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Radio licence debate intensifies

DMG Radio Australia has added its voice to the debate over the future of radio in Perth.

The group has threatened legal action if Southern Cross Broadcasting and Capital Radio’s controversial proposal to get 6PR and 6IX onto the FM band gets the green light from the Australian Broadcasting Association in the coming weeks.

Under the proposal, Southern Cross Broadcasting and Capital Radio would broadcast on the FM frequencies currently identified for 6NR Curtin Radio and 1170 6AR Noongar Country Radio. As yet, a decision from the ABA is pending.

The threat by DMG has highlighted some of the issues surrounding what DMG Radio Australia chief executive Paul Thompson is calling Southern Cross Broadcasting’s bid for a “back door” FM licence.

“We suggest that if they (the ABA) deal with Perth differently then we would expect that broadcasters all over Australia would consider challenging the process legally,” Mr Thompson said.

“The national principles should apply everywhere. FM licences are considered more valuable because there are reception problems in Perth and a lot of other cities, including Adelaide.”

But industry analysts speculate DMG’s noisy objection to the proposal is driven by the network’s desire to ensure its own AM station in Adelaide gets onto the FM band.

As owner of the Radio West Network, which comprises 10 radio stations in the South West of WA, DMG Radio Australia already has a substantial presence in WA.

DMG is likely to bid for the new FM licence in Perth that will be sold at auction to early in 2002. It’s expected the licence will go for as much as $40 million.

Earlier this year, DMG successfully bid $67 million for a new FM licence in Brisbane.

“We already own all the radio stations in the South West area … so we’re sensitive to WA companies,” Mr Thompson said.

“(This) is misuse of a problem to achieve a windfall. The companies concerned are seeking to use a problem as a reason to achieve a back door FM licence free of charge,” Mr Thompson said.

AM radio stations suffer transmission problems all over Australia. In Perth, the AM radio stations argue that, like the FM stations, their product should be made available to the whole population of Perth.

If DMG and other Australian broadcasters challenge an ABA decision to go with the revised licence plan, the challenge in the High Court could hold up the licences for many months, according to 6NR Curtin Radio station manager Michael Jones.

“We met the ABA a couple of weeks ago and they said straight up that they would prefer to find an AM solution (for 6PR and 6IX), but it’s unlikely there is one,” Mr Jones said.

“They (DMG) will probably bid for the new licence in Perth and probably don’t want added competition on the FM band. They are also saying it will devalue all the FM licences in the market.”

1170 6AR Noongar Country Radio general manager Graeme Edwin is concerned the new FM frequencies that the Southern Cross Broadcasting and Capital Radio deal has found are dogged by another set of transmission problems.

“As far as the frequency which IX and PR would like us to take up, there are concerns about the technology they’re offering,” Mr Edwin said.

“DMG have made some observations that have a lot of strength behind them.”

Southern Cross Broadcasting managing director Tony Bell said the only solution in Perth was to change the AM stations’ frequencies.

“Those who object are objecting on commercial grounds,” he said.

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