Show blog for Too Fat for Our Pants on Radio One, 91 FM, Dunedin, New Zealand. Airs Mondays 10 am - 12 pm.

If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Economics and the Fate of Free Media - Save Radio One!

Sign the Petition to Save Radio One!
In case you have been away, which many of you have, here’s a little rundown of what’s been going on.  Based on the imminence of Voluntary Student Membership, which is in fact getting less and less likely by the day, OUSA underwent a fiscal examination by an independent, private contract firm called Deloitte, to determine where expenses could be cut.  Facing the potential loss of thousands and thousands of dollars should Voluntary Student Membership be implemented, this is perhaps not the most unexpected move on the part of OUSA, though I would argue that they could have done a lot more to educate students about the negatives of VSM in the first place. Anyway, Deloitte looked at all of Planet Media, which includes Radio One, Critic, and Planet Media as an advertising sales organization.  Astonishingly, and without much in the way of explanation, Critic and Planet Media escaped unscathed, while Radio One landed on the chopping block.  Deloitte has recommended that Radio One be sold, because there is no potential profit to be made here.  The fact that our broadcast license is contingent upon our status as a charitable trust, meaning that we can legally generate no profit beyond that needed to sustain ourselves, has so far escaped everyone’s notice. 

The Deloitte recommendation is not binding; OUSA has a month to decide whether or not to act on it and try to sell Radio One.  I think it will prove rather difficult to sell an asset that is legally prohibited from making money to a private investor, given that assets are usually purchased to generate revenue. The ultimate fate of Radio One, should OUSA decide to sell, will depend on who buys it; I have no idea what will happen if no one wants it.  Our course of action for the next month will be to convince OUSA that it is in the best interests of the school, the student population, Dunedin, and free media as a whole if Radio One stays right exactly where it is, continuing to do what we have been doing for 27 years.  If you agree with us, which you probably already do if you’re listening to me right now, go to and sign the petition asking OUSA to disregard the Deloitte recommendation and keep Radio One.  Tell your friends, while you listen to this awesome song by Connan Mockasin, who you probably never would have heard of if Radio One did not exist.

A lot of the argument for selling the station has revolved around the insistence that 99.9% of students don’t listen to Radio One, that we’re too marginal, we’re too alternative.  Aside from the fact that neither the station nor OUSA has any accurate method of measurement of listenership for any given programme, this strikes me as a fairly desperate and cynical tactic designed to further divide the student body.  This rationalization wouldn’t hold up were it applied to any other aspect of OUSA, like queer support or the gym, and it doesn’t hold up here.
And I have a feeling that calling us an alternative station is misleading in the same way talking about special interest groups is misleading. I mentioned this when I spoke briefly about the need for a feminist economics – the demographics considered special interest include women, children, poor people, people of colour, religious minorities, teachers, trade unions, on and on.  Taken all together, the alternative music listeners, just like the special interest groups, make up the majority of the population of music listeners.  And this isn’t the 90s definition of alternative, which mostly just meant ‘grunge’: alternative, as it is applied to the musical tastes of radio one, covers everything from indie to jazz to zydeco to gospel to hip hop; almost the only thing it doesn’t cover is top 40.  So who is the special interest? Who is the alternative to whom?

Perhaps you agree with Logan Edgar when he says that no students listen to Radio One.  Even if that were true, which it obviously isn’t, that in itself does not undermine the value of having Radio One in the city itself.  This decision has the potential to affects everyone who lives here, whether or not you are a student and whether or not you listen to the station, because radio one does more than just broadcast musicians on the air.  We are an active concert promoter, and the only way that bands play shows in this town.   Without Radio One operating as independent media, there are no concerts to go to outside of Elton John playing the Edgar Centre or whoever eventually plays that monstrosity of a stadium.  Those shows are few and far between, and too expensive for most people to afford, particularly students; not to mention the fact that very few students are spending a lot of time listening to Elton John in the first place. Bands which get played on stations like more fm are not touring regularly to dunedin: when was the last time the Rolling Stones came here?  So you don’t have to listen all the time, but the fact that there is a music scene here at all is valuable, whether or not you yourself make use of it or appreciate it, rest assured you would notice and miss it if it were to disappear.
As a case in point: Coco Solid played a Radio One Presents gig at XII Below on Friday and it was one of the best shows I’ve been to in ages and ages.  I danced up a storm and had this moment of completely transcendent love for Dunedin.  Here’s Coco Solid:

On a broader level, Radio One represents the only media in town not owned by Mediaworks, aside from Access Otago Radio, which, while it’s important for some of the same reasons, does not perform quite the same function as Radio One.  In fact, Radio One represents some of the last independent radio, not just in Dunedin, but in the entire country.  New Zealand has an enormous number of radio stations, more than Canada and Australia have, and 85 % of them are owned by either MediaWorks or The Radio Network, while much of the rest is made up of National Radio and the Concert station.  It gets worse; there is not even competition between MediaWorks and The Radio Network, they jointly own a research and sales firm called The Radio Bureau, which doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than an advertisment.  This is from their mission statement:  “The Radio Bureau represents New Zealand’s commercial radio industry at a national level. TRB conducts marketing for the radio medium, and provides a complete and comprehensive single-source of services for advertising agencies – from analysing research data and developing radio strategies to planning and booking campaigns and sales promotions. The Radio Bureau is unique in the world in that it represents nearly all of the country’s radio stations…” According to one AUT academic, “TRB sell radio time and do media planning for almost all of the commercial and semi- commercials in New Zealand and they deal only with large national corporate clients (McDonalds, Lotto etc).” Corporate media, as my partner likes to say, is an oxymoron: corporate media is a commercial. 

Corporate media ownership, particularly of the monopolistic variety like what we have here in New Zealand, leads to a homogenization of presented views.  As one study on New Zealand media ownership points out:  “Advertisers are the real customers of a commercial media organisation, not its readers, viewers or listeners. This brings pressure to shield advertisers from views they do not like, to avoid complicated or expensive stories, and to avoid content that does not attract the maximum possible audience at any given time”.  In a democratic society, which is ostensibly what we enjoy here in New Zealand, political dissent and alternative views are vital to the health of the nation, and corporate monopoly precludes the airing of any view not held by the company.  Particularly now, as politics and business become so entangled as to be indivisible, the importance of heterogeneity is paramount.  What’s worse, this kind of monoglossia among media outlets gives listeners and citizens the impression that the view presented is the accepted one, when it is often only the neo-liberal, business-centric view accepted by the advertisers.  Since of course not everyone agrees with Milton Friedman, people tend to feel alienated and alone in their philosophy.  A populace in which individuals feel isolated and separate is much easier to lie to, and much easier to control.  The job of an active media is act as a link between the actions of the government and business and the consciousness of the people, and we are losing that.  It is slipping away faster and faster, and radio stations like this one are fewer and fewer every day.  This is a fight much bigger than radio one, but recognizing the worth of radio one and what it stands for is the first step.

Another common argument against Radio One and independent media is that since the advent of the internet, there is no further use for any of the traditional media outlets like newspapers and radio.  While it’s true that you can find pretty much anything on the internet, the key is that you have find it: you must, at least initially, know generally what you are looking for.  With the internet you seek out particular websites or musicians or videos, and from those selections the whole range of your taste is extrapolated.  Google and you tube and facebook are all paying such close attention to the kinds of things you’re interested in that gradually you create your own internet, a space in which   you are exposed only to views which you yourself already hold.  In traditional media forms you do not get to choose the broadcasting, unless you come to Radio One and become a DJ, which you could do, so you are exposed to a broad variety of opinion and tastes.  That’s how you learn new things, and how you test the views you already hold – homogenized information leads to narrow viewpoints, insularity and mistrust, further degrading relationships and destroying our ability to relate to people who think differently than ourselves.

More than the importance of Radio One to Dunedin, or the importance of free media to society, is our ability to see value in a non-monetary context.   The axing of Radio One was based on an economic assessment, and because we don’t make money, Deloitte saw no reason to keep us around.  The local musicians that started here, the broadcasters that began in student radio, the shows that are brought here by radio one, the proven satisfaction that comes from volunteering, the opportunities for people like me to just show up out of nowhere and play songs that I like for other people, none of these things are taken into account because they are unpriced on the market.  So more than anything else, this is a chance for us to decide what kind of a place we want to live in, and what kind of values we believe are important – do we want to exist in a society that can only see worth in money? Or could we broaden our definitions of worth and value to build richer connections and deeper satisfaction?  Saving this station could be the stand we take together, as a community, against the encroachment of an ideology that dismisses our culture and happiness as externalities.  Join us in asserting our right to see things differently.  Go to and sign the petition to save the station if you agree.

It can be difficult to see around the economic rubric of evaluation, we have internalized it to such a degree.  I hope that this can be the catalyst that leads us to reject the notion that money is the only way to measure worth. This could be our chance to make the connections between the threat of closure of Radio One and the system which led to it – maybe from here we can begin to talk openly about the things the market doesn’t register, and agree that they are valuable.  Maybe we can talk about the problems that lie with the market, not with the idea of happiness, or the idea of community, and maybe we can save Radio One in the process.  I hope so.


  1. Hey,
    Great show today. Could you please put up the track listing on the R1 website?

  2. Hi altpop;
    the tech men have the playlist; should be up sometime today. usually i will post it right after the show. Thanks for listening!