The ACMA’s decision to award a full time community licence to Lofty Community Media in the Adelaide Hills will mean the other applicant for the licence, Hills Radio, will go off air at the end of this month.
Hills Radio and Lofty FM had been sharing airtime on the 88.9FM frequency while the ACMA made a decision on awarding the permanent licence.
Now that the decision has been made, Hills Radio will no longer be heard on air, although the station says it will continue to stream its programs for now.
Vice Chairman of the Hills Radio Board, Shawn Hutchinson, says an ACMA representative advised the station management of the decision on Wednesday, and that management and staff are “disappointed” by the decision not to allocate a long term licence to the station.
“Hills Radio 88.9fm confidently began broadcasting from our premises in Gawler Street Mount Barker in August 2014 as a community radio station to serve the Adelaide Hills.”
“Our aim was to be the voice for entertainment, information, and to present local issues, business matters, comments and viewpoints involving the community as required by our temporary broadcast licence,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“Since then Hills Radio has become a successful and recognised presence in the community with a staff of 70 unpaid volunteers who put together local programs for broadcast in the four on-air days of our licence and the seven-day, 24-hour on-line streaming of Hills Radio local content programs.”
“But this decision by ACMA means that Hills Radio will go off the air from September 30 to the great disappointment and concern of the staff who have built the station into a successful and well accepted part of the Mount Barker district and the Hills community.”
Mr Hutchinson said “Hills Radio had to share the temporary licence from November 2018 when ACMA permitted a second station in Mount Barker to transmit programs on the 88.9fm frequency.”
“As a not for profit community focused broadcaster, Hills Radio established a strong following of listeners and sponsorship and we engaged in all possible aspects of the community,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“Between them, our volunteer presenters produce in our Gawler Street studio a range of weekly ethnic and indigenous programs, 41 live and local Hills programs, three weekly Reading for the Print Handicapped programs covering local newspapers and music and arts-based “say and play” ranging from classical music to hard rock shows – all from an environmental footprint which sees us using little power.”
“Each week, hundreds of hours go into producing the programs our volunteers present. Because we operate on air and stream 24/7 we have to be relevant and local to show that we are committed to the Hills community and want to engage and communicate in every possible way.”
Mr Hutchinson said that a widely recognised and popular feature of Hills Radio was the outdoor community broadcasts from the station’s Big Outdoor Broadcast Bus which the community recognised as BOBB the Bus.
“We were curtained this year by Corona-19 but last year we did 75 outside broadcasts in various Hills locations with BOBB which was purpose built for broadcasting and part-financed by local Rotary and Lions Clubs funds and some community backing.
“Even now we have logged calls from many Hills groups who want to book BOBB for their functions when the Covid restrictions are lifted. This has been encouraging for our volunteers.”
“However, this decision by ACMA restricts the station and all our studio programming and potentially puts BOBB off the road“, Mr Hutchinson said.
In October last year ACMA announced it would review radio licencing in the Murray Bridge, Mount Barker and Victor Harbor areas to approve a permanent community license for each area and invited applications.
Mr Hutchinson said: “Hills Radio lodged our application and answered the questions which ACMA set out as required under the 1992 Broadcasting Services Act. We detailed our history of programming and community involvement and the support and recognition from the community which we had built up. We outlined how our office operates, plans for future new programs with community input and also pointed out that the Covid restrictions had put a hold on some plans.”
“Hills Radio were not visited by ACMA during this process, so they had no first hand knowledge of the area we were covering or the diversity of the Hills communities and groups we reach.”
“On Wednesday ACMA denied us the licence and said in making its decision ACMA considered the extent to which the proposed services would meet the needs of the local community, and the capacity of the applicants to provide the proposed service. It considers that community participation and engagement are the cornerstone of community broadcasting.”
Mr Hutchinson said; “We considered that we more than met the greatest requirement, but ACMA considered our application did not meet that requirement.’’
He said that although Hills Radio felt the decision was wrong and that in its overall judgement ACMA did not see the station’s strength of commitment to the community and in return, the community’s wide support.
“We cannot appeal the decision to ACMA and because we are a not for profit community focused broadcaster relying on sponsorship to keep operating, we cannot afford to challenge the decision legally.”
He said it would be difficult for the station to end on-air broadcasting by the end of the month, particularly because of sponsorship commitments, which ACMA is preventing the station from fulfilling.
“Hills Radio was a community-based broadcast pioneer in the Hills and it is devastating to see the good work, good will and tireless enthusiasm which it generated to be dismissed with what we think is a bad decision,” Mr Hutchinson said.
See our previous coverage of Hills Radio here.