Radical Radio – ‘One Hundred Steps’

Fifty Years of Resistance and Representation: A Historical Account of Australian Community Radio. Heather Anderson , Bridget Backhaus , Juliet Fox & Charlotte Bedford
Pages 234-254 | Published online: 02 Nov 2020

It never actually occurred to us that it [letter of condemnation of annexation of Palestine] wouldn’t get published [in the mainstream media]. As familiar as we are with the silencing of Palestinian voices, we thought that the strength of this statement, and the names attached to it, would overcome any of those usual obstacles.” – Sarah Jacob in conversation with Randa Abdel-Fattah in Australian media’s silence on Palestine is deafening Winter 2020 – rightnow.org.au

4zzz in the old Communist Party Headquarters in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

4ZZZ arose out of the anti-war movement.

I have been thinking about the basis of a show about radical radio that seeks to bring about change …

What prompted this was that I have seen at least six managers (formerly called station co-ordinators) come and go at Zed during my involvement with the station (1976-2020): John Stanwell (not sure if he was a manager but he was certainly an influential person), Jim Beatson, Dennis Reinhart …followed by a big gap while I was in full time work (1982-2006) and then from 2010 … Michelle Brown, Innez Tulloch, and Grace Pashley.

My experience was the ‘early managers’ held Zed back. They did not go to the core issues of the day (democratic rights and uranium mining and export) and did not make enough effort to connect with activists in these struggles.

Sure, they would argue they held back to secure a high-power licence, admittedly at a time of reactionary governments (Fraser, Bjelke-Petersen). But did they take enough risks? They would not throw everything in behind the street march campaign to bring back democratic rights and to bring down the government.

Zed did support the 1982 Commonwealth Games Land Rights protests but, on their 30th anniversary in 2012, left coverage of the G20 protests solely to 3CR. The Melbourne-based station set up an outside broadcast in Musgrave Park during the Commonwealth Games anniversary and G20.

Meanwhile 4ZZZ kept pumping out the music interspersed by news mostly from sources other than our own. Is this what independent media is about? The music is important, it keeps us sane, but Radical Radio requires more. Recently I know the music department has been especially stretched during the pandemic. Back in 2012 we were not able to get together a single outside broadcast for the  duration of G20 – I was told the OB equipment was not working  …

4ZZZ Radio Times Nov 1978

During the Right to March campaign in the late 1970s, a small group created 4PR – Voice of the People at the University of Queensland Union Forum area. We set about and organised an afternoon for change on Wednesdays and even made a few illegal pirate broadcasts from Mt Cootha. We ran new people for the 4ZZ board (Gay Summy, Tony Torrisi, Carole Ferrier and myself) under the slogan ‘Don’t Let Sleeping Bananas Lie’ in order to bring about change eschewed by the ‘social left’.

But change has been a long wait … in 1977 our civil liberties program was banned under a pretext that it was not of sufficient technical quality. It criticized the Fraser government’s mining and export of uranium. Perhaps coincidentally, it was a station co-coordinator who went on to become a mining entrepreneur who chucked us off air.

Move forward to the small Paradigm Shift collective (2009-2020) making weekly broadcasts that ‘challenge the assumptions of our current society, to resist oppression and investigate alternative ways of living for a world based on justice, solidarity and sustainability’.

The last three managers (Michelle, Innez, and Grace) have all run the station as good community radio should be under the guidance of a progressive board.

In 2011, I was interviewed about my involvement at the station. I was told that we could re-visit my critique of community radio and involvement at the station (on-air) as not being radical and political enough … all the best laid plans.

At a meeting of the News show volunteers and the manager I tried proposing that 4ZZZ strive to become a genuine media organisation with a focus on reporting actual local events from a political perspective. Others have made similar attempts. I was hoping to self-fund news and current affairs at Zed.

Radical Radio on Zed grid [there may be others]
Police officer attacks unionist standing up for refugee rights at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane October 2020

In the end making radical programs has been confined to a few dedicated individuals mainly on midday shows at Zed often with real encouragement and support. There has been no suggestion of censorship as long as we stay within the rules laid down by the broadcasting legislation i.e. so long as there is no threat to our licence.

Of course we still have governments as reactionary as those of the 1970s. The current Queensland government has banned effective protests against coal and has supported police attacks on campaigners against refugee detention at ‘KP Prison’ [See Exile on Main Street]. During an outside broadcast at the KP detention centre six police threatened me with arrest and confiscation of my equipment. So much for press freedom.

Radicals are literally ‘in the trenches’ on many fronts.

As expected the Australian government continues to back the United States despite the dangerous impact the Trump presidency had in our region re trade & a possible shooting war with China. If elected, Biden will probably make similar moves against China as Trump.

Riot squad deployed against refugee activists in Brisbane

A time for change? 

Will community radio throw everything we have got against the reactionaries and risk all? 

Or will community radio stations just keep on staying out of trouble as the early managers at Zed would have us do?

Community Radio 4ZZZ boycotts Eurovision 2019 in Israel

The Station issued the following statement:

“4ZZZ has highlighted Palestinian issues since commencing broadcasting in 1975, and we have decided that covering the contest as had been done in recent years would be inconsistent with our relationship with Palestinian Australians and others who support the #BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and its goals of freedom and equality for all Palestine people in the Occupied Territories.

For this reason there will be no 4ZZZ Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) correspondent travelling to Israel nor any coverage of ESC this year on Queer Radio or any specific programs relating to the contest on Zed Digital.” Free Palestine!

What do you think?  What is the future of radical radio?

One Hundred Steps’ is the number of steps from the house of an activist in the small town of Cinisi in Sicily to that of a mafia don. Peppino Impastato set up a radio station called “radio Aut” which condemned the Mafia and reported the local don’s participation in the drug trade. The mafia murdered Peppino Impastato on May 9, 1978. Most of the town came out at his funeral to show solidarity and opposition to mafia control of their lives. Initially the authorities treated it as a suicide. Until 1997 when the case was reopened and the murderer convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The story was made into a film called ”i cento passi‘ (one hundred steps).

Practical steps
I think 4ZZZ could begin by doing outside broadcasts of refugee solidarity and climate change protests. We would need a resourced team of news and current affairs people carrying press passes equipped with a mobile OB unit to cover these events. So I am proposing we form a collective to achieve this.

We would need to take an active role in local and current events, to challenge heavy handed behaviour by police, Serco and government officials. For example we need to challenge the relevant minister(s) why a police officer has been allowed to get away with assaulting a unionist supporting refugee rights in front of KP prison. We need to do live broadcasts.

What I can see is that this would be very useful in certain situations e.g. when the union guy was hit to the ground by the riot squad cop (pictured above) an immediate live cross with interviews from eyewitnesses could have got more people to the event (to pacify the cops and support the refugees) and given a more accurate report of what was happening on the ground.

We do need to raise funds because we will need an organiser/technical person to co-ordinate the day-to-day business of running an OB unit. she/he/they would need to be based at the station but also would have to attend activist meetings like Refugee Solidarity, XR and frontline action on coal.

But most of all we need / want more radical coverage on community radio like Zed and need to spell out the steps to get there.  

Ian Curr
Paradigm Shift
4ZZZ fm 102.1
Fridays at Noon
4 Nov 2020


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