Let’s Discuss Radio Content Quotas - MusicNSW

Drum Media Column – November –2011

Let’s Discuss Radio Content Quotas

By Kirsty Brown

Recently in the press, there has been a lot of discussion around radio content quotas and Commercial Radio Australia attempting to abolish the guidelines that dictate the level of Australian music that needs to be programmed.

For many reasons, this is something that Australians need to challenge, as the ramifications of deregulating radio will be long lasting and wide reaching.

Here, we take a look at some of the key issues.

Free Trade Agreement

The Free Trade agreement means that Australian content quotas can never be increased beyond 25% of marketshare. The reality is, that if content quotas go down, they will never be able to go back up.

Do we really want to support an industry that is prepared to marginalize its own artists and musicians to give preference to music from outside our own country?


I recently had the pleasure of meeting with the AirNZ team, who had some sage words of advice. Firstly, in the late 80s, the NZ government completely deregulated the radio industry and NZ-made music plummeted to only 2% of radio content. To get out of the quagmire, the government was forced to invest tens of millions of dollars into supporting the production of kiwi music and created jobs for people to pitch that music back to the commercial radio stations, incentivizing the stations to play it. Now, the local industry is thriving, but it took going through a creative dark-age for the commercial radio stations to realize, actually, this music is pretty good aye bro and we should probably just play it… Now, they do, and locally produced music is willingly played on commercial radio up to almost 40% on some stations, no less than 20% on the rest. So it took deregulation for the radio stations to eventually willingly play content at the same rate they were originally regulated at, and cost the government millions of dollars in the process. Does anyone else see a problem here?

Sucks To Be You

Joan Warner, the CEO of Commercial Radio Australia was recently quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, ”We don’t produce a quarter of the world’s music, so why would you want to hear more than one in four songs that’s Australian?”

There are many reasons why such a statement is dismissive and ignorant, but enforcing and encouraging Tall Poppy Syndrome is not a valuable reason for shunning Australian-made music off the airwaves. Looking at examples from around the world, France provides both an interesting experiment and positive outcome. In 1994, the French government moved to increase content of French music on the airwaves to 40% (from around 15%) of all music played, feeling that it’s contribution to the music landscape was under threat from globalization and an influx of English-language music from the UK and US. More than a decade later, radio stations that had fiercely opposed the move, fearing it would destroy their listenership and advertising revenue, have all significantly increased their marketshare, and the continued support of the industry has lead to a boon in the production of quality French music, allowing huge amount of bands export their music internationally to English language markets, think Phoenix, M83, Camille, Nouvelle Vague, Air etc.

The link is obvious- if Australian radio stations play more Australian content, not less, it will increase the amount of Australians making radio-worthy music which is beneficial for the music industry on all fronts. As Nick O’Byrne from AIR wrote this week, “There used to be an excuse that Australian music just didn’t have the production values of music from the USA or UK so radio couldn’t play it… You’re telling us that commercial pop from Gotye, Empire Of The Sun, Powderfinger, Temper Trap, The Presets, Kimbra and Miami Horror doesn’t cut it?” Here, here!