Despite the popularity of podcasts, music streaming platforms, and satellite radio, college radio still offers an eclectic mix of music, news, sports, and other specialty programming to students and community members. Additionally, college radio stations provide a more accessible platform for student musicians and local groups to share their music.
Students benefit from college radio stations in a variety of ways. For example, they can build technical competencies, learn about FCC regulations, and develop core communication and journalism skills. Read on to learn about the best college radio stations and the important role radio plays in education and the community.
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Several factors create a quality college radio station, including a station's equipment, sound quality, content, and accessibility. Our methodology also considered the overall learning opportunities for students, as well as the diversity and relevance of content.
Top College Radio Stations
Best College Radio Stations
Hempstead, New York
The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University produces WRHU-FM — the school's award-winning radio station. In 2014, 2017, and 2019, the station received the National Association of Broadcasters' Marconi Award as the College Radio Station of the Year. Additionally, The Princeton Review has twice named WRHU the number one college radio station.
In addition to a variety of music programs, including opera of the week, Celtic country, and aggressive edge, the station regularly airs news stories, sports broadcasts, and a game show. WRHU also serves as an educational platform, making Hofstra University a compelling choice for prospective students interested in broadcasting careers.
Each year, over 280 students work at the station and gain valuable broadcasting experience. Before participating, students must complete a 10-week introductory course that covers topics including announcing, audio engineering, audio production, programming strategies, and FCC rules.
St. Bonaventure University
St. Bonaventure, New York
Founded in 1948, St. Bonaventure's radio station, The Buzz (WSBY-FM), plays an eclectic mix of music along with news, sports, and specialty programming every day. Eighteen students form the station's board of directors, and more than 200 students volunteer their time each year, making the station a student-run endeavor. Over the last five years, The Buzz has consistently ranked among The Princeton Review's five best college radio stations.
In addition to music, the station publishes an entertainment and music magazine called Buzzworthy, which relies on an in-house editorial staff and student contributors. The station's podcast features specialty shows and interviews.
A system called Live365 broadcasts the station online at all hours, allowing alumni who no longer live near the school to listen to their alma mater's station. The Buzz takes requests from listeners on campus and around the world.
Emerson's radio station, WERS, is professionally managed but run by students. Founded in 1949, the station is free of commercials and was the first student-run station in New England. WERS strives to play local music and to create new leaders in the media industry. The station relies on a large volunteer base of Emerson students, students from area schools, and members of the Boston community.
The station explores 20 musical styles to help listeners discover new tunes. Along with music, the station offers family-friendly weekend shows, artist interviews, news segments, spiritual programs, news segments, and an award-winning show about public affairs called You Are Here. The station features more live music performances than any station in the Boston area and offers online streaming, a blog, and listener contests.
ASU's radio station, KASC (Blaze Radio), serves student listeners on all four campuses. The station styles itself as Arizona's home of indie and alternative college radio. Blaze Radio also provides exclusive coverage of ASU football, basketball, baseball, and hockey games.
In addition to music and sports, the station features news and talk shows. The staff also produces several sports, music, and news podcasts. Blaze Radio's online and streaming options allow the community and off-campus students to access content, even if they live far away from campus.
The student-run station broadcasts out of ASU's state-of-the-art Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Students work under a faculty advisor and learn valuable broadcasting, engineering, communication, and journalism skills.
Ithica, New York
Founded in 1941, WICB is a noncommercial college radio station operating out of IC. The station boasts a traditional audience of about 250,000 listeners, as well as an online presence that reaches a much larger audience.
The student-run station broadcasts for students and residents throughout central New York. WICB is the market's only modern rock station and consistently ranks among the area's favorite stations. Though focused on modern rock, WICB also plays jazz, hip-hop, rap, punk, and other speciality programming. Students also produce a variety of news and sports programming along with podcasts.
Syracuse, New York
Syracuse took to the airwaves in 1947 with a commercial-free, listener-supported college radio station called WAER. The station serves students and the greater Syracuse area, providing local news, university sports, eclectic music, and popular NPR programming such as All Things Considered and Ask Me Another.
Radio professionals operate and manage WAER, but about 50 students with an interest in broadcast journalism or sports broadcasting volunteer each semester to help operate the station. Students play a vital role in collecting content for programming by conducting interviews, tracking local stories, and covering live sports.
Additionally, WAER creates several podcasts covering local issues, such as housing, education, business, and public affairs. The station also produces podcasts covering topics in science, new music discovery (featuring artist and expert interviews), and music podcasts covering genres like jazz, blues, and gospel.
Univeristy of Washington
Each week, more than 200,000 listeners around the world tune in to KEXP — an FM radio station serving UW's students and Seattle residents. More than 45 expert DJs play emerging and local artists alongside a complementary program of local and national news, political commentary, sports coverage, and specialty shows produced in house. The station relies heavily on the community through individual donations, volunteers, and business supporters.
The station is also active online, offering a YouTube channel, a blog featuring reviews and artist spotlights, and a podcast featuring recordings of live performances and playlists tailored to runners. Listeners unable to tune in to the FM broadcasts can stream the station online.
Univeristy of California - Berkeley
Beginning in 1962 with a cigar box mixing board, KALX — the independent FM radio station at Berkeley — now serves the university's student body and the surrounding Bay Area.
A large crew of volunteers, comprising students and community members, runs the station. Volunteers work at least 12 hours a month. After three months, volunteers begin DJ training and can eventually land their own show.
KALX provides a diverse mix of music, public affairs programming, public service announcements, news, and community information. Each year, the station's DJs compile a "best of" list showcasing their favorite songs and albums released that year. The station also maintains a website and active social media accounts. Listeners unable to tune in from the Bay Area can listen to the station online.
University of Alabama
WVUA-FM(The Capstone) styles itself as the voice of UA. The station provides 24/7 programming and an online listening platform.
While the station plays a variety of genres, The Capstone emphasizes local music — particularly artists from the Tuscaloosa area. The station plays mainly alternative rock during the day and specialty shows each evening covering several genres. In addition to music, The Capstone airs coverage of the university's many sports matches.
Founded in 1940, The Capstone is among the oldest college stations in the country. The station was originally created to provide broadcasting experience to students interested in radio. Today, nearly 100 student volunteers take part in programming each semester. Volunteers learn about programming, budgeting, community service, and personnel management.
Founded in 1968, WREK plays an integral role in the student experience at Georgia Tech, providing engineering students with experience building, installing, and maintaining the station's equipment. The station is entirely managed, operated, and engineered by students.
The station's diverse music selections include atmospherics, blues, and zydeco. Students and alumni can also listen online and browse a two-week program archive. Those who want to host an event can rent DJs and sound equipment for an hourly fee.
WREK hosts nearly 50 hours of specialty shows each week, in addition to syndicated programming, public affairs broadcasts, and sports coverage. The Freakers Ball radio show explores vinyl music from the late 1960s, while Battleground offers a condensed recap of the week's most pressing news events.
San Luis Obispo, California
KCPR, which operates as Cal Poly's radio station, began as a student project in 1968. Today, the FM radio station offers 24-hour programming for Cal Poly's student body and the surrounding community. Weird Al Yankovic began his music career at the station, volunteering as a DJ while a student at the university.
The station's website offers live audio streams, videos of live performances, content about music and culture, and interviews with artists. The station's music programming includes staple shows like Breakfast Club, Afternoon Delight, and The Comedown.
Each year, the station teaches new staff members about music journalism, broadcast, production, marketing, graphic design, events, and videography. Volunteers take a two-credit class in which they learn about recording shows, FCC rules, and creating sound bites.
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
WASU-FM — Appalachian's radio station — broadcasts the best alternative rock music in the area. It also offers local news and sports programming. Students fill a variety of positions in news, sports, production, programming, and sales at the station. Volunteers must complete a training course to be eligible to host their own show or specialty program.
Additionally, WASU offers a unique 10-day program through the prestigious Kellar Radio Talent Institute every summer semester. The program allows students to learn from over 40 successful broadcasters across a variety of specialties.
To reach listeners beyond on-campus students and local residents, WASU offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices. This app allows listeners to tune in from anywhere.
University of Puget Sound
KUPS-FM serves student listeners at Puget Sound, as well as residents throughout Tacoma, Washington. The student-operated station broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. KUPS also streams live online and on several streaming platforms for alumni and off-campus students.
In addition to exploring new artists and experimental sounds, the station plays a variety of genres, including jazz, blues, hip-hop, death metal, psychedelic rock, afrobeat, folk, house, and indie rock.
The station serves students interested in pursuing a career in communications or broadcasting. Any enrolled student can apply to become a DJ, but positions are competitive; students should also apply to be an alternate DJ and fill in when necessary.
The station's Street Team heads marketing efforts, selling merchandise and garnering support for the station through fundraising, promotions, and tabling. They also publish a zine each semester.
Portland State University
Founded in 1994, KPSU is PSU's student-run, exclusively online radio station. The station functions as an artistic bridge between the university and the community. The station gives DJs complete autonomy, allowing them to create their own unique shows, resulting in a diverse, freeform aesthetic. Most DJs use their shows as a way to introduce listeners to a counterculture not accessible through traditional radio.
The volunteer-run station maintains a staff of about 65 people, most of whom are students. In addition to regular broadcasts, the station curates a blog and a podcast featuring interviews, opinion pieces, and live performances.
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
WNKC is NC State's student-run, commercial-free college radio station. WNKC consistently ranks among the best stations in the Triangle, offering an eclectic mix of indie rock, electronic, underground hip-hop, and metal music. The station's primary mission is to prepare students to pursue a career in broadcasting while providing listeners with music that "doesn't suck."
The station relies on student volunteers and provides a six-week DJ training course during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. WNKC also recruits students to help with news programming and to create content for blogs, podcasts, and online videos.
While the station's primary audience consists of university students and the residents in the Raleigh-Durham market, WNKC serves a larger audience through a webcast.
Why Is College Radio Important?
College radio provides a unique opportunity to learn broadcasting skills. Many stations offer roles in a variety of areas, including broadcasting, engineering, advertising, social media, and sales. Students also learn about FCC regulations, broadcasting rules, and other journalism and communication skills.
The field of broadcasting offers several rewarding career paths but can prove competitive to enter. Developing skills during college allows students to develop valuable competencies early and gain a competitive advantage over other job candidates.
Aside from traditional radio programming, most stations also provide opportunities to produce original shows, podcasts, and articles on album releases, social issues, and news stories. These opportunities develop critical research and writing skills, which benefit students across a plethora of professions.
How Do You Set Up a College Radio Station as a Student?
Creating a college radio station requires several steps, including regulatory approval. Students must acquire technical equipment like mixing boards, microphones, headphones, and software programs to engineer sound. To buy this equipment, learners must work with school officials to secure funding.
Additionally, students should determine their community's needs to shape a radio station's mission and programming content. To be successful, stations must offer content that listeners want, which encourages volunteerism and monetary donations in the future.
A lot of organizations provide resources, advice, and funds for college radio station startups. Some examples include Radio Survivor; College Broadcasters, Inc.; and College Radio, which hosts College Radio Day — an event that highlights college stations around the world and helps drive fundraising efforts.
Is College Radio Dead?
A decline in listenership means college radio stations face an uphill battle to continue surviving in today's world of streaming and podcasts. In fact, a 2016 survey showed only 9% of people between the ages 12 and 24 listen to terrestrial radio to discover new music. This decline leads some industry experts to believe the medium will continue to fade out over the next decade.
However, Nielsen's 2019 Audio Today Report report found that radio still reached more listeners than other outlets. Radio boasts about 245 million adult listeners in the U.S. each month, versus 232 million live/DVR television viewers. As such, radio still offers a platform with great content and advertising space for local companies.
To stay afloat, radio must adapt by creating alternative content like podcasts and expanding accessibility through mobile apps, robust social media, and streaming platforms.
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