Speaker by Various Artists

Kiwi FM and all that

by Karyn Hay

In response to the recent publicity regarding KiwiFM and the temporary use of three frequencies in the upper FM band, in what is termed the 'reserved block'.

National Radio and the Pacific Radio Network: Niu FM, both of which are government funded networks, have long-term licenses in the upper FM band, as do Planet FM (Auckland Access) and Coast Access (Kapiti). No one would argue the validity as to whether the Access stations should be allowed to remain there while they serve the public good and fulfil their obligations under the government's aims of difference and diversity on radio, and their obligation to support those outside the mainstream.

With the exception of Radio New Zealand, all radio stations that operate as non-commercial radio licensees can supplement their income from the sale of advertising, including all the Access and community stations and Niu FM. If this weren't the case the taxpayer would be paying the entire bill.

KiwiFM is currently broadcasting in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch on three CanWest owned and operated frequencies. That means they can do what they like with them, including looping the sound of waves lapping on the Maldives if they choose to (they don't.)

KiwiFM was not the dismal failure that many are using as a convenient argument for pushing their own overflowing barrows. In the recent radio survey it had 43,000 listeners - on a par with student radio, GeorgeFM and Niu FM. Listenership also went up in the latest ratings round. It was, however, losing a small amount of money in its first year.

As I was unhappy to see Kiwi go, I approached CanWest CEO, Brent Impey, and we subsequently presented government with a proposal to move onto three frequencies in the reserved block, at no cost to the taxpayer.

In order to fulfil the criteria to broadcast on these frequencies (and I have to add here that it was Brent Impey - 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' in one particular quarter - who gave me the opportunity and the platform to find a solution) we agreed that we would work towards becoming a not-for-profit organisation and extend the Kiwi format to be more inclusive of a wider range of artists, including more specialist programming, and in doing so would provide a vibrant and diverse outlet for a burgeoning New Zealand music industry.

We applied for New Zealand On Air funding to make these specialist shows just as any radio station in the country has the right to.

At the end of one year, Kiwi has to have met its obligations under the government agreement to broaden its playlist and to embrace a wider range of New Zealand music.

CanWest cannot purchase the frequencies they are moving onto. They are not for sale.

The New Zealand Herald has been instrumental in misleading the public over this.

There is no 'tendering process which would have realised between $10 million and $20 million' (NZ Herald Editorial May 9th: 'Sour notes in sound of local music').

This agreement will not 'effectively provide millions of dollars worth of support to a commercial operator in an uncontestable process.' (The New Zealand Herald May 6th quoting John McElhinney CEO of The Radio Network, CanWest's chief radio competitor who own 1ZB, Hauraki, Flava et al, and in turn are owned by the same company that owns?the New Zealand Herald).

It is also propaganda to quote George FM's Jef Kay (New Zealand Herald May 4th) as saying the frequencies 'had a combined market value of more than $10 million and should have been put out for tender', without reporting the fact that the frequencies are not for sale.

Susan Wood on Close-Up (TVNZ May 5th) accused the government of providing CanWest with 'millions of dollars worth of support' and Close-Up reporter John Sellwood literally shouted the same thing at me earlier in the day when he did his interview for the lead-in piece, and although I corrected him at the time, he chose not to include this in the story itself.

Regarding Neil Finn and his quest for a Youth Radio Network: 'Youth' may very well benefit from a radio network such as this, and, yes, commercial radio operators did vigorously oppose it. (It was not supported by the holier-than-thou 'student' stations either, who seem to have a permanent car park in the moral high ground when it comes to promoting themselves as anti-commercial when quite patently they're not: their spin is just very clever.) Ultimately, none of these commercial operators have the power to reject the concept of a Youth Radio Network.

Perhaps the Youth Radio Network would have cost the taxpayer too much money, perhaps the concept was flawed: I have no idea. However, I don?t see why we should all get our skipping ropes out just because Neil Finn says 'jump'.

The KiwiFM agreement with government is not some skilful manipulation of the system as has been suggested (I personally briefed Neil Finn on the proposal months ago), nor is it some handout from government to the 'evil multi-national' CanWest. Frankly I resent the implication that I would be supporting that.

What I am supporting is New Zealand music and New Zealand musicians, as we all do at KiwiFM (back on new frequencies, 102.2 Auckland, 102.1 Wellington, and 102.5 Christchurch from July).

Karyn Hay,
General Manager,