By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — Consider a radio station which has been condemned by the Bulletin as "a front for terrorism" and attacked a decade later (in 1988) by former Labor minister Steven Crabb for defending the Builders' Labourers Federation. It could hardly be described as "Mickey Mouse".
Radio 3CR has weathered many attacks over both its credibility and its independent and outspoken stance on political and social issues. This month it celebrates its 13th anniversary.
The station boasts a weekly listenership of 200,000, and is supported by
thousands of sponsors. Its high professional standards are maintained by a handful of full-time workers and hundreds of volunteers.
"The stereotypical image of alternative radio is that we pull anyone off the street and put them on air", says station manager Bruce Francis, "but we've worked hard to bury that idea".
The station runs four basic training courses a year, covering station policy and history, interviewing techniques, voice presentation, music, current affairs, programming, scripting, libel law, panel operation, portable recorders, editing and broadcast law. Special courses are run on talkback, news work, cartridge making, stereo production, industrial coverage and multitracking.
The station trains between 80 and 100 new volunteers each year, some of whom go on to become professional broadcasters. Dave Lane, Wendy Attenborough and Margot Foster are some of the professionals who once worked for 3CR.
The station is financed through listener sponsorship fees and through fundraising. It does not accept commercial advertising or sponsorship. A third of its funds are raised through an annual radiothon. This year's radiothon, to be run July 22-28, has a target of $100,000.
In addition, the station raises money for progressive causes. Last year it raised $14,000 for striking tram workers and $6000 for the Hoechst workers. Other beneficiaries of earlier radio appeals have been the Popular Radio Network of El Salvador, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, striking nurses and the Filipino and South Korean labour movements.
But 3CR's solidarity has been returned through regular listenership and sponsorship — especially by trade unions, solidarity and community organisations. In 1985 concrete workers and builders labourers raised $11,000 to build a new studio at its premises at 21 Smith Street, Fitzroy.
Francis believes the station's financial independence is crucial. It showed, he said, during the Gulf War, when the government-funded ABC was pressured simply for presenting expert opinions which did not fit the required pro-war propaganda.
"On the day the Americans started the war, 3CR suspended its normal programming and broadcast the views of 30 people from a wide range of groups and communities on the war. Throughout the war, the station provided serious briefings and talkback shows about all the issues involved. We were only able to offer an alternate voice because of our financial independence", he said.
3CR has its enemies among the ruling elites, says Francis. Every time its licence is due for renewal (every five years), someone puts in a challenge. But he is confident any attempt to close the station would produce a huge response from the many communities which consider 3CR "their station".
3CR is not just news, politics and current affairs. "We also have a name for our commitment to innovative music and Australian artists. We aim to play 55% Australian music", said Francis. Recently 3CR helped the East Timorese community produce a music cassette of nationalist songs.
3CR is a member of the Progressive Radio Association, which includes 4ZZZ FM (Brisbane), 2XX (Canberra) and Radio Skidrow/Radio Redfern (Sydney). It was a founding member of the Public Broadcasting Association of Australia but left in 1987 to form the PRA. It continues to network with many other public radio stations.
The award-winning program Women On The Line is produced by 3CR and broadcast through 30 public radio stations in Australia and 11 in the United States. The Koori programs and the 31 non-English language weekly programs have drawn a diverse listenership. The daily programs sponsored and produced by trade union are listened to by militants and nervous bosses alike, said Francis.
This year, much effort has gone into professionalising the morning news session, which starts at 6 a.m. with BBC news, then industrial news, followed by news and current affairs in the Breakfast Show. "We want to compete with the ABC
for listeners", says Francis. A new addition to this session is Left Opinion — a chance for progressive groups and individuals to be pro-active and place new issues on the public agenda.
Radio 3CR is committed to providing a voice for those denied access to the mass media. In these days of increasing concentration of ownership of the mainstream media in the hands of a couple of multimillionaires, the public has a growing need for its own radio.