The Hot Seat: Chris Johnson, Amrap

Published in The Music Network

 

It’s crunch-time for Amrap. Until now, the national community radio initiative has been funded through the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and is managed by the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. When the Government revealed its Federal Budget on May 8, however, there was no money allocated for the service. It’s a situation which has left the independent music community bewildered. And it’s placed Amrap on a knife’s edge.

Amrap distributes new Australian music to more than 1,500 broadcasters from 300 community radio stations nationwide, and last year serviced music from upwards of 1,000 unsigned artists and 100 record labels. The organisation has distributed more than 90,000 Australian music files online since its AirIt arm launched in October 2009, and its packed-and-posted 70,000 CDs to stations with limited Internet access. The project also claims more than 900 broadcasters use its Amrap Pages service to promote homegrown artists on station websites. Chris Johnson was appointed manager of Amrap in late 2008 when it received funding to generate airplay and online promotions opportunities for contemporary Australian music through community radio stations.

Amrap is in a tricky funding situation. What happened and what’s the latest?

Last year the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) asked us to apply to renew the four-year funding term we’ve operated under since 2008. They commissioned an independent review of Amrap which returned highly positive results and they asked us to apply for the existing budget of $600,000 per annum and provide an alternative bigger budget of $1 million per annum. So things looked really positive. But it appears that late in the Federal Budget, Amrap was shuffled to the Arts portfolio and fell into a defunded hole. The DBCDE and Senator Conroy’s office then said that they were working to find solutions. The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia is continuing discussions. But weeks on from the budget we still have no clear indication that the Government will resolve the crisis before funding runs out on June 30. If we don’t receive funding soon, the Government will jeopardise the airplay and online promotion of Australian music to millions of radio listeners.

Why do we need Amrap?

Community radio listenership has risen in the past ten years to 4.4 million weekly listeners and 9.3 million monthly. Amrap provides critical community radio infrastructure to promote Australian music on air and online. Community radio supports Australian music, but it’s extremely challenging for musicians and labels to target and distribute music to the hundreds of community broadcasters who decide what gets to air. It’s also challenging to track airplay and efficiently promote Australian music through community radio websites. The commercial market has never resolved these issues, so Amrap breaks these barriers for thousands of Australian broadcasters and musicians. Since inception, Amrap has facilitated a 5% rise in Australian music airplay, taking the national community radio average to 37%, which is well-above the minimum mandated requirements for community radio. Community radio stations are becoming multiplatform broadcasters with fiercely loyal audiences and Amrap provides the gateway for Australian music.

What argument are you taking to Government?

It’s unfortunate that we were mistakenly shuffled towards the Arts department in the budget process but now we need the DBCDE to restore our funding. Amrap aligns directly with the media, communications and technology objectives of the DBCDE. It would be a massive step back for Australia’s media landscape – especially in regional Australia – if community radio lost access to new local music for airplay. Losing Amrap is also a massive backward step on the Government’s commitment to provide national online infrastructure to advance our digital economy. On one hand, the Government is rolling out a national broadband network to improve online services, and on the other they’re failing to support a critical online service that thousands of Australian musicians and broadcasters rely on to securely distribute and promote music on air and online. The Government has been fully briefed on the value of Amrap since we were funded through quarterly reports and last year’s DBCDE commissioned independent review. But we’ve restated our case and I’ve written directly to Senator Conroy regarding our latest achievements.

So what is your next move?
Up until now we’ve kept media coverage and stakeholder lobbying to a minimum to give the Government time to fix the funding. The CBAA is continuing discussions with Government but I can’t hold back stakeholder discontent if we don’t receive a clear commitment from the Government soon. Amrap is still a bona fide success story for the Government and it’s not too late for Senator Conroy to champion our revival.

What’s the worst-case scenario?
The community radio sector can only prop up Amrap for so long so we’d have to slash services and thousands of musicians would miss out on airplay and online promotions.

And the best?
If the Government immediately refunds the 2012-13 financial year and works with the CBAA to secure ongoing funding for Amrap.

What can the music community can do to help

Please post your support at amrap.org so we can share your stories with Senator Conroy and the DBCDE. Because we’re funded through the DBCDE we don’t detract from the arts funding pool but we deliver real results for the music community. That’s a win-win so now is the time to fight for Australian music on Australian radio.

 

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