1983, Northern Territory. When Darwin Radio was cool 😎
This is a short history of 8TOP or TOP FM. For southerners, TOP refers to the Top End, which is where Darwin is in the Northern Territory, and is also slang for groovy af radio 🎙 Now called Territory FM, 8TOP was started by Darwin Community College in 1980 (now Charles Darwin University). During that decade, TOP FM had a lot of hep cats and cool kids broadcasting alternative shows on campus.
But the station made a series of programming decisions that led to a complete alienation of students today. 👵🏻👴🏻 In 1992 The Big Spit student newspaper asks “When is a community radio station not a community radio station? When it broadcasts John Laws, 2UE news and horse racing for most of the day.”
These questionable program decisions stacked up in all corners of TOP FM over the years. In correlation, student involvement rapidly reduced from passionate volunteers, to students only completing required components of the journalism course, to virtually no student or youth involvement today. 👎
In 1993, the University and TOP FM added insult to injury. Journalism students had already found themselves disenfranchised as the journalism course was set to be discontinued in 1994. While these students were still studying, works began for parts of the journalism department to be demolished for construction on new TAB studios for TOP FM. This unabashed embrace of corporate content over original youth content never ended. Today, Territory openly broadcasts a “commercial format”. The station management insist they have to go commercial in order to survive financially. Much of the responsibility for this lies at the feet of the university, who shifted gears for 8TOP in the 90s to increase the focus on “sponsorship” and “self-sufficiency”, apparently institutional code words for selling out! 💰💰💰
The move into commercial and politically conservative formatting is clearly a concern for community broadcasters. One wonders, what’s the point of having a community broadcaster if it doesn’t provide diverse, original, alternative content?
But to what extent can we be critical of the struggling station for these decisions to “survive”? It’s easy to criticise, but what other choice was there? Is it our responsibility in bigger cities to support less resourced stations, despite our own financial concerns? Is there a point to community radio if it isn’t alternative? And is alternative content inherently associated with young people? 🤔
If you’re interested in these questions, find out more when A History of Student Radio in Australia is released in 2020, documenting this part of Australian history for the first time. 📻💃🏾🕺🏽🎉
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