Using WordPress to build a Radio Station Website

Recently several associates in the community radio industry have asked me for tips and useful plugins that I have used on site like One Media Group and Cre8 Radio. So I’ve pooled together some great tools that can help make a WordPress system work for a radio station; useful if you’re on a budget!

Contents:

Hosting

I won’t tell you where to go, but firstly you need to buy hosting and install WordPress on it if you want to have great flexibility. The sites on WordPress.com are only good for personal blogs and don’t have the functions required to use many of the tools below. You can find suggested hosts on the WordPress.org website at www.wordpress.org/hosting, but do look around elsewhere.

Personally, I use Tsohost. They are a great UK based company that provides 24/7 support (genuinely, I asked a question at 11:30pm and they replied in 20 minutes!) and even offers free whole website migration with some hosting packages. And with the coupon code “WordPress Rocks!” you can get 10% off any hosting package! Just enter it when placing your order.

Themes

Choosing your theme is essential, but don’t just look at the theme and take it as it is. Many sites take a template and then modify it to suit them. Whether that be a colour change or simply moving things about, beyond the widget function. If you have HTML, PHP & CSS knowledge then it will be very beneficial! If you can, stretch to a budget. Most good themes do cost a bit of money, usually between £20-£40, including exchange rates from American websites. Sites I would suggest for premium themes are WooThemes and ThemeForest. I don’t find the WordPress.org Free Theme Directory too useful, however the WP Theme category on Smashing Magazineis full of gems. Or you could always spin off your own WordPress theme which would give you exactly what you want, but may take a bit longer.

If you purchase a theme and it doesn’t support smart phones, why not try the plugin WPtouch. It is basically a theme which is only activated when users visit on a smart phone. There are lots of choices within the free version, however the paid version ($49/£31) does give you a lot more features like using custom menus and inline replies.

Bundles

There are two very useful bundles available for free, which contain some amazing features.

Jetpack for WordPress – jetpack.me

This bundle comes with WordPress and to activate it you must link it to a WordPress.com account. That account is free, easy to do and complete with a how to within the bundle. Notable features include WordPress.com Stats, Jetpack Comments, Sharing, Contact Form and Shortcode Embeds. All of which you should activate and configure upon installing Jetpack. I’ll talk about some of these later on.

WooDojo from WooThemes – woothemes.com/woodojo

This is already the second time I’ve mentioned WooThemes! Their WooDojo bundle brings features like Branded Login, Maintenance mode and Widget Previewing. Features here are ones where you’d usually have to install a separate plugin for each one, however they are bundled together nicely here along with simple settings. Definitely several here I use all the time!

Plugins

Here are some of the plugins I use to enhance the radio stations that I have on WordPress. I will refer to some of the features within Jetpack and WooDojo, but alongside others I’ll include links to their WordPress plugin pages.

URL Shorteners

WP.me Shortlinks – part of Jetpack

If you really want WP.me short URLs then you can use this as part of Jetpack. You can’t choose any other short domain or services and it doesn’t post automatically to Twitter.

WooDojo ShortLinks – part of WooDojo

Just like WP.me this will automatically generate your short URL, but you have the choice of TinyURL or bitly. If you hook in your Bitly username and API key you can use the bitly services and even your own short URL!

YOURLS – WordPress.org/extend

Having installed my own version of YOURLS I gave their WordPress plugin a go. I find this much easier to use then some of the others. It automatically posts to Twitter and can use a variety of short URL services, including the bitly custom domain setting.

Comment Systems

Facebook Comments

On the One Media Group website, I decided that as our audience were students, Facebook would be an ideal platform to use for our comments. I gave our management team moderator rights to the Facebook platform and then used the Facebook Comments for WordPressplugin to replace the standard comments system provided by WordPress. There are ways to implement it yourself, however using a plugin means that any API changes that Facebook makes, the maker of the plugin should keep them up to date for you. However do keep an eye plugins when using third-party services like Twitter & Facebook as they may break if the social networks change something very quickly.

Jetpack Comments – part of Jetpack – Jetpack.me/support

This recent addition to Jetpack seems to take care of wanting to allow users to login using Facebook or Twitter accounts when commenting. It builds right into the main commenting system of WordPress so uses all the regular settings you make in the Discussion panel.

Disqus – disqus.com

I’ve used this plugin before as I didn’t know about other alternatives. This requires you to make a Disqus account and moderate via their platform. I would now opt for other ways of sorting out comments however it might have something you want that others don’t.

Schedules

I always get asked how to do schedules in WordPress for a radio station.

I’ve worked with my good friend Christopher Smith to pull together a system that uses a text file and a series of PHP files to extract information. These files also are configured to generate an on air now, and on air next display. However this isn’t a fail safe system and it does require a lot of setup.

What other options are there?

How to Make a Radio Station Schedule Using WordPress – Wptuts+ tutorial

This tutorial shows how you can use custom post types to generate your own schedule. For my liking it is rather messy as you have to create lots of different posts with the information. However you can add descriptions easily, plus if you want to change it slightly you can as you go along.

Weekly Schedule – WordPress.org/extend

Whilst this plugin is primarily for TV schedules, it does double up nicely as a radio weekly schedule. You can have multiple schedules and display the show description either in the table itself or in a popup window. It also has categories so you can distinguish your speech-based content versus your daytime or specialist shows.

Google Calendar – Google.com/calendar

Using a Google Calendar is also a practical way to display your schedule, even if it does require putting in every single show manually. You could also share your calendar with other managers at the station so that it can be changed by others. It is possible then to embed the calendar in an iframe upon a normal WordPress page.

Timetable for WordPress (Paid – $20/~£12) – Codecanyon.net

This plugin was suggested by reader Satnam Rattu.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more flexibility, without the coding work, then this plugin could work for you. It boasts a selection of pre-defined skin colours and a neat side-scrolling feature.

Content Enhancements

WordPress Audio Player – wpaudioplayer.com

You’ve probably seen this player if you’ve been looking at websites with audio on. It is easy to install and comes with lots of customisation options, including a nice colour picker for the player. There’s also a button in the Media window when you add audio to a post, which makes embedding audio very easy.

However, if you are expecting a large amount of iOS or Android users to visit your site, it might be best to avoid this as it is purely Flash based.

WP-Polls – WordPress.org/extend

You can run polls for your users and also editors/admins using this plugin. Controlling the polls are relatively easy with expiry dates and multiple choice results.

Admin Tools

Advanced Access Manager – WordPress.org/extend

If you’re planning to have lots of users who will be logging in to provide content for your site, then you may want to watch what permissions they have more closely. Whilst the Editor/Author/Contributor model is okay, with Advanced Access Manager plugin you can create your own model for user access. You can create a new user type based on the original ones and then customise it as you wish.

WordPress Database Backup – WordPress.org/extend

A nice plugin that will help you keep a backup of your precious database. Either download, email or simply save the core database to your server. There’s even the option to add additional information from other plugins. You can schedule a backup as well, however I’ve found this not to be very useful with large databases.

Front End Upload – WordPress.org/extend

I’ve used this plugin to enable external show providers to send in their WAV/MP3 files. It’s faster than using WeTransfer and also it keeps all the data on your hosting. However, as the plugin page says, “Uploading files should be considered risky.” I would almost certainly always put this plugin on a private page or add a password to this plugin, which comes built in. It works in all browsers and is a nice tool to transfer content from different providers.

Ad-minister – WordPress.org/extend

This is useful if you want to have external advertisers, maybe your on air advertisers as well, or even ‘in house’ promotions on your site. It has a nice system for handling expiry dates and ad-rotations with weights. Plus you can see how many times an advert has been seen, along with it’s conversion rate.

Statistics

Every website owner likes to know who’s visiting what and when. If not, you should care! If you don’t then your boss and advertisers certainly should.

I usually run these two tools side by side as they differ in results and each have their own merits.

Google Analytics – google.com/analytics

There are an abundance of plugins that allow you to put your Google Analytics code in WordPress, but the easier (and arguably most effective) way is to simply post your code in your theme’s footer.php file, just before the </body> tag.

Google Analytics’ dashboard is nice and you can see a lot more details in here compared to the next tool.

Jetpack Site Stats – part of Jetpack – Jetpack.me/support

Another great part of Jetpack is the Stats component. It gives you all the important information like visits per day, top posts & pages and search engine keywords used today. It is great for Editors or Admins that want to quickly see what has been popular today or yesterday. I tend to use this more than Google Analytics.

Conclusion

Hopefully all of these plugins or tools will be useful to your radio station WordPress website, one way or another.

If you have any suggestions of plugins that have worked for your station, then please do leave a comment below or email me at oliver@oliverneedham.co.uk.

Notes

28/04/13 – I’m now looking to write a follow up to this post, especially as it was picked up by the CMA. If you have any more suggestions of plugins/resources or have specific questions, please drop a comment below and I’ll try and cover it in the next related post.

This article contains affiliate links. While I only ever write about products I think deserve recognition, I may earn a small commission if you click through and buy the product in question.

Community Radio Websites – The Good, The Bad and The Dysfunctional

Earlier this week I was browsing around the internet and have found myself on several different UK community radio websites. They vary massively in their design but also functionality.

Here I’m going to take a quick look at some of the sites I’ve came across and briefly give you my thoughts on them.

The Bad

Hayes FM – www.hayesfm.org

Hayes FMHayes FM is “a community focused local radio station based in Hayes in Greater West London, England.”

What I like about their website is that it’s not overloaded with many different colours and clearly has a four column layout.

My gripes with this site is that it doesn’t feel too easy for me to read. There are many different font sizes; from the headers in the right sidebar to the large listen again in the centre.

There’s also too much white space that could be utilised better as well and an awkward local news page.

I can see that they’ve used CMS Made Simple to create the site. I don’t know enough about the software to comment on whether they’ve used it to it’s best ability.

Takeover Radio – www.takeoverradio.com

Takeover Radio is a charity operated community radio station broadcasting to the city of Leicester.

The first thing that strikes me is the bright background. I think it’s important to have a page background that compliments the main content. However the bright purple is too much for my eyes to handle.

The whole site navigation was a pain for me to use. Many sites these days keep the navigation at the top or on the left. Here they use both. But the main problem I have is that the left menu items are all flash buttons. I remember using them in year 7 when I didn’t know any better. This has a couple of usability issues; if a user is using an Apple device, they won’t see it as well as someone who uses a screen reader.

Many of the pages have too much going on, with small headers and inconsistent spacings in the text. Overall it’s pretty hard to read.

The whole site looks to be a custom built job and it’s clear by the source code that their techniques are a bit dated, using tables and “styleXX”.

The Dysfunctional

Moorlands Radio – www.moorlandsradio.co.uk

Moorlands Radio broadcasts to the Staffordshire Moorlands and has been in development since 2003.

What I like about the Moorlands Radio website is that it works. The navigation is very clear and the content is easy to read. The brand is also very consistent between pages.

My problem is the way that it hasn’t been adapted at all to suit their specific needs or brand. The WordPress theme (Structure) is straight out the box and they haven’t made the most of the awesome things that WordPress can do. They could add a dash of their orange colour across the site and I don’t think it would hinder the design at all.

Gravity FM – www.gravityfm.net

Gravity FM is broadcast from Grantham, Lincolnshire and has done so since December 2008.

I wouldn’t say Gravity’s website was ugly, it just needs a guiding hand.

What I like is that the content layout is consistent throughout and it’s easy to read.

The issue here is finding the content you want. I got lost trying to find out more about the station and ended up learning about the CIC instead of the actual station! The navigation need a second look at, with better grouping and arranging. I eventually learnt that the top navigation takes you to parent pages and the left one takes you to child pages.

With a lick of paint as well this website would be great! The content is all there, it just need rearranging into a sensible and logical order.

Gravity use Joomla, which I’ve worked with a little and know that it can be a great CMS (see Hope FM). Gravity just need someone to sit down with them and run through how they can utilise it best with their content.

The Good

Unity Radio – www.unityradio.fm

Unity Radio is a Greater Manchester station whose primary audience is 15-25 year old.

What I like about Unity’s website is that everything is clearly labelled. You know exactly what to expect under each heading and page designs are all similar; it’s mainly just the blogs which have style deviations but sometimes that can’t be helped.

Some of the actual content could do with some work. For example, what many would consider to be the schedule is actually called the ‘timetable’. A bit unconventional, but it seems to work for them.

What seems to be a featured content slider, is in fact something completely different! If you click one of the genres underneath the image, it takes you to a page which displays shows of that genre which they broadcast. That confused me a little but that’s about it.

Overall I feel that this site is solidly built on WordPress and it suits the target audience.

Hope FM – www.hopefm.com

Hope FM is a community Christian radio station serving Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.

Hope FM’s site is another example of a website which is clearly solidly built. The headers and modules are and concise.

There aren’t any nasty surprises on the homepage, except the exceptionally slow featured slider transitions! On some of the other pages tables are used to display information and use very bright colours which don’t compliment the rest of the site at all. This is just a simple issue of deciding how to best present some information.

The site is built using Joomla and is a great example of what how a website can utilise it.

My Conclusion

All the sites, bar one, have used an open source or free content management system. This is the way forward! There are many great platforms out there which offer free, flexible solutions for radio station. My favourite being WordPress.

Once WordPress is set up the stations can create whatever kind of website they want and the back-end is easy to use as many people are already used to it. I wish more community radio stations would spend a bit of time getting a student or someone who knows what they’re doing to set them up their own hosting, install WordPress and help them customise an out-of-the-box theme. If everyone did this then the stations would have much nicer websites.

So who am I to comment on radio stations’ websites? I’ve worked with about 4/5 community radio stations in some way since the age of 12, with varying website capabilities. More recently I helped a student media group at Staffordshire University redesign their website and to drive their online content more. I’ve also worked with a Christian community radio station in Stoke-on-Trent where I’ve helped develop parts of their website. I’ve even teamed up with a good childhood friend of mine to develop the Radio ‘On Air’ Script, which is now used at three radio stations in the UK.

I don’t claim to be an expert at web design (I know I can still learn massively and improve!) but I hope that my opinions can help shape other’s future projects.

If you have any comments, please feel free to leave them on this article or email me at oliver@thewebguyuk.co.uk.

Note: I work for a couple of community radio stations at the moment, and have also influenced the website of another. I’ve not included these at all in this as it would be unfair. I’ve also not included any student radio stations as I would be very biased towards them as I work for one!

Sources: Ofcom list of Community Radio Stations and relevant radio stations’ websites.