November 25, 2002 – 11:38 pm
I posted this rather long FAQ to the NZ Radio e-mail discussion list yesterday to explain some things about the KidsNet concept. There’d been a lot of talk and debate on the list about Neil Finn’s YRN advocacy that went on at the APRA Silver Scroll Awards. I thought it was time to try and clarify things a bit…
1) So what brought all this KidsNet stuff on then?
Back in May 2000, the RBA conference was held in Christchurch. Lots was going on at the time – nobody quite knew what was behind the CanWest buy-up of Radioworks shares – or who was selling them. Many radio industry members were cross with the government (and the music industry), because there was a lot of talk about possible quotas. There was also much talk of a youth radio network (far more than now). It was bloody cold too.
The then Minister of Broadcasting was cordially invited to a panel debate and public lynching (with her as the centre-piece) about the YRN. Along the way, it was suggested by the Minister that commercial radio wasn’t really doing enough for the general well-being of teens around the country.
It was then suggested that the Minister was a sandal-wearing, bleeding-heart, woolly-headed liberal who didn’t know the first thing about radio.
The Minister replied that she didn’t trust the members of this industry as far as she could comfortably spit a rat.
It was a complex issue, and the debate raged on at this heady level for some time. After a while, APRA were dragged into it, because it was pointed out that Arthur Baysting was spending a lot of time with his mate Neil in the Minister’s office arguing in favour of a youth network for two reasons:
1) Youth suicide, which he argued was a bad thing… and
2) Kiwi music, which he argued was a good thing.
The undercurrent to all this was that the Kiwi Music Action Group KiwiMAG was under a bit of a cloud because of some members’ implied support of an initiative that directly competed with the commercial radio industry. Although KiwiMAG was not actually shut down, it did choose not to meet a couple of times in a row.
Fortunately, Mike Chunn, keeper of the peace and voice of all things fair and reasonable, stood up before the blood really got flowing and said something along the lines of “APRA does not support the Youth Radio Network initiative. It’s not about music.” Thereupon, he sat down. There was a sullen hush as this sunk in.
It’s an important point, often missed. The body that represents songwriters and musicians is NOT in support of a non-commercial youth radio network.
So anyway… there’s me sitting a few rows back with Brendan Smyth and Paul Kennedy, if I remember rightly.
“Hang on…”, I thought, “If it’s not about music, then all this gets remarkably simple. The argument that a YRN is about kiwi music falls away, because musicians rely on commercial radio.
“So on the one hand, the government can’t possibly introduce a Youth Radio Network aimed at teens because of the commercial implications to an industry they saw fit to deregulate over a decade ago.
“On the other hand, they quite rightly want to help New Zealanders – and address the various social problems that plague New Zealand teens. Therefore, they must do as they’ve promised in their manifesto, and introduce such a station.”
Put simply, the government is in a posititon where:
a) they must introduce a youth radio network and
b) they can’t possibly introduce a youth radio network.
The solution that hit me? Make the target audience younger. Do all sorts of social good – and probably do it better than a teen station could, while not stepping on any toes in the commercial industry – because 6-12 year-olds are not a target audience of any station in New Zealand. Under 10, and they’re not even measured.
Before Brendan or Paul could stop me, I stood up and said something along those lines… vaguely hoping somebody might pipe up and say “Good idea – leave it with me.”
Instead, they said “Good idea – go for it.”
I was left holding the baby, as it were. Fair enough – but that may go some way towards explaining why we’re still only talking about it nearly three years later…
2) So what is the KidsNet proposal?
At this point, it’s a document that is in the hands (or at least in the offices) of key ministers, the board of Radio New Zealand, and numerous other interested parties. It’s essentially a discussion document, outlining the core philosophies behind KidsNet – and a request for a commitment from the Minister of Broadcasting to allocate FM frequencies (not money – just frequencies) to a nationwide children’s radio network.
3) And those core philosophies?
Obvious stuff, really – children are our future, that sort of thing. Most importantly, it points out that more social good can be done by creating an environment where New Zealanders grow up connected to each other and their culture… where a sense of belonging is something that eventually becomes taken for granted, rather than something that has to be applied as an emergency remedial measure just when things are at their most desperate.
4) But the greatest social need is with teens – teen pregnancies, suicide, drugs… You can’t talk about that stuff with 9 year-olds?!
No, but better to lay some good foundations, surely. While it may be true that teenagers can become suddenly and inexplicably depressed, or act in an irrational manner, I don’t believe that the best way to stop somebody from acting on suicidal tendencies is to quickly alter their core beliefs about themselves. Far better to spend a few years fostering positive belief systems in advance that will support them through the tough times.
The right information needs to be available to teens, sure, but information by itself isn’t the solution. A sense of self-worth, confidence, the ability to have a clear idea about your place in the world – these things are more than facts. They’re assimilated over time. You need this in order for the information to be of any use.
Teen pregnancy, drug abuse and youth suicide are all urgent and teen-based issues. Do something about them at point of impact – but don’t forget to address root causes. Not just identify root causes, but learn from the current situation, and arrange it so that things improve over time.
5) Okay – but what have you got against Neil Finn?
N – O – T – H – I – N – G.
I repeat: This is not about me dissing Neil Finn.
In fact, of all the people actively involved in this debate, he’s probably the person I have the most respect for. He has the strength of his convictions to say what he believes in the face of a potentially hostile audience. He’s in favour of a youth radio network for all the right reasons: he gives a shit.
He’s not driven by ulterior motives, there’s no profit margin at stake. He’s putting a hell of a lot of time and energy into promoting something from which the only benefit he could possibly derive is the pleasure of seeing the country he loves become a better place.
Bloody good on him, I say.
That said, I think there’s a flaw in the plan – and that is the simple fact that despite having committed to it in writing and in political speeches, the New Zealand government (Labour, National or otherwise) simply won’t set up the YRN as Neil envisages it.
6) Why not?
Well, certainly not because they’re concerned about the commercial radio industry’s ability to return a profit to its shareholders. And not because setting up a YRN would be ‘anti-competitive’. The simple fact is that the commercial radio industry, through some clever maneouvering, essentially has this government over a barrel.
7) Over a barrel in what sense?
It’s worth noting a few sideline facts at this point:
a) The Prime Minister is notable for her interest in the Arts – particularly music. The Arts recovery package was extensive, and evidence of government enthusiasm for the music industry was evident from the recent World Series music showcase.
b) The last Minister of Broadcasting’s greatest (perhaps only) success in the area of radio broadcasting was the negotiation
of the voluntary New Zealand content targets.
c) The radio industry is meeting its targets for New Zealand music and all is well with the world.
d) There are other issues facing the radio industry from a public policy standpoint: the 2011 expiry of licenses is a particularly thorny one – and of course, the spectre of the YRN is always there looming in the background (can you be in the background and still loom?).
So, not only is the NZ music content thing a popular issue, it’s one dear to the PM’s heart. It’s also an invaluable bargaining chip from the point of view of the RBA. They now have something incredibly important that they can threaten to take off the table should things go badly for the industry in other areas.
Now that’s not to say that the RBA didn’t act in good faith over the negotiations for kiwi music. In fact, like the Prime Minister and the then Minister of Broadcasting – I don’t really care about the radio industry’s motives for playing more New Zealand music. They might be genuine and they might be incredibly cynical. Most likely some combination of the two. The point is that more NZ music is being played – and that’s a good thing.
I do, however, worry that should the current Minister of Broadcasting announce that he intends to go ahead with the Youth Radio Network, the first thing to go would be the NZ Music on commercial radio. In fact, not only do I worry about it – but my guess is the minister worries about it too – especially when securing those voluntary targets was so popular with the creative industries… and the voters – and such a big deal to the PM.
8) So you’re saying that no matter how good an idea a YRN might or might not be – it couldn’t happen anyway?
Let’s just say I’d be surprised. Like, really surprised.
9) But wouldn’t the same be true of a KidsNet?
Not really. The commercial radio industry’s only real problem with the KidsNet proposal is that it uses up a frequency.
By the logic of scarcity of resources, if there are fewer frequencies left to go around for sale, then the price of each remaining frequency will theoretically therefore go up a bit.
Other than that, KidsNet is a great idea from the perspective of some commercial broadcasters – and neither a good nor a bad thing from the perspective of others. Commercial operators with a bit of foresight see KidsNet as a good long-term strategy. Myopic ones tend to think “No, these frequencies are ours. Leave them alone.”
Ultimately, the only impact KidsNet would have on, say, The Edge, the b-net stations, Channel Z, ZM, More, George, Mai FM, The Rock and other stations with a youth focus would be several years down the track, when kids have become used to the idea of radio as a large part of their media diet.
10) But surely that’s the flaw in the plan: kids just don’t listen to the radio.
Why on earth would they?
Apart from a few pockets of Sunday morning kids shows – totalling at most 2% of any station’s on-air programming – there is nothing that targets primary and intermediate age school children. Not anything. We’re not just talking about a lack of non-commercial radio – we’re talking about no media at all (and let’s not even get into a debate about advertising to children).
This has become worse over time – and while kids do like music, by and large, they are usually a long way off being narrow in their tastes, genre-wise. Teens are far more tribal in their music associations – the skater kids, the hip-hoppers, the pure-pop music fans. They self-identify not only by their own tastes, but also by their dislike of other genres.
Contributing to this is the fragmentation of post-deregulation radio in NZ. No longer will you find radio stations that try to be all things to all people. Diversity in music programming is frowned upon in most music radio circles.
As a consequence, most commercial radio breakfast shows are inappropriate listening for young kids (and why not? Their target audience is older than 7) – and parents driving their kids to school often have to be quick on the off switch when, for instance, the pop music is interspersed with a phone-in competition along the lines of “most embarrassing sex moment” (ZM, if you were curious…).
And it’s not just about the music – there’s a whole bunch of stuff you can do on the radio that kids love and can get great value out of. Stuff that goes beyond “that was… this is… the time is… and you’re listening to…”
More on this further down – but the main point here is that kids don’t listen to the radio because there’s very little radio for them to listen to.
11) Kids are more visually orientated these days – television, gameboy, the internet, DVDs, playstation… they’re hardly going to care about radio…
A cop out. Saying kids don’t listen to the radio because they watch so much TV is like saying the reason I don’t catch the tram is because I always ride my bike. There is no tram!
Of course, the exact same thing (and more) can be said about teens being visual – or adults, for that matter.
Second, while it’s true that these things are available media to many children, there are still a few things that keep the door open in their lives to radio. Radio is, first and foremost, free.
While there are many kids who have all the cool gadgets and toys – there are many who simply don’t. Some television is free to air (though again, children’s content takes up a small proportion of free-to-air programming) – though access to Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Channel are obviously dependent on household budgets.
The other cool thing about radio (that I really shouldn’t have to explain on a radio list) is that radio is an imagination medium. Theatre of the mind. That sort of thing. Kids are by definition the imaginative bunch. Let’s give them something to work with rather than something that does all the work for them.
Kids are active by nature – not passive. A kid who spends all their available time in front of the tv is a bored kid.
Also, visual media do not replace aural media. Radio is a secondary medium. It’s something you do while you… [insert verb] – not something that you necessarily have to sit in front of and pay all your attention to. For instance, kids can, believe it or not, listen to a story or music and build stuff with Lego simultaneously.
Also, the plan is for KidsNet to be integrated with the school curriculum – so this is something they can listen to in class that doesn’t involve their teacher droning at them, or endless maths problems. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1.30pm, for instance, year 3&4 students would know that even though their own teacher can’t hold a tune in a bucket – or know which way round to hold a guitar – there’ll be a fun music class. Or science. Or current affairs. Or language…
Also, being the only medium targeted exclusively at kids, there’ll be a sense of ownership and playground ‘water cooler’ talk – that will reinforce the pattern of encouraging kids to listen and discuss.
12) Oh… so it’s “educational”. Kids will hate it.
Do you mean the way that they hate ‘What Now?’? Just because “educational” generally meant dull and worthy when we were at school, it doesn’t mean things always have to be that way.
In fact, ‘What Now?’ is a pretty good model for what you can do that involves and engages kids, entertains them, teaches them and really pushes their imagination buttons. Imagine that in a portable format that isn’t restricted to just Sunday mornings.
13) Radio New Zealand did a survey that suggested that the averagelistener to ‘Ears’ was a middle-aged mid- to upper-socio housewife in Wellington. Kids weren’t listening when there was public radio for them. What makes you think they’ll start now?
Oh my gosh – kids weren’t listening to National Radio?! Why ever not?!
I think you might find that the Wellington housewife was a habitual listener to National Radio anyway – and the few young kids with young parents that had accidentally stumbled across the programme only tuned in at that time if they remembered – or weren’t too busy preparing dinner and juggling everything else. ‘Ears’ was “switch to” radio, rather than “leave on” radio.
Even so – let’s be honest – the presentation style was a little dry. Great stuff – and it was good while it lasted – but just a little on the “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…” side of things. Kids are used to more abstract and non-linear forms of storytelling these days…
Given an opportunity for habitual listening, I think you’ll find the kids will get the idea.
14) KidsNet aside for a moment… Why are you opposed to a YRN?
There are lots of really good answers to that question – most from the commercial radio industry and many of them quite convincing (contact the RBA for the complete dossier of why the YRN will destroy existing youth formats, reduce NZ music content, restrict basic freedoms, create economic chaos and quite possibly harm small puppies).
The simple answer from my perspective is that I’m NOT opposed to a YRN.
Ideally, there’d be a KidsNet and a YRN. And an Asian public radio station. Possibly one or two more other non-commercials for good measure.
That said, as explained, I don’t believe that a YRN will happen – mostly because of the leverage the RBA has in the office of the Minister of Broadcasting over the whole NZ music content thing… but also because this government – and previous governments – have painted themselves into a bit of a corner over the distribution of frequencies.
The airwaves have been deregulated – and you can’t re-regulate. It’s difficult, for instance, to restrict foreign ownership, when it’s already almost total – or create a model for spectrum allocation based on societal need, when you’ve already established it on a market model. It’s very difficult to put the worms back in the can.
There is a once-only opportunity for the government to allocate one frequency across the country for youth services in the 100-108FM band. My argument is based on my perception of where the biggest need is – and I believe it’s in the area of the 400,000 New Zealanders who are currently completely overlooked.
15) Is it true that New Zealand has already committed to some sort of children’s media thing, internationally speaking?
Yep. Here it is:
“The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, either orally, in writing or in print, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”
Article 13, United Nations Convention on The Rights of The Child
Ratified by New Zealand, April 1993
16) So has KidsNet generated any support? Who thinks it’s a good idea?
Well, aside from a handful of people who have the regular ear of the Minister of Broadcasting (but who I can’t name for political reasons), a couple of other people here and there. Here’s a sample:
“…your proposal would supplement in an excellent way current initiatives that are taking place for the inclusion of young New Zealanders.”
- Roger McClay, Commissioner for Children
“KidsNet would be the voice of the children – and what a fun and popular station this could grow to be!”
- Sukhi Turner, Mayor of Dunedin
“I would advocate in favour of public opportunities for children to express their views. I am pleased to support such a concept.”
- Dennis McKinlay, National Manager, UNICEF New Zealand
“For me, an added attraction is the opportunity that it presents to bring schools and the community together… I would be very happy to be associated with your project.”
- Nola Hambleton, President, International Confederation of Principals
“…it would be the best investment we could make for the future of our country…”
- Bill Kerton, Director/Producer, Havoc TV2
“To my mind, the argument for KidsNet is inescapably strong.”
- Paul Kennedy, Editor, Median Strip
“…your plan recognises that it is probably our children, in their formative years, who would benefit most from, and be most receptive to, a dedicated radio service.”
- Tony Simons, Manager, Business Development, NZBS
“I urge you to consider the KidsNet proposal as not only a viable, but a superior, alternative to the much-debated (and much-flawed) Youth Radio Network idea.”
- Trevor Plant, Producer/Programmer, The Voice
“As a father and a person who has been involved in the music industry for many years, with some success, I cannot understate my wholehearted support for the concept as proposed.”
- Simon Grigg, Huh! Records
“I wish you all the best with the application for FM frequencies, and hope to be able to tune in to KidsNet in the very near future.”
- Bill English, Leader of the Opposition
“The KidsNet concept is a fantastic idea whose time has come.”
- Bob Harvey, Mayor of Waitakere City
“To me, the concept is entrancing and I recollect my own childhood and love of radio drama in particular.”
- Judge Michael (Mick) Brown, CNZM, Hon LLD (Auck)
“…this concept is ideal for the needs of children in the community now. It has been shown that this type of programme encourages good mental health for children, and the long term benefits are significant to society.”
- Lee Beggs, Project Manager, Mental Health Foundation
“I wish you every success with your application to establish this exciting and innovative project.”
- Hon Peter Dunne, Leader United Future
“I agree that a children’s radio network would be a wonderful and much-needed initiative which our party would strongly support.”
- Sue Kedgley, MP, Green Party spokesperson on Broadcasting
“KidsNet could be just the miracle answer for the government/YRN riddle and, I josh you not, has the potential to fix some serious social problems.”
- Mikey Havoc in Player magazine, September 2001
“A medium which promotes a positive identity and fosters pride and a sense of connection with New Zealand culture and achievements can only be good for children.”
- Hon Steve Maharey, Minister of Broadcasting
And most recently…
“I can assure you that I am giving serious consideration to the issue of the the most appropriate form of radio service for the young people of New Zealand.”
- Hon Steve Maharey, Minister of Broadcasting (5 November, 2002)
I also recall having received a letter of support from Bruce Johnstone – but I seem to have temporarily mislaid it.
17) Okay – but what would a KidsNet sound like?
Pretty diverse – but fortunately, kids are a pretty inclusive lot. They like new things, and they love finding stuff out. While entertainment, teaching methods and social goals have changed over the years, it is worth noting past children’s radio successes.
Remember Sparky & the Talking Train, Buzz-O-Bumble and Flick the Little Fire Engine? What about “Ears” and “Music in Schools”? A few radio stations around the country still host children’s programmes on Sundays, but as I mentioned, these account for less than 2% of their total airtime.
KidsNet would aim to work with the Ministry of Education to promote and reinforce the school curriculum – and with Te Puni Kokiri, the Children’s Commissioner, Smoke Free, DARE and other agencies promoting health and welfare.
There’d be a KidsNet club, where members are encouraged to join to take part in special competitions, have birthday calls read out, be invited to events and receive the KidsNet newsletter by e-mail or post.
Programming ideas include:
- Early Bird Show including a rural section “kids on farms”
- Breakfast: stories, music
- Te Reo
- Kids news
- kids phone-ins
- Sports show
- World Famous in NZ: kids interview famous NZers
- Lifestyle, recipes
- Music in schools
- Game show: School v. School
- Countdown Weekly Top 40
- Kidquest on air talent show
- Reviews (games, videos, books, web, movies)
- “Harriet The Homework Helper”
- Stuff to Make
- Music from around the world
- Money show
- Cool jobs
- Continuity, characters & Music
- Sci-fi Serial
- The “Howzitworkdude”- cool science person
18) But it’d just be a bunch of old guys who think they know what kids need.
Apart from the rather obvious fact that sometimes children’s media is operated by people older than themselves (contrary to popular belief, Suzy Cato is not 4 years old), KidsNet would convene a “council of kids” – a sounding board for ideas and a feedback generator on what is happening in their lives. The council will consist of a variety of children from diverse backgrounds, selected by an annual inter-school competition.
19) Radio is so passe. Kids these days are online.
Yes and no. See earlier point about a free to air medium that doesn’t exclude people on the basis of economics. However, a web presence will support and extend the on-air broadcast and level of interaction. Many of these kids can’t remember the world before the WWW.
US studies show 58% of children between 9-11 are online, with an even gender split. Interestingly, kids online play more sports than their peers and are more physically active (Source: Simmons Market Research Bureau, 2000).
20) With all those high profile people praising the project, and with that level of support from every political party – even the Minister of Broadcasting himself, why isn’t this even being discussed in the media?
A good question. It’s possible that it has to do with the fact that I don’t get invited to speak at music industry engagements attended by the Prime Minister (and why would I?).
Someone with a bit of a cynical view of the media might say that newspapers need to frame things in terms of a black and white debate: Neil Finn says YRN good. Brent Impey says YRN bad. Someone comes along with an actual solution – let alone a lateral one that meets the needs behind each opposing position’s viewpoint – well, that’s just too messy and complicated. The readers will never understand that. There are two sides to every story… and never more than two.
A paranoid media analyst might point to the idea that as long as the government is virtually guaranteed to never green-light the YRN, the debate will remain on the YRN issue because it guarantees that nothing at all will happen.
A newspaper owned by a media conglomerate that also owns a radio company might see it as being in their best interests to keep the debate firmly entrenched in an unresolveable impasse by giving the voice of the YRN a bit of an airing from time to time, and then running counter-argument editorials and letters to the editor to keep things in check.
But of course, that’s just crazy Chomsky-esque nonsense.
It’s most likely the very simple fact that I just haven’t had sufficient time to pursue it, despite the vast amounts of help I’ve had from a certain list member who prefers to remain anonymous. Also, the only reason I’m discussing it now is that Neil Finn gave me a handy springboard into the topic – for which I’m grateful.
As FAQs do, this FAQ will change and grow as more questions are asked, and areas of clarification sought. Hope this has been helpful in some way.