From ComRadSat to the Community Radio Network - The CRN Turns 30

Joshua Cole, 29th March 2023

From ComRadSat to the Community Radio Network - The CRN Turns 30

Reel to reel beginnings 

In 1993 Paul Keating won the ‘unwinnable election', Sydney won the bid to host the 2000 Olympic games, and community radio won the space race. 

Before March 1993, if a community radio station wanted to share content, it would need to do so on tape. One of the walls in the CBAA office was covered with devices designed to copy programs from reel-to-reel tapes to cassettes for distribution, by mail, among subscribers. For over a decade this had been the reigning way to share programs. 

The work of receiving, copying, and distributing tapes to community radio stations was impressive for its time and ensured that quality programming could reach far beyond the station that originally put it to air.  

However, this system also had its downsides; audio quality was often poor, cassettes could be lost or damaged, and in the time it took them to arrive the content of a program could become outdated. This made it particularly hard to share news and current affairs programming, as the difference of a few days could effectively kill a scoop. 

The only regular, live national networking of content taking place at that time was on a project called Open Mind, a collaboration between larger education-based stations such as 2SER, 2NUR, 5UV and 6RTR. These innovative, live broadcasts were made using expensive and limited landline connections, making it a difficult format to reproduce across Australia. 

Community radio via satellite 

It was clear that a new method of transmitting programs was needed, and so it was that the CBAA negotiated an arrangement with organisations including the BBC, Optus and 2EA – SBS' multilingual radio service. 

This agreement ensured carriage for community radio programming on Optus’ B1 satellite, meaning that rather than tapes or expensive landlines community radio stations could receive content quickly and affordably via satellite transmission. 

In the first year of operation alone ComRadSat, short for Community Radio Satellite, services were rolled out to over 80 stations, a number which has since grown to over 150. 

This was an essential step in strengthening Australia's already robust community broadcasting sector, ensuring that stations throughout the country could more easily distribute and receive content, and fill broadcast slots that were previously left empty. 

It also meant that programs from sectors of the community that were not as well represented could reach areas that otherwise might not be able to produce that programming. Examples include Voices from the South, a current affairs show focusing on issues affecting those living in the global south, and Out and Out, 2SER's LGBTQIA+ program, which were part of the initial lineup of programs airing via satellite.  

As the CBAA's Operations Manager at the time, Stafford Sanders, put it in an interview with Green Left in 1993, "People listen to community radio because we are different to all the other stations, not because we are the same", he says. "That's what we have to remember and that's what we have to continue to provide." 

More impressive still, some programs are still on air from before or since the launch of the Community Radio Network. Examples include The Wire, which at the time was called Undercurrents, and Women on the Line, a feminist current affairs program that has aired since 1986. 

Room to grow 

While the name of the service would eventually change from ComRadSat to the Community Radio Network, the goal of distributing a variety of radio programs spanning music, news, current affairs, and specialist programming has continued. 

In fact, without the infrastructure of the Community Radio Network in place, it would not have been possible to launch National Radio News, Australian community radio's dedicated news service. Launched in March of 1997 it has provided regular bulletins available to subscribers from an array of journalists from Charles Sturt University and has since grown to include a dedicated Canberra correspondent. 

What lies ahead for the Community Radio Network? An exciting revamp of the Digital Delivery Network (DDN) which, in an echo to the pioneering days of Open Mind, uses network infrastructure to transmit data in a variety of ways that augment existing satellite services. 

The newest iteration of the DDN will allow for new audio streams (both full-time and for ‘pop-up’ specials), a library of additional audio including specials, series and community service announcements without schedule constraints, and feeds between stations. These features will enable the development of services to meet sub-sector or region-specific content exchange needs. 

While it will not replace our comrade in space, the project is already in its testing phase, and it is sure to play a major part in the telling of the next 30 years of the Community Radio Network's history. 

The development and ongoing rollout of Community Radio Network services would not be possible without the support of the Federal Government via grants from the Community Broadcasting Foundation. 

Facebook comments



This paper examines the changing contribution of local radio to the democratic process in Australia. It takes the whole local area approach suggested by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, to examine all the services available in three regional areas to assess their potential in facilitating public sphere discussion, disputation and deliberation, and (since the common assumption is that deregulation severely curtailed these processes) it does this in a historical frame, comparing the changes in services from 1976 to 2001. Because of its strengths in the analysis of relationships between the state (public) and private sectors, Habermas’s public sphere theory is used to frame this discussion. Recent theoretical extensions have also seen the welcome elaboration of issues of power (Fraser, 1992, 2000) and the inclusion of a new and subtle range of cultural issues (Peters, 1993; McGuigan, 1997, 2004; Keane, 1998) inside its developing literature.


Community radio in Australia, and community media in general, has received increased attention from academics in recent years. Forde et al (2002) highlight the need for further study into news and current affairs programming in the community broadcasting sector, saying that they are keen to discover more about its format and content, especially in terms of the attitudes and practices of information-based program producers. This paper attempts to clarify some of these issues by outlining the results of a case study of information-based programming at Brisbane community radio 4ZzZ and adopting a modified citizen’s media framework.


How often do we contemplate the rich personal lives behind some of the most popular voices and songwriters across the last 50 years of music? Launched in 2006 on Geelong’s The Pulse, Behind The Music is a new addition to the Community Radio Network that chronicles the people and personalities behind some of our favourite acts traversing rock, blues, pop, theatre, contemporary classical, and much more.