I am worried about radio in the country. Not the WHOLE country, mind you, just the parts of it politicians don’t visit unless something is wet, burnt or wind blown, i.e. “the country”. What worries me is digital radio. In cities digital radio may be a wonderful thing, more choices, better quality, I hear you may even be able to pause a live broadcast. Wonderful things. What I am worried about is the thing that radio was meant to be for – getting across information.
A few years ago, a lot of “regional” stations were bought up by radio networks. The local presenters were replaced with generic shows from capital cities. This may not sound like a problem, but when it came time for the local schools to tell everyone the sports carnival was cancelled due to rain. A phone call went to one station, no answer. No one worked there before 9am. A call to the next station, they were transferred to Sydney, and told the announcement would not be broadcast as it had been done in previous years. People would have to ring the station to find out.
This may not sound like a big deal, but this is what local radio stations used to do. It was an essential piece of information. Local people needed their local station to tell them. Not something you can expect a national station to bother with, of course, but imagine this inability to pass on information during a fire. Each town, village, hamlet or valley in a region has different fire dangers, and would need different information. Not something a centralised station can handle quickly, especially when they often mangle town names, as anyone from War-choppy (Wauchope) could tell you.
This problem will get worse under digital radio. Stations from Sydney will further invade rural areas, economies of scale will mean smaller stations will be unable to compete. No local voices will be heard. Not a problem if you live in Sydney, where the voices come from, a big problem if you don’t. I sincerely doubt a station based a 3 hour drive away will care about the hot political issues of my town, which my current radio station often discusses. So I will be left with no warning of fires, no local political news and no real contact.
I know I am painting a grim picture but I am not alone. Community stations will be the first to falter, unable to afford the new digital transmitters. While they may not register highly on the Australia’s creative or news analysis landscapes, they do handle local issues important to the people where they are. The government is, so far, unsympathetic. I could be cynical and say there are more votes in the cities, where the owners of the commercial stations also live and donate and control broadcasters, but that would be mere speculation.
You will forgive me for hoping that something terrible happens to the plan to shut down the analog broadcasters. Because I fear we will have no choice out here in district 12, to listen to the capital’s broadcasts. And even if we did get our own transmitter for our stations from the inland, the signal would not reach the coast.
Do you worry about digital radio? Will it affect you?