The Australian community broadcasting sector is recognised internationally as one of the most successful examples of grassroots media. Community broadcasting provides news, information, cultural content and entertainment to communities defined by geographical location or common interest. The diversity of program content available through community broadcasting broadens the media choices available to all Australians.
Radio licences were first issued in 1972 to not-for-profit organisations to provide alternative and complementary broadcast services to those provided by the commercial and national sectors and access to the community in generating local media content.
Community broadcast stations actively encourage access and participation by members of their communities in all aspects of broadcast operations; emphasise the provision of access to groups that are inadequately served by mainstream media; enhance the diversity of programming choices and viewpoints available to their audiences; and support and develop local and Australian arts, music and culture.
Community broadcasting is volunteer driven with over 20,000 volunteer broadcasters and support staff helping to deliver media 'for the people by the people'.
The sector has developed rapidly over its more than three decades of history. There are now over 300 fully licensed stations and the cumulative national community broadcasting audience has been measured at 4.7 million.
Community stations vary enormously, from licence to licence, depending on the needs and interests of the local geographic communities and/or the specific communities of interest they serve - including youth, senior citizens, arts, fine music, sport and other specialist interests, as well as providing specific services for Indigenous, religious, print disabled and ethnic communities. There are stations all over the country, some with metropolitan wide licences (18%), others that service particular areas of a city that hold sub-metro or suburban licences (15%), and those in regional (41%) and rural areas (26%)
Stations operate primarily through fundraising, sponsorship, subscription, program access and limited federal funding support provided through the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF).
Information about the sector is collected by the Community Broadcasting Database project, which conducts a comprehensive bi-annual survey of stations, and commissions audience research in the alternate years.
The regulation of community broadcasting services is covered by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Community radio stations are obliged to broadcast in accordance with the Community Radio Codes of Practice. These include a specific Code regarding the broadcast of Australian music.
Music accounts for 72% of community radio programming. Unique to the community broadcasting sector is the diversity of musical genres that receive exposure.
The sector's commitment to local music is reinforced within its Codes of Practice, which stipulate a 25% minimum local content requirement, which is broadly applied across all music genres, although there are lower requirements for fine music and ethnic language broadcasters. The Codes also particularly acknowledge the importance of music made by Indigenous artists. Recent surveys have shown that this minimum is met and exceeded with an average local music content of 36% achieved across the sector.
The combination of musical diversity with an across the board local content requirement ensures that the widest possible range of music made by Australians receives exposure through community radio.
As a result the sector has a long standing and well earned reputation as an incubator of local musical talent.
Local community radio stations are traditionally the first broadcast media to provide exposure for local musicians and support for their early careers.
The regional reach of the sector is another unique aspect to community radio. Over 70% of community radio stations are in regional and rural areas. Of these 38% of stations are either the only radio service in their local area or the only source of local content. Community radio in regional and rural Australia therefore provides a vital point of engagement for musicians with audiences in these areas. Indeed recent research has found that Community radio services in rural areas played the highest proportion of Australian music - 41% of all music.
Evidence also shows that Australian music is a major factor of why people listen to community broadcasting with 48% of listeners citing local music as a key reason for listening.
The importance of the community broadcasting sector in supporting local music was acknowledged by the federal government in 1998 when funding was allocated which led to establishment of the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project (AMRAP).
In 1998 as part of a $10 million compensation package provided to the Australian music industry following the introduction of legislation to allow parallel importing of music on compact discs, the government provided $1.5 million to the Community Broadcasting Foundation with the objective of promoting contemporary Australian music through the community broadcasting sector.
AMRAP commenced operation in 2000 through two separate but related initiatives:
1. a grants program for community broadcasting organisations providing funding under the following categories: Programming; Live Concert and Festival Broadcasts; Recording and Distribution; Training; and Development, Innovation and Partnerships;
2. the AMRAP operations centre based at, and managed by, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA ) which oversaw:
Originally conceived as a three-year project, AMRAP has, through careful management, been extended while further funding was sourced. The grants program was wound down in 2004 to extend the operational life of the AMRAP resource centre. In recent years the project has developed an income stream from its CD distribution function and has sourced other funds via the CBF and other project partners. The resource centre has continued its core operations, albeit with a reduced staff level based on available funding.
As part of its Arts Policy, New Direction for the Arts, released prior to the 2007 Federal Election, the Australian Labor Party committed $2.4 million over four years for the continuation of AMRAP. This policy stated (p 14):
Community radio broadcasters play a crucial role in promoting contemporary Australian music to every corner of the country. Since 2000, this role has been supported through the highly successful Australian Music Radio Airplay Project (AMRAP). The project has provided regular and targeted distribution of new Australian music to Australia's 350 community radio stations, helping the sector broadcast diverse and fresh local releases to its four million weekly listeners.
Under the auspices of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA), AMRAP has distributed more than 75,000 CDs by Australian artists. Over the same period, the level of contemporary Australian music played on community radio has increased 25%.
AMRAP also produces and distributes radio content promoting Australian music, and is responsible for developing a web presence to help community broadcasters, musicians, industry bodies and the public learn about new Australian artists.
In the 2008 Federal Budget Hon. Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, ratified this commitment, to take effect from the 2008-09 financial year.
AMRAP is a unique initiative that promotes Australian music through the community radio sector and is an important tool for local musicians to connect with national audiences... AMRAP has also been extremely successful promoting music from rural, regional and remote communities, particularly indigenous music. It enables a diverse range of music to be distributed across the country.
Paul Mason, 2007.