Joshua 'Spanky' Moore and Yumi Zouma recording an episode of 'anatomy of a song' for RDU98.5FM

Why student radio is still going strong, four decades on

James Meharry, station director of RDU98.5FM and chair of the Student Radio Network, on how student radio is not just surviving – it’s thriving.

It’s interesting how good old-fashioned vinyl records have been undergoing a resurgence over the past decade. The volumes of new sales simply don’t compare to other physical formats like CDs or the blossoming of online and streaming services, but while vinyl underperforms in revenue and return on investment, you can’t help but be impressed with its durability. It holds value in the very thing – the medium itself, the physical object – in a way that digital cannot compete with.

Ones and zeros are distinctly uninspiring – one could suggest they have a cool factor of just that, zero. “I’m seriously impressed with your digital music collection,” said no one ever. Vinyl, on the other hand? The cover art, physicality, liner notes, gatefolds, embossing, coloured dyes and pigments, transparencies and opacity: the list of rewards for investing in physical music is so significant and extensive that the question of whether it sounds better or not takes a back seat.

I see the vinyl experience – the selection, the handling, the playback, the pause to change sides –  as a new kind of micro-break. You need it. It’s a moment, an interval, to reflect on your choices, to absorb the magic of the process and mentally prepare for the next selection. Everyone should celebrate being the deejay; top selector in their own living room.

Radio has faced similar challenges to vinyl, and yet also remains resilient. The Student Radio Network (SRN) doesn’t participate in the surveys, but ‘ratings are up’ is the line we would greet each other with in the office a few years back. Funny thing is, it seems to be true. While other media platforms find themselves hung and quartered, radio has continued to defend a niche of regionalism and curatorial strength within the blossoming dominance of internet services.

Audiences still desire relevance, and even within a context of ever decreasing attention spans the tried and true format of independent radio is still winning ears. Coupled with a curatorial powerhouse, the SRN is unrivalled for a capacity to provide service for our communities and deliver quality for the audience.

Our full-time, non-commercial licence was established in 1981 with a landmark decision from the then Broadcasting Tribunal, in the face of somewhat hypocritical opposition from none other than the shoestring pirates, Hauraki. The decision included:

The station would present a programme of contemporary music, placing emphasis on that music which is not featured by existing radio stations. Special attention would be given to New Zealand music.” 

The network was in its infancy, but it now had a mandate that began one of the most significant commitments to platforming authentic musical voices for our nation. And that commitment remains in place today, with unequalled volumes of coverage for new and emerging music. Last week, our primary funding partner NZ on Air made the decision to move our funding from within the NZ Music Features stream and into the Platform fund alongside the likes of RNZ and Access Radio.

While it might seem like only a shift of numbers on paper, it’s a two-fold cause for celebration for the SRN. Firstly, funding that was at risk in a contestable environment is now protected in this non-contestable pool. Secondly, this correctly places our network amongst the other legacy broadcasters in the industry. The SRN has over-delivered for New Zealand music for over 40 years and now we can stand securely amongst our peers as a legitimate platform with purpose.

But we are not without challenges ahead. Independence requires support. Take it for granted and it dissolves. So, if you want to see the paradigm shift of media we seem to be witnessing at the moment swing in the right direction, where our voices are still clear, strong and unique, then support independent media wherever you can. Sign up to their Patreons and support their fundraisers. Back broadcasting and join in on the conversation.

Check out the RDU98.5FM 24hour Fundraiser: 7 pm Friday 25 May till 7 pm Saturday 26 May


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