Jon Bisset

We're Listening

Helen Henry, 24th February 2016

The CBAA could not do the work it does to build stations’ capability and create a healthy community broadcasting environment without one essential ingredient - listening to the needs of Australian community radio stations.

We do this in many ways, and with a focus on collecting evidence to inform our policy and advocacy work. Critical to this approach is our ability to consult effectively when developing ideas, in decision making and when communicating results.

On the largest scale, this includes our annual membership survey (I look forward to sharing results with you soon) and the Station Census, which gives us data on programming, technology and infrastructure, and management and administration (currently under way).

The CBAA is also present at events across the sector and our staff members are there to chat with and assist stations in any way they can. Last year, you might have spotted us at the regional NSW conference at Nambucca, the IRCA Festival or the SCMA, NEMBC or SACBA conferences. Keep an eye out for us at sector conferences this year as well.

Our own conference, which is the largest gathering of Australian community broadcasters each year, is another great opportunity to meet so many of the people we’re working with and for all year round. Our forum and world cafe style sessions are a great chance for stations to share and hear stories from across the sector.

When we’re looking at some issues within the sector, we also form smaller working groups of members and sector leaders. This includes independent interviews and focus groups with a specific purpose, such as reviewing the sector’s research program, or the needs of a particular subset of stations. It also includes the Community Broadcasting Sector Roundtable, through which we get input from other sector organisations.

Finally, one of our great pleasures is getting out to stations around the country. In 2015, we were able to visit over 20 stations and we’re always looking at how we can do this more. At the moment, ahead of the Federal Budget in May, we’re visiting each of the 37 digital radio services around Australia.

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Small stations, especially those in regional, rural and remote areas, know intimately the challenges of running a community station — both financially and in terms of engaging their audience. However when new trials arise, these stations also exercise great flexibility and find highly inventive ways in which to move forward.


Griffith University researchers in 2002 presented the final results of a national survey of community radio stations. The final report ‘Culture Commitment Community – The Australian Community Radio Sector’ contained a wealth of information on the sector and covered many ‘station–based’ perspectives on issues such as localism, funding and sponsorship, Indigenous and ethnic programming and training. A key criticism of this report was the lack of data on community radio audiences. Two years later, an expanded research team received funding from the Australian Research Council along with financial and in-kind support from Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF) and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) to investigate community radio and television audiences. This project is the first comprehensive qualitative audience study of the community media sector in Australia and responds to a need within the sector, from policy bodies and the broader Australian community, to better understand community broadcasters and their diverse audiences. Internationally, this project, in both scale and approach, is unprecedented. Thus, it heralds an exciting and pioneering stage in community broadcasting research. This paper outlines the aims and objectives of the project and our methodology for accessing Australian community media audiences. A qualitative engagement with the diversity of audiences characteristic of the community media sector has demanded new ways of doing audience research. This paper discusses some of the methodological hurdles we have crossed in our attempts to negotiate the research terrain and we raise some of the questions associated with the qualitative method and assert its validity and portability as a tool for better understanding and knowing the nature and composition of community media audiences in Australia.