Student radio station sale slammed

By Hayden Donnell, Rebecca Ryan

Plans to sell student radio station Radio One have been slammed as an attack on the cultural heart of Dunedin. File photo / Thinkstock
Plans to sell student radio station Radio One have been slammed as an attack on the cultural heart of Dunedin. File photo / Thinkstock

Musicians and media have hit out at plans to sell student radio station Radio One as an attack on the cultural heart of Dunedin.

Otago University Students Association (OUSA) has confirmed it is looking at selling Radio One to save money ahead of legislation ending compulsory membership of student bodies.

The station is broadcasting nothing but ambient noise and explanatory public service announcements this week to protest the proposal.

Manager Sean Norling said Radio One was Dunedin's most established independent radio station and was crucial to making the city a viable option for touring artists.

Graeme Downes, who helped author the iconic 'Dunedin sound' in the 1980s with his band The Verlaines, said the station was a lifeline for Dunedin's artists.

The Verlaines had demoed an album on Radio One and was looking forward to celebrating a new album release with them soon, he said.

"They've always been very supportive."

Students in the Rock Performance class he runs at Otago University also relied on the station to give them their start, Downes said.

"It is a fact of life in a small country like NZ that it is hard to make a living solely from writing and performing music. Any experience students can gain in other aspects of the industry can be invaluable in sustaining them through the early stages of their careers and in this regard any loss to the wider music industry ecology would have a tremendously damaging effect."

Martin Phillipps, lead singer of legendary Dunedin band The Chills, said he was involved in the station at its inception.

It had been a training ground for New Zealand media and would be a huge loss to the culture of Otago University, he said.

"I would be very sorry to see it sold to more commercial, less cultural interests.

"It has been immensely important in launching new New Zealand artists and just generally pulling together people of with very diverse interests."

James Milne, who performs as Lawrence Arabia, said Radio One's passionate and supportive team of volunteers helped touring musicians promote shows, source equipment and find support acts.

Without that support, some musicians would be reluctant to tour Dunedin, he said.

"This level of passion and enthusiasm is utterly invaluable, and it has been felt by the entire touring music community of New Zealand at some point."

"Without this central cultural/media focus that Radio One provides for these events, there's a real chance they could dwindle, in a place that is quite risky/expensive to tour to, given the distance travelled and the smallish population of Dunedin."

Milne said the station was the only one championing Dunedin music, art and literature and was a vital incubator for media talent.

TV3 newsreader and reporter Samantha Hayes said she began her career at Radio One and called for its funding to be continued.

"We need to make sure it'll be around for more students to cut their teeth, whether it's as newsreaders, musicians, copywriters, djs, production engineers..."

Tono and the Finance Company lead singer and songwriter Anthony Tonnon said losing Radio One would be a devastating blow to Dunedin's artistic community.

He lived in the city for two years after completing his music degree in 2008.

That would have been impossible without the support of the station, he said.

"It will be completely devastating. I can't imagine Dunedin having a musical heart without Radio One.

"It's really hard to go down to Dunedin. It's expensive. You don't usually make your money back. Radio One is one of the few things that shift the balance in your favour.

"They make Dunedin seem like a real city with a real culture."

Radio One has six paid employees and 70 volunteers.

In May, OUSA commissioned Deloitte, a professional services organisation, to review its services and structure to prepare for an decreased revenue stream.

"With the potential threat of voluntary student membership coming in, OUSA needs to be as efficient as possible and we need to tighten our belts where we can," OUSA president Logan Edgar told the Otago Daily Times.

Radio One was the only OUSA asset under threat at present, he said, but a restructuring of the whole organisation was being undertaken and other services and assets could come up for review.

OUSA needed to consider how to reinvest student money in the most appropriate ways and Deloitte saw little commercial value in Radio One, he said.

A student survey last year also revealed Radio One as one of the least valued OUSA assets, Mr Edgar said.

The proposal would now go through a submissions phase and Radio One staff would have the opportunity to have their say. A decision was likely to be made before the end of the year.

Because the station had a non-profit licence, Norling said he believed it would have "little commercial appeal" and a sale was unlikely.

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