By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community
If anyone doubted the power of community to connect us, keep us healthier, and battle disadvantage, they'd need look no further than community radio.
Researcher Dr Simon Order, from Murdoch University in Western Australia, says there is strong evidence that community broadcasting is a powerful antidote to loneliness and much more, as spelt out in his 2017 report Community Radio: The Joy of Social Connection.
With 450 radio and television broadcasters across Australia catering for every demographic, ethnic group, age and sexual orientation - and with an estimated five million listeners each week - community sector media holds valuable lessons for every not-for-profit and the way they go about governance.
Community media also caters for LGBTIQ groups, prisoners, artists, new migrants, people with visual impairments and other disabilities, remote and urban indigenous groups, and many who would struggle to find a forum in mainstream media.
Environmental groups, feminists and alternative political groups, who are often sidelined on commercial stations, also find a voice on community radio.
"Community broadcasting in Australia should be valued as a medium to reduce social isolation and enrich community cohesion," Dr Order says, in the report commissioned by the Community Broadcasting Foundation.
His research references several other studies revealing that community radio participants and listeners are strongly motivated by wanting social interaction, participation in networks, and "the joy of social connection".
Dr Order's study found similar patterns applicable across a range of media outlets, from the Melbourne youth station SYN, to stations such as 6RPH in Perth, which caters to people with visual impairments.
"The results show that community radio, as an antidote to isolation, functions effectively across a range of ages and irrespective of gender," the study says.
Dr Order also found community media played a significant role in strengthening the cultural identities of a variety of ethnic communities, with programs broadcast in almost every language spoken in Australia.
He found that ethnic broadcasting provides "a valuable service to ameliorate social isolation and support community cohesion", particularly for new migrants, and that radio services for prisoners connect some of the most isolated people of all to the "outside".
Of course, the engine of community media is volunteers themselves, and Dr Order carefully explores the need to understand their motivations and rewards.
He highlights the benefits for organisations of bringing volunteers into the inner circles of operations and decision-making processes.
Dr Order's contribution to the body of knowledge about the power of community radio continued this month with the release of the study Social Impact at RTRFM, which he co-authored after being commissioned by Perth radio station RTRFM. The project was funded by Lotterywest and backed by the WA Council of Social Service (WACOSS).
His social impact analysis of the Perth community radio stalwart, which pitches itself as "the sound alternative", found "significant social impacts in each of the areas we investigated".
Dr Simon Order helped produce a study into the RTRFM community, with the station saying that it highlighted the big positive effects the organisation contributed to volunteers and the wider community. Picture: Cam Campbell.
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