Is community radio its own worst enemy?

Having been involved in the community radio sector for over 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes throughout the time. I remember a time where we had AM regional commercial stations while there were community stations on temporary community radio licences being only able to broadcast for 90 days a year in maximum spans of 30 days at a time. Commercial Radio Australia was successful in getting legislation for existing AM commercial stations to gain supplementary FM licences, often referred to section 39.

Community radio remains the easiest test ground for trying different programming and formats with the ability to change things up on a whim. In the early days it was not uncommon for every couple of hours for the music format to change, catering for multiple genres at different times perhaps known as strip programming.

Fast forward to today, there are now multiple avenues to have access to different genres of music, largely thanks to the internet platform. Australia has grown to have over 350 licenced community radio stations spread right across the country. The strength of community radio lies in being able to cater specifically to the geographical licence area rather than a national network syndication. Professional radio is lucky to have 3 hours of local radio delivery a day, where as community radio is much more likely to fill most or all of the day with local voices.

I toyed with the title being “is community radio imploding?”, so let me enlighten you further to this query. Community radio stations can have geographic areas of metro wide which are not allowed to use a general format, I suspect due to the impact it would have on professional radio. Then there are sub metro stations that can broadcast to less than a handful of suburbs which typically continue to do strip programming but emphasise their community through outside broadcasts, while other sub metros can come close to covering about a third of a capital city, sub metros are allowed to have a general format. In order to engage a wider audience during business hours, general format broadcasters have adopted playlisting and this has spread through to regional community broadcasters.

While regional community broadcasters too can have varying geographical coverage, it can be further clarified through transmission power output. A typical regional community broadcaster in a small town is commonly around 250 watt output power, but when the 1993 Draft Australian Broadcasting Authority Licence Area Plans were devised the body decided for stations in existing commercial licence areas, the community licences to be granted would match those of the commercial stations eg 2-10 Killowatts depending on topography.

So why am I talking about community radio being its own worst enemy? Well it would seem that the volunteer base that make up community stations fear sounding commercial or more to the point, more professional. Volunteers who have enjoyed from the start by playing their own music in a shift time slot that suits their availability and having a say on how the station should sound, through member consultation meetings.

But a growing number of these volunteers do very little in assisting with the operation of what is essentially a not-for-profit business. It takes a board of management to ensure there is enough money for day to day operations, equipment and running a 24x7x365 day service. The board implements policy and procedure to ensure the operation is compliant while supporting the community it serves. The Australian Government has in the last few years commissioned a study which made a bold statement that could lead to less or even no further government funding. So community stations will feel the need to become self-funded through subscription and/or sponsorship models.

The problem lies in community stations that don’t take advantage of the knowledge from those involved in professional broadcast or from associations that help community stations build support networks between one another and learn from shared experiences. Remember professional radio has compiled huge amounts of market research over the years. If your board or member base lacks radio experience other than their own station, they need to seek it out. Too much of the time I see opinion based on next to no evidence rather than factual information that can actually assist a station. For example, on air breaks where someone talks about the music rather than something of impact to the local geographic community where value and objective actually lies.

Consumer Habits – Alcohol

I have to admit, I rarely drink. But when I do I generally purchase from Dan Murphys possibly as a member special and using Cashrewards to purchase a gift card with 5% off I love ordering online and picking up in store although they need an option to select a chilled item. I think if you are a wine drinker, then perhaps a wine club is more of a saving. I tend not to keep alcohol at home because someone will end up drinking it sooner rather than later. It’s extremely rare for me to drink beer and I actually bought one at the local pub recently and got quite the shock at the price. It’s no wonder people are purchasing at the local liquor outlet rather than a venue. I do need to mention Dindima Wines who now make wine on the property I grew up on for most of my childhood.

Bargains to watch this week:

A tip first, if any of these specials are not in stock, ask for a raincheck and you will likely get at the advertised price when the product is in stock next time you are in store.

Coles: Red Island Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500mL1/2 PRICE $4, Freedom Foods XO Crunch 285g 1/2 PRICE $2, Kleenex Double Length Toilet Tissue 12 Pack $10, Save $2.00 

Woolworths: Mainland Buttersoft 375g $5.00 each Save $1.70 

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