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.”