Non-Commercial Radio – unnecessary or unsupported?
I am not going to pretend I am impartial in this one. As you may be aware, I am involved with a low powered, non-commercial radio station in Hamilton, so usually I’m pretty biased when it comes to radio. I did want to make comment about the Government’s “review” of the parked youth frequencies.
The situation we have at the moment is that around the country, there is a series of parked youth frequencies. They are set aside for use by non-commercial stations who fit certain criteria. Some of these frequencies were controversially awarded to Kiwi FM, a radio station owned by MediaWorks (who also own The Edge, The Rock and a bunch of other commercial stations). Kiwi FM was given these frequencies because they were using a non-commercial model and playing 100% local content.
Over the past couple weeks, it’s been announced that Kiwi FM is going to move from the 100% local content model to a 60% local, 40% international content model. It has also been said that this was approved by the Government last year. As part of this, it has been said that the frequencies granted to Kiwi FM, as well as the other parked youth frequencies, would be subject to a review.
All of these parked frequencies are high powered, this means they are allowed to be transmitted at a higher power, and therefore will reach much further. This is why you can hear stations like The Edge or ZM on the other side of Auckland when they are being broadcast from the central city, but you can only get low powered local stations such as Devonport’s The FleaFM in a very small area in comparison.
Assuming the parked frequencies do end up going to commercial stations, what will that mean? Once again, in my completely biased opinion, it means people have much less choice in terms of what they can listen to on the radio. Commercial radio will always, by definition, play what will create a profit for them. This doesn’t necessarily mean playing what people want to listen to. It can mean playing the latest track by a big label, as they are willing to pay for you to play it. It means selling out to the highest bidder in terms of content. And let’s be honest, that isn’t going to create a huge amount of variation in what’s played.
Non-commercial radio allows for that choice. It allows for student radio stations to get students on the radio. It allows for local community organisations to get on community radio stations. It allows for local music to be played by local people for local communities. But if local communities can’t hear the station, what’s the point in it being there.
Yeah, sure, there’s online streaming that can be used, but that’s not going to work in a car – mobile data is far too expensive in New Zealand to listen on a phone, and WiFi networks aren’t extensive enough. Not everyone has access to fast enough internet. I agree that online streaming is the future, but it’s too distant a future to rely on now.
I guess you can tell that I’m not in favour of selling off these frequencies. It doesn’t benefit anyone. It doesn’t even benefit the media company that buys it, assuming it goes to either MediaWorks or The Radio Network, given neither of them can really afford it. Selling these frequencies could just be the death of radio broadcast media in this country.