Saturday, August 31, 2013

A fantastic broadcasting opportunity for the handicapped, denied by selfish radio incumbents and government.


Think about this for a moment; a radio station that plays a huge archive of music, over the pre-existing formats where the same 100 songs are played everyday - something that would arouse excitement in the Sydney radio market.  Think then when the station rates, it could raise the same advertising revenue as other radio stations.  But here's the most important element - The news bulletins and information segments would be exclusively about disability issues, something not available in the current Sydney radio market.

Then, this only gets better.  When the station starts turning over a stable profit, it could then employ those with a disability, giving them the same income and opportunities as everyone else.  These things include being able to rent or save up for a comfortable unit or house.  These include even just the basic things, like being in a position to shout friends to the movies, dinner, and other social events.  Most importantly, those with a disability would be able to easily pay their groceries, electricity, phone, and internet bills, with having money on the side to save.

Now think how much less of a load this would be on the government welfare system.  With someone being employed, generating an income, and in a position of paying their own way, they feel emotionally, mentally, and psychologically healthier.  Even better yet, they are contributing tax back into the system, rather then being a financial liability.  This means less money comes out of social security, less stress on emergency government housing, less of a patient load for doctors, and well, in the end I can't emphasise how much commonsense this makes.

Having a radio station that frequently airs handicapped issues; the wider community could then appreciate the full scope and array of material this area covers.  Essentially this would also be a learning opportunity for many who don't understand certain disabilities, and can enrich their knowledge without the embarrassment of not knowing.  It seems many people are not familiar with certain disabilities, because they would feel awkward in asking the person straight out.  So with this in mind, the radio fulfills this gap, spontaneously enlightening many others, who without such a station would not understand. 

When the 2PR FM concept was first entertained in early 1999, this was the driving ethos behind establishing such a radio station.  With the station now in its fourteenth year of operation on the internet, this is still the exact same principle, why not? Everything is good about it, and if pitched to the right person, it would sell.  

This is easy for me to say as it's my own baby, but obviously I was already making the right waves when ZD Net reviewed 2PR FM in 2000, the very year the station launched.  Back then they understood that I was not just another backyard radio station, but a project targeted at gaining an FM license in Sydney for fulfilling such a dream, one that would be beneficial for so many out there with a handicap. 

This model of thinking has already paid dividends in other areas like software testing.  The Specialists in Denmark is a company established by Thorkil Sonne that mainly employs those on the Autism spectrum. Sonne understood that most on the spectrum don't get a fair chance at paid employment, because of the difficulties they have navigating various social situations.  Worried that his autistic son would also suffer such a fate, it was this concern that motivated him to start such a venture.  The company has been so successful that it has completed projects for Microsoft and Cisco.  

Back here in Australia, It is certainly great when we hear about the few with a handicap who have made it, like Australian paralympian; Kurt Fearnley.  He has won a number of medals for Australia, demonstrating what those with a disability can do when given the chance.  Unfortunately the vast majority of those with a disability in Australia struggle everyday on a meager income, like a support pension.  In many cases they are frustrated by government bureaucracy when trying to get things done.

This is why I was determined from the beginning to distinguish 2PR FM from not just being another internet stream operated from someone's living room.  From the vary outset, all the elements of the station were approached as if it was going to be a terrestrial broadcaster. 

Building the radio station has included the ground up development of a website, which included much graphic design, page layout, research, and constant updating.  The on air activities involved the production of many radio shows, station promos and IDs, advertisements and sponsor announcements, and scheduling.  Marketing 2PR included the designing, printing, and distribution of thousands of flyers and brochures across Sydney, and getting the word out to press.  As the station evolved, Penrith Press published a further story on 2PR FM in June 2002.  This was when I announced plans for launching a regular program schedule.

As copyright rules and market conditions changed, I felt very much that the internet radio scene was becoming rather crowded, so by 2005 my plans for obtaining a terrestrial license for Sydney were expedited.  Understanding that ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) just don't hand out licenses, I had to present a pretty damn good case for obtaining an FM license. 

The FM band in Sydney has a number of commercial stations, all of which play the same 100 songs everyday.  ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) auction commercial licenses off, and they generally go for around and over $100 million.  With these price tags together with a six year moratorium on the issuing of new broadcast licenses, our selfish government has successfully kept the ownership of a radio station exclusively for the rich. 

Radio licenses in Australia are granted to those with the deepest pockets or the right social connections, rather then who can provide the best experience for the listener.  They are also two High Power Open Narrowband licenses that have been granted in Sydney.  Both of them have been snapped up by minority groups that in total present no more then 5% of Sydney's population.  10% of Sydney's population has a disability of some sort, yet there is no radio channel that represents this group, again highlighting the point that one has to have the right social contacts to have a chance at these things.   

So with this in mind, I researched, compiled, and published a detailed submission to explain why 2PR FM should obtain a license.  I had many ideas in my head, but had to find many sources, including newspaper articles, essays, university papers, and other documentation from accredited authors and institutions to support the arguments and proposals presented in my submission. 

Seven years later, the main part of my submission was completed, and submitted to my local Member of Parliament.  It was also sent to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, who then referred me onto the Department of Broadband and Communications (ACMA's parent department).  My local MP was gob smacked on the amount of work I had placed in, but soon afterwards lost any enthusiasm to help me further.  I learned six months later that his party was in receipt of a major donation from Austereo, one of Australia's largest radio networks.  So I guess with that, we don't want to upset our donors, which explains his reluctance.  Also at the same time, I received a defiant no from the Department of Broadband and Communications with no will or attempt of exploring the concept.  I continued lobbying various minor parties and potential candidates, but again, no progress could be made.

The strangest experiences I've encountered with this entire project, was the meetings with my local MP and his secretary.  As noted earlier, he did inform me that he read the entire thing, but the question is, did he really?  During another meeting he expressed the concerns that if ACMA gave me a license for 2PR FM, that it would set a precedent.  He also noted that being a single guy rather then a group, was not going to count in my favour when attempting to obtain a license.  As both these concerns were thoroughly addressed in my submission, his arguments and advice had become rather irrational, as it was quite apparent he was half cocked.  But then as noted earlier, I guess he didn't want to upset those donors from that other rival radio network. 

The most intensive and involving task of setting up the radio station, has been the production of a multi thousand track music library.  Over the last seven years, I have manually mastered 18,000 individual audio tracks to lossless WAV format, with many more to be added over coming years.  This has involved obtaining the best quality copy of every individual track, and mastering it to professional radio standards.  This is akin to what is done at radio production houses like TM Century Studios in America.  Aside from having a playlist based on a large archive of music, 2PR FM would also have a superior sound quality.


Employers are generally reluctant to take on someone with a visual impairment, because of the occupational insurance risks such a handicap would represent, plus the reduced speed of work when compared to other colleagues.  However with all the background work almost complete for my radio station, having it broadcast like other FM stations would remedy all these issues. 

For example a typical job like data entry, customer service, or anything else is dependant on how many units of work the person completes an hour compared to others.  If all the elements are setup, a radio station plays the same amount of songs and ads every hour regardless of how fast the station owner can work.   With 2PR FM almost ready, it seems I'm only a broadcast license away from making this dream come true.  I would have a format of music to sell to a market, rather then the slower speed of my work. 

In today’s market, there is no place for the worker that's a little slower.  Here in Australia ones only option is a sheltered workshop, known here as Business Service Centres where the going rate is $1.70 an hour.  There is no way in the world that a bank would consider someone with such an income for a house mortgage.  

Despite having moderate Asperger's Syndrome with only 20% vision in one eye, I've successfully completed my Higher School Certificate in the late 80s.  I've also graduated from several courses (both TAFE and private), numerous work experiences with good reports, and accomplished many personal projects.  In all my attempts of finding employment, I've signed with many job agencies, many of which cater for those with a disability.  In 2008 my TAFE teacher with his wife, who had an autistic son themselves, made a documentary about my struggles with Asperger's Syndrome, and how I've never seen paid employment.  Most spectacularly "Rainman goes to Rockwiz" highlighted my gift of listing any top 40 chart from the 80s from the top of my head.  Never being able to find work, coupled with this incredible skill, being self employed with my radio station seemed to be the perfect solution.  

With an election currently pending in Australia, I've launched a petition, together with a radio and television campaign.  Gaining enough signatures on my petition would encourage the relevant ministers to do something.  I guess being honest though; no competing station is going to advertise an opposing radio stations license campaign, so with this I approached the television networks.  The ABC's 7:30 report could not do a story on 2PR FM because all their stories have been commissioned for the foreseeable future.  Channel Nine could not commit to running my television spot because they feel they get so many requests and can only fulfill so many.  Community radio FBI couldn't syndicate my stream overnight as they use this time to train up new programmers.  I also looked into syndicating my stream overnight with 2RPH radio, but after some initial correspondence, that line of enquiry also fell silent.

I've joined up with some social clubs and organisations, such as People with Disabilities (PWD), and Aspect NSW who advocate for those on the autistic spectrum.   Wile attending one of Aspect's social nights, I kind of rediscovered my love for the 80s game Trivial Pursuit, but more incredibly found a hidden enthusiasm for my radio station.  There was around 50 to 60 people attending, and many of them were very, very interested in the 2PR FM idea.   The flair and fire for such a radio station is definitely alive, and I have hit a nerve

On the other hand, whether it be getting the message out about 2PR FM or trying to get the station licensed, attempting to speak to anyone with any influence is just impossible.  I seem to hit the great Berlin wall of communication.  The person I'm trying to reach is either at a meeting, or has there answering bank on.  I'm often given e-mail addresses from receptionists where my mails are either ignored, or a quick response like "Unfortunately we can not.....".

Which begs the entire point of this blog; it’s incredible that nobody in any influential position has the time to listen to my ideas, but I'll have staff from Housing NSW constantly harassing me.  I currently have my rent subsidised from Housing NSW as I no longer can't afford the market rent of the place I'm in.  They are trying to push me out of my current place of residence and into a studio.  Where I live is a modest two bedroom unit, it's not luxury, but it's comfortable, and it suits my visual impairment and Asperger's Syndrome.  Anyone with half a brain could work out that it would be more beneficial for the government to be devoting the same energy to getting me a job, rather then threatening to cut off my subsidy, if I don't look at their offerings which are nothing more then dog cages. 


So to conclude, it's amazing that at 44 I've done so much in life, everything possible to be a contributing member to society.  I now have a radio station that's been broadcasting live now for the last four years, with a format firmly established and a program schedule that contains nearly 20,000 tracks.  I have an idea that would reinvigorate Sydney's radio scene, and spark excitement.  I am a person capable of operating a radio station, but incredibly I can't even find a job stacking groceries, because the employer again is scared of occupational insurance issues. 

With Australia being such an affluent country, recently coming off a huge mining boom, I can't believe that nobody has recognised my skills, and wanted to investigate the possibility of operating 2PR FM as a fully operational terrestrial FM broadcaster.  Even if the Department of Broadband and Communications could not grant me an FM license, they are still many alternatives.

a:)  We recently had a legal aid lawyer; David Mann who took on the Gillard Government's immigration laws and won, yes, a lawyer defeats a government in Australia's high court.  Through compiling my submission, I've discovered more holes in Australia's broadcast law then Swiss cheese.  It would be great if there was another David Mann who could exploit these holes for getting 2PR FM a license.  Again, this is not just getting my radio station a license, but a voice in Sydney that advocates for those with a disability. 

b:) another avenue that 2PR FM could pursue is the acquisition of digital spectrum.  Apparently the advantage of digital radio is that it can offer many more channels.  But here in Sydney, the incumbents have squandered the entire spectrum again, leaving nothing for the likes of 2PR FM.    One network has gone to the lengths of buying so much spectrum, so they'd be none left for any new competitors.  Could this be an ACCC issue?  Again this is something that someone could look into; no doubt they would be some very enlightening anti-competitive behaviour to be discovered.  

c:) With 2PR FM already established on the internet, it could migrate into a terrestrial model very quickly.  This could present it self as a great opportunity for a new overseas network to break into the Australian market.   Maybe they can buy out one of the Sydney stations, give it a clean sweep, and employ the 2PR FM model. 


I find it incredible that after the amount of work I've placed into such a project, that I haven't even been offered some digital spectrum.  The main route of achieving such things is lobbying - an exercise which involves much social interaction, and the ability to reach the right contacts.  I feel in the end, my ultimate obstacle has been my Asperger's Syndrome.  I certainly don't, and never would make it an excuse - that's not my attitude.  But not being able to reach the right people over such a long period of time - one has to wonder.  So now that I've explained all above, I'm hoping that they will be some well connected people reading this.  With this in mind, I hope it will cross someone who has much influence, someone who can give this a go - for all the good it offers. 

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