Anyone in Taranaki keen to get into the local commercial radio business has an unprecedented chance coming up.
Three Taranaki FM radio licences will be publicly offered on May 22. Two are commercial (100.4 and 105.2) and will be sold by online auction.
The other (104.4) is described as non-commercial, but in fact will be able to sell up to six minutes of advertising per hour over a minimum 12-hour day. This frequency is being offered free by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to a qualifying applicant. Anti-monopoly rules specifically exclude existing commercial operators from bidding.
Taranaki FM Trust, the five-man business group which has taken over the bones of Most FM from Witt, has declared it will be a bidder.
Spokesman Richard Shearer says the trust will be going for an unspecified frequency.
He said he had no idea what to bid as there was no precedent.
A retired Taranaki broadcaster, who wishes to stay anonymous, says this is the last chance for genuine local competition in radio and it will be a tragedy if nobody bids.
"The two networks (Radioworks and The Radio Network) are trying to operate with less and less, and as much as possible of it from Auckland," he said.
"The total quality is declining, there is increasingly less local content and access.
"This is a last chance for a local commercial station using local staff and a percentage of local programmes, like radio used to be. If the licences are not secured there is a danger the Government will throw them to the big boys and they will be gone more or less forever.
"The other unknown is what a new government might do with these licences if they are not taken up."
Taranaki manager for TRN Richard Williams is watching it with fascination to see whether anyone is going to put a consortium together.
"I'd welcome an alternative station in the market, but it's a big gamble because there are no experienced staff available."
Robert Jeffares of Auckland, another former-Taranaki broadcaster, says: "Finally the Government has agreed a licence for a local-only operator may be a good idea," he says.
"But a programme with strong local content may be expensive to run, and you can bet the national networks are not going to let anyone get a share of their advertising easily.
"For a local station to succeed it needs to have the backing of local business, and it can take two years to acquire the backing."
All three frequencies are tied to using the Kordia-owned (ex-BCL) North Egmont transmitter cluster on Mt Taranaki, but Kordia is not saying publicly what it will charge.
The transmitter coverage is from Omata to Patea, missing out Oakura and Opunake.
The Government is putting 31 local commercial licences up for a simultaneous ascending round Internet auction on the Ministry of Economic Development's website. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage has 36 non-commercial licences.
The MCH licence-holders must be adequately resourced not-for-profit organisations. The conditions spell out how much advertising and sponsorship is allowed. The operators must meet regional and community needs, and they can get financial support from local providers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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