In the Beginning
Radio Skid Row began with test broadcasts on a landline to Long Bay Jail. It first went to air as a fully licensed station in 1983, broadcasting to the most marginalised in the community. The first broadcasters included members of the Indigenous community, the Communist Party, migrant workers committees, squatters, prison activists and young people. It was obvious from the beginning that Radio Skid Row was going to be unique; for a start, Skid Row allocated 20 hours of airtime to the local Koori community. These programs became known as Radio Redfern and developed into a partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous broadcasters. The station called itself the Radio Skid Row-Radio Redfern Connexion and an Aboriginal-owned studio was built in Redfern, with a landline connecting it to the main studio at Sydney University.
In 1988, during the Bicentennial protests, the little Redfern studio managed to co-ordinate the crowds descending on Sydney and broadcast the protests to the rest of Australia. A group of Brisbane Murris, who were helping out with the broadcasts, were so inspired by what they saw that they decided to set up their own station in Brisbane. 4AAA Murri Country grew out of this idea and is now managed by Tiga Bayles, one of the founding members of Radio Redfern and a former chairperson of Radio Skid Row's board.
“The Radio Skid Row-Radio Redfern experience gave me the passion and commitment to continue working in the development of Indigenous media in Australia. At Radio Redfern, I realised the power of radio in breaking down barriers and developing understanding in the community. Most importantly, we were able to create a space which was Indigenous-owned and controlled”, said Bayles.
Radio Redfern later evolved into Koori Radio, which continued to broadcast on Radio Skid Row until they applied for and won their own city-wide licence.
Ethnic broadcasting has always been high on the agenda for Radio SkidRow. Like the Indigenous broadcasters, the early ethnic broadcasters built their own studio at Leichhardt. The Migrant Workers Committee, which was made up mostly of workers from the Eveleigh railway workshops, were a fixture on air after knocking off from their shifts. They were also active on the station's board.
However, back in 1983, the first management board wasn't so sure about the push for Indigenous and migrant airtime, nor were they comfortable with the idea that those groups should have significant numbers on the board. They were also nervous about the activists, squatters, artists and ex-prisoners who were involved.
After one year on air, the struggle between the workers and the original management came to a head, with the management shutting the station down and locking the broadcasters out. Public protests started the next day, on the street outside the Wentworth Building at Sydney University, where the station was then situated.
While the station was only off the air for a few weeks, it took five months of negotiations and campaigning for the workers to finally sack the first management and take over the running of the station. From then, the station grew into one of the most significant forces on the community airwaves in Australia.
Today, the station continues its radical approach to radio by giving a voice to refugees and new, emerging communities being high on its agenda. It has also delivered training in five other countries and regularly has international visitors coming to learn more about community radio. It has continued to be a place where young people can be heard. Almost daily, you can tune in to hip hop, with many broadcasters being skilled rappers. There are all kinds of black and world music programs.
Radio Skid Row is the only station in Australia to broadcast the award-winning US current affairs show, Democracy Now! It airs daily at 9 am.