The relevance of College radios

Ever heard of college radios? They are small radio stations operated entirely by university students. This particular format has been around for quite some time and what makes it special is that it’s the students themselves who are in charge of everything, from the technical broadcasting aspects to the creation of the shows, including the music program. But what is it that sets college radios apart from commercial radios? There is more than one factor, but the main one is their audience interaction. College radios have limited and fairly localized audiences which are part of a very tight community of students. Since it’s the students who run the radios, it’s no surprise that the audience is particularly involved with the activities of the stations, including the selection of the music played.

The selection of the playlist

Choosing the music is a key aspect for college radios. While they may each have different characteristics and licenses from country to country, they all focus on offering a musical selection that does not include only commercial hits. This is also the reason why many college radios have been associated with specific genres like punk, new wave, alternative, indie, among others. Even more, they often provide airplay and promotional exposure to new and emerging artists who play the genre they’ve been associated with.


Looking from the artist’s perspective, many such as Joan Jett, R.E.M, Moby, and Megadeth have praised college radios saying that their initial support really helped them develop their career and fanbase. Coldplay is one of those artists too. Their rapid rise to fame was partly influenced by the early support they got from American college radios for their first single Yellow (released in October 2000). Moreover, the band has been an ambassador of College Radio Day and stressed the importance of these entities in the current day and age.


“College radio is a very important medium that needs to survive in difficult economic times when some stations are being sold off and shut down. College radio is the future for broadcasting stars and pioneers of tomorrow, and we as a band, Coldplay, support the vital mission of college radio and we also support College Radio Day, the day when college radio comes together.”
Chris Martin - Lead singer of Coldplay


There’s been discussion regarding the relevance of college radios: It could be seen as an updated medium, especially now considering we have access to streaming services, podcasts, and all kinds of online services. While college radios have a lower impact in Europe, they are quite relevant in North America, in particular in the United States. These stations can gather more than 200 volunteering students working with them, and many times they are better equipped than many local radios.


Promoting music to College radios

So what are the advantages of College radios? Here is a short overview of how artists (especially newcomers) can benefit from College radio support and radio spins.

Why are college radios relevant? Because they are accessible, because of their segmented audiences, and because of their eagerness to truly enjoy music.
How can emerging artists and newcomers benefit from College radios?

First of all, accessibility. College radios are usually small entities with a simple hierarchy. This means that you can easily reach out to the Music Directors and pitch your track directly to them, something that would be really hard to achieve on a major station. A word of advice: if you want to submit your music, be sure to provide all the correct files and make everything smooth and accessible (take a look at our article DIY Radio Promotion to not miss any detail). This makes a great difference for the people that are selecting music, and it greatly increases your chances of landing your track on the musical rotation.


Secondly, segmented audiences. College radios have a pretty tight community built around them, so you’ll be able to reach many students that have a keen interest in the music that’s played on those radios. This is a particularly key demographic factor since you’re reaching out to students between 18 and 22 years old  - ideal and potential fans for an artist. 


Finally, their eagerness to enjoy music. College radios have a clear sonic identity: most of them aim to broadcast non-commercial hits, focusing on emerging and independent artists. This is the perfect environment for any musician or band that just started out their career, eager to develop their fanbase. As a matter of fact, college radios are especially known for focusing on alternative acts that usually are underrepresented on commercial radios. Their audiences know that, so expect to listen to something new, and not only mainstream artists. Take a look at the chart below, we can clearly see this statement proved among the latest charts of US College radios from 2020 and 2021.

Looking at the charts from 2020, we can see a healthy split of the total airplay between commercial and alternative artists, 55% against 40%. The top of the chart is occupied by songs that belong to renowned artists like The Weeknd, Billie Eilish and Post Malone. This comes as no surprise since the three tracks were massive hits. Going down the chart, we start to see more independent artists like Tame Impala, Soccer Mommy, and Cage the Elephant; bands that gravitate around the alternative rock scene, which usually are not heavily played on commercial radios.


However, the picture takes a twist when looking at the development (so far) of the 2021 chart. The majority of airplay comes from alternative artists, with 53% of total airplay against 45% of commercial artists. We can especially see it with Glass Animals positioned #1, surpassing international established artists like Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish. It’s also interesting to see the latest single from Kings of Leon positioned #2 in the chart. If you remember our previous article about the state of rock music, The Bandit had a lacklustre performance compared to the band’s past hits; this time around it’s the second-most programmed single on college radios! As we keep scrolling down the chart, it’s encouraging to find even more independent artists well positioned like The Japanese Breakfast, Girl in red, Fleet Foxes, and Dayglow. Quite a performance for artists who are not backed by massive major label marketing budgets!

A quick overview of what College radios are:  (1) the creators of college radios are college students who choose the music themselves according to its quality. (2) Their target audience actively interacts and takes part in the radio's existence. (3) College radios are genre-specific.
A quick overview of College radios.


College radios can indeed represent a powerful platform for young bands and artists, especially if they don’t conform with commercial trends. Furthermore, being able to reach a tight and connected community could represent a big opportunity to market your music, especially when aiming to build a truly engaged fanbase!

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And here is where WARM comes in to help you! As seen in this article college radios represent a big opportunity to enter the music industry, so making them part of your strategy is key. Once you've submitted your music and got it on rotation make sure to monitor its airplay with WARM. Seeing the organic engagement your music gets on college radios will help you define a clear path on your approach to reach commercial radios as well as to set up next steps for your career. Discover where and when your music is getting airplay in real-time with WARM to not miss any opportunity!

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