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Why National Radio must go FM - Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey
4 February 2004 Speech Notes

Why National Radio must go FM

Comments at the launch of 101FM for National Radio Christchurch. Mayor’s Reception Lounge, Christchurch City Council Chambers.

Introduction

Thank you very much for asking me here today. I am very pleased that Radio New Zealand is launching the first major promotion of its FM frequencies here in Christchurch. I know that your mayor, Garry Moore, is vocal in his passion for the public service broadcaster.

I also understand the latest survey information shows that Christchurch listeners share his enthusiasm. This demonstrates that despite the huge growth in competing radio stations over the last fifteen years National Radio is much loved and valued by many thousands of New Zealanders.

A vital New Zealand voice

For decades now the network has explored the social and cultural life of our country. Just last week, on hearing the news of Janet Frame's death, other media turned to National Radio for recorded quotes from New Zealand's most important contemporary writer.

These quotes were not fifteen second sound bites but deeply moving thoughts elicited during long thoughtful interviews with Elizabeth Alley. That is the beauty of long-form radio.

The broadcaster is equally skilled at promoting the latest New Zealand music and tracking its roots. This weekend, in the Musical Chairs series, DJ Rhys B talks about a hip-hop career stretching from the early-80s to the present time and his influence on those who have followed in his footsteps.

One of those followers is hugely talented and successful young DJ, P-Money, who collaborated with Scribe. The people who listen to Rhys B and P-Money don't listen to AM. They don't know it exists.

Going FM

The transition to 101 FM is an exciting gearshift for National Radio. It signals the potential for programmes like this to reach a new audience. National Radio's challenge is to attract and hold new listeners as they browse the FM band.

The $3.4 million this government is spending on establishing the nationwide FM service reflects our appreciation of what Radio New Zealand represents. In addition, increased funding of $2.646 million a year for core operations, announced in last year's budget, is enabling the broadcaster to better deliver its services and programmes.

Our commitment to ensuring a future for public radio is a far cry from the drought-ridden years of the 1990s when the National government turned its back on Radio New Zealand, stripping it to a husk.

Our policies recognize that broadcasting plays a vital role in expressing the cultural richness of the nation. In carrying out this remit public service broadcasting provides a range of programming choice beyond what strictly commercial considerations produce.

National Radio is an independent entity with a mandate to operate in the broad interests of all New Zealanders. 90 percent of its content is by and for New Zealanders. It can be heard in nearly every New Zealand home, reaching about 96 percent of the population.

Through its Charter Radio New Zealand is geared towards serving special needs and yet, ultimately, providing something for almost everyone.

The news, stories music and programmes it broadcasts connect New Zealanders with each other. For many in remote areas it is a stimulating life-line, offering food for the brain.

That life-line is technically enhanced by the move to FM transmission. Around 93 percent of the population will be able to receive the service by 2006. The AM service will be retained, simulcasting for those listeners unable to tune into the FM band.

Future challenges

The move to a superior transmission service signals a great leap forward for Radio New Zealand. It demonstrates this government's expectation that the broadcaster will remain relevant.

All radio competitors in New Zealand broadcast on FM and all major international public service broadcasters have FM transmission technology. Current AM broadcast is undoubtedly an inferior service. The move will ensure that RNZ can compete successfully in the national and international marketplace.

New Zealand has the most deregulated radio industry in the world with the greatest number of stations per capita. However, National Radio with its freedom to be creative and innovative is distinctive. That point of difference can be turned to competitive advantage.

Concluding remarks

It is unrealistic to expect a huge growth of dedicated young listeners for whom National Radio is the only chosen option. That is not how we use radio these days.

Most of us channel surf, staying with whatever catches our attention. Many of us make appointments with our radio stations at certain times of the day to listen to a particular programme.

I believe that a new range of FM listeners will add National Radio to their current diet of radio stations; that they will dip in for a particular feature, New Zealand music show, or in-depth examination of a complex issue.

I congratulate the technical staff at Radio New Zealand for rolling out the first stage of the FM service so rapidly.

I am confident that as the organisation moves into a new era it will grasp the opportunity to offer compelling, lively, informative radio. Public service radio is as essential today's New Zealanders as it's ever been.

ENDS

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