The rocker Nick Cave calls it "crucial to the cultural fabric of the city" and the pop star Ben Lee calls it "a true alternative", but the Sydney community radio station FBi 94.5FM is fighting off another label: recession casualty.
The youth music station lost more than half its revenue in February, largely due to corporate sponsors pulling out. Hundreds of members, from FBi's core listeners, twenty-somethings, have also withdrawn their financial support.
"All our revenue streams are being affected," said FBi's general manager, Evan Kaldor. "Our members are being personally affected by the global financial crisis. They're either losing their jobs or pulling back on their discretionary spending."
While the station managers say they are not considering closure just yet, a failure to raise funds urgently will result in significant cutbacks.
FBi began broadcasting in 2003 after a competitive campaign for FM licences. It has a mandate to play local music: 50 per cent must be Australian, with half of that coming from Sydney.
Rather than relying on traditional supporter drives to get through the downturn, the station is using a cheeky alternative: asking listeners to lobby the Virgin CEO, Richard Branson, to write a cheque to the station for $1 million.
The "Ask Richard" campaign website, which was launched yesterday, asks listeners to perform stunts or create videos or songs to get Branson's attention.
"We thought [Branson] was someone who would respond to the audacious nature of the campaign. He's someone who's quite playful with the media," said the station's director, Megan Loader.
The Herald understands some volunteers are concerned the campaign will associate the station with the Virgin brand and that it is not in keeping with the ethos of community radio.
Since it began test broadcasts in 1994, the station has helped launch the careers of bands such as Wolfmother and The Vines, and DJs including Triple J presenters Marc Fennell and Linda Marigliano.
According to audience surveys in March, FBi has about 219,000 weekly listeners but fewer than 2 per cent of them donate to the station. (Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)
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