Starting a community radio station

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So you want to start a community radio station?

We often get calls from people who would like to start their own station but aren't sure where to begin.

First, we suggest becoming familiar with the legislation that governs community broadcasting licensing through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA is a statutory authority within the federal government portfolio of Communications and the Arts broadly responsible for the regulation of broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications.

When considering starting a new community radio station, you must ask some key questions:
Is there a licence available?

Community radio stations must have a licence issued by the ACMA to operate. There is a finite number of licences available in any given geographic area. Available licences are advertised in print and online media. Contact ACMA to confirm available licences in your area.

Is there a need?

Community radio stations must meet a community's needs. Is your community or a group in your community not adequately serviced by other broadcasters, including other community radio stations? You will need to articulate this in your licence application and it should help guide the kinds of programs and services your station offers. 

Is there an interest?

Starting a community radio station is no small undertaking and you will need enthusiastic supporters to help you get it off the ground and operating. You need to find out if there is an interest in your community, particularly in supporting the station as a member, volunteer, board member and sponsor and build a team around you to assist in getting the organisation set up, applying for licensing, accessing grant money, setting up studios etc.

If you think there's a good chance you can answer YES to these questions, consider taking the steps below:
1. Who is your community?

You can't have community radio without the community! This means that you will need to find out what community radio is and how it can serve your community of interest.

To do this you need to be familiar with the;

Communities can be many things: youth-orientated, geographic-specific, print-handicapped, of a specific religion or representing an Indigenous or a Culturally and Linguisticall Diverse (CALD) group of people. Have a think about who your radio station would represent and involve, and how you would involve them. These community participation guidelines can help.

2. Gauge commitment

Support in your community for your station will be critical to its success. You need to gauge the level of support the station might receive from the community you plan to serve. In other words, does anyone other than two or three enthusiasts want this station? You will need to get in touch with key individuals and organisations in your community, such as interest groups, local and state government, educational institutions and the business community to assess this. You should seek concrete levels of support.

3. Identify a frequency

Next, you will need to identify a frequency suitable for community broadcasting purposes. Planned frequencies appear in licence area plans for the relevant areas. If there is no planned and available frequency, you will need to identify one at your own expense (e.g. fees charged by a broadcast planning engineer). Contact the CBAA for more information on this. 

When you lodge application forms with the ACMA, you will need to include your identified frequency on the Apparatus Licence Application form. The ACMA will then assess the frequency and let you know whether or not it is suitable for community broadcasting purposes. 

For information on licence area plans, refer to the ACMA's website. For queries about whether or not a planned frequency exists for an area, contact: communitybroadcasting@acma.gov.au.

4. Hold a community meeting

Now that you have a basic idea of community broadcasting and a good feel for how you stand with community support it is time to set up your organisation. Widely advertise the time and date you intend to hold your inaugural public meeting, inviting as many people as you can from your community, including representatives from local and state politics.

Involvement at the beginning of an initiative tends to motivate people to support it more energetically and for longer periods. At this meeting, a steering committee must be formed and a Public Officer appointed. From this meeting you can also call for volunteers and future members, being sure to take their names, contact details and area of interest e.g. fundraising, publicity, administration, etc.

5. Set up your organisation

Community radio services must be not-for-profit organisations. Read more about becoming a not-for-profit.

In order to then apply to the ACMA for a Temporary Community Broadcasting Licence (TCBL) your organisation must be incorporated. More information on incorporating in your state is available through Justice Connect's Not For Profit Law portal. The CBAA can answer any questions you may have in regards to your prospective constitution. The CBAA is able to provide copies of the CBAA Constitutional Template and information on incorporating an association from your state's relevant Fair Trading department. Please call us (02 9310 2999) or email us.

An incorporated association is a legal entity separate from its members and can be more effective for small community organisations. Associations are registered under state and territory legislation. For more information about incorporating an association, visit the relevant website below:

State/territory Authority Web address
Australian Capital Territory Access Canberra www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au
New South Wales Office of Fair Trading www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au
Northern Territory Consumer and Business Affairs www.justice.nt.gov.au
Queensland Office of Fair Trading www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au
South Australia Consumer and Business Services www.cbs.sa.gov.au
Tasmania Office of Consumer Affairs & Fair Trading www.consumer.tas.gov.au
Victoria Consumer Affairs www.consumer.vic.gov.au
Western Australia Consumer and Employment Protection www.docep.wa.gov.au
6. Apply for a Temporary Community Broadcasting Licence 

As with an application for an Apparatus Licence, an application for a community broadcasting licence should be in response to an invitation from advertisements in the print and online media. The ACMA offers community broadcasting licences for allocation when they are made available in a licence area plan. Licence area plans (LAPs) determine the number and characteristics of the broadcasting services available in particular areas of Australia.

Before undertaking any merit-based allocation of a long-term licence, the ACMA may allocate non-renewable temporary community radio licences to eligible broadcasters for up to 12 months. These Temporary Community Broadcasting Licences (TCBLs) provide access to available spectrum ahead of, but without affecting the outcome of, the allocation of long-term broadcasting service licences. Temporary community broadcasting licences foster the development of community radio by allowing aspiring community broadcasters to develop their operational and programming skills. They also help to build community support for a long-term community broadcasting service.

You need to complete the ACMA application for a Temporary Community Broadcasting Licence at least 4 months before you want to start broadcasting, as it takes time for the ACMA to assess the paperwork and allocate a frequency. Further information on licence renewals and allocations is available.

7. Further information and resources

If you have any further questions, please contact us on 02 9310 2999 or via email.