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Australian community radio and TV confronts its "New Media" & digital options

by Dave Riley

If you look above this post you'll see a range of links for pop up players.
And if you click on them -- Bingo! you're listening to web radio while you go about your surfing. If it can survive, The Union Show (TV)-- which we also share here, is well worth watching.

When you put this lot together you will have a great resource on the trade union movement -- probably better than you'll find through any other medium.

Driven from the nation's class struggle capital -- Victoria -- these three shows are excellent products. Unfortunately the Union Show may end very very soon because its funding has been pulled and Union Air's radio station,The Pulse, is facing a FM frequency challenge that may lead to a greatly reduced reach for its transmission arc in regional Victoria. Stick Together used to be funded by trade unions (and wa sin fact a daily show!) but now goes out backed by the station.

So much for 'alternative media' in 'our' democracy. The game you see under the current shakeup in the media industry is in effect to force a lot of community media onto the web and as digital TV and radio is bought in the very existence community radio and television stations is under threat as the new licensing fest is gobbled up by the corporate networks.

On top of that the massive capital outlay required to swicth these stations from analogue to full digital production & recording has to come from some where not presently self evident.

So -- unless anything happens soon enough -- enjoy these gems while you can. All of them , of course, survive by dint of the money we donate -- this is indeed listener supported media. But the sort of politics they represent --which goes back to the campaigns for community media in the seventies -- of access, and grass roots engagement -- is now considered passe by the state.

It's true too that over the decades a few community media outlets have blunted their edge as they have conservatised. This is true especially of Community TV (which in many cases began life in cautious mode thanks to a lot of Christian fundamentalist inputs). But this has also proceeded apace among the community FM radio stations as much for your guerilla-ist inner city community radio station as it has transpired in migrant run ethnic broadcasting.

The major exception to this has been the grand daddy of them all , Melbourne's 3CR.

Nonetheless, the existence of all these New Media options on the web has meant that slowly slowly much community radio product is being shared on the web. This wasn't the case two years ago but the situation is changing very fast. But now, more and more programs are published online.

This no doubt leads to problems as the "community" your station serves is no longer constrained by geography but it's the local support base that funds the station. So how can local control and access survive when the whole world, in effect, is now the station's audience?

I work with NimFM ( 120 km from me) and they've been on the web before the ABC got there. That's due to the fact that they have a very limited range with their transmitter.

But the shakeup is primarily one of identity and listenership. While I may say ,"Hey check out 3CR in long way away Fitzroy." That station's dynamic and core audience relies on what's there in Melbourne and, in effect, we are being a bit like freeloaders consuming what's on offer from a distance.

In the United States, as many Public Broadcasting Service programs were podcasted -- published on the web -- local stations which syndicated these shows lost a swag of their support base both in listeners and donations. With media on call and online there was less need for the neighborhood to actively support the FM station down the road.

So there's a lot of down side in play here as a sort of restructuring pans out across the airwaves and bandwidths of the nation.

I don't listen to radio at all, but I get all my audio from the web -- many hours of the stuff each week. And I'm just as likely to be listening to Resonance FM in London as I am to anything locally made. So there's my own habits falling in step behind the shift in listener culture.

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