, Basketball, etc.  This fosters cross department cooperation and additional experience for the students at the radio station.  Like the underwriting listed above we are looking to work with schools on these efforts.  Additionally, schools that do broadcast their sporting events command a premium for spots on that type of programming and may be able to get some of their funding from the athletic department.
Other – There are some Internet oriented crowd sourced funding efforts that are cropping up.  We are looking for ways to help enable these at the network and station level.
We will continue to look beyond our place as a service supplier to help stations address the opportunities available to them in broadcast.  College radio is a great place to learn and experiment with different operational models.  We are looking for ways to partner with our stations in these experiments. Leave your thoughts on what you think of some of these efforts or other opportunities where we can help.  We look forward to making college radio a vibrant, creative place to listen.

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