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Radio Adelaide workers fear station "failure" amid program shake-up

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A major shake-up of Radio Adelaide programming has sent shockwaves through the organisation, sparking workers’ fears the station could lose its licence to broadcast.

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In his first communication to volunteers and staff last week, new general manager Rob Popplestone announced the station’s jazz and classical week-day morning programs would be axed.

“I regret that my first communication with you is about a programming change,” Popplestone wrote.

“As some of you are already aware, I have taken the decision to cease Radio Adelaide’s classical and jazz programs.”

He told InDaily there remained “hope”, but no guarantee, that the jazz and classical genres would retain some place in the station’s broadcasting schedule – but said they attracted “a narrow silo of public interest” which was amply served by other radio stations, such as ABC Classical and 5MBS.

The programs currently fill the station’s 9am to noon slot every week day.

The same email from Popplestone revealed that delays in the construction of new Radio Adelaide studios in Adelaide’s East End would force recorded programs to be repeated until the live broadcast returns at the beginning of August, instead of today.

“I know this is a disappointment to all, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Popplestone wrote.

Radio Adelaide workers claim the “abrupt” programming decision illustrates a unilateral management style they say has prevailed since the station was offloaded by Adelaide University – a style they fear could get the station kicked off the airwaves.

The station’s licence will be scrutinised by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) when it considers the transfer from the University of Adelaide to the new independent board.

Chair of the Radio Adelaide Station Workers Association – which represents both paid staff and volunteers at the station – told InDaily that management risked failing to comply with the station’s licence obligations by not involving volunteers in decision-making.

Community radio stations are legally obliged to encourage community access and participation in all aspects of station operations, from programming to management.

“A failure to understand the need to work with the existing community could lead to [licensing or] financial failure, or to a Radio Adelaide that is unrecognisable to its listeners,” Page said.

“We’re concerned that we have no commitment to a mechanism for community participation in management and programming, which is a licence requirement.

“A decision has been made, and we’ve [later] been informed,” she said, describing the approach as “announce-and-defend”.

“The worst-case risk is that the licence transfer wouldn’t be successful,” said Page.

Popplestone admits his decision to cut the morning programs came “as a bit of a shock” to the around 30 volunteers that run the classical and jazz programs, but that a majority were “happy” with the need for change.

He rejects the suggestion Radio Adelaide’s licence could be at risk, insisting the management processes that had occurred since the station began its transition to independence were “the exact same” processes that had occurred before his time there.

He conceded he had not met “the vast majority” of the station’s volunteers before he sent emails to those involved in the classical and jazz programs breaking the bad news, but said the timing of induction days for the programs the following week (this week) had forced his hand.

He said he had consulted with community and commercial radio industry professionals, and selected Radio Adelaide staff and listeners, before arriving at the decision.

To date, “there’s been no volunteer consultation strategy whatsoever”, Popplestone added. But he is open to the possibility of establishing programming committees to improve volunteer participation.

He would not reveal what he intends to replace the classical and jazz week-day programs with: “I’ll be keeping that one close to my chest at this stage.”

However, his email to staff and volunteers last week said the replacement was intended to be “focused on contemporary South Australian and Australian music which fulfills our aims to support local, alternative music and create programming that is amenable to sponsorship and funding”. 

Page said the association was desperate to make the new arrangement with the station “work” and not to be “seen as a group of wreckers”.

She warned Radio Adelaide was far from “saved” yet and called on members of the Adelaide community to get behind the station, which provides training for radio producers and journalists, as well as its broadcasting output.

“We want to make this succeed and we’re just trying to be included in making it work,” she said.

“Program changes have always happened at Radio Adelaide but never in this urgent and abrupt way.

“Changes are happening and have to happen – we want to be proud of those changes.”

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