The future of a community radio station with a 36-year history is in doubt, with the station's board president conceding the association is in a financially perilous position while disgruntled volunteers have made complaints about how the association has been managed.
ArtSound FM took its local programming off the air on Monday in an effort to draw attention to a fundraising and renewal campaign. The embattled station posted a more than $45,000 deficit in the 2019 calendar year.
A "rejuvenation" campaign has seen announcements on the station calling for donations to reach a target of $150,000, which would fund the station's operation for six months.
But station volunteers have been left feeling blindsided by the move, with a complaint about the programming interruption made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which oversees broadcast licenses.
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The authority confirmed it had received a complaint which it was assessing. The first complaint about ArtSound in at least five years.
A separate complaint, signed by 12 station volunteers, has been sent to the registrar-general of incorporated associations, alleging eight breaches of the act by ArtSound's office bearers.
"We believe that these breaches demonstrate a history of disregard for financial and administrative accountability, including the rules of natural justice and proper procedure in dealing with complaints and concerns by members," the complaint said.
The Sunday Canberra Times understands about a dozen presenters and long-term volunteers have resigned from the station, with several approaching other community stations in the region.
ArtSound president Amalijah Thompson said there had been distortions of what the volunteer board had tried to do. "Things like we've dumped all our presenters, which isn't true at all," she said.
Programs will need to reapply and be assessed by an expert committee but the board had already flagged "problematic" programs, Ms Thompson said.
The station's board issued a memorandum to all staff and volunteers in February outlining stricter controls on musical genres played on air, which prompted a contested special general meeting rejected by the board.
"Effective Monday 1 April 2019, the only music genres to be broadcast on ArtSound FM will be jazz (including jazz crossover music), blues, folk, world, and classical music from the early music era through to the present day. No other genres will be played on air in any timeslot. This is programming policy, not a loose guideline," the memorandum said.
"When we asked presenters to please stick to what we're supposed to play, that's when all hell broke loose. From our side, we could have managed that much better and followed that up much better. It wasn't really addressed quickly enough," Ms Thompson said.
Ms Thompson said an independent program committee had decided what fit into the required genres.
However, volunteers have said the strict interpretation of the genre requirement ignored the station's constitution, which says music should "predominantly" encompass those genres.
Ms Thompson said the board was reviewing the constitution due to its "ambiguity and lack of clarity".
When community radio first hit the airwaves, Canberra was a very different city. The internet was years off, volunteer culture was strong and for many groups an on air slot was their best link to the world. Musicians and journalists cut their teeth - and quarter-inch tape - in simple and rudimentary studios.
But now stations have been forced to reckon with the digital age, where musicians can find their audiences online and the technology to produce and distribute a podcast is cheap and accessible, while facing ever shrinking funding pools.
Amalijah Thompson, president of the ArtSound FM board, this week said community radio stations had to face the current economic climate and focus on their core purpose.
"We're not the only station struggling. Grant funding is changing, funding models are changing everywhere. Economy slowing, drying up of philanthropic funds, and people don't join organisations like they used to. The world's very different, and different technologies that impact are diluting our market considerably," Ms Thompson said.
Last Friday afternoon, ArtSound presenters were informed all live-to-air programs would be suspended for three weeks while the station embarked on a "rejuvenation" process.
We're not going to attract new people by pandering to the sensibilities of 75-year-olds who leave the radio on ArtSound all day.Long-term presenter Steven Stroud
Ms Thompson said the dramatic step would allow time to work on technical upgrades and program development - and get the attention of the community. "We really needed to know, given the cost of operating and given the effort it takes to keep ArtSound growing and developing, what the Canberra community wants of us, or what they like or don't like, or what we should be," she said.
But volunteers, many of whom have worked at the station for more than a decade, said the extreme action would erode listener numbers and alienate presenters.
Tensions between the board and some volunteers were heightened by the memorandum issued in February announcing a strict interpretation of music genres ArtSound could play.
Long-term presenter Steven Stroud said he had quit the station frustrated by the new focus, which he said would hamper variety. "We're not going to attract new people by pandering to the sensibilities of 75-year-olds who leave the radio on ArtSound all day," he said.
Mr Stroud said he did not want to see the station "go down the tube" but said he would not renew his membership when it expired at the end of the month.
The Sunday Canberra Times has spoken to half a dozen members who are either reconsidering their involvement or who have resigned and sought out opportunities with other community radio stations.
Former president Richard Scherer said local voices were central to community radio. "By keeping local voices off air, the board is treating its listeners, as well as its volunteers, with contempt," he said.
Member and committed listener Col Bernau said he was unlikely to support the fundraising campaign. "You're asking people to pay money and then taking away their shows," he said.
"They have never ... been able to raise that amount of money. Now, as a member, my first thought is you're asking for a fantastic amount of money and why would I contribute money to something that's not going to run? It doesn't make sense," he said.
Ms Thompson acknowledged the decline in financial members. In June 2010, according to that year's annual report, the station had 1018 members. In June there were 270 members.
"It also relates directly to listener numbers, which relates as far as we can see to what, well all of those market forces I described before," Ms Thompson said.
"People are looking at things differently. I think during that period, also gradually ArtSound started to lose its identity a little bit. It drifted from the reason it had been developed, its core kind of broadcast.
"We were introducing things [listeners] didn't want to hear. That was certainly a factor, and also the quality of the broadcast generally seemed to decline a little bit over that period."
The station needs to raise money but now faces a complaint to the broadcast licensing authority over the programming interruption.
Ms Thompson said she had spoken with the Australian Communications and Media Authority and was confident about the licence, but the station's future depended on its community.
"A lot of our programs are excellent, it's not that everything is bad about ArtSound by any means. We've got really good programs, really good presenters. But it's obviously not quite enough to keep everything else [going]," she said.
Correction:The station's $45,000 deficit was posted for the 2019 calendar year. A previous version of this article said the deficit was posted for the financial year.