What You Hear On Community Radio


Community radio in Australia arose out of a citizens’ push for greater media diversity and access. There was recognition of the need for “ordinary” people to have a voice and participate in the media. Following significant community lobbying, both the Whitlam Labor government then the Fraser Liberal government eventually allocated spectrum on the FM band to community radio stations. The community radio sector in Australia has grown immensely since its humble beginning in the early 1970s. Yet in 2013 we once again need to fight for our existence – this time for our digital future.

Recently for research purposes I mapped just part of a day of programming at 3CR Community Radio to illustrate the immense diversity, eclectic content, critical coverage, uncompressed space and community participation at the ground level.

The day is a random Wednesday in April 2012 and we start at 5am. Now remember that by the time you read this, none of the content will be accessible, archived or publicly available. It will not be documented, historicised or able to enter in to the realms of academic or scholarly discourse or media studies. It will be gone. It will not even appear in a Google search in what we imagine is a “searchable world”. Community radio does not have the resources or capacity to adequately archive, which puts it at a disadvantage — our hard work exists only in the moment it's broadcast.

So we start the day at 5am with a repeat of Out of the Pan. This is a weekly hour presented live on Sundays by Sally Goldner and co-host Blair, Out of the Pan focuses on pansexual issues – those that know no boundaries of sex or gender. Sally is a prominent member of Melbourne’s trans community and the program covered an expected diversity of issues including: queer Muslims; Sally’s Jewish heritage; prejudice and queerdom; feminist porn; bullying policies for queers at school and conversion therapies. Two guests were facilitated by Sally and Blair – one a representative from a local bookshop discussing sex and gender diverse performance; the other a convenor of a newly-formed, local bi-chat group.

From 6 – 7am, two of 3CR’s nationally distributed current affairs programs were broadcast. Women on the Line looked at what to do if someone you know is looking at child pornography by speaking to representatives from community organisations PartnerSPEAK and Child Wise; while Earth Matters covered the ongoing campaign to protect the Yindjibarndi People's sacred land and sovereign rights from iron ore giant Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) in Western Australia by hearing first hand from Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Michael Woodley.

At 7am Cade and JB were live in the studio presenting the daily Breakfast Show. A different team of presenters broadcasts each weekday. A regular segment on the show is The Front Page, which is an analysis of the country’s mainstream media newspapers addressing issues of bias, corporate influence and who has a voice and who doesn’t in the mass media. Two guests joined the program, one a university professor to discuss a recent trip to Gaza and ongoing concerns regarding the poverty and the decline in infrastructure in the region; the other, from Jews Against the Occupation, to discuss, amongst other things, the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Up next from 8.30 – 9am is Palestine Remembered, Australia’s only radio show dedicated to the Palestinian cause in English, presented by Yousef Alreemawi, an activist and academic. His guest discusses specific issues currently facing a minority Palestinian group living in Israel – the Bedouin – and the rise of racism against Arabs in Israel. From 9 – 10am, City Limits explores public housing issues with a representative from the Housing for the Aged Action Group, and from 10 – 11am, Joe Toscano from the Anarchist Media Institute presents Anarchist World This Week. The program is distributed live nationally on the Community Radio Network and this week, like most others for the last 35 years, Joe covers an extraordinary array of subjects in 55 minutes of straight talking. The show promotes direct democracy and a society with wealth held in common, and this weeks topics include: the power of language – "co-investment" versus "corporate welfare"; alternative economic options – 1 per cent of Super Funds ($10 billion) for seed funding for cooperatives and collectives; conviction politics; religious power and the protection of religious identities; changes to environmental laws in Queensland, and much more besides.

From 11 – 12.30 it’s Fire First, a historically informed, critical analysis of Aboriginal affairs and the ongoing political movement, for land rights, treaty, sovereignty, and the cessation of genocide, presented by Aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe, and Clare Land. The program covers Australia’s ongoing, undeclared war, a historical and current update on the Cummeragunja Mission on the Victorian border, and a call for transitional justice as there can be no reconciliation without justice.

From 12.30 – 3pm there’s music and announcements as the presenter of the regular show can’t make it in that week. From 2 – 4pm Kate and Suzy take us through two hours of themed music on Lazy Wednesday Afternoon, today it’s "colour songs" in celebration of ‘Bob Brown, who left the Greens and left us blue’. From 4 – 5pm it’s a return to current affairs with Wednesday Hometime presented by Valerie and Sue. The show covers a Quit coal action; a pensioners’ demonstration organised for the next day; a clean energy action and a discussion on fixing education funding and the Gonski report.

At 5pm it’s Brainwaves, a program produced and presented by members of the Mental Illness Fellowship. All presenters have a lived experience of mental illness and today’s show is an interview with a local Melbourne writer and his work on the world of politics and mental health. Renegade Economists is from 5.30 – 6pm, discussing the legal encroachment on the public’s property rights when speculators waste prime locations. The program is presented by Karl from Earthsharing, an organisation that provides free education services on economics with the "belief that land is best shared amongst the people rather than hoarded by the privileged".

Finally, for our purposes at least, was The Boldness, a monthly half hour presented by GRIT Media, an organisation that promotes the "rights and aspirations of people with disabilities by creating opportunities to be seen and heard in a range of media productions". Phin, Daniel and Tully explained that the show was about "grabbing your human rights and demanding them rather than waiting for some well meaning person to give them to you". Guests on the show were Bec and Madeline who talked about their direct action protest on accessible transport – they stopped a tram in the city to draw attention to the lack of disability access; and Michael from the Victorian Council of Social Services to discuss the broader campaign for equal access on public transport. The team also shared their personal experiences of the challenges public transport presents for people with disabilities.

In a little over 12 hours of programming, 23 trained, regular volunteers from the disability, indigenous, feminist, environmental, anarchist, alternative music, queer and culturally diverse communities produced and presented radio in their own voices, creating their own social priorities and contributing to new social realities. But who’s listening?

3CR is not part of any ratings regime, as it has no packaged audience to sell to advertisers. There are no comprehensive audience figures. Arguably, the social process of media participation and production and the prioritisation of alternative views and voices are an ends in themselves. The above is hopefully, at least, a colourful illustration of the depth, breadth, critique and potential of the medium of community radio. A medium that requires a slice of the digital spectrum, and demands a free to air future.

Let’s hope that governments of all persuasions see the value in the diversity of voices on community radio, and commit to its digital future.

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