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Digital Doomsday For Community Radio

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Feb 20th 2013 | 4:26pm | Scott Fitzsimons
Community radio stations are facing a 'Digital Doomsday' after claims they are being hung out to dry by a lack of Federal Government funding.

After receiving only $2.2 million in the 2012 budget, below the $3.6 they'd requested, the community radio sector have launched an orchestrated campaign today to stave off what they claim could be the end of community radio altogether.

Adrian Basso, President of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia [CBAA], told theMusic.com.au that if they don't receive the required funds they'll be forced to shut off digital broadcasts in entire cities – with Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane under threat.

“The alternative for us if we don't get the money is scaling back services, which would involve turning off cities,” he said. “You can't just dim the lights bit by bit, you've got to turn off whole capital cities.”

The doomsday scenario would see community radio cease to have digital frequencies. “[In the worse case] we're no longer a broadcaster. And then in the longer terms when they switch off analogue, where are we?”

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, has yet to reply to theMusic's request for comment.

Although an analogue switch-off wasn't spoken about when digital radio was first touted, the most recent submission to Government by Commercial Radio Australia started talking about the end of analogue. Basso isn't surprised by that given the costs associated in running both analogue and digital services and the precedent set by the analogue TV switch-off.

The commercial radio stations can afford the digital transition and the ABC and SBS are being “fully funded” by the Government. Originally making a commitment to community radio for digital broadcasting, Basso believes they've now “pulled back on that.”

“The Government framework means that we have to share facilities with the commercial stations,” he said. “And as their costs are going up they're passing them on… Some of those are fill-ins to fill [broadcast] black spots. Every time one of those goes in the cost gets passed on… We can't choose what they spend their money on.”

He added, “I don't think they fully understood that this [$3.6 million] was a figure being passed on [to us]… I think we've been extremely clear. I'm still a little bit confused to why they've done that, because the only [costing process] will unravel now.”

Basso said he expected the Government's TV spectrum auction later this year, after the switch to digital TV feed up a lot of spectrum, to generate over $4 billion. Basso said out of that $1.4 million is not a large investment, “but it's a lot to us and the return in community value is huge, I don't think anyone would argue that.”

Coming after the switch to digital TV freed up a lot of spectrum, the Government's auction to sell that later this year is expected to generate over $4 billion. Basso said out of that $1.4 million is not a large investment, “but it's a lot to us and the return in community value is huge, I don't think anyone would argue that.”

There are currently 37 metro stations under the CBAA banner broadcasting on digital frequencies, which were launched in May 2011 with the original Government funding. Originally $11.2 million was allocated by the Federal Government from 2009-2012 to plan and implement digital services and the 2012 budget offered $2.2 million per annum for four years. CBAA are looking for an extra $1.4 million per annum, which they deem non-negotiable.

Some of the most prominent community radio stations for contemporary music include; Triple R, PBS, SYN and JOY in Melbourne; FBi and 2SER in Sydney; 4ZZZ in Brisbane; and RTR FM in Perth. The CBAA have launched a website for the campaign.

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