Waikato’s 89FM – A completely biased (personal) viewpoint

In making this post, I want to make it VERY clear that this is simply my opinion. Even though I am on the committee of the Independent Broadcasting Community, who run Contact FM and have put in a submission, it does not necessarily mirror their view at all. This stuff is just me having a rant – nothing more, nothing less.

89FM has been a shambles for the past decade. It started when the Waikato Students’ Union decided it was a good idea to sell long term assets (that some would say were making a profit, but that’s also debatable) in order to meet short term debt. That was a bad idea, but was the response WSU had to voluntary membership. The assets of Contact FM Ltd (Contact was then run as a company owned by WSU) were sold off after the board and staff had said to the staff members at Contact FM that it wouldn’t be sold, and the company was dissolved. That wasn’t the end of the mistakes though – the situation could have been managed better at most steps along the way.

On April 1st 2011, 89FM went silent, as the Waikato Students’ Union had not renewed their license for 89FM. The station that, at that point, was on the air, Rush FM, stopped broadcasting. Rush had only been on the frequency since October 2010. Not only did the airwaves go silent, but so did the Ministry of Culture and Heritage  – nothing was heard from them regarding the frequency bid until the last week of July. By saying that, I am not at all saying we should have heard from the Ministry before then. Firstly, I don’t know the process that the Ministry was going through in order to prepare for the frequency bid. Secondly, I wouldn’t have been aware of any correspondence between the Ministry and related parties as at the time I was not on the IBC Commtitee.

Then it happened – July 22nd 2011, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage edited this page with details of applications for 89FM in the Waikato Region. Six weeks were given for submissions – a period which closed on Friday 5th September. There have been six submissions received, according to the Waikato Times. The IBC (ie Contact FM) and Community Radio Hamilton are two. I am aware of a third, however it would be inappropriate for me to disclose that if the group doesn’t want to disclose it themselves. The remaining three are a complete mystery. There are a number of guesses that have been had, but obviously, they are just guesses. We may find out some/all of those parties soon, but that’s not certain. We definitely will find out one if the frequency goes to one of them.

Obviously, my opinion is that Contact FM should be returned the 89FM frequency. I guess returned is the wrong word, given the Contact FM now and the Contact FM that was on 89FM are technically different things – one a company owned by the Waikato Students’ Union, another the trading name of a completely independent incorporated society. While I do think Contact would be best on the 89FM frequency, I also think that Community Radio Hamilton is deserving of a high powered FM frequency. Community Radio does have a high powered AM frequency though – this is why I feel Hamilton and the Waikato have a lot more to gain from 89FM going to Contact. Right now, our 88.1 frequency is not giving the best value for money so to speak.

I am looking forward to Wednesday, when we should find out who has picked up 89FM. It will be good to finally have the shambles that has been 89FM for the past decade finally sorted out, no matter which way it goes.


2 comments on “Waikato’s 89FM – A completely biased (personal) viewpoint

  1. hi – interesting and insightful post. Firstly, let me declare my interest. I am an ex-Contact volunteer [’87-’91] but more recently GM @ Community Radio Hamilton.

    The 89FM issue is one that seems to get people riled up, and I have read comments suggesting likely reactions should the frequency be given elsewhere. I’ve kept in touch with the IBC chair throughout this process, and while ‘competitors’ for 89, agree that there’s no need for bitching [not implying that you have in your post, at all].

    My one comment is more of a clarification that I think needs to be made – the “rightful place” for 89FM changed in April 2011 with the expiry of the previous Management Right for the licence. The proud [but mixed] history plays little part in what happens now. I’m not disparaging Contact or student radio at all, just pointing out that from this point forward, the Management Right selection will be made according to *new* criteria as specified by MCH. All 6 applicants will be judged according to these criteria.

    The Waikato Times article last week contained one inaccuracy – the licence *may* be allocated for 20 years [the full management right] but may well be issued for a far-shorter timeframe. One example could be if it was issued to a new entrant. This clarification has come directly from the MCH.

    If the the frequency goes to the IBC/Contact, I will be the first to offer my congratulations.


    • Hi Phil,

      Thanks for your insight into this.

      I agree that the last thing we want to do is start having a go at each other. The IBC chair actually sent out an email this morning emphasising that if Contact does not get the frequency, we want to ensure we remain civil with each other. I have a lot of respect for the work Community Radio Hamilton does and feel that, in an ideal world, both the IBC and Community Radio would have licenses for a high-powered FM frequency and would, if that is found to be possible, completely support that.

      I do agree with you – the “rightful place” of 89FM is wherever MCH decides that “rightful place” is. I’m not sure I agree, however, that the history of 89FM plays little part in what happens now. We need to look to the history of 89FM in order to understand the full context of the situation. I am not saying that because Contact FM had 89FM and lost it in what could easily be described as unfair circumstances (for Contact, that is) it should immediately go to Contact FM. The submissions definitely need to be looked at closely in the lights of the new criteria. But I feel the history adds an important dimension to that.

      I think what the Waikato Times article was trying to say is that there’s a good chance that it will be awarded for 20 years. By no means is it certain, but is highly plausible.

      Thank you again for your comments, Phil. I greatly appreciate them. If the frequency goes to Community Radio, I will be one of the first (I assume Nick would get in there before me) to offer congratulations. I do feel that both Contact and Community Radio are highly deserving of 89FM. It’s now just a question of which of the six applicants have put forward a better submission.

      Good luck for the next few days – hopefully we do find out one way or another on Wednesday. The less drawn out the process, the better, in my opinion 🙂


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