The Early Days of Ethnic Community Radio

Canberra Multicultural Service – 1CMS – is operated by the Ethnic Broadcasters Council of the ACT and Surrounding Districts Inc, incorporated in 1977. The idea of ethnic community radio was born in the 1970s. Then the vision of a multicultural Australia first gained acceptance at the political level, particularly thanks to Gough Whitlam, Neville Wran and Al Grassby. It soon became a bipartisan policy. The interest of Malcolm Fraser and the open-minded approach by Ian McPhee was important, as was the support of Don Chipp and Janine Haines.

A key outcome of the Galbally Review of Migrant Services, commissioned by Mr Fraser, was the foundation of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) television and radio.

At the same time, general community broadcasting was developing strongly; and it was natural that ethnic communities would seek to get to air through this emerging radio sector. The Federal Government saw ethnic broadcasting as an effective way to reach, in particular, emerging communities. Governments also recognised the benefits accruing to Australia from cultural maintenance and language resources in a rapidly globalising world.

Initially, the subsidy was channelled through SBS. Later the disbursement of ethnic radio grants was transferred to the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF). To ensure the effective disbursement of funds directed to ethnic community broadcasters, the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council (NEMBC) was set up in 1983. The EBC was a foundation member of the NEMBC.

1CMS is Established

In the early 1990s, the EBC sought to expand ethnic broadcasting in Canberra. Language broadcasters increasingly felt like sardines in a tin. EBC members were then contributing about 40% towards the whole station budget but access was limited to only 13 hours a week (less than 10% of air time). In 1992, between January and August, almost all ethnic broadcasting activities ceased in Canberra. In the long run, these impasses lead to the establishment of the Canberra Multicultural Service – the full-time ethnic radio station we are today. The EBC then gained independent access to the airwaves under the Broadcast Services Act (1992). A temporary license already obtained by Jim Saragas to trial Greek language broadcasting in Canberra was converted into a temporary community broadcasting license for multilingual programming.

From 1993 to 1997 the EBC hired the facilities of Canberra Public Stereo Radio (now Artsound). On Tuesdays and Fridays, ethnic radio was once again on Canberra’s airwaves. All costs were covered by sponsorships and donations by the public. Ron Eskrigge (founder of the Country Music Collective) met Heinrich Stefanik at the German Harmonie Club in Narrabundah and they developed the idea of a joint venture – country music and ethnic programs would create their own, joint home. Soon after CMR was born, among the determined band of early CMR broadcasters were Jim Saragas (Greek), Jaques Petit (French), Diana Rahman (Muslim Voice), Heinrich Stefanik (German), Ruth Ederle (Swiss) and Henryk Sek-Sekalski (Polish).

In 1997 the studios in Holder were officially opened by Bill Stefaniak (MLA), Minister for Multicultural Affairs. The big next step came when the EBC applied for a full community broadcast license under the call sign 1CMS. On 15 June 2001 came the big moment: the EBC was granted a full-time broadcast license. More and more program groups joined the EBC and existing programs expanded. This trend is today, still continuing. Around Australia there are at present 6 full-time ethnic radio stations – one of them is 1CMS.

Today CMS is recognised as part of the media landscape in Australia’s capital city. We have come a long way, thanks to teamwork and untiring effort by a band of dedicated volunteers and listeners. Currently we broadcast in 36 different languages used in the Canberra community. Our ethnic broadcasts provide young people with the opportunity to maintain their home languages and diverse cultural heritages. Even more important is the role we play in the life of our elderly listeners as well as new and emerging communities.

Ethnic broadcasters build bridges — between the old and the new homeland. Most importantly, we build bridges within the community that we live in. Community broadcasters are people from the community, volunteering for the community. The community trusts community broadcasters. Ethnic radio is fulfilling tasks that other media cannot fulfil.

Canberra, A Multicultural Capital

About 60,000 people in Canberra’s households speak a language other than English, and in Australia 4 million people speak another language than English with over 10 million that was born overseas or has a parent that was born oversees – this is where we come in and this is where we are important. The challenges for CMS are, however, far from over. We are currently working to share community broadcasting facilities on a new transmission site with 1Way, Artsound and 1XX to improve our reception. Soon there will be a significant improvement of reception in the areas lying in the shade of mountains such as Mt Taylor. And then there is the digital age around us: the internet has become a further platform for CMS. Community radio has to work hard to make its voice heard in the new media sphere and obtain a fair share of spectrum and financial support. This is, however, not a new situation for 1CMS and since we have proven throughout history – CMS Radio FM 91.1 is here to stay.