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Happy birthday to commercial radio!

August 9, 2023

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Commercial radio has celebrated a milestone this month, as a new report highlights its extensive impact.

Can you believe it? Australian commercial radio is turning 100 this month. What an innings!

The industry celebrated at an event held at Parliament House in Canberra last week, featuring Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland and Shadow Minister for Communications, David Coleman.

Rowland praised the localism and diversity of radio, and paid tribute to the medium’s adaptability.

“Since those early days of AM, the industry has also moved and adapted to FM, before embracing digital radio, streaming and now audio podcasting,” she said.

“Radio is the great adapter, in large part because of its two-way nature and its ability to form personal connections with listeners in a way other forms of communications simply can’t.”

How it started vs how it’s going

Commercial radio began in Australia in 1923, with just four radio stations to tune into. Listeners would pay a subscription to have their radio ‘sealed’ to a particular station, and would also pay a licence fee to the government. Just 1400 people bought subscriptions.

The following year, the government created a new system with two classes: Class A stations had limited advertising and drew most of their revenue from listener subscriptions, and Class B stations received all their revenue from advertising. The Class A stations later became part of the ABC.

Fast forward and these days  radio in Australia is still going strong as a source of news and entertainment. According to a Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Commercial Radio & Audio, 17 million Australians tuned into commercial radio over the past year, with 83 per cent of people saying they listen at least weekly.

Radio provides vital coverage in many areas, especially in times of natural disasters like bushfires. Research released during the Royal Commission in the Black Summer bushfires revealed that the ABC’s radio network was “the most used and most trusted broadcast network during the crisis”.

Here are a few things you might not know about radio in Australia:

  • PIJI’s Australian News Index lists 394 local radio outlets, and one national, across Australia. Radio is considered an important source of public interest journalism.
  • According to a new report, commercial radio contributes $1 billion each year to Australia’s GDP. It also provides over 6000 full-time jobs, 38 per cent of which are in regional Australia.
  • That same report found 59 per cent of Australians consider radio to be a trusted source of news and current affairs, and 58 per cent have tuned in to commercial radio to access emergency broadcasts.
  • Radio can play a role in communities where local newspapers have closed down, according to the report, which found that 80 per cent of commercial radio stations are in regional or country areas where there are fewer sources of local news. 

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