Why and how was Double Jay established? Using Double Jay as a case study, outline the major differences between commercial radio and public radio in terms of station identities, music programming and regulation. Why was the station considered controversial?
The notion, characteristics and purposes of public radio differ greatly from commercial radio in many ways. The key variation between commercial and public radio in terms of regulation is that commercial stations exist to make profits and satisfy their shareholders while public stations are typically run by local non-profit organizations. These stations receive some operating funds from the government, but they rely on tax payers funding for much of their operation in order to serve public needs and to operate in the public interest. Butsch (2008) also summarised that radio isn't only used to entertain and inform, but also acts as a public sphere, providing citizens means of communication needed to fulfil their role in a democracy, explaining how important this media form is within society.
Public radio was set up in Australia as an alternative to the national and commercial sectors. It aimed to give access to the airwaves to those who would otherwise not have an opportunity to voice their views through the media" (Whitford, 2002). Public radio does not operate within the same confines as commercial radio; it is non-profit, meaning that advertising revenues are not a main priority. Public radio is characteristically less dependant on a strict format programming model like aspects of commercial radio, rather it is designed to appeal to a very specific, less mainstream audience within in a local market. Public radio programming is shaped by citizens with the ability and freedom to develop and create their own content as long as it flows with the desired larger vision. Public radio stations and Double Jay in particular pride themselves on their diverse programming, which is made possible due to less restrictions and constraints compared to those stations within the commercial market. Commercial stations program and cater for the masses meaning there are strict playlist and music programming guidelines to follow. This is juxtaposed with public radio where the power lies within the station to choose a format that their target audience will enjoy.
To understand how and why the impact of Double Jay was considered controversial, it is important to firstly acknowledge how conservative Australian radio was at the time of its establishment in 1975. It was a time when little to no diversity was offered to music radio audiences since commercial radio had become repetitive, structured and locked into strict programming formats and regimes. Top 40 formats and genre-specific programs within the commercial market resulted in repeated station identifications and station play lists that were limited to mainstream pop singles, meaning that alternative music genres and songs were ignored and remained unheard. Public radio was established in 1974 as an alternative form to commercial stations, intended to grant access to radio airwaves for citizens who do not encompass an opportunity to speak up and voice their opinions through the media, therefore giving a voice to the people. "The success of Double Jay and community radio has forced stations to cater for younger listeners" (Cunningham & Turner, 2002) which demonstrates and acknowledges the impact the station has had on the radio industry as a whole. Double Jay was established in response to the apparent need to provide an alternative to commercial pop which dominated mainstream radio, directly aimed at a youth audience of 18-25 year olds. It was the first time youth audiences were presented with a radio station that directly focused and targeted their desires, needs and concerns and consumers couldn't be happier. The birth of Double Jay encompassed a distinctive programming style which is audience centred and free from top 40 formats and heavy constraints which heavily dominated commercial sectors. Double Jay was primarily focused on a youth audience blurring the existing lines between commercial radio and consumers, while providing audiences with alternative music genres combined with controversial and clever communication. Double Jay transformed the dynamics of radio in Australia and its impact was noticeable within the music industry. "All of a sudden there was a station committed to music. It was radical and threatening in comparison to what we were used to listening to" (ABC, 2009). Double j wasn't scared to shock or offend audiences which is part of the reason youth consumers found it appealing.
As alternative stations became well established into the radio scene commercial stations began reworking their programming, formatting and presentation styles. Narrowing and further tightening their focus on ratings,highly structured programming styles, and limited play lists which reflected and reinforced repetition and familiarity instead of diversity. This view is heavily juxtaposed with Double Jay which deliberately included a diverse and eclectic programming policy designed to shock and entertain youth media audiences. The first song aired by double jay in 1975 when the station was established was "Skyhooks, You Just Like Me 'Cos I'm Good in Bed" (Sydney Morning Herald, 2003). Its quite fitting that the song caused uproar of controversy and debate, as it was a reflection of the path the station was to follow, a revolutionary journey in the media business that wasn't afraid to shock or offend its listeners, while at the same time breaking the mould and re-defining the history of radio as we know it.
I believe the idea of commercial radio is to attain as many listeners as possible by providing audiences with a limited mix of songs to maintain a sense of regularity and familiarity. Commercial radio stations deliberately structure their play lists to entertain a certain demographic, by relying on mainstream top 40 hit singles audiences will hear something they recognise therefore feel a sense of comfort which will promote and encourage audiences to continue listening. Ratings and the amount of listeners are crucial to commercial stations and noted as the key indicator of success. Commercial stations focus their airtime and play lists around singles as their universal format of choice as the notion of popularity and mass appeal is considered safer than attempting something different. By primarily focusing on mainstream hit singles and ignoring diverse music genres, developments in non-commercial music were simply not reflected in the play lists of the commercial stations. It is in contrast to commercial stations that illustrate the overall diversity offered by radio programs such as double j, as they were not afraid to break the mould in order to try something different. Double Jay's play lists were not simply limited to singles, and often whole albums were played by particular artists at any time. Australian music and unsigned bands also became a centre point as airtime was given to those who would otherwise have been ignored by commercial radio stations, leading to a rise in the discovery, popularity and support of emerging and upcoming local talent.
Commercial and public radio stations also differ when comparing the role of the host or presenter. The strict limitations placed upon freedom and formatting of music in commercial stations is also evident when considering the format choices for the presenter. Commercial stations are demonstrating a shift in importance of the host's individual choices, skills and personalties as the main driver of success. Although comedians and entertainers are regular hosts on commercial radio stations, their airtime is strictly limited by regulations, scripts and station formats which limits their personal choices as a host. Compared to public radio however; which maintains a more relaxed format allowing hosts additional freedom of choices and the chance to include their own presentation style, allowing their personality to shine through. This can also benefit their ability to connect and communicate to their desired audience as consumers feel they can relate to the presenter and are more inclined to continue listening or tune in again. Less formats and restrictions within the public radio sector also allow for greater diversity and variation in presentation styles, music genres, topics of interest and segments as a whole which all work together to construct the stations overall identity. These points clearly demonstrating the reliance of formatting and regulation within commercial sector in contrast to the reliance of freedom associated with public radio stations. Another factor of importance relating to radio presenters and hosts, is that of gender inequalities. Traditionally roles within the media were dominated by males, it was the inclusion and greater role for women accepted within double j which disrupted previous agreements and customs, once again pushing the boundaries. Double j was the first Australian station to employ a female presenter which still to this day was considered as highly controversial.
Double Jay was established to help create a more diverse and alternative radio station to specifically target youth audiences and cater to their desires and needs. repetition, restricted play lists and endless commercials are just several of the reasons mass audiences became unsatisfied with commercial stations which opened a gateway and oportunity for the birth of double jay, which deliberately included a diverse and eclectic programming policy designed to shock and entertain youth media audiences. The uproar of controversy caused by the first song ever played by Double Jay was to be a reflection of the path the station was to follow, a revolutionary journey in the media industry that wasn't afraid to shock or offend its listeners, while at the same time breaking the mould and re-defining the history of radio as we know it.
- ABC (2009) '30 years of Triple J': ABC web site: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/30years/
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- Craik, J. (1995), 'Striving for difference: commercial radio policy', Public voices, private interests: Australia's media policy, Allen and Unwin, p86-100.
- Cunningham, S. and Turner, G. (2002) The media & communications in Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.
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- Sydney Morning Herald (2003) 'Taboo or not taboo?': SMH web site: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/06/02/1054406124742.html
- Whitford, I. (1992) 'Public radio: the promise and the performance' The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, Vol 6, No.1, pp.25-35.