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Eric Shackle Writes: Open Slather*

Eric Shackle visits Auckland, New Zealand, and is assailed by an unwelcomed cacophony of voices and music from dozens of radio stations.

For a welcomed abundance of interesting articles and astonishing facts visit Eric's world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle

On a recent visit to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city (population 1.3 million), I was astonished at the number of FM stations I could pick up on my pocket radio - many times the number I could hear in Sydney (population four million).

Every channel seemed occupied. If I moved the receiver or antenna to face another direction, I'd often pick up a different program. There was a bewildering medley of music ranging from hillbilly songs to classical compositions, religious hucksters, health cranks, lectures and talkback in dozens of foreign tongues.

It was bedlam, a Tower of Babel. And all I wanted was to find a news and current affairs program in English.

Turning to Google, I found a list of 33 Auckland FM stations, ranging from Static 81FM to Twisted Radio 107.7. Plus a heap of others broadcasting only on the internet.

When I returned to Sydney, I sent an email to New Zealand's radio guru, David Ricquish, asking him about this proliferation of programs. Here's his reply:

No other country allows such a 'free-for-all' as you so nicely put it. The government has no idea how many LPFMs (Low Power Frequency Modulation stations) have been on air, or are on air!

Where we live, I can hear LPFM's such as a 'cafe-jazz' station, a university station with modern dance/trance music, a high school with rap, a Top 40 station (but with no adverts!), a Hindi language station, and a left-wing political discussion station and one or two others depending on reception.

Most have a coverage zone of about 5-10km depending on topography, height of antenna and effectiveness of the gear.

It's not exactly lawless. The LPFM's operate in terms of the GURL (General User Radio Licence) but the restrictions are technical - half a watt, and only one repeater allowed on the same frequency within 20km of the original transmitter.

Content is non-restricted within the bounds of decency and defamation common law. Ownership is non-restricted. Some are programmed direct from internet feeds, most from automated software programs.

They don't have much of an audience except for the smart ones that also run a website and stream the station for a global audience.

The transmitters run about half a watt, although there are proposals to double this to one mighty watt. About 20 FM frequencies have been reserved nationwide for these LPFMs, but no-one has rights to any specific frequency anywhere.

This leads to problems in Auckland, Wellington etc, where there are more stations than frequencies. In Auckland, there can be 4 to 5 stations on the same channel, separated by 10km or so each across the metro area. On a half-hour drive, you can have 3 or 4 different stations come and go from your dial - without changing frequency.

Loose user groups have formed to establish "order" and anyone who comes on air over an existing station gets a tough time.

Everyone and his dog has had a station - churches, political parties, every possible music genre (country to jazz to rap to punk to classical to EZ listening and so on), relays of overseas stations (Voice of America in Farsi, Deutsche Welle, BBC etc), ethnic groups (Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc), schools, special events like motor races, political commentary...the list is pretty endless.

One fellow I know just plays "world" music, and he likes gypsy flamingo {flamenco} so there's a lot of that!

No censorship of course, just the usual common law requirements about decency, defamation etc...it's all quite unique for a country that nationalised broadcasting 70 years ago and now has 97% foreign ownership of radio stations.

I think it's because of the latter [foreign monopolies] that the government has encouraged the LPFM system as a safety valve.

Most people know nothing about them, which is one of the reasons we've set up the LPFM project to record them, and publicise them.

They're allowed to sell advertising like any commercial station, and some popular youth music LPFMs have big sponsorships.

The US set up is more controlled - only non-commercial operators, existing stations can't have them, and they have to comply with a raft of rules, and apply for a CP [Construction Permit] - whereas the Kiwi version is open slather by comparison.

Italy at one stage was pretty much wide open.

Australia allows non-commercial LPFMs such as those used by Vision FM (Radio Rhema) to expand in small communities, but they're registered with licence details held by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Here, there are simply no licences, you just broadcast!

In the past decade, New Zealand has allowed anyone to set up a low power FM radio station without applying for a license. These have mushroomed, and come and gone so fast that no-one has known just what happened! We've set up an LPFM Project to record and inform about this contemporary radio scene. The first stage has identified 375 separate stations and over 1500 separate frequencies used during this period.

- David Ricquish, Pacific Radio Heritage News.

* Open slather is a useful Australian phrase to describe a free-for-all situation, in which there are no limits or constraints on one's behaviour.

Auckland FM stations http://www.radios.co.nz/radio_research/Station_Pages/Auckland/auckland.htm
Radio Heritage Foundation http://www.radioheritage.net/
Wanted: Pacific radio memorabilia http://www.bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/pacific_radio.htm


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