In 2007 Neil Finn asked why the Government was propping up Kiwi FM "when it has proved to be a failed concept with the listening audience". Nearly eight years later Mediaworks has announced it is closing the struggling station down. While hardly anybody might of been listening to Kiwi FM, it succeeded in blocking the establishment of a non commercial youth radio network.
KIWI FM has finally had the plugged pulled on it. Mediaworks have announced that the struggling station will be closing at the end of the month and the three valuable and publicly owned FM frequencies it has been squatting in (for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) will be returned to the Government.
The three frequencies were originally intended for a non commercial youth radio networK (YRN), championed by such luminaries as Neil Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House fame.
Finn said of the YRN in 2002:
“Those of us who have championed this idea for many years have done so with the belief that it will enliven and empower young people and make New Zealand a more exciting place to live. If we let this opportunity slip away, it will not come again and we will never know what wonderful things might have unfolded.”
But instead we got Kiwi FM which has rated as low as 0.1 percent. In 2007 Finn asked why the Government was propping up the station "when it has proved to be a failed concept with the listening audience". He accused the Labour government of 'cosying up to commercial interests".
Indeed the struggling station would have been shut down if Mediawork's Brent Impey had not succeeded in stitching up a backroom deal with Steve Maharey, the Minister of Broadcasting in the Helen Clark government.
He came away with the three valuable frequencies - for nothing. Yet it had been Brent Impey who had previously loudly insisted that the YRN should not receive the frequencies for free.
As I wrote of the deal in 2011:
How all this came about is a bit of mystery - especially since Labour had come up with the idea of an youth radio network in the first place - but its clear that Mediaworks Brent Impey lobbied Maharey hard. Impey was worried that a non-commercial youth radio network would pull audience away from the Mediaworks stable of stations such as The Rock and More FM....What is also clear is that Maharey sideswiped his own Government's advisory group. The group, made up of representatives from student radio, access radio and some other media-savvy young people, was asked to consider the network among other options for enhancing radio services for youth.
Kiwi FM might of completely failed to attract a radio audience but it was a success for Mediaworks because it scuttled the YRN.
Can the concept of a non commercial YRN - or something similar - be revived? Given the present government's hostile attitude toward public broadcasting it is more likely the three frequencies will be sold off.