The rest

A beginner's guide to starting an FM radio station in Finland

Topics
FutuRadio

Have you ever dreamed of starting your own FM radio station? In Finland, it's not as complicated or expensive as you might think. Here's a short beginner's guide to starting an FM radio station in Finland.

Let's start with the bureaucracy

First of all, you need a radio license to have a legitimate radio station and a radio frequency reserved for your channel. The license is granted by Ficora, the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority or Viestintävirasto in Finnish.

If you are setting up a radio station for the first time, it may be wise to start small. Aim for a short period, 3 months or less, and a low transmission power, 50W or less. If these 2 criteria are met, you only need one license from Ficora: a radio license ("radiolupa"). For longer time periods or higher transmitting power, you need more licenses – we'll not go into that here.

For the actual transmission, you need to a have an approved transmitter. The easiest way is to buy the transmission as a service from a service provider such as Telemast or Digita. We ended up choosing Digita for Futuradio. The contract with them included all the necessary paperwork for Ficora. We just needed to provide them a mandate and everything else was done by Digita.

Even though everything was handled by Digita, it may be wise to contact Ficora first. They have the most updated information about bandwidth availability in different radio masts, and they are happy to help.

Some more bureaucracy

Playing music on the radio also requires the proper licenses from Teosto and Gramex, the copyright organizations for musicians and composers in Finland. Fortunately, making a contract for a short radio project like Futuradio is fairly easy. After receiving the ID number of your radio license, just fill in the forms on their websites: Teosto and Gramex.

With the music licenses, you're able to play copyrighted music on the radio. Radio stations that are live for a short period of time don't have to report the actual songs played, which makes the project a lot easier in that matter.

Technology

Once we had the radio license and music licenses, all the necessary bureaucracy was done. Next up, we needed to set up the streaming server and start creating the actual content.

Even though Digita did the broadcasting, we were left with the responsibility of providing them with the content stream. This was easy: just set up a digital audio stream over the internet which Digita then transmitted using their analog transmitters. This way we were able to provide a digital stream for our listeners at the same time. We used the Icecast server with Ices as the source client (actually 2 clients to stream in both mp3 and ogg formats: ices-0.4 and ices2-2.0.1-8).

Content

Since we are not a professional radio company, we decided to have only prerecorded content for the radio. This made things much easier and didn't require anyone to be broadcasting during the workday. The content creation guideline was simple: come up with an idea for a radio show and just do it! The pace of creating new material was quite slow in the beginning, but once we got started, there was a great deal of people involved in creating content for the radio.

For audio engineering and mixing we hired a specialist: Tuomas Brock. He had a background in college radio in California and had been doing radio shows before, also here in Finland. We wanted to keep the DIY attitude and he was a perfect match for us. His responsibilities included helping during the recording sessions, mixing and mastering the content and taking care of having all the content available for streaming every day. He did excellent job and was a significant part of the project!

How much did it all cost?

We broadcasted Futuradio for two weeks in two locations: Helsinki and Tampere (along with the digital stream). The radio license from Ficora cost 56,18 euros. Analog broadcasting provided by Digita cost 900 euros per transmitter, so 1800 euros for two locations. The music licensing was 525 euros from Teosto and 739,90 euros from Gramex. The total for fixed costs was 3121,08 euros. In addition, the salary of our radio producer was added on top of the fixed costs. He worked about 3 months in total.

Then, of course, there were the internal costs from the work we did for enabling all of this: server and website development, and all the other work needed to get all the pieces to fit. We also wanted to encourage our employees to create content and allowed them to spend up to 2 hours of work time per program.

Was it worth it?

So, was this whole thing worth the effort? Yep, definitely. Even though only a few of us had previous experience creating radio shows, my expectations for the quality of the shows were very high, and thankfully they were clearly exceeded. I was truly surprised by the quality of the shows that we were able to create. And so were many of you; we received a lot of positive feedback from all kinds of sources: customers, competitors, families and friends, as well as from the Great Place to Work Institute Finland, which was truly a nice feedback on an organisational level.

I felt I became a little bit better public speaker and I think (even more so) that radio is a fantastic medium. Even though this project was not meant as a marketing campaign – we just wanted to learn and have some fun – it brought us a lot of positive publicity.

Personal lessons learned

  1. Don't set your personal barriers too high. Admit that you make mistakes when speaking publicly. Just prepare to learn from your own mistakes.
  2. Don't expect people getting excited over something abstract. If you really want to execute your crazy idea, believe in yourself and push it forward. But be patient and wait for the plans to become concrete and only then you'll get others really involved.
  3. Listen more to radio and podcasts. There's a huge amount of good music and grand ideas and discussion waiting for your attention.

Company-wide lessons learned

  1. If you have a good idea (like setting up your own radio station), you should just do it!
  2. Having your own radio station isn't as expensive or difficult to set up as you might think. It's fun and instructive in many ways.
  3. Futuradio was a good example of why agile methodologies are vital in whatever we do: let's not spend time on planning more than necessary. To get things done, we should just start doing and then adjust and amend the plans after the project is already in progress.