Following a decade of grassroots activism, community radio emerged in the 1970s as an alternative to commercial and government stations. Proponents believed that it would complement the existing broadcasting system by providing an outlet for smaller community and special-interest groups with non-mainstream appeal.
Supporters were spread across the political spectrum, but it was the Whitlam Australian Labor Party Government that unleashed the first wave of public radio. Fine music station 3MBS received Melbourne's first licence in 1974, followed by left-wing leaning 'access' station 3CR, which aimed to give a voice to groups that traditionally had been denied media access, such as women, Aboriginal people and the working class. Two ethnic 'access' stations initiated and funded by the federal government, the ABC's 3ZZ and SBS' 3EA, are not strictly community radio.
Triple R FM, originally known as 3RMT, was based at RMIT, funded, from 1978, by a consortium of Melbourne's leading educational institutions, including the University of Melbourne and La Trobe and Swinburne universities. After the educational funding cuts in the early 1980s, most of these institutions were forced to withdraw their funding.
The station turned to its audience for support and listeners responded to the call. The 'alternative' talk and music programs that lecturers and students presented became increasingly irreverent as the institutional funding was replaced by listener subscriptions.
3PBS began broadcasting under-represented music styles such as jazz, soul and blues in 1979, while, in 1982, a group of blind people initiated 3RPH, Radio for the Print Handicapped. Initially controlled by a small co-operative, 3RPH eventually came under the auspices of Vision Australia, who estimate that one in 10 Melburnians cannot access print.
Other smaller range stations like Southern FM (Moorabbin), Eastern FM (Croydon), and 3WRB (Sunshine) were licensed in the 1980s to cater for regional suburban interests. Late in that decade the multicultural station 3ZZZ was granted Melbourne's sixth metro-wide community radio licence. More recently licensed stations include 3KND (Koorie) and JOY-FM (gay and lesbian). Although their interests are diverse, community radio stations share major funding problems. With virtually no government support, their survival is testament to the passion of volunteers and the generosity of appreciative listeners and sponsors.