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’25’ after double birthday – and now Pacific radio eyes bright future

The Tuvaluan community language progamme team: Te Sikugaleo Gali o Tuvalu - meaning "the beautiful voice of Tuvalu". Photo: Gladys Hartson-Shingles

Pacific Scoop
Report – By Gladys Hartson-Shingles

Pacific Island broadcasters and journalists have just celebrated a combined 25 years of Pasifika radio – and are now looking to a positive future.

Auckland AM station Radio 531pi celebrated 17 years on air and Niu FM eight at their recent South Auckland birthday party.

In 1993, Radio 531pi hit the airwaves, broadcasting programmes in English and nine Pacific languages. Listeners could tune in from Hamilton to the far North.

Almost a decade later, a pilot programme called Niu FM hit the airwaves in 2002, connecting the Pacific communities throughout New Zealand with 13 frequencies on its nationwide network.

Chairman Fa’amatuainu Tino Pereira of the National Pacific Radio Trust, which governs Pacific Media Network, shared some of the history getting Pacific radio on air.

He says it was a long journey – “We had to petition to get the 531pi frequency.”

“Radio defined us in more ways than one. It was the first time we heard the words in our Pacific languages, we were no longer aliens in this country,” Fa’amatuainu says.

Former general manager of Radio 531pi Ltd, Sefita Hao’uli, remembers the early years.

‘Difficult birth’
“It was a difficult birth. It took about two years from when we got the frequency to finally getting to air,” he recalls.

Head announcer for 531pi Mary Pahi thinks of the day she joined the team at 531pi.

She says after working as a journalist in mainstream media, it was an opportunity to “come home” and bring her experience and skills she learnt and give back to her people.

Pahi says the creation of Niu FM has been one of the highlights for Pacific media.

“Broadcasters like Neil Topia, Marama Papau, Tuaratini, Sally Newsham, Sandra Kailahi worked tirelessly for next to nothing all those years. They put in time to make it happen,” she says.

The head announcer for Niu FM, Sela Alo, was the first voice Pacific people heard when the station aired nationwide in 2002.

Alo says it was exciting, challenging and a bit nerve wracking.

“Personally I didn’t have any expectation as to how the station would be received and was pleasantly surprised to hear the great feedback about us even after a couple days on air.”

Great survivor

The combined birthday cake. Photo: Gladys Hartson-Shingles

The breakfast host remembers the first day going to air as significant for a host of reasons – the first pan-Pacific radio station out of Auckland.

“Celebrating our birthday every year is a highlight especially as it has been eight now and critics thought we weren’t going to survive past three years!”

The two stations have weathered their fair share of criticism over the years, but Pacific Media Network chief executive Tom Etuata says it is all part of the learning process.

“We have had our challenges and the canoe has taken a few different directions,” he says.

Producer for the Tuvaluan community programme Fala Haulagi has seen a lot of changes in her 10 years with the stations.

“It’s good to hear about news that is relevant to our people back in Tuvalu and in New Zealand.”

She would like to see the smaller community programmes get a bigger slice of the air waves.

“One day I would like to see the Tuvaluan programme have the same amount of hours on air like the Samoan and Tongan programmes,” she says.

Public funding
Pacific Media Network receives $3 million a year to operate the stations. Questions have been raised whether it is time for the radio to become less reliant on public funding.

Sefita Hao’uli disagrees and says and it shouldn’t have to.

“Given that we’re providing a much needed service which the government should be grateful for, it should make a contribution.”

“It’s doing that through National Radio, TVNZ, and Access. We shouldn’t be any different,” he says.

Seasoned broadcaster JaeD Victor says it’s time to stop relying on public money.

Victor says there are many talented and skilled Pacific people in this industry qualified to run an operation like this.

“We need a robust process so that we can have the best people delivering the best product.”

Success story
So what does the future hold for Pacific radio?

Veteran journalist Sefita Hao’uli says of 531pi the fact it has been able to come this far is a success story.

“We’re still a difficult teenager at 17 which has had a difficult early childhood, fostered out from time to time, and now a ward of the state,” he says.

Sela Alo says of Niu FM it is a “unique beast of a station” broadcasting to an urban/Pacific audience by day and switching to a completely different audience at night while competing in the Auckland market only 24 hours a day.

“We’re still perceived as the ‘poor cousin’ to some of the more ‘mainstream’ urban stations.

“Yes we are Pacific, but we shouldn’t be limited to Pacific broadcasting.  Our Pacific media people should be infiltrating mainstream.”

Jae D Victor agrees he would like to see a brand that is internationally recognised for our knowledge of our history, language.

“We need to focus on the preservation of our language and uniqueness and it needs to be maintained on air.”

Hao’uli says many lessons have been learned and he hopes for a brighter future for Pacific broadcasting.

Gladys Hartson-Shingles is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University and a former Pacific Radio Network broadcaster. She contributes articles for the Pacific Media Centre and Pacific Scoop.

Niu FM

1 comment:

  1. Tasi, 17. September 2010, 16:10

    Let’s have some real advocates as presenters on these stations. It’s all too play it safe. Be a public broadcaster!