30 Years of Giving Voice to Aucklanders
A lot has changed in the last 30 years. Auckland and radio are among the biggest changes. In 1987 the population is just nudging a million, the internet has just 10,000 hosts and it is another three years before Tim Berners-Lee creates the World Wide Web. Media continues in established modes of print, analogue radio and television. Auckland is established as Polynesia’s largest city and established communities of Dutch, Dalmatian, Indian and Chinese make up our largest non-Maori populations from other than Britain and Ireland.
Among those communities there is awareness that media does not reflect their life and experiences. Their children are losing the parent language, their old folk are feeling isolated from heritage culture. Members of the Auckland Ethnic Council conclude that they need radio so that they can be heard and give voice to their values, events, music and literature. They approach the Race Relations Office to assist them in gaining a radio licence. It’s 1987 and the licencing regime is such that the desired radio licences can’t be granted. The only option is “summer licences” devised for popular summer beach venues to run local radio for the swelling populations of holiday makers.
Access Community Radio Auckland is formed as an incorporated society on September 21st 1987 and sets about making broadcasts on 882 AM. The ‘studio’ is a collection of old and gifted gear with a small mixer, turntable, cassette player and a couple of reel-to-reel machines which has to be moved from the Outreach building (old police station on the corner of K.Rd and Ponsonby Rd) to the Pacific Island Resource Centre in Jervois Rd and to the Student Union building at the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT). The volunteer roster is patchy and the broadcasts cease when the frequency is taken over variously by Parliament and cricket broadcasts!
But the founding group’s determination outlasts the stock market crash of ’87 and the many regulatory changes under the revolutionary Labour government of 1984. In 1989 broadcasting legislation is rewritten, the licencing regime is changed and the requirement for broadcasts addressing minorities, special needs and interests is written into the Broadcasting Act 1989. The hard work and lobbying of the founding body is finally met with a fulltime licence on 810AM. It is a tiny signal of just 1kw but a modest radio station, based on community-access principles of by, for and about its users is established.
The initiative of the founders proves prescient. In the 1990’s immigration in Auckland grows rapidly and soon there is a need for broadcast services in many languages. Access Community Radio on 810AM is eventually broadcasting in 52 languages as new settlers use radio as a community-building tool – alerting their audiences to the great array of experiences and knowledge that help them settle here. And then there is the sense of belonging – hearing old favourite music, poetry and stories in their language and getting local perspectives in their mother-tongue. At the time the station is the only non-English broadcaster for the Auckland region. Soon new licencing opens the door to Iwi and Pacific broadcasting bodies with commercial providers emerging for Hindi and Chinese communities.
The absence of an editorial policy set Planet FM apart from the start-ups ensuring that the community voice is still able to be heard without mediation. And the generation of content by volunteers keeps costs controlled so that the station each year earns a funding subsidy through NZ On Air ensuring that the diversity requirements of the Broadcasting Act are met.
With the sale of the transmitter site, the year 2000 sees access to the AM frequency suddenly disappear and under time pressure the station wins an FM frequency 104.6 FM. In 2006 our tenancy at AUT is concluded and community-access radio in Auckland has to find new premises, again under time stress. Then there it is. An elegant bungalow on the grounds of Unitec with good transport access, just outside the CBD. Unitec supports the development of a station with four studios and with the generosity of Foundation North, Planet FM creates a community hub with meeting and gathering spaces in a perfect setting. By 2008 a website is established that makes every programme a podcast within five minutes of broadcast. With the ever expanding options offered by digital technologies the site develops to ensure that Planet FM meets the brief of accessibility - not only allowing people to make their own programmes but also ensuring that listeners can access those shows in as many ways as possible.
Over the 30 years of development, the services Planet FM offers are taken up by thousands of broadcasters and hundreds of thousands of listeners. Today that diversity of voices continues to reflect local life and make global connections.
View early days images in the Community Gallery