Save Radio Skid Row

8 December 2020 | Posted In: #137 Summer 2020,

Inner Sydney’s most radical radio station needs your support to stay on the airwaves. 

The future of Radio Skid Row in Sydney’s inner west is under threat following the announcement by the Community Broadcast Foundation (CBF) to no longer fund the station’s operational costs. “The decision makes no sense to us,” says Radio Skid Row president Huna Amweero. “[The CBF] chose to kneecap the most historically and radically diverse station in NSW — maybe even Australia.”

Ethnic programming makes up for more than 70 percent of Radio Skid Row’s schedule. Its community language service includes programs for the Nepalese, Sierra Leonean, Macedonian, Ghanaian and Pakistani communities. Skid Row also allots airtime to various Pacific Island communities including Niuean, Cook Islander, Tongan, Melanesian, Maori, Fijian, and Samoan. The station is home to the longest running African program in Australia — Afrika Connexions — which began just one year after the station launched and continues to broadcast pan African news and music each week in the same Sunday lunchtime slot. This is the first time in Radio Skid Row’s 38-year history that the station has received no operational support for the 47 hours of community language programs broadcast each week.

Radio Skid Row first went to air in 1982 with test broadcasts to Long Bay Jail. It received its first broadcast licence in 1983. From the outset, Radio Skid Row has supported the most marginalised communities in inner Sydney. The station’s first broadcasters included members of Redfern’s Indigenous community, migrant railway workers from the Eveleigh Street railyards, and just about every activist organisation in Sydney — including anti-apartheid groups, Greenpeace, the Prisoners’ Action Group, the Squatters’ Association, and the Unemployed Workers’ Union — to name just a few.

Radio Skid Row is well known for having an impact that far outreaches its relatively small broadcast footprint. In the 1980s, Skid Row established Radio Redfern and supported a collective of Indigenous broadcasters who dreamt of running their own radio station. In the 1990s, Radio Redfern became Koori Radio which continued to broadcast on Skid Row until it was finally awarded its own licence in 2001. Muslim Family Radio began at Skid Row, too, with overnight Ramadan broadcasts. Skid Row also pioneered Pacific African community broadcasting at a time when the rest of the radio sector was virtually ignoring new and emerging communities.

More recently, the older Skid Rowers — many of whom have been on air for more than 20 years — handed over the management of the station to a new generation of media activists. The station has since launched a number of new projects, including a BIPOC media collective. “It’s an astonishing decision [to defund Skid Row] during the period of the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased calls for more diverse voices in the Australian media,” says Amweero.

For much of 2020, Skid Row has focused on informing and uplifting communities through the uncertainty of a global pandemic. “Producing radio remotely was a challenge,” says Amweero, “but we stayed true to our roots with the voices of the most marginalised communities on the airwaves 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The answer to Skid Row’s funding woes, says Amweero, is independence. “We need to be completely independent, free from the predominantly white bureaucracy of the sector and be supported by community if we’re going to be here for the next generation. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the need for communities to band together to survive. Radio Skid Row is fighting for its freedom so our most disadvantaged communities can continue to have a voice without the risk of being defunded. What this means in practical terms, is that we need community support to close this funding gap and invest in our vision to become a 100 percent community funded radio station. After 38 years of survival, of pioneering community radio, we know we’re going to make it, but we can’t do it without the community’s support.”

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