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Student Radio Part 2: The Funding Fallout

Staff writer Sarah Stancombe follows up on her first student radio article, exploring the financial challenges facing student radio stations.

Funding student radio is an ongoing issue as clubs and their funding sources clash over what is necessary to keep their stations running. Student radio stations may be run and thus funded through a student union, or through student membership fees or a mixture of both and other factors. To contextualise from my previous article, in 2024 I am the incoming Vice-President of Radio Monash for 2024, a student radio station in Melbourne, Australia. Writing these articles has been an eye-opening adventure into the history and opinions of surrounding student radio, enriched by my the views of my peers.

In light of Melbourne’s Student Youth Network’s (SYN Media) recent emergency fundraiser, it felt like the right time to dive deeper into the state of student radio funding. SYN’s fundraiser was necessary to guarantee a further 20 years of the station’s existence when they fell into unexpected funding issues. There is concern that in 20 more years time, SYN could run into funding problems again. SYN Media’s General Manager, Ruby Smith, clarified that SYN is technically community radio, and an independent station, rather than student radio, but it is still a magnet for students. SYN is based on the campus of RMIT university in Melbourne, and is ‘offered free rent by RMIT on the conditions that we offer training and lowered membership fees for their students.’ I originally reached out to Ruby with the following questions.

ROAR: Could you give a short explanation of how SYN is funded?

Ruby: ‘SYN FM is a community station, meaning we make our money without the support of paid advertising. Community stations are therefore funded in a variety of ways, and SYN is no different. Our funding is made up of:

  1. 1. Grant payments from government bodies and charitable organisations
  2. 2. Paid sponsorship messages from partners
  3. 3. SYN Media Learning, our Social Enterprise
  4. 4. Membership fees
  5. 5. Donations from the community, including during our annual Radiothons’

ROAR: What does the future hold for SYN’s funding situation?

Ruby: ‘Unfortunately, we have historically been highly reliant on grant applications to fund our day to day operations (historically about $400k per year). This has led to challenges post-covid, as grant funding has not increased, and application pools have become dramatically more competitive. As a result, we have shifted tactics to focus on donations and sponsorship revenue, while continuing to boost SYN Media Learning’s revenue generation capacity. This funding model is more in line with other comparatively large stations across Australia, but it will likely take a couple of years to achieve an ongoing donor / customer base. After our emergency fundraiser, we’re really optimistic about SYN’s lifespan. It’ll take hard work over 2024 and 2025, but I believe that SYN is here to stay!’

I also explored the views of my peers in student radio at KCL and Monash University regarding how they saw their respective funding situations unfolding.

President of KCL Radio, Tash Bandara (he/him), explains the student radio funding situation at Kings:

‘Our funding is solely reliant on our on-air and off-air members paying an annual fee to be part of our society. KCLSU do offer funding windows to every ratified society, but unfortunately almost all of our funding requests have been rejected due to budget constraints. It became apparent that the Union faced limitations in allocating funds, and KCL Radio was not a top priority.’

Radio Monash (Radmon) is funded very differently to the above two stations. Radmon has only just introduced a membership fee to boost its funding after years of being free with the purchase of an MSA+ membership (this $10+ overarching membership to the MSA reduces the price of memberships to clubs and societies). The MSA is the Monash Student Association, Monash University’s version of a student union, and this is the primary source of funding for Radmon. While KCL Radio is a student society, Radio Monash, on the other hand, is a branch of the MSA, classified as a “division”, because Radmon is a student service. Each year, Radmon presents a budget to the MSA, which the MSA may amend and then accept. The amount of funding given in this format can depend on the structural and civil relationships between association members and the station, as illustrated by the following comment from Rohan. Rohan Kalanje (he/him) is Radmon’s Tech Director and incoming Treasurer for 2024.

‘Being funded by a union usually offers the stability of financial backing but can come with strings attached—sometimes political ones that can hinder operational independence. Association funding, such as from MSA, typically offers more leeway but may lack the operational rigor that can come from a more formalised structure. At RadMon, we find ourselves perpetually in limbo, benefiting from association backing but lacking the hierarchical clarity that a union might provide.’

President of Radio Monash, Georgie McColm (she/her) believes ‘student radio is so important to be budgeted for.’ She explains how the decline of radio more generally leaves people unsure why student radio should still receive funding.

‘A lot of people these days talk about how Radio isn’t as relevant as it was 20 years ago, which is used as a reason to defund them. But the thing people need to keep in mind, is that radio creates a hub for students and is an outlet for creative media. If we keep taking these things away from the student community, what outlets will students have left? Student unions and associations serve the students, and they should always keep that interest on the top of their minds. Funding is an extension of this responsibility, so it needs to be thought of carefully to keep opportunities for students going.’

This is the kind of sentiment I concentrated my first student radio article on, to highlight the value students place on their radio community.

I also reached out to a past President of Radmon, Nick Lazzara (he/they), who explains the history of union funding in the last 20 years, and how the changes have affected the funding of student run services such as student radio.

‘Prior to 2006 students in Australia had a compulsory student union fee to pay, which went directly to the student union which would pay for things such as student radio. To replace compulsory student union fees came the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) which is currently an extra $336 on top of regular uni fees and it can be included in your HECS debt. (here Nick is talking about the Australian HECS-HELP loan – Higher Education Contribution Scheme/Higher Education Loan Program – which most students are familiar with.) The catch with SSAF is that the university is not obliged to give this money to the student union (depending on the state government) but usually 30-50% goes to the union. This means that in the space of a few years student union budgets halved across the country and many institutions which relied on this money suffered as a consequence. The silver lining of this all happening is that it brought people together. We have since had to fight for our funding from the student union and prove that it is going on to improve the experience and education of students.

Student radio is a very obvious line to cross out when doing budget cuts since the equipment and maintenance costs are so high. Where does the rest of the SSAF money go through? Basically anything that the university can justify as supplying a student service; providing free food to students , building more space for unaffordable restaurants on campus, removing an entry to an affordable student run restaurant, flying in bands to play on campus despite there being a plethora of bands from Monash, lots of things’

Overall student radio has a lot of passion behind it. Students are eager to fight financial battles no matter how difficult to ensure their stations survive. They seek to provide the best services and spaces possible despite limitations. While funding is declining, the dedication is not, and student radio is certainly in safe hands.

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