Interview with Chris Sayer, City Park Radio

SUBJECTS: Importance of community radio, Emergence of digital radio.

CHRIS SAYER, HOST:  Hello, you’re on City Park Radio, I’m Chris Sayer. Welcoming to City Park Radio the federal Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland. Hello.


SAYER: Thank you for coming. Your first time at City Park Radio - what do you think?

ROWLAND:  It is such a delightful place. And I’m amazed at your collection of wirelesses and radios and transistors and turntables. This is like a museum as well. It’s such a delight.

SAYER: Well, it is a radio museum, as we call it, in the front of the cottage there. But we are very proud of it, and it’s really unique, too.

ROWLAND: It is. People forget that radio was really the first form of media, you know – well, once you get off newspapers. And then it evolved into everything else. So everything went from there – television, podcast, streaming, and the list goes on.

SAYER: Especially when you’re old enough to remember those old radios, too.

ROWLAND: I had some of them in my house and my grandparents’ house. Yes, it just brought back some memories. It was lovely to see that. I wasn’t expecting it either.

SAYER: Yes. And, of course, a lot of people don’t expect it because we’re a community station. We’re not supposed to have a radio museum, but, yes, we’re very proud of it. Being the Minister for Communications across Australia, where do you think community radio fits into the spectrum of Australian media?

ROWLAND: It’s a vitally important part of the ecosystem. Irrespective of how platforms change, how delivery methods change, two things remain important: people want localism and they want diversity. Community radio really does fill that niche. It really does explore new options. It’s innovative. There’s so many people who have started in community radio and gone on to other things.

But the thing, too, is community radio is not just a stepping stone; it really does provide vital services for Australians especially during natural disasters, during the pandemic, keeping people connected. That’s why we were very pleased to commit before the election an extra $4 million of funding each year. We fulfilled that election commitment with last week’s Budget. I can think of fewer great examples of community radio than here at City Park Radio. Congratulations.

SAYER: Thank you. Of course, we rely on volunteers. We still do have to pay the bills. So any funding is important to a community volunteer organisation. Anything with the word community in its title I guess in really hones in on what it’s all about as well, I guess.

ROWLAND: It certainly does. And community radio, of course, you’ve got some four hundred stations right around Australia precisely as you said – kept going by volunteers who want to be there who are passionate about it. So we actually also – there’s two other election commitments that we’re fulfilling not only in terms of the funding but also we are doing a review about the sustainability of the sector. Because, you know, what sort of ways in which you can generate income to be able to keep going, the place of volunteers. So there’s a really important, I think, timely place there for a review.

And I also actually introduced my first piece of legislation to the parliament last week as a minister, and it was on community radio. So it was about streamlining some of the regulator’s processes, some of the licensing schemes to remove some red tape. So, you know, a small but certainly no less significant bill and I look forward to that going through the parliament.

In fact, one of my - my actual first visit to a place in my communications portfolio when I was sworn in as Minister was to Braidwood FM. And, of course, just outside of Canberra, Braidwood FM was responsible for literally keeping people alive during those terrible bushfires a couple of years ago. So I thought it encapsulated the importance of community radio not just for what it was but for the people who are behind it. And as I always say, strong community radio builds strong communities.

SAYER: Yeah. So as minister, but even – were you shadow minister as well?

ROWLAND: I was shadow minister. And prior to going into parliament I did have a ‘before life’ – I was actually a media and communications lawyer for ten years as well. And part of the work I did was in the community broadcasting sector. So it is a real privilege to now be here as Minister visiting you.

SAYER: Yeah. And as you travel around Australia I imagine when you visit a community radio station you get a vibe about what the community is like outside?

ROWLAND: Absolutely, because community radio is reflective of and is part of its local area. And that’s why that localism element is so important. You know, I’m from Western Sydney and I’ll go to the community radio stations in Western Sydney and you feel at home. Certainly I feel at home, Chris. You’re very hospitable. But certainly if this is a taste of Launceston, then it’s a delight to be able to experience it with you.

SAYER: Well, we’re very proud to be here. And, of course, we love our community, we love our people. Just finally, we still have turntables in our studio, so people like me still have records, you know. But technology is improving, of course. And the next big thing in radio maybe is digital radio. So where do you see digital radio coming into the equation here?

ROWLAND: Well, these are commercial decisions that are being made. It is really important that we get as many people who want to be able to listen to community radio actually having the opportunity. But I think first and foremost for community radio, the way I see it, is to support its sustainability. I think the review will look at part of some of these issues with technology. I think it does go back to that first principle, though, exactly as I said – it doesn’t matter what the platform is or what the mode is of consumption. Content is always king, irrespective of how things change.

What you and your team are producing here, it’s consumed in different ways by different people according to their needs and preferences. But ultimately it is about the content.

SAYER: Well, it’s lovely to have you here, and thank you for coming all the way down here. A bit of a dismal day, but I guess it’s wet on the mainland as well, too.

ROWLAND: Look – who knows where we are these days. But I’m just happy to be here, and all the best to you and your listeners.

SAYER: All the best to you. Thank you for coming. I’ve been talking to Michelle Rowland, the federal Minister for Communications here on City Park Radio.

ROWLAND: Thank you.