Tuesday 15 December 2015

From Radio Dunedin to Radio Gaga

It seems hard to credit, given the current situation with radio in New Zealand, but once this country led the world in broadcasting innovation. In 1922 4XD (albeit under an earlier call sign) became our first radio station, the oldest in what was then called the British Commonwealth and the fifth oldest in the world (beating out the BBC by more than a month). In later years it was to become the sole privately owned station in the country, maintaining its independence through the tumultuous years of pirate station Radio Hauraki.

Some time ago the station, now an impressive 93 years old, was effectively hobbled by the US vulture fund-owned MediaWorks conglomerate, losing its main frequency to another MediaWorks franchise. More recently it seems to have regained some mojo, continuing to broadcast in Dunedin on AM and a low power FM frequency and enjoying a lot of home town support.

Arguably radio in New Zealand has been going downhill for the last several decades. Today local radio has been almost totally subsumed by demographically determined formulaic networks owned by MediaWorks and NZME. It gets worse: New Zealand was not only incredibly slow to introduce FM frequencies, years behind Australia, but digital radio of the calibre now available in Australia (DAB+) is still limited to what are euphemistically called "pilot transmissions" unavailable to most listeners. Moreover the current government continues to starve the public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand, of funding. That's without even mentioning the parlous state of television.

Of course, people with a bit of nous (and a reasonably healthy discretionary income definitely helps) can take advantage of new technologies to gain access to a broad range of quality broadcasters via the internet. But hearing Australian, British and Irish programming, for example, while refreshing, is hardly a substitute for quality local content. Australians justifiably complain about deep cuts to the ABC, but are still much better served than those of us on the other side of the ditch.

Meanwhile RNZ National struggles on doggedly, despite having its hands tied behind its back, while more and more Kiwis are driven to the advertising-soaked tosser network ghettos, "newstalk" formats with their gratuitously overpaid shock jocks and narcissistic harangues.

Yeah, I know, Grumpy Old Man stuff. But, alas, not far off the mark.

Meantime I'll be spending some time on Radio Dunedin's stream... while it's still there.

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