Monday, 11 June 2018

Is Australian Radio pulling its weight?

Radio in Australia forms a dual passion and frustration for me. Passion in that it continues to fascinate me as to how content is created and presented so seamlessly, and frustration in how it so often misses the mark.

Radio occupies a unique position in the media landscape. It provides something that everyone has ready access to, and despite a changing entertainment landscape under pressure from Spotify, Netflix and other streaming giants, it continues to be successful.

With its continuing success, it could be argued that content directors are feeling untouchable, making content safe and bland enough not to offend anybody. Therefore it should come as no surprise to read that commercial radio are not upholding their local content quota requirements.

The reason these quotas exist in the first place is because commercial radio have never taken Australian music seriously. The quotas were instigated in 1942 for 2.5% locally composed music to be played in all radio programming. It was increased to 20% in 1976, and capped at 25% under the Australia/United States Free Trade Agreement. It has taken the ABC and community radio to pick up the slack, but it's still not an even balance.

Community Radio works hard to extend the music industry by giving airtime to bands that otherwise wouldn't see airplay, and the ABC are doing their best on Triple J and on Digital Radio with Triple J Unearthed and Double J.  These sectors of the industry are not bound by local content quotas, so why are they doing the heavy lifting? The commercials have the money and the coverage. Why do they continue to drag their feet?

It may be that many stations are lost in the fog. Since rebranding a lot of regional stations under the name Triple M, Southern Cross Austereo have spent more money and airtime trying to be everything to everybody and doing very little of it well. The idea of Triple M is different in every market and there seems to be no unity between the music they play. The only constant seems to be an over-dominance of Football content. They seem to have taken up the idea that "you'll never go broke selling sport to Australians", with wall-to-wall rugby league in NSW with the occasional song thrown in the mix. The other way around the local content quota is to be a talk radio station, or to program a "Pure Gold" format, which plays no music newer than 2005.

I have written in these pages before about the cultural cringe and why Australian quotas are necessary. Years later, things haven't changed and I'm wondering if they ever will.

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