Friday, May 16, 2008

Community radio hails $2.4m boost, by Sally Jackson - The Australian - 15th May 2008

The domestic music industry has been given a fillip in the federal budget with the allocation of another $2.4 million to community radio initiative the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project.

The funding, one of the few new announcements concerning the media in Tuesday's budget, honoured an election commitment to give the initiative a second cash infusion.

Musicians and record labels use AMRAP's mailout service to send CDs to community stations.

According to its website, since 2001 the service has distributed more than 80,000 CDs to the community sector, providing exposure and airplay for thousands of local artists.

"AMRAP has been one of the most successful projects we have run in the community broadcasting sector," said Deborah Welch, president of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. "We're really looking forward to developing that project ... particularly our ability to provide access to Australian artists who don't get much of a run on mainstream radio."

The money, to be paid in equal instalments over four years from next financial year, would be used to upgrade AMRAP's delivery system, said CBAA network services manager Peter Tozer.

Consulting firm Portable Content had been appointed to examine electronic distribution models. "We have kept the project alive although the initial funding support for it has long since run out," Mr Tozer said.

"We're very happy and comforted to have this refunding of the project locked in through the budget."

AMRAP was an important tool for local musicians to connect with national audiences, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said.

"Through this initiative, contemporary Australian music will be broadcast by the community broadcasting sector to more than four million listeners who listen each week," he said.

"AMRAP has also been extremely successful promoting music from rural, regional and remote communities, particularly indigenous music. It enables a diverse range of music to be distributed across the country."

The budget also included previously announced commitments of $125.8 million to create a safer online environment for children and more money for the Australian Broadband Guarantee program, bringing its total funding up to $270.7 million over four years, and confirmed funding to underwrite the transition of the community radio sector from analog to digital broadcasting in the new year.

However, Opposition communications spokesman Bruce Billson criticised the Government for providing no funding to help community television make the switch. The budget should have included "a support package for community television stations, including a clear plan for their conversion from analog to digital and increased funding support to ensure their survival in the interim", he said.

Community TV representatives have said they fear the sector will suffer a potentially catastrophic loss of audience if it remains marooned on the analog signal while viewers migrate todigital.

Mr Billson also called for $82million for the ABC to establish a children's digital channel and money to address digital TV black spots, including infrastructure upgrades to ensure communities were not disadvantaged by the switch to digital.

Broadcasting sector sources also noted the absence of any mention of the proposed auction of licences for new digital narrowcast channel A and mobile channel B.

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