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Breaking down barriers through broadcasting

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Aboriginal man with long white beard wearing a hat, striped shirt and vest stands in front of a brick building with the following words on the wall: Umeewarra Aboriginal Media Centre 89.1 FM.
Vince Coulthard, Chief Executive Officer of Umeewarra Media
29 Aug 2018

Australia’s second oldest Aboriginal run community radio station continues to unite Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities at the cross-roads of Australia.

And CEO of Umeewarra Media, Vince Coulthard, ought to know. He remembers what Port Augusta was like before the station began operating in 1987.

‘Prior to the establishment of the station, Aboriginal people in Port Augusta and Australia wide were getting a lot of bad publicity,’ Vince said.

‘It was about trying to get the message out to the broader community. It wasn’t just about educating the Aboriginal listening audience, but mostly for the non-Aboriginal community. And so we had to look at ways of establishing a radio station that would be interesting to a range of listeners.’

This was done through programs which featured ‘country’ and other music formats into which Aboriginal cultural messages were introduced. As a result, the station appealed to a wide cross-section of Port Augusta and surrounding areas.

Today, that appeal is maintained through programs featuring hip hop music and a Top 40 countdown. Other programs include storytelling, profiles of local Elders and interesting people in the community. There are interviews with specialists on subjects ranging from ear health to skills development for local industries.

‘It is about being creative with radio, about reaching out and providing the audience with what they want, while we deliver the messages we want,’ Vince said.

One important message is about the eye disease, Trachoma. Umeewarra brought health specialists and community Elders together so the message could be delivered in languages other than English. Programs like this help to break down barriers and improve health outcomes.

Umeewarra also helps to ‘close the gap’ in other ways. Its boardroom is available for public use for training workshops and other meetings. JobWatch uses Umeewarra’s broadcasting power to advertise job vacancies.

‘If a company wants to start up a skills development program in civil construction or whatever, they’ll come in, we’ll put them on the radio and they’ll talk about it,’ Vince said.

‘Our listening audience will then pass on that information to whoever. Then people drop by with their resumes and put their names down for those courses.’

‘BHP out of Roxby Downs and other mining companies advertise their training programs through our radio station,’ Vince said.

This type of service highlights the difference between community radio and commercial radio.

‘Commercial radio has a product to sell. We’ve got a product to deliver,’ Vince said.

Umeewarra is supported through sponsorships from interested groups but mainly from direct Australian Government funding.

But that’s not all.

‘A lot of the health and other government programs need promoting so we get them to sponsor a particular program which provides income for us,’ Vince said.

Vince also said that the value of Umeewarra Radio can be summed up by a listener’s comment used to inform a recent Social Return on Investment report [PDF 230KB].

‘People don’t just see it as a radio station. It’s like the heart of the community – like a home for people… It gives people a sense of belonging.’

This story is the second in our Community Broadcaster series. If you would like us to share the story about your community radio station, contact the indigenous.gov.au team.

Find out more

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet supports Umeewarra Aboriginal Media Association through the Culture and Capability stream of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

For more information, go to Umeewarra Radio.

Umeewarra recently began to broadcast online. In the future, it hopes to expand its radio broadcast range east as far as Broken Hill, west to Ceduna, north to Leigh Creek and even into metropolitan Adelaide in the south.

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