Perth stations 6PR, 6iX, ABC Radio Perth, Radio National and ABC News are hopeful of being able to move from the AM to the FM band.
The ACMA is exploring the option of switching the stations and had released a paper for consultation with options to replan Perth’s FM broadcasting services, but according to The Australian (subscription required), some industry sources see moving the ABC to FM as setting a ‘dangerous precedent’, especially as the ABC would not have to pay for the switch.
The ABC, however, rejects the claim of a ‘dangerous precedent’, saying there is no precedent being set as they have been on the FM spectrum for more than 40 years and their use of FM has been continually growing since then.
The paper is quoting an unnamed senior radio insider as saying, “Just when operators are trying to come out of this pandemic and trying to scramble back to revenue levels of 2019 there’s now this new threat. The ABC is fine and receives over a billion dollars a year in funding, meanwhile radio operators are struggling to claw back revenues.
“It’s astounding they are even thinking of doing this.”
There are five options being considered.
- Option 1: Convert to FM both commercial services (6iX and 6PR) and the national ABC AM services (6PB, 6WF and 6RN).
- Option 2: Convert to FM the 3 national ABC AM services (6PB, 6WF and 6RN) only. Under this option, the commercial AM services would not convert to FM.
- Option 3: Convert to FM both commercial AM services (6iX and 6PR) and plan (and subsequently allocate licences for) 3 new high-power FM services in the Perth licence area for commercial radio broadcasting, national radio broadcasting and/or open narrowcasting services. Under this option, the ABC AM services would not convert to FM.
- Option 4: Convert to FM one of the 3 national ABC AM services (6PB, 6WF or 6RN). Under this option, the other 2 national ABC AM services and the commercial AM services (6iX and 6PR) would not convert to FM. This option would minimise changes to the existing services.
- Option 5: Plan (and subsequently allocate licences for) 3 new high power FM services in the Perth LAP for commercial radio broadcasting, national radio broadcasting, community broadcasting and/or open narrowcasting services. Under this option, the ABC and commercial AM services would not convert to FM.
In a joint submission ARN and Nova expressed concern about the plan telling the ACMA that the shift “…would be unsustainable and carry with it a prejudicial burden upon incumbent FM broadcasters given the adverse resulting impact on existing audience shares, revenue generation and the capacity for broadcasters to meet significant ongoing hard costs”.
CEO of Southern Cross Austereo, Grant Blackley, also has concerns about the proposal. SCA owns MIX94.5 and Triple M 92.9 in Perth, and Blackley says, “Any benefit from the potential replanning of FM frequencies in the Perth RA1 licence would be outweighed by the detriments, including disruption and associated costs for incumbent radio broadcasters.”
Commercial Radio Australia did not make a sumission about the possible coversion.
When asked for a response by radioinfo a spokeperson for the ABC told us,
The vast majority of ABC radio services are delivered on the FM band (five times more than on the AM band). Just as FM is the preferred radio technology worldwide, so too is it in Australia, due to its superior quality and cost effectiveness.
Many of our national and local radio services have been broadcasting on the FM band for many years, including some of our bigger stations in Darwin, Launceston and Wollongong.
In Perth, the ABC – along with other commercial broadcasters – has been invited to submit a proposal to an ACMA Options paper on the allocation of unused FM frequencies. The ABC supports the conversion of Perth’s AM stations to FM due to poor AM reception in the city, which has been exacerbated over time by such things as high-rise development, the electrification of its metropolitan trains and additional electrical poles and wires across the city. Conversion of ABC Radio Perth from AM to FM would significantly improve the quality of the station’s signal across the entire metropolitan region.
The ABC has never opposed the many AM to FM conversions by commercial and community radio stations in regional and metropolitan markets where it can be done.
As a talk station broadcaster in Perth the ABC does not consider itself to be in direct competition with existing FM music-based stations with AM to FM conversion.
The opportunity to use unallocated FM licences does not exist in any other capital city market. The situation in Perth is unique.