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Radio Adelaide sacks staff as it faces revenue reality

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In today’s column, Radio Adelaide is facing troubled times as it sacks most of its staff, and the latest newspaper audit figures sound another warning about the future of print.

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Radio Adelaide sacks staff, warns of revenue troubles

The University of Adelaide’s decision to offload Australia’s first community radio station looks like having dire consequences, with Radio Adelaide this week sacking all but two of its staff.

Five employees will end with the station in September, including general manager Rob Popplestone, brought in the reshape the station in its new independent guise, breakfast presenter Jennie Lenman, music director and presenter Luke Penman, IT coordinator Anthony Gibbs and broadcast coordinator Darren Van Shaik.

The only remaining employees will be station manager Chris Leese and training and volunteers manager Nikki Marcel.

To the chagrin of some in the Radio Adelaide community, lunchtime sports presenters Ken “KG” Cunningham and Phil Smyth (understood to both be contractors), will continue on for the time being.

The midday sports show was one of the big changes instituted by Popplestone, who joined the station less than two years ago.

In an ominous email to staff this week, the board said “every effort” would be made to continue the breakfast and “Local Noise” music programs in their current formats, but with volunteer presenters.

The board said the response to a recent Radiothon fund-raiser had been “very disappointing” and, more broadly, the station had fallen “well short” of its revenue targets.

“This will be a very difficult period for the station as it loses a wealth of skills and knowledge,” the email said. “And, of course, valued staff members who’ve contributed so much to Radio Adelaide for many years. This will no doubt have a significant impact on programming and the support available to the volunteer community”

Board chairman Iain Evans told InDaily today that the station faced an impending revenue shortfall of about $400,000 when university support phases out over the coming two years, which required cuts to expenditure now.

While the station was not in the red, current spending would not be sustainable over the next year.

“Our revenue exceeds our expenditure at the moment,” he said. “(However), the contribution from the university reduces each year, and with the phased reduction in the next 12 months, we couldn’t sustain that staffing level.

He said Cunningham and Smyth had been retained because the board believed that program had the best chance of attracting the sponsorship support upon which the station now relied.

Seasoned sports presenters K.G. Cunningham and Phil Smyth. Image: supplied.

On the longer term future, Evans said he believed the station – which was founded by the university in 1972 – would survive, but more change was inevitable.

“The station continues to change its culture to accept the fact that it needs to raise revenue through sponsorship,” he said. “That’s a mindset change within the station that’s still in transition.”

Some in the station community, who did not wish to be named, question financial decisions made over the past year, particularly the board’s move to challenge the rebrand of the ABC’s local radio station to ABC Radio Adelaide.

Radio Adelaide settled that case, receiving an undisclosed sum, due to fears about the cost of mounting the case and, potentially, losing. The settlement was confidential, leading to speculation among some station supporters that the station lost money on the legal wranglings.

Volunteers have been unhappy with programming changes over the past year, including the axing of jazz and classical music programs.

The question for the station, though, is how to balance the expectations of its volunteer community and long-term listeners, with the need to raise revenue from sponsorship, given it’s increasingly difficult for community stations to source grant funding.

As one informed insider put it, survival looks like a difficult proposition unless the station can replace the university with another major third party supporter.

Bell tolling louder for print

The latest audited circulation figures for the printed versions of Australia’s newspapers show some mastheads plummeting to levels once thought to be inconceivable.

The Audit Bureau of Circulation half-yearly figures to June show crashing numbers across the board, from Saturday and Sunday papers to weekday editions.

The print circulation of the giant Sunday Telegraph in Sydney fell below 400,000 (reportedly for the first time), while Adelaide’s Sunday Mail has slipped below 200,000 to hit just over 182,000. Three years ago South Australia’s most read newspaper was circulating around 225,000 copies.

The Saturday Advertiser dipped below 150,000, a fall of some 9 per cent on last year, while the weekday print editions dropped nearly 8 per cent to hit 112,097.

While some newspapers, notably The Australian, are reporting increasing digital subscriptions, the data isn’t available for many mastheads, including the SA papers.

The big newspaper companies prefer their own industry data, EMMA, which generally shows more favourable readership figures across combined digital and print platforms.

The continued fall of print isn’t restricted to one newspaper group or to Australia.

In New York this week, one of the most celebrated community newspapers in the world – The Village Voice – announced it would end print production after more than 60 years.

It will continue to be available online.

Media Week is a regular column about South Australia’s media, marketing and public relations industries.

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