Community radio: A lifeline for local bonds and resilience

Posted February 16, 2024

SGS Economics and Planning Community Radio2

The impact of community radio goes beyond financial considerations; it is a vibrant force that nurtures community connections, preserves culture, provides a platform for local artists and champions marginalised voices.

Research by SGS Economics and Planning shows that community radio services provide valuable benefits to communities nationwide. Community radio is so valuable, in fact, that our calculations suggest that for every additional dollar invested, community radio produces up to $2.20 of value in community benefits.

Despite its remarkable growth from 3.7 million listeners in 2004 to nearly 5 million in 2022, the community radio sector grapples with challenges tied to escalating operating costs. The rise in transmission expenses, equipment, and wages, coupled with stagnant funding since 2017, has hindered program effectiveness and limited station growth.

However, it remains a cost-efficient, impactful sector. Substantial, long-term and secure funding is crucial to fortify station resilience, encourage innovation, and amplify the sector's community impact.

What defines community broadcasting?

Community broadcasting is not-for-profit and community-owned and operated. Australia has an extensive network of over 500 AM/FM/DAB+ radio services in 110 languages and two dedicated television services, playing a crucial role in enhancing and fortifying Australia's social and cultural tapestry.

What are the benefits of community radio stations?

The benefits of community radio stations are far-reaching and diverse. Community broadcasting benefits are economic, social and cultural. Their services create employment for journalists and producers, plus a wide range of operational roles.

Community involvement has wellbeing benefits too. There are currently 17,800 volunteers at Australian community radio stations. Survey results show that most volunteers felt their experiences at community radios allowed them to make new friends, strengthen their connection to their community and share their love for music, arts and culture.[1]

Radio services provide essential educational programs and locally targeted information in times of need. Educational programs cover locally focused topics from workers' rights to public health to climate change, often filling a gap left by mainstream stations.

This is particularly the case when it comes to communicating natural risks and disasters. Being local and community-operated, community radio is often the only local source of communication for emergency broadcasting.

Case Study: Braidwood FM

Braidwood is a small town of about 1,600 people, 60km from Canberra. When a rapidly charging fire threatened the town in 2019, local community radio station Braidwood FM provided 14 days of continuous emergency coverage.

The studio was full of printouts of maps and station volunteers used their knowledge of the local area to keep the community up to date on the fire’s movements. They broadcast hourly updates from the Rural Fire Service (RFS). Listeners called in to share warnings, becoming active eyes for the RFS. For some, the station was the only source of information and portable battery-powered radios sold out in town.

There were people that had the radio on 24 hours a day every day just to hear what was happening. There was no on the ground local coverage from the ABC here. It’s not like people here could turn on the ABC and know what was happening at Jinglemoney Lane.

— Gordon Waters, Braidwood FM Source: From The Embers, 2020

Community radio encourages diversity

Nearly five million people nationwide turn to community radio daily for local information. A third of listeners come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, while another third of stations are dedicated to First Nations media.

The top reason listeners tune into community radio is to hear local information and news. Community radio showcases local content and alternative voices that are otherwise not provided by commercial radio, catering to the needs and interests of local communities, particularly in underserved regional and remote areas.

For new migrants and refugees, community radio is one of the most accessible ways to access government and service information. Service providers are encouraged to contact their local community radio stations to reach the community because broadcasters are often bilingual and translate important information.

Community radio stations provide support and connection to many migrant communities in Australia. Stations help these communities deal with language barriers and adapt to a new culture by offering language learning programs, information about Australia's healthcare system, working rights, and taxes.

Community radio plays a critical role in cultural expression for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. New migrants and refugees have reported that early access to community radio in their own language assists with the settlement process and provides a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Community radio proves to be a more responsive and efficient media outlet for First Nations People than government or commercial broadcasters. With over 30 per cent of community broadcasters being First Nations media organisations, these stations preserve and promote First Nations languages, music, stories and culture. Catering to approximately 320,000 First Nations people, including around 100,000 in remote Indigenous communities, these community radio stations reach audiences that may not be accessible through other media outlets.

Case Study: 3ZZZ

A group of Karen volunteers launched a Karen language program on 3ZZZ Community Radio in Melbourne. The coordinators saw the radio program as an important tool for developing a new and emerging community.

Our aim is to help Karen youth remember who they are and to be able to understand and speak their own language even if they were born and grew up in a foreign country… it is also to encourage our Karen elderly who do not speak English and live far from traditional Karen society.

— Coordinator of Karen Language Program on 3ZZZ Community Radio (Melbourne)

The value of community radio

We conducted a cost-benefit analysis to quantify the benefits of community radio. We found that investing in the community radio sector yields a benefit-cost ratio ranging from 1.3 to 2.2. This suggests that the sector generates between $1.30 and $2.20 in community benefits for every additional dollar invested.

Given that the sector is dealing with rising costs, our calculations show that investment in community broadcasting would not only be an efficient use of funding, but it would yield significant cultural, social and economic benefits for communities across the nation.

Our research was commissioned by The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA). The CBAA drives this vibrant community radio network, representing 90 per cent of all community radio licensees. The CBAA is an independent, not-for-profit organisation actively encouraging community access and participation across all broadcasting operations. Fueled by the dedication of 17,800 volunteers and 1,000 employees, the sector generated a quarter of a billion dollars in value through sponsorships, subscriptions, and grants in 2023.

Local government’s role

Local government plays a crucial role in fostering social cohesion, being the closest level of government to the community’s needs. Local government can use community radio to contribute to community resilience, cultural richness and social inclusion. To enhance collaboration, local government can actively engage in community radio programs, providing a direct channel for representatives to connect with residents. Additionally, community radio is an effective platform for disseminating essential government service information. By incorporating the role of community radio in official communications and promoting it actively, local government can strengthen its ties with residents, working collaboratively towards building stronger, more cohesive communities.

If local governments are interested in contacting or sponsoring their local stations, they can reach out to for assistance.

[1] Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (2023). Community Radio Shape of the Sector

Interested in this topic?

This article is related to a project for the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Click below to read more.

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