From Scarcity to Impact: Community Radio readies for the future #CBAA Conference

The Community Radio sector is facing forward and thinking big, with renewed Federal Government backing and a 10-year roadmap in the works.

Transformation and growth for the sector was the dominant theme in the opening plenary presentations for the CBAA’s annual conference at Gimuy (Cairns), where some 275 delegates have converged for the first time in three years after the pandemic forced the postponement of the popular gathering.

QRAM (Queensland Remote Aboriginal Media)’s Uncle Neville Reys set the tone with his Welcome to Country, saying, “We have to understand we are living in the now, we must adapt and adopt change.” He acknowledged the long history of the Gimuy wa-lu-burra, noting that they are a story-telling people, and that it is the role of cultural elders and custodians, including radio broadcasters, to be heard and understood by all in the community.

CBAA President Jacqui Riddell (pictured) said the pandemic had not slowed the sector’s work, highlighting recent achievements such as launch of the Community Radio Plus app (granting easy access to any community radio station in the country), the partnership with the RPH (Radio for the Print handicapped) network, and the establishment of LINA, the Local and Independent News Association headed by Clare Stuchbery.

Riddell emphasised that these innovations contributed to the sector’s health: some 5.1 million Australians listen to community radio, for an average of 15 hours, per week. But she also confirmed that three-quarters of stations cite revenue as an ongoing challenge.

Federal Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland MP was required in Canberra following last week’s federal budget, but she sent a message of support to delegates and was represented in person by Assistant Secretary for Communications Adam Carlon. Last week’s budget outlined a clear investment in the community radio sector with the forecast decline in base funding now offset by an indexation payment, and $4m pledged for the next three financial years. Total funding for the sector will remain at about $20m per annum, ongoing.

The Minister called out the importance of the “diverse, vibrant sector” to local people, whether in times of crisis, or needing information in more than 100 languages other than English, and more. Rowlands also pledged to pursue reform in regulation, and indicated the department is open to findings from a whole-of-sector sustainability review.

The ABC’s Head of ABC Innovation Lab Angela Stengel (pictured), a former FBi volunteer, delivered a keynote speech where she spoke of the joy of discovering radio, and emphasised the need to create that joy for new generations in the community broadcasting sector. Stengel urged delegates to embrace change, reminding them that “innovation means adapting and changing to get somewhere better”, and reminded them that they already innovate every day.

Stengel shared insights around the three biggest innovation trends for radio to watch: the creator economy, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things, and outlined practical ways community broadcasters can fold these ideas into their stations.

The most significant commitment to forward thinking came from the CBAA itself: to create a 10-year roadmap for the community radio sector. Partnering with funding body the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF), CEOs Jon Bisset and Jo Curtin outlined the challenge to “reimagine the story we tell ourselves”, and to move from a mindset of scarcity to one of impact.

Work on the 10-year plan begins immediately and will be led by Think Insight managing director Randall Pearce, who has designed a multi-step research and consultation process that aims to reach and involve all levels of the sector from around Australia, as well as key partners and thought leaders in the space. The work is forecast to be completed in mid-2023 and will contribute significantly to the sector’s shape and story. It is expected to exert broad influence, from future federal government decisions to potential sector investors.

The CBAA Conference continues today and tomorrow (28 and 29 October).


Reporter: Andrea Ho

Photos: John Maizels

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