Oct 01, 2012

Who listens to the radio?

Independent acts wouldn’t even get airplay without help from community radio and its loyal band of listeners, writes Angela Allan.

The Buggles blamed video for killing the radio star, but it even in the age of Spotify, illegal downloads and commercial radio capping their quotas for Australian content, it seems that community radio is led – and followed – by those who truly want to promote and nurture independent Australian acts.
“Community radio is the breeding ground for new Australian artists and crucial to a huge range of quality acts that wouldn’t get radio airplay anywhere else,” says Caroline Gates, program director at Sydney station FBi. “While commercial stations seem to be focused on ways to get around playing local music, we’re always looking to increase our support.”
This view is also shared at Melbourne’s Triple R. The station’s music co-ordinator Simon Winkle says that community radio is likely to be the most supportive media environment young bands can use to build up a fanbase.
“Community radio is dedicated to championing independent bands and musicians, and prides itself on that representation of new and emerging artists at the early critical stages of their career.”

Community radio listener Iain Wilson says that the “programmers’ real interests and musical tastes get a chance to come through, rather than what is driven by the market.”
Owner of $4 Vinyl in Wollongong and street press contributor Kristy Wandmaker believes that community radio facilitates “other languages, other generations, other worlds, other music, other perspectives”.
“Most community radio stations are not full of hipsters or scenesters. While there are a few in the major cities who seem to be controlled by those desperate to be part of the ‘in crowd’, the vast majority are run by die-hard music lovers who simply want to share the air. Community radio is about representing the other.”
For many, the diversity is key. Listener Rene Bok credits community radio with educating the gig-going and music-consuming punter.
“Melbourne’s music community is all the richer for the symbiotic relationship with true public radio. The awareness, appreciation, enthusiasm and passion purveyed is absolutely invaluable.”

For musicians, the role of community radio is crucial in having a sustainable and successful career. Henry Wagons (pictured, above) – who says his band Wagons was bolstered by FBi, Triple R and PBS – refers to these stations as “thriving pieces of culture out there that I hope to continue to exist”.
“I often describe my own career in music as being, like, you know that crazy uncle you have that hoards everything. He saves up all his bars of soap and he doesn’t throw them away, instead, at the end of the year, he throws them in a saucepan and melts them to create his own little bar of soap and he’s happy. That’s what I feel my own career is like. There are all these little avenues – like those little bits of soaps – they are [coming from] community radio stations.
“All these little pieces of soap create some form of notoriety and success for us. Many of those facets come from community radio. They all flow together eventually. So, if you add them all together, you get a really lovely big-arse bar of soap. Like a rainbow bowling ball.”
While Spotify is too diverse, says Wagons, hosts of community radio segments can be used as a guide before delving into the limitless world of online streaming.
“You tune into Triple R and you hear some sort of psychedelic band and you hear someone talk about the creation of the band, and then you log in to Spotify and that gives you a springboard to other bands in that genre.”

From their unplaylisted music, broadcasters involved with all facets of the music industry – as artist and label managers, journalists or music store owners – as well as open days that invite musicians to drop in their tunes (this is how bands such as Cloud Control and Seekae were discovered), community radio has been crucial in helping the careers of Washington, Gotye, Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts, the Presets, the Jezabels, Muscles and PVT.
“Community radio with its highly tuned and focused radar is often responsible for picking up the best new music before anyone else,” says Winkler. “Broadcasters who discover an unsigned, new or independent artist will often be the first people to promote and play those bands or artists on-air. Often these songs might resonate with other broadcasters and listeners, and support for those acts will grow.”
Gates agrees: “Community radio is where most Australian artists will first get radio airplay, first find an audience and have their first interview.”

But their future could be in doubt. AMRAP – Australian Music Radio Airplay Project, which is the organisation that promotes and distributes new Australian music to community stations – is not listed to receive renewed funding for the 2012-13 Federal budget.
“From Triple R’s perspective, we receive regular servicing of music through AMRAP, and through AMRAP's AirNet playlisting service, embedded in our website, broadcasters are able to provide more meaningful information to listeners that in turn offers great value to artists whose music is played,” says Winkler.
Wagons agrees it would be a “much greyer landscape” and commercial radio would dominate if community radio ceased.
“A lot of community radio in Australia is truly free-spirited. There is truly a broad range of music you can listen to that would not be allowed on commercial radio because it doesn’t sound anything like Rihanna. I get asked a lot by younger bands about how to get gigs and how to get airplay. Community radio is literally the only option you’ve got. If you’ve made your demo, really, the only place that will give it a listen and the only place that will give it a spin is community radio. It’s the first option you’ve got if you want to get your stuff heard.
“It’s a way of starting a profile for your band and in that way, they are incredibly important.”
Sydney rock upstarts Regular John are also proof of the importance of community radio backing: “They don’t bow down to the corporate advertisers and often it’s the only way for new local bands to get airplay.”


Henry Wagons photo credit: Kane Hibberd.