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Community radio is a vital part of Australian broadcasting. It makes a significant contribution to media diversity, generates high levels of local content, and provides a unique range of services and programs.

A quarter of Australian radio listeners turn to community radio stations every week for services that include specialist music, Indigenous media, multicultural and ethnic language programs, religious, educational and youth services, print disability reading services, and community access programs.

With funding support from the Federal Government, the 37 metropolitan-wide community radio stations in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth launched digital radio services in May 2011.

Now the future of community digital radio services is at risk.

In the 2012 budget, the Government delivered a funding shortfall for community digital radio services of $1.4 million per annum, making it impossible to maintain all of the current services.

Unless the government commits to the funding required for the transmission of community digital radio services in the upcoming federal budget, the number of services will have to be substantially reduced. It’s expected that all community digital radio services in at least two of the capital cities would have to be shut down unless the funding shortfall is addressed.

Government policy and legislation provide access to digital radio broadcasting for community broadcasters. The community sector deserves affordable access to digital radio alongside the national and commercial broadcasting sectors, and the Australian community deserves access to community radio services on digital radio.

Community broadcasters are not-for-profit organisations and cannot afford to cover the cost of accessing digital radio transmission in this early stage of its development. Stations have already invested scarce resources to develop and support the production of program content for their new digital radio services.

It is vitally important for the future of community broadcasting that it maintains, secures and develops its foothold in the digital broadcasting landscape.

The Government must commit the necessary funding to ensure that community radio has a digital future.

What is the Digital Radio Project?

The Digital Radio Project (DRP) is managed by the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA).

The Federal Government allocated $11.2 million in funding to plan, design, implement and operate infrastructure for community digital radio over 3 years 2009-2012. Funding is delivered through the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF).

The Digital Radio Project was formed in 2009 to establish digital radio services for the 37 metropolitan-wide community radio stations in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. 

Community digital radio services were launched nationally by the Minister, Senator Conroy, in May 2011.

In the May 2012 budget, the government allocated $2.2 million per annum for 4 years 2012-to 2016. That is $1.4 million less than the minimum required each year to maintain current community digital radio services.

Why digital?

Digital is the way of the future for radio broadcasting in Australia.

Digital radio broadcasting is a new broadcast platform that differs from AM and FM broadcasting. The key benefits for listeners include digital sound quality and greater choice due to the increased number of digital services.

Digital radio receivers allow you to pause and rewind and provide onscreen information such as track titles, program schedules, news and weather, and community information. It’s also easier to select a station as they are recognised by name rather than frequency.

Although under discussion in some other countries, at this stage the Federal Government has no policy to shut down analogue radio broadcasting in Australia.

There is no question that the future of free-to-air broadcasting is digital. Already over 1 million digital radios have been sold in Australia and digital makes up over 10% of all radio listening.

If community radio is to remain a core part of the broadcasting services available to the Australian community, alongside the national and commercial sectors, it must have affordable access to a digital future.

What is community radio?

Community radio brings heart and soul to Australian broadcasting.

Community radio is not-for-profit, community operated and controlled, and promotes an inclusive, cohesive and culturally diverse community. It offers an enormous diversity of content and information presented by people in their local communities and is characterised by localism and independence.

There are 362 licenced community radio stations in Australia, with over 20,000 volunteers engaged in producing and presenting programs. A quarter of all Australian radio listeners, 4.4 million, tune into community radio stations each week (McNair Ingenuity Research 2012).

Community radio plays a vital role in providing a voice for communities that aren’t adequately serviced by other broadcasting sectors including:

  • Indigenous Australians
  • Ethnic communities
  • Educational services
  • Religious communities
  • Reading services for print disabled communities
  • Music and arts and cultural services
  • Youth and seniors communities

Not-for-profit, independent community radio services provide a diverse range of viewpoints that enrich the social and cultural fabric of Australian society and contribute to public interest outcomes.

They promote the identities of local communities, contribute to social inclusion, and provide opportunities for participation in free-to-air public broadcasting and content production.