top of page

A radio station in Orange ordered to fix its programming or face “potentially serious consequences”

December 17, 2022

Stock image.

By Peter Holmes

A long investigation by independent government body the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) into a radio station in Orange has found its programming is in breach of the Radiocommunications Act 1992.

The station defended itself by saying, among other things, that the interviews it put to air were “long and sometimes boring”, and thus not aimed at a wide audience.

The ACMA has given FM88 One Central West an ultimatum to fix its programming or face the loss of its licence. It has directed it to supply detailed information on every program that goes to air, and advise the ACMA of how it has altered its programming.

“One Central West FM88 was not providing open narrowcasting in accordance with its licence,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

The ACMA has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from One Central West FM88 requiring it to change its programming so that the service is limited as required under the law.

“All broadcasters must comply with their licence conditions at all times and there are potentially serious consequences for not doing so,” O’Loughlin said.

The ACMA will monitor the broadcasts of the station over the next 12 months. If the licensee fails to comply with the narrowcasting rules “the ACMA may take steps to suspend or cancel their licence”.

FM88 One Central West, a narrowcast station, was launched in 2021.

It played a mixture of classic hits and new hits and had an hourly news bulletin. It also conducted outside broadcasts and covered sporting fixtures live.

The licence breach was the main story on radio industry website Radio Info.

ACMA has found FM88 One Central West “is not providing an open narrowcasting service”.

“The ACMA’s finding is that the Licensee does not target a special interest group, does not intend its service to be available only for a limited location, does not provide its service during a limited period or to cover a special event, does not provide programs of limited appeal…”

The licensee is Farren Hotham. It is believed he bought the narrowcast licence from former Dubbo mayor Ben Shields. Hotham was the former manager at Orange’s community radio station FM 107.5.

Narrowcast licences are often cheap when compared to the extravagant costs associated with buying a commercial broadcast radio licence. They can be bought for as little as a few thousand dollars.

The reason for this is that narrowcast, unlike broadcast, is meant to be aimed at a small niche audience. They are not meant to compete with commercial stations, the ABC or community radio stations.

A narrowcast licence might be used for broadcasting within a venue such as an arena or a retail shopping precinct, a school, pub, club or hospital, or during a music festival.

“The ACMA considers that One Central West FM88’s coverage extends to a large geographic area which is not comparable to an arena or business premises. The ACMA’s finding is that the One Central West FM88 service is not limited by being intended only for limited locations.”

ACMA’s 10-month investigation, which included analysing more than 330 songs played on the station, stated that: “One Central West FM88 is broadcast 24 hours a day on 7 days of each week. The content broadcast by the service is predominantly automated music programming, interspersed with station identifications, advertising, community announcements, and hourly news and weather bulletins. The service also broadcasts programs hosted live by local presenters including calls of local rugby league and rugby union fixtures…”

The ACMA pointed to three local radio stations that had paid for commercial licences (Triple M 105.1, Hit 105.9 and 2EL) and said it “considers that One Central West FM88’s music programming includes genres similar to the music broadcast on commercial stations that are licenced to broadcast in the area”.

“The majority of music broadcast by One Central West FM88, released between the 1970s and 1990s, is similar to the Classic Hits format commonly broadcast on commercial radio stations and is likely to be of broad appeal, especially to an audience over 50 years of age,” ACMA stated.

An extract from the ACMA ruling.

“The music released since 2010 is similar to music commonly broadcast on commercial radio stations targeting a younger audience and is likely to be well known by an audience aged between 15 and 30 years.

The ACMA said it “considers that the music programming broadcast by One Central West FM88 is targeted to a broad audience and not targeted to a special interest group(s)”.

In a submission in defence of its broadcasts, the licensee stated: “The events we produced do have limited appeal, they include a lot of interviews which are long and sometimes boring, commercial or community stations would never do these events as they turn listeners off.”

But the ACMA “did not accept this submission” and found “the overall programming of One Central West FM88 is not of limited appeal”.

It said that information published on One Central West FM88’s website “indicates that the service is targeted to a broad community audience: ‘From our emerging arts scene to wine, food and sport we’ll bring you all the favourite things happening in our city, plus play a heap of your favourite songs – old and new…’”

Licensee Farren Hotham told The Orange News Examiner on Saturday morning that he had been working closely with the ACMA to resolve the issues.

He said the news bulletin was now more of a general public information service. The weather, read by Nathan Hunt, was still under discussion, he said. The station was now only playing music from the 1980s.

The ACMA states: “... generally the ACMA takes the view that services with a music-based format would not meet the narrowcast criteria on the basis that the reception is limited by being targeted to ‘special interest groups’.

“A class of people who are interested in, or fans of, a particular form of music will generally not be regarded as a special interest group.

“Classes of people such as dance music enthusiasts or country music fans are too vaguely defined to be regarded as special interest groups because the actual music being referred to is not adequately identified and, at their broadest, these categories include at least some popular music of broad appeal.”

However Hotham said: “I worked with ACMA on that and said we would revert to what the station was when we purchased it, which was ‘80s, and they were fine with that.”

He said the station would be allowed to continue to do “little outside broadcasts but they have to be of limited interest”.

The Orange News Examiner has put these claims to the ACMA.

Independent media with no agendas is more important than ever. The Orange News Examiner needs your support, if you are able financially, so we can keep telling stories and keep the site free for everyone, no matter their means.

You can make a one-off donation or a small monthly pledge at Patreon or PayPal. A big thank you to those who have already chipped in!


bottom of page