Community Radio should not be second rate: 2WEB’s Bob Stutsel on LAP criticisms

The ABA’s decision to reject 2WEB’s application for an extension to its licence area has caused a war of words between various stations in the normally quiet north west corner of NSW. 2WEB says the objectors are frightened of its success and superior programming.

2WEB Chairman, Robert Stutsel, (pictured) has told radioinfo he sees no reason why community radio services should be second rate, and that the station has a 90% audience share in many towns in its market.

Objecting to 2WEB’s application for an extension to its licence area, 2DU said:

“Western Broadcasters limited strongly objects to the request from the licensee of community radio service 2WEB Bourke to extend its licence area… both 2DU and ZOO FM have serviced Cobar very well over the years with a highly professional commercial radio service.”

4VL, owned by Brad Smart, wrote:

“The reality is that 2WEB runs a pseudo-commercial operation… In fact, the average listener would not be able to pick the on-air difference between 4VL and 2WEB… The only difference they have from a commercial station is that they don’t pay commercial ABA licence fees or APRA fees…

“As a small family company, my wife and I have invested everything we own to continually improve the 4VL service… to allow a pseudo-commercial station like 2WEB access to our service area will reduce our already meagre base from the area, which could further erode the quality of our service.”

Cobar Shire Council supported the entension of 2WEB’s service area, but Cobar Community Radio group 2HOT FM objected to it. Paroo Shire Council supported 2WEB’s proposal, while the ABC had no objection.

Walgett aspirant aboriginal station, Yaama FM, did not object to 2WEB’s licence area extension, but did object to the extension of Bourke Aboriginal station, 2CUZ FM, into their licence area.

Rebel Radio Network opposed 2WEB’s entension, saying:

“The proposal… will unfairly strengthen its market advantage over pending Rebel Radio Network [RRN] services in Bourke and Coonamble… provide no significant increase in programming diversity in Cunnamulla… [and] negatively impact on the quality and local content of services provided by 4VL and RRN.

“We propose the ABA consult with 4VL, RRN and CRA to assist in formulating a licence condition to be placed on 2WEB… restricting [a] commercially formatted mainstream radio service.”

In response to the various submissions and letters, lodged during the Licence Area review process, 2WEB Chairman Robert Stutsel has made this statement to radioinfo:

“Firstly, I well appreciate the desire and need of 2DU, ZOO FM, 4VL, Rebel FM, Breeze FM and 2HOT FM to protect their financial interests and their fear of 2WEB’s superior programming.

“2WEB has been operating for a period of 26 years in an area that no commercial operator sought to service. In 1982, Western Broadcasters – or their predecessors – apparently did not seek to service Bourke, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Nyngan, Coonamble, Wanaaring, Enngonia, Wilcannia etc but rather picked the eyes out of the spoils and only sought to service Cobar, the most populated centre in Upper Western NSW, leaving the rest of us with the ABC and a fledgling 2WEB.

“Today, 2WEB enjoys a audience high of 98% in Brewarrina, to a low of 65% in Gulargambone where reception is poor, indicating 2WEB well and truly meets the needs of the community. 2WEB has an audience in Lightning Ridge, Walgett, Coonamble and Nyngan of well over 90%.

“Overall, 2WEB enjoys more than 82% of the audience in its broadcast area, with the fully Government funded ABC in single digits, followed by the fully Government funded 2CUZFM and thence other community radio stations.

“I am unaware of any legislative requirement for community radio stations to be second or third rate. It is just co-incidence that most are. The claim, curiously expressed by both Aaron Jowitt (Rebel FM and Breeze FM), and Brad Smart (4VL), that 2WEB is a “pseudo-commercial” operation is the biggest compliment we have received, particularly as they are well qualified to give such compliments and I thank them for it.

“2WEB has regularly surveyed the needs of the community and constantly adjusted its programming to maximise listener satisfaction. I am biased but I believe our programming is better than any commercial station, bar none, metropolitan or rural.

“2DU, ZOO FM and 2 HOT FM well know that if 2WEB was to broadcast on FM in Cobar, it would capture well over 80% of listeners because of the closer “community of interest” Cobar has with Upper Western NSW, eg: Bourke, Wilcannia and Nyngan, in comparison to Dubbo, and the programming is more suited to the needs of the residents of this area.

“The ABA may well have a legislative obligation to financially protect commercial stations, rather than consider the wants and needs of the Cobar and Cunnamulla communities, which is something these communities need to pursue through the political process.

“Rebel FM and Breeze FM well know the high regard 2WEB is held in south west Queensland and western NSW. It is a commercial decision Mr Jowitt has to make, whether to chance going “blow for blow” with 2WEB and almost certain bankruptcy, or withdraw. The tone of his letter suggests his belief that he has been granted a “licence to print money” whereas my understanding is that he has a “licence to operate a commercial radio service” with no guarantee of viability and seeks to have a monopoly by using the ABA to eliminate 2WEB to the disadvantage of the Outback. There is no guarantee that the ABA will not grant future commercial licences to compete with his present licences.

“Just this week, we have been formally advised that our applications to re-transmit into Cobar and Cunnamulla have been unsuccessful, yet it is curious to note that the letter written by the Mayor of Cobar Shire, Werner Muhlethaler, owner of radio station 2HOT.FM, dated 21 July 2004, acknowledged that the decision had already been made.

“2WEB seeks to bring quality radio broadcasting to Western New South Wales and South West Queensland. We will continue in our pursuit of excellence whilst remaining community focused and proudly independent.

Yours sincerely,

WREB Co-Op Ltd.”