The future of gay and lesbian broadcasting in Sydney looks brighter with the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s (ABA) announcement that it will go ahead with plans to allocate a community broadcast licence on the AM band.

Aspirant gay and lesbian broadcasters Out FM and Free FM, who made separate unsuccessful bids to be awarded an FM licence last year, are now focusing on bids to gain the AM service over other Sydney-based community groups.

In the ABA announcement, chairman Professor David Flint referred to a Labor Council of NSW request for an open narrowcasting service on the same spectrum as the proposed 5kW AM service.

Flint said the ABA had subsequently accepted a number of public submissions on whether the spectrum would be better utilised through AM community service.

Having considered the information and opinions expressed, the ABA is still of the view that making the frequency available for a community radio service represents the most economic and efficient use of the spectrum, Flint said.

Aspirant broadcasters Out FM have already made a concerted effort to ensure that the ABA amend the Licence Area Plan to allow for an additional community spot on AM since the ABA in August announced that Sydney would not receive its own gay and lesbian FM station.

Out FM president Sean Crellin and the MP for Went-worth Peter King approached ABA chairman Professor David Flint last November. Crellin and King submitted a letter that urged the ABA to ignore the Labor Council of NSW’s narrowband proposal and instead go ahead with plans to amend the Licence Area Plan.

Crellin told Sydney Star Observer this week that he was pleased with the ABA’s decision. He said the amendments were not a new lease on life for the station, but a culmination of five years’ work to gain a service for the community.

We argued that the ABA should make the amendments and immediately go through the process of awarding the licence. [Flint] raised the issue at the December ABA board meeting and this announcement is in response to the outcome of that meeting, Crellin said.

Our impression from the ABA board and people within the bureaucracy is that it is now recognised that there is a need within the broad gay and lesbian community in Sydney to get an electronic media service. [Therefore] I think this community is in a very good position to get the licence.

Free FM executive director Craig Payne said the station is also intending to push for the new licence.

Our position is that broadcasting is broadcasting and we have already submitted a letter of interest to the ABA saying that we would like to go ahead on the AM band, Payne told the Star. Obviously broadcasting on AM is not the best case scenario, but it is a means for community communication and a way for the community to pull together to discuss the issues that we face. At the end of the day, that’s the point of what we’ve all been trying to provide.

Neither Crellin nor Payne expressed concern over the limited capacity of AM to cater for broadcasts with a high musical content.

Crellin said that Out FM has already gained a reputation for providing quality talkback content and that broadcasting on AM would not represent a huge culture shift for the station.

Payne also said that a switch to AM would not cause complications for the station’s strong music-focused format.

We have to ask the community what they want for content. It should not be dictated by us. AM might lend itself more towards talkback, but that doesn’t mean that’s our only option, Payne said. I think we can maintain some musical input and Free FM would also be interested in getting involved in webcasting so that we’d have a digital signal going out as well.

The ABA will now seek public submissions on two technical options on where the transmitter site for the new station should be located.

One option suggests that the station operate at 1386kHz from a transmitter site at Bicentennial Park, Homebush.

Another option would involve the transmitter site being located in Prospect with a directional pattern so that the transmission does not interfere with transmissions from other radio stations in the Prospect area.

It is expected that the ABA will make the proposed amendments to the Licence Area Plan by the end of February and award a licence to the successful applicants by the end of March.

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