Digital Community Radio: Benefiting Ethnic Groups In Australia

Flick through community radio channels on the AM and FM dials in Australia and you will come across Chinese, Korean, Greek and Italian programs at some point.

With an increasing number of Australians coming from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, there is definitely a local audience for ethnic community radio programs. It makes sense to have more of these programs available to cater to this demographic’s listening pleasure. This is possible through community digital radio services that offer more stations, greater choices of ethnic programs.

Without sufficient funding, the digital future of community radio looks bleak. SYN 90.7FM studios circa 2008. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Without sufficient funding, the digital future of community radio looks bleak. SYN 90.7FM studios circa 2008. Photo: Mabel Kwong

However, a recent $1.4 million shortfall in Government funding for community radio digital services means that there might not be additional ethnic programs on-air anytime soon.

This is indeed a pity as there are a number of ways digital community radio can be utilised to meet the needs of ethnic groups in Australia. Firstly, there are a finite number of analog stations around the country, broadcasting a finite number ethnic programs in their packed schedules. Most ethnic programs are also merely an hour long – at most two – and tiredly repeated throughout the week.

As digital radio services offer more stations, herein lies the opportunity for more culturally programs to be featured and more diverse voices to be represented for extended periods in local media. Each racial group is complex; there are racial sub-groups and each speak different dialects. For example, alongside current Chinese programs broadcast over the analog airwaves, more unique ethnic language programs in Shanghainese, Cantonese and Hakka can be put forth on digital community radio to showcase greater aspects of Chinese culture – even if they are rotated on-air.

Bilingual radio programs are a rarity on existing community radio stations. The addition of half English, half ethnic language programs on digital community radio will be undeniably useful for the increasing number of Australians of ethnic descent who grew up here. Often, for many of them, their first language is English and they do not have a good grasp of their mother tongue, but are interested in learning or connecting with the latter language. More bilingual community programs on digital radio could emphatically assist them in picking up their mother tongue bit by bit.

More ethnic community radio programs on digital radio can prove advantageous to Australia’s ethnic youths, especially young Asian-Australians. A study on community radio audiences shows local Asian youths who listen to youth broadcaster SYN 90.7FM see community radio as a space where they are able to connect with their peers of different ethnicities, using what they hear on Asian community radio programs to strike up conversations and socialise with friends. With more stations created, digital community radio has the capacity to offer an even bigger portal for ethnic youths to connect with their diasporic communities, the capacity to be a catalyst for migrant youths to combat loneliness and isolation while integrating into Australia and getting along with other races here.

Even the older population of ethnic descent will most certainly benefit from digital radio. Many simple-minded older migrants constantly rely on the radio over more advanced technologies such as the Internet to access information about their local communities. No doubt more ethnic programs on digital community radio will work in their favour – they will have easy access to more news and information about their backyard.

Then there is not forgetting the fact that with adequate funding for digital community radio, there will be increased opportunities for those of ethnic background to have a say in local media and develop new skills. An Anglo-Saxon culture is known to reign supreme in Australian mainstream media. Community radio, digital community radio, is an independent outlet where ethnic groups are able to autonomously speak their voices in Australia and have a first hand fair go at creating media.

Digital radio has the potential to ultimately ensure cultural diversity is prominently, permanently embedded within the Australian media fabric.

The future of radio broadcasting in Australia is digital. The future of community radio is digital. Without sufficient funding for digital community radio services in Australia, ethnic communities here could potentially be missing out on feeling comfortably at home in Australia if and when analog radio switches off.

Australia is a migrant country, and digital community radio will inevitably be instrumental in fostering a multicultural, cohesive Australia.

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