Radio-active? Australian radio stations and their role in promoting the local music scene

I read a funny story once that went something like this: Parents bet with their son that he would start listening to Triple J (a very popular and quite influential Australian music radio station that broadcasts in all states and territories) by the age of 15. The teenager accepted the challenge but waited deliberately until he was 16 to openly listen to the station, so he could pocket a little fortune. That’s how popular Triple J is in Australia, especially amongst the young audiences.

Part 18 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

In my posts so far I’ve been referring heaps to Triple J but it’s time to come clean: it is NOT the only advocate of Australian music, and you should get to know the other ones, too.

SOME STATS

The Map of Radio Stations website reports that there are currently “almost 300 commercial radio stations (with over 20 networks) and more than 400 community radio stations in Australia”. (You can find them all here.) That’s an impressive number, considering that the Australian population at the moment is just over 25 million people. Unsurprisingly, English is the main broadcasting language. The biggest commercial groups include The KIIS Network and Nova Entertainment. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news relates to the presence of Australian music on Australian radio. During the BIGSOUND music conference at the beginning of August this year, Dan Rosen (the CEO of ARIA) threw two important statistics on the table when speaking at the panel called State of the Industry Report:

  • An average Australian listens to approximately 18.3 hours of music weekly
  • 80% of that time is spent listening to the radio (about 14.5 hours)

As per industry norms, Australian music should have at least a 25%-share in the programming of all radio stations across the country. Singer Katie Noonan mentioned in ABC’s Q&A episode dedicated to The Power of Music on Monday night that, in reality, none of the broadcasters in the country meet that quota. And if they do, it’s super late at night (like 2am late).

The above findings are in stark contrast to some other statistics I’ve found. According to ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) itself, half of the music played on their radio stations (like Triple J or ABC Classic) is Australian. (ABC are one of the national, government-funded TV and radio companies.) When the same was measured in 2014 at community broadcasters, that number was a little lower, about 39%, but still higher than the 25% quota mentioned above.

It’s hard to tell whether the same set of criteria was used in all those reports. But it definitely looks like the only radio station that supports Australian artists 100% is Triple J Unearthed (all submissions to the platform are from up-and-coming Australia-based musos). See now why I follow the Triple J family so closely? It’s the quickest (if not the only) way to get to know what the next big thing in Australian music is.

RADIO FOR GROWN-UPS

There’s, however, an alternative Triple J for adults from the same network family. Double J is – quite literally – Triple J’s older sibling. I mean, something that your married sister with kids would most likely listen to. But it’s not boring at all. Just this week one of the hosts, Gemma Pike, revealed a new podcast covering the story of Big Day Out – Australia’s most beloved festival that, sadly, no longer exists. The first episode talks about how the festival became a success with a little help from… Nirvana (who weren’t even the headliner in 1992). But it also smuggles in heaps of cool little stories of less known Australian acts which is the interesting bit for me. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the episodes in October.

COMMUNITY BROADCASTING

Community broadcasting is a pretty big thing Down Under. Reportedly, community-operated broadcasters reach approximately 6 million Australians across the country every single week. They are primarily not-for-profit organisations that provide services to “minority” listeners, such as ethnic or religious circles, LGBTQI groups or specific arts and culture organisations, that would not have any access to their respective communities otherwise. This includes music, too.

INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY’S VOICE

There are hundreds of radio stations, big or small, run by and meant for the First Nations People.

I found out about Koori Radio in 2018 when Thundamentals partnered with them for one of their projects #gotloveinitiative. The band released an awesome, limited edition T-shirt on their website; profits from all the merch sales went to Koori Radio. And I’m mentioning it here because – like any other community-run broadcaster – Koori Radio depends heavily on sponsorship and donations. So kudos to Thundas, who are also from New South Wales (NSW), for shining a light on this particular broadcaster.

Koori Radio is run by the local Gadigal people based in Redfern, Sydney’s vibrant inner suburb. It produces programs in English, Aboriginal Creole, TorresStrait Island Creole, Hindi, Fijian, Maori, Samoan and Jamaican Creole. It has almost 300,000 monthly listeners, not only with Aboriginal background. As per the radio’s website, it broadcasts a “>Live and Deadly< cultural mix of Australian/International Indigenous and black music combined with talkback, news, current affairs, chat and community information.”

It’s quite surprising, though, that Triple J (who are very supportive of social change organisations) don’t have a segment presented by Aboriginal artists and/or strictly focused on First Nations music. Recently, a young Aboriginal hip hop artist residing in Adelaide, Jimblah, started an important movement called #changethegametriplej. Its objective is “to have a weekly dedicated First Nations show, along with a Mob curated weekly quota to be fulfilled”. Many other Indigenous artists in the country have already joined the initiative (i.e. Thelma Plum, Kobie Dee or Alice Skye) under the umbrella of First Sounds (First Nations Collective For Traditional & Contemporary Music). A petition created to support the push for change has already been signed by more than 2000 people. Jimblah has held initial talks with Triple J as well. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens next because it’s something that shouldn’t even be up for discussion.

REGIONAL STATIONS

Tasmania has Chill FM, NT – Hot 100. QLD (Queensland) boasts Rebel FM, WA – Red FM. You can tune into Barossa Valley’s (South Australia, SA) own radio station Triple B and in Melbourne (Victoria, VIC) to Triple R. Even Canberra (ACT – Australian Capital Territory) has its own broadcaster, ArtSound.

FBi radio (which stands for Free Broadcast Inc.) from NSW is also one of the regional stations. It is another independent youth-oriented radio. Besides the catchy name, it also gets my vote because it promotes local NSW bands. According to their website, Australian music constitutes 50% of all played tracks, and half of that is by Sydney bands. They’ve been around for quite a bit (since 1995). My suggestion for you is a segment called Sleepless in Sydney. Because it is exactly what it says: it will keep you company between 11pm and 1am on a weeknight, so that you don’t have to toss and turn restlessly in bed. Their airtime proves the statistics I quoted at the beginning: if Aussie music is played on the radio mostly late at night, you’re almost guaranteed to hear a decent amount of local sound in that time slot.

MELBOURNE

As usual, Melbourne and VIC are a totally different story. Just have a look at the number of radio stations broadcasting from Mount Dandenong (Melbourne’s suburb) here. There’s Surf FM, Koffee (of course), Ethnic Community Radio, Joy, Coles (it’s a supermarket) Radio, Kool ‘n’ Deadly, Niche Radio Network, Buddha Hits… Shall I go on?

It’s a coincidence that I’m writing this post in October and Triple M currently have their Oztober on. During the whole month the Melbourne-based broadcaster “will showcase the greatest hits from Aussie acts playing the songs that put Australia on the map”. Oztober will also feature interviews and stories shared by musicians and people from the industry. The month will finish with a massive Garage Sessions event that approximately 350,000 will attend. The station’s head of music claims that Triple M already “plays more Australian music than the others and that its main demo of 25 to 54 is supportive of domestic music”. That’s good to hear.

Another Victorian broadcaster doing things for and with the local people in mind is PBS (Progressive Broadcasting Service). The station’s mission “is to nurture, inspire and champion Melbourne’s diverse music community.” They do that organising heaps of cool initiatives for young artists and promoting music genres less played on the radio (i.e. soul). Queenscliff Festival, with all-Australian line-up, is one of the events they partner with annually.

GOTTA LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC

I know, you don’t really associate Oz with country music. But don’t forget that Keith Urban likes to call Australia home. And, thanks to streaming, this genre is on the rise, with Oz apparently being “the world’s fastest-growing country market”. No wonder there’s a radio station, Kix Country, dedicated specifically to Aussie cowboys and cowgirls. When I last checked (Tuesday night, 1 October), their Hot 10 ranking had 9 Aussie acts and Miranda Lambert (who was at the bottom of the list). I didn’t even know there were so many country bands Down Under.

But if country music is rapidly gaining popularity in Australia, then I’m struggling to understand why Kix Country is available in narrowcast reach (in limited towns) only. For instance, in Victoria you can only listen to it in Geelong and it’s not available in Sydney, either. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

VISITORS, WELCOME

Finally, if you’re a visitor Down Under or you don’t speak English at home, there’s a station just for you. SBS (Special Broadcasting Service), another national radio network, has programs in 74 (!) languages. They also have a sister platform dedicated entirely to music which mostly caters to Asian, Indian and Arab tastes. Check out their segment called PopAsia. Yes, you guessed it: it’s your one-stop-shop for all things K-pop, BTS or NCT127. SBS Chill, on the other hand, is your lounging destination with music from around the world.


So I guess the question is, since there are so many people with diverse ethnic backgrounds living Down Under, maybe there is no need to promote “Australian music” on the radio so much? Or maybe the problem lies in music education, upbringing at home or state funding? But that’s a topic for an entirely new post.

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