Local content. Professional sound. How community radio is giving its commercial counterparts some serious competition


There are still those in commercial broadcasting who are quick to look down their noses at what they perceive to be their poor radio cousins.

In the past, community radio has been viewed as amateur – even cringeworthy – according to Gary Field.

But the CEO of 94.1FM on the Gold Coast says times are changing, as an increasing number of well-trained, well-respected, often mature broadcasters discover a new lease of radio life in the community sector.

And that, in turn, is giving community radio a slicker, more professional sound.

94.1FM continues to hold its own against the commercial heavyweights, this year welcoming high profile on-air personalities including Tania Zaetta (main photo) and Craig Bennett to the fold.

Recent surveys show the community station – which also boasts on-air talent such as the legendary Mark Irvine – has over 100K weekly listeners and continues to grow.

With the station targeting the Gold Coast’s 50+ market – from baby boomers right through to the top end of Gen X – Irvine tells Radio Today “To me, 94.1FM sounds as good on air as 3XY did in the early eighties.”

Community radio continues to evolve as an increasing number of commercial radio people bring their expertise to the sector.

Just last month, after announcing he was hanging up the headphones, former SCA veteran Brett ‘Marls’ Marley returned to the airwaves via community radio station Hobart FM.

In Victoria, Former Triple M Melbourne Breakfast co-host Tim Smith now presents his own weekly show on Gippsland community station South Coast FM.

“These operators are turning to community radio and bringing a professional approach to the medium,” Field tells Radio Today.

At the same time this is happening, Field sees commercial radio as losing its local identity through networking and complete automation.

“I understand why this is happening from an economic point of view,” he says.

It is Field’s view that even the ABC is losing its local identity as a result of cost cutting, and that radio itself is not being seen as an essential service.

He says that’s all well and good until there’s a disaster, or an item of interest pops up that is only relevant to the local area.

Field believes it’s now more vital than ever that community radio offers truly local alternatives.

“It’s time for community radio to step up, because other services are neglecting basic local community needs such as simple community service announcements and local information and events.”

“Many people don’t realise how diverse our country is. Programs originating from one state do not relate to another state, let alone from one district to another.”

Field points out that each community has its own individual needs.

“Canegrowers in North Queensland are not interested in the Sydney or Melbourne café scene.”

“94.1FM Gold Coast would not be successful in Mackay or other regions because it relates to the Gold Coast.”

Field says 94.1FM has filled a void on the Gold Coast by bringing a professional service, which offers local information and news.

It also gives local artists a chance to have their music broadcast, showcases music not played by other services, promotes smaller Gold Coast events and community activities and offers specialised local programming.

Field observes that community radio needs professional guidance in programming and presentation.

“When/if the sector is willing to accept this, then it will get the full support of its community.”

Field says we’re already seeing this happening in areas such as Ballina, Newcastle, Perth and Darwin, to name a few.

When it comes down to it, Field says the only difference between commercial, public and community radio is the licencing.

“We all have the same or similar music players, microphones and transmitters, but it’s how these tools are used that makes the difference between a professional or amateur sound.”

“It’s because community radio is taking on a professional sound and programming that the community is now willing to accept it.”

*Photos: Facebook

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Ian Maurice
16 Jan 2024 - 9:10 am

Are you kidding? It’s not April 1st is it? Yes, there might be one or two half decent sounding community stations but the vast majority are nothing more than play things for those who love the sound of their own voices. I’d also be interested to see what survey showed a hundred thousand listeners for that Gold Coast station. If it was a legitimate survey done by a reputable company I’d love to know how they could afford it. If it was from “sponsorship” announcements then the powers that be should be taking a long, hard look at their compliance.

Thinking about seedlings ?
16 Jan 2024 - 10:29 am

Look, If you want eveyone counting your 7 minutes of sponsorships an hour, I guess you’d stick ya neck out on a trade page. I’d be more interested in connecting with the local businesses and the community directly. But what would i know. Station sponsor.

16 Jan 2024 - 11:42 am

… looking at regional markets, there is no question that ABC local radio has lost its way, not through “cost cutting” but since the takeover by the news department with the forced departure of long-serving, familiar broadcasters who spoke to and with the audience and their replacement by FIFO journalists who talk at them … savvy community broadcasters have taken advantage of that and built their audience by treating them as part of the same community rather than as a source of stories that can be shared across a network … commercial broadcasters could have benefitted too, but instead chose to hub the last remaining “local” program, breakfast, from remote locations sometimes a thousand kilometres away … that said, there are still far too many community outfits that look inwards and are more concerned about their own petty squabbles than looking after a broad audience, so the end result is that radio generally is not really serving its audience well enough today …

Craig Cracknell
16 Jan 2024 - 12:48 pm

Poor old community radio. Some people in commercial radio see us as a threat. Community radio has many talented people involved. Up and coming djs where do they train? Community radio. Local, usually live, giving listeners what they want to hear. Some people need to wake up to themselves. There is a whole country outside NSW and Victoria. Hobart FM approaching 50 years. And it hasn’t survived for this long delivering rubbish. And community radio still has people having fun.

Sammy Starling
16 Jan 2024 - 2:42 pm

If those figures are from McNair then you need to explain their methodology. Phone surveys and get this #must have listened for 15 minutes once a MONTH. A month. !!! Pure snakeoil. Agencies and the CRA should lawyer up and demand stations like 93.1 pay for a proper survey.

Rock Man
16 Jan 2024 - 2:51 pm

IAN!! Go to there Website . Survey There Where are you these days ? help the community and get On Air

Des Deighton
16 Jan 2024 - 9:58 pm

People like Ian Maurice need to accept that there are community stations that are professionally run, rate well and meet their community obligations.
104.9 Sunshine FM uses respected national company McNair to survey the Coast twice a year (as distinct from the survey done by commercial and ABC which is once a year).
This data clearly proves Sunshine FM is the most listened to station on the Sunshine Coast. The survey done by the commercials and ABC, when you add the figures up, is missing 30.4% of the 10+ Sunshine Coast audience. I wonder who they are listening to?
This is done while still meeting the criteria for which the licence was allocated in 2002 – to meet the listening needs of the over 50s on the Sunshine Coast.
Sunshine FM in 2023 supported over 600 organisations and events with free community announcements.
Sunshine FM, apart from National News, is programmed locally 100% of the time with regular local news up dates between 5am and 7pm.
I think the claim from 94.1FM on the Goldie to reach over 100 000 listeners is probably very accurate.

17 Jan 2024 - 7:37 am

Ian I think you’re stuck in a time warp. There are many community stations doing great work and presenting compelling radio these days. SWR 99.9 here in western Sydney for one. Recently they built new studios that would rival anything KIIS or 2DAY have (in fact they were built by the engineer from SCA), have an imaging package professionally produced and voice by the one and only Paul Pittioni, and run a music play list that is tight and targeted. Along with live breakfast and drive shows during the week, and local, targeted community shows on the weekend, they’re killing it. And they’re not alone.

At a time when the big players are cutting back, there guys are pushing the boundaries and more importantly giving on air opportunities to aspiring broadcasters that no longer exist in the bush (the traditional home of aspiring Hadley’s and Sandilands).

Can I suggest you actually turn on a radio and take a listen before making disparaging comments that, quite honestly, are so far off the mark it’s not funny…

Mike Bland
17 Jan 2024 - 1:02 pm

Community radio has always played an eclective mix of music ,and had a diverse range of presenters . I don’t believe there is a need or want for a “professional sound”

GC tech nerd
17 Jan 2024 - 4:08 pm

Ian, there are many community stations that sound professional.
Another Gold Coast example is 107.3 Juice FM. Listen to Luke and Susie on breakfast and you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s not a commercial station.

Chuck Tuna
17 Jan 2024 - 4:40 pm

What Ian Maurice said , its a fun place for people to play DJ, and thats how it should be left. When i think of community radio i think of Martin Molloys Blast FM


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