Auckland independent radio turns to listeners for help amid Covid cash crisis

An independent Auckland radio station is asking listeners for financial help, saying without the same government support as last year, the station is struggling.

Base FM has spent more than $5000 during lockdown to get its DJs broadcasting remotely from home.

Meanwhile, advertising revenue from DJs, artists, events and festivals – Base FM’s mainstay – plummeted, leading the station to ask listeners to contribute through the Press Patron platform.

Managing director Jasmin Ziedan said last year’s government support – which included waiving transmission fees of several thousand dollars a month – was a life raft for the station. But this August, no such help was offered.

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“We’re totally in the red,” she said.

As Auckland welcomes the red traffic light setting, Ziedan is worried Base faces a slow recovery, despite venues being allowed to reopen and some festivals going ahead.

“None of the venues can reach capacity. The venues that would have touring artists and advertise with us don’t know when we’ll go to orange or green.

“Small bars won’t jump into advertising or booking DJs because they can’t have unlimited people yet.”

Ziedan, who bought the station in 2008, says Base is a home. It’s inspired the name of the patron campaign: “My Place is Base.” Contributors go into a draw for tickets to major festivals including Womad and Splore, among other prizes.

She said she wrote several times to Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi to ask about support, only to finally receive a response in October saying there wouldn’t be anything like transmission fee waivers this time around.

“It was totally not what we were expecting after last year, after getting some support.”

Meanwhile, student radio station 95bFM has been asking listeners for their money for decades through its “bCard”, whereby listeners make a regular contribution in exchange for giveaways, discounts and entry into station events.

General manager Caitlin McIlhagga said while lockdown has been hard on bFM, it has highlighted how independent radio is used to doing a lot with few resources.

“In the future, funding for independent radio and media needs to reflect the value of the place we have in the ecosystem,” she said.

“We’re a foundational training platform for the musicians that we platform as they get their start, and the broadcasting talent, journalists, and production teams.

“We’re a really crucial part of the wider media ecosystem, but we do so much with so little.”

The station has around 170 volunteers who DJ, broadcast and report into the station so getting them gear to broadcast from home wasn’t an option, McIlhagga said.

McIlhagga said the station benefits from New Zealand on Air funding, and recently received Ministry of Culture and Heritage funding to improve their volunteer programme to “pandemic-proof” it long term.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage did not respond to specific questions, but listed the ministry’s support packages for media since the pandemic began in March 2020.

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