Ethnic Radio Station Has Loyal Audiences


WHO speaks Khmer, Maltese, Farsi, Cantonese, Yiddish, and Hindi?

It's radio station 3EA, which is likely the most multicultural radio station in the world. Every day its announcers broadcast in at least 24 languages, and in 60 different tongues per week.

The station is part of Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), which provides radio services for ethnic populations in Sydney and Melbourne. The television news service originates from Sydney but is national in scope. SBS broadcasts on a budget of about $65 million (Australian; US$49 million) per year, of which 18 percent or $11.85 million goes toward radio operations.

The loyalty of the audiences would make most commercial programmers jealous: 60 to 90 percent of each ethnic population listens to its own language broadcast. Eighty percent of Melbourne's large Greek community listens to one of the week's shows. A total of 250,000 people tune in to the station at some point during the week.

The typical broadcast opens with a 10-minute news bulletin which includes news of the world, Australia, and the homeland. There may be an extra five minutes of current affairs programming, which looks at a news event in depth. Sports coverage includes European soccer scores.

Normally, SBS relies on the wire services and homeland stringers for its information. But the station counts on the professionalism of its staff to report the world's ethnic crises. For example, during the Gulf war, radio officials say Arab and Jewish professionals worked closely on providing information. "There was a high degree of cooperation and goodwill," says Ray Moti, acting news editor in Melbourne.

SBS has had difficulty, however, with its coverage of the collapse of Yugoslavia. The station found its normal freelancers were reporting events in a way which could have incited the local population. "They were outspoken so we had to bring in casual [freelance] workers to do the news from an objective point of view," says Walter Ryan, a senior journalist.

After the newscasts, the station normally broadcasts music from the homeland country. But even this can be controversial. Take the Italian broadcasts. Since the audience is older, the listeners prefer traditional music. Recently, however, Riccardo Schirru, a senior journalist for the Italian program, began broadcasting more modern music to try to attract a younger audience. The phone started ringing. "People said, `What is that modern stuff?' " Schirru recalls.

To try to provide longer programs with music for everyone, SBS has applied to the government for a second frequency. "This would solve most of our problems," says Schirru.

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