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Community radio

What is community radio?

A photo of a studio at Radio Adelaide

A studio at Radio Adelaide. Image courtesy of Radio Adelaide.

The word 'community' can mean many different things. In terms of community radio, 'community' means people who listen to the same kind of music, who live in the same area, who have the same cultural background or who have the same educational needs.

Community radio offers the listening public access to a more diverse range of music, information, news and views than would otherwise be available from commercial or government-based stations. It also provides communities with locally-produced content that is immediately relevant to their daily lives. It allows individuals and community groups to participate in producing their own programs and to maintain their local culture. It also fulfils an important role in providing basic media training for over 7,000 Australians annually. Community radio encourages participation in all aspects of running a radio station from scheduling and producing programs to administration and fundraising.

Community radio stations

Peter Barr

Peter Barr, presenter on RTRFM. Image courtesy of RTRFM.

Community radio stations are non-profit, which means that any money they make from the service they provide goes back into the station. Community radio stations receive government funding through the Community Broadcasting Foundation, which was established in 1984 as an independent, non-profit funding body for community broadcasting in Australia.

Community radio stations are limited in how they can use advertising or sponsorship to raise funds and all stations must follow a standard Code of Practice. The Code guides all Australian community stations in their operations and helps them maintain a community focus.

Many community stations rely on subscribers to help raise money to pay for their day-to-day expenses. A subscriber is a person or an organisation that donates money toward the station's running costs.

The people who work in community radio stations are mostly volunteers. This means that they don't get paid for what they do. They work in radio for other reasons: because they believe that the information that they present is important; because they want to develop the skills associated with radio production; or just because working in radio is fun.

Peak bodies

Different types of community broadcasters are represented by different national peak bodies. The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) represents general community radio and television broadcasters, the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters' Council (NEMBC) represents ethnic community broadcasters, the Australian Indigenous Communications Association (AICA) represents Indigenous community broadcasters, and RPH Australia represents Radio for the Print Handicapped (RPH) broadcasters.

The history of community radio

4ZZZ crew

4ZZZ crew (Jim Beatson pictured front row left). Image courtesy of CBOnline.

Radio has been in Australia since the 1920s, but until the 1970s all radio stations were either commercial organisations or run by the Government.

In the 1960s, Australia's social, political and cultural landscape began to change and people wanted the Australian media, in turn, to reflect these changes. Many specialist groups, including ethnic and Indigenous communities, political activists, students, academics and classical music consumers, began to lobby for their own radio broadcasting licences. This community radio movement was an important force in the birth of community radio and remains a vibrant force in the Australian media today.

Community broadcasting licenses

In the 1970s, the Australian Government made a number of community broadcasting licences available, establishing what it called the 'third tier' of radio. This meant that now there was a third kind of radio station operating in Australia as well as the existing commercial and government-funded stations.

view of 3CR community radio Melbourne building

3CR in Armadale. Image courtesy of CBOnline.

5UV, or Radio Adelaide as it is now known, was Australia's first community station. It was established in 1972 and continues to broadcast today.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) was established in 1992 to deal with issues associated with radio and television. The ABA was responsible for issuing broadcasting licences until 1 July 2005, when the ABA and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) merged to become the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

ACMA regulates the way Australian radio stations behave and decides who qualifies for the various kinds of broadcasting licences. For a radio station to qualify for a community licence it must address a perceived need within the community and it also must be a strictly non-profit organisation. Community radio licences are made available in different areas of Australia, depending on the needs of those areas as determined by ACMA.

The purpose of community radio

Community radio stations provide a voice for communities to address issues relevant to their local areas and their lives. The stations also provide training opportunities so that people can learn what is involved in all aspects of radio production.

Most community radio stations define themselves as 'generalist', which means that they play a wide range of music and information programs. Some community radio stations, however, are more specialised. They target specific audiences or feature specialised content. Stations like 2000FM in New South Wales present programs in languages other than English.

Indigenous radio

Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) Radio logo

CAAMA Radio logo. Image courtesy of the CAAMA Radio.

Indigenous stations such as CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) Radio in central Australia aim to promote Aboriginal culture and to educate the wider community.

The Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS) was introduced in 1987 to give Indigenous people access to, and control of, their own media at a community level. The scheme gave communities basic production and broadcasting equipment. The program finished in 1991, and the BRACS services are now known as RIBS (Remote Indigenous Broadcast Service).

Renaldo Portillo

2XX Community Radio Station, Canberra. Renaldo Portillo from El Salvador presenting the Latin American program. Image courtesy of National Library of Australia: an12942889-71.

Music stations

There are also community stations that specialise in one type of music. 4MBS in Queensland specialises in classical and jazz music, and Fresh FM in South Australia specialises in electronic music.

Other specialist stations

Some stations specialise in other areas. Melbourne's JOY FM, for example, is a gay and lesbian station, and RPH Australia (Radio for the Print Handicapped) provides newspaper and magazine reading services for blind people and people with reading difficulties through its network of radio stations throughout Australia.


The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project (AMRAP) is a community radio initiative that began in 2000. The project links Australian contemporary music with community radio to get Australian music national airplay.

AMRAP mails out compact disks (CDs) every month to 200 community stations. Since 2000, the CD mail out service has sent out 2400 titles every conceivable music genre: bush music, country, jazz, folk, electronic and world music. AMRAP has also commissioned live recordings of jazz, rock, pop, country and classical.

The AMRAP website allows users to browse programs, music and broadcasts by music genre. Community radio stations now have access to AirIT, AMRAP's online catalogue of Australian music digital download is free for stations and broadcasters, although tracks are not intended for sharing on the Internet.

Digital radio platforms

Audiences can now access radio content through methods other than traditional analogue signals. Digital broadcasting is being rolled out to supplement the existing analogue signals. Opportunities now exist for radio to be streamed online, which in turn provides the scope to offer additional features and extra information through the online environment.

Useful links

Community radio station links

Last updated: 16th February 2010