Media Talks Back with Stani Goma, Melbourne
“You know I think I should probably clarify that I’m not actually a journalist by profession,” laughs Stani Goma even as he swiftly adjusts the zoom recorder I’m having trouble setting up on a tripod and does a quick level check, almost as though he’s on autopilot. Not entirely buying this modesty game I smile disbelievingly, enjoying the last crumbs from my breakfast plate. “I’m a pharmacist by day, radio jockey by night but I have been producing and presenting since 1990 so I guess that counts for something,” he continues not missing a beat. Over two decades of experience in the radio world is all that filters through the sieve for me. Not to mention what sets the tone for the rest of this probe into Melbourne’s media underbelly.
Between incredible insights, tremendous displays of experience and an especially revealing probe into the standards of community radio (Goma’s personal playing field) one thing’s for certain–this is a man who interviews well on either side of the journalistic fence.
Mandovi: What does radio jockeying mean to you?
Stani: It’s always been a dream you know. I grew up in Africa listening to radio so it was always a big dream to be involved with radio in some way. I started to work in community radio training and was ultimately given the opportunity to present and produce my own show and now I’ve been doing it for over two decades.
Mandovi: Tell us a little about the show and the radio station.
Stani: It’s called Flight 106.7 to Africa and it mainly plays music from the region even though Melbourne seems like it’s a world away. The station is called PBS–Progressive Broadcasting FM–but it’s also available online now so you could say that our audience has really broadened with the advent of the internet because we now find that we’re getting an audience from all over!
Mandovi: And what’s the audience reception to radio like in Australia?
Stani: It’s really a wonderful audience still. I must admit that the radio station I work on isn’t a commercial radio station. It is what we call a community radio station which means it’s independent and is actually funded by alternative people who pay membership fees even though you don’t have to be a member to listen to it for free!
Mandovi: Given the fact that it’s more niche and specified in its content, is community radio still very popular?
Stani: Well, it is very popular in the sense that there’s a long history of it. About 30 years ago the only way to get independent music on the radio was to go to radio shows because commercial radio stations were largely playing that particularly narrow range of music you know, top 40s and what not. So the emergence of community radio at the time was a huge platform for independent music.
Mandovi: Is that still the case today?
Stani: Absolutely. Australian local bands use the radio medium extensively as their number one tool even today. It’s probably one of the best ways they have of getting their music out there. It’s a fantastic platform for them and I honestly believe this is one of the reasons stations survive at all because we’re literally the only ones who play that kind of music, including fresh stuff from overseas. Basically, anything that doesn’t fit into the normal format which commercial radio stations would play trickles down to us.
Mandovi: So have you seen any real success stories with local bands thanks to the media support?
Stani: If we’re talking specifically about my show, its central focus is African music so when there’s a touring act from Africa, it’s likely no one’s even ever heard the band and typically, they’re looking for ways to get a little airplay, that’s where we come in. We give them a space, a platform to get heard before their first gig (same with local Australian bands) and many of them have ended up touring internationally so yes, we’ve definitely had those examples.
Mandovi: What advice would you give younger bands attempting to engage the media?
Stani: Mine is always to be persistent. I very often meet young artists who say I’ve done x, y, z but in order for it to be played, they’ve got to push for it. They have to get in touch, they have to send me the CD etc. I think that any time someone has expected me to go and find it I’m not going to as a radio presenter. To me, these are the kind of issues that we find quite a lot. It’s far too common.
Mandovi: Fair enough. You’ve been present at a lot of these India focus conferences here at IOMMA in the past few days, any thoughts on how to develop community radios in countries with less developed media systems?
Stani: I have and it’s all been very eye-opening. I can’t really comment since I don’t know enough details but i do think we need to bear in mind the emergence of internet radio. In other parts of the world I imagine that they’d end up playing the role of community radio here in Melbourne, bear the same flag even but as far as I’ve been noticing, community radio is a very omnipresent part of Australian culture.
Mandovi: What about outside of radio? Do you have your fingers in any other media pies?
Stani: Not really, nothing regular anyway. Bits and pieces do come up here and there though like I was involved in writing a book on the emergence of world music in Australia so I contributed to a chapter there where I trace the progression of African music from the earlier days to more recently in Australia itself.
Mandovi: We’ll have to get our hands on that! What kind of media do people in the country consume the most with respect to the arts?
Stani: That’s a really good question..I wouldn’t know! If I had to make a guess, I’d say the radio does have a very strong presence, radio personalities too, plus these same people now increasingly have blogs as well and more journalists are doing things audio-visually. So I suppose there are a lot of hybrids happening. I believe that in the future, it will be very hard to segregate anyway because for example, in places like Australia, we have a lot of access to everything so it becomes a mixture of all three mediums for most people–radio, TV and newspapers/magazines. This is good too because we have access to more points of view and given the fact that we’ve got gadgets that are able to give us access to all three available, I’m certain that distinction will disappear over time.
Mandovi: It sounds like the Australian media in general is very supportive of the independent arts scene, would you agree entirely with that statement?
Stani: Generally speaking, yes. But i would add that that’s particularly true in Melbourne because it’s regarded as the cultural melting pot and it really is, which is why community radio is so supportive here. After all, it would be quite unusual for us not to play a particular kind of music because by definition, we play everything! As long as it’s in a format that’s playable, we tend to play it.
Mandovi: In that vein, would you say it’s conceivable to make a living out of media over there?
Stani: Well, my inclination would be to say no because I personally don’t know many, or anyone for that matter, who makes a living out of doing journalism. Most people are doing it more as a sort of hobby or have another job. Most people are like me (laughs). That’s not unique to media here however, it’s the same in most places.
Mandovi: Can’t argue with that. On another note–what do you consider the scope of responsibility of the media to be?
Stani: That’s always very hard to define because there really isn’t someone out there setting the rules or any examples. It’s all to certain degrees fairly organic. And certainly the radio station that I work for uses the motto that we’re here to support independent music. We try and do everything that we can so we are seen and there is evidence that that’s what we’re doing. Particularly the youth radio stations are very much of that frame of mind too. But I think the difficulty that we have is that there’s no one assessing what we’re achieving or where we’re going or even what we’re doing. There’s never been anyone looking into anything.
Mandovi: Like some kind of standardized, regulatory body?
Stani: Exactly. We don’t have that. I mean, just imagine if someone would perhaps do a cross-channel study on simply looking into what radio stations and media channels in general are achieving? I’d love to do a study like that and it’s unfortunate that this doesn’t exist yet!
Mandovi: So what are the biggest challenges for you here, things you might like to change?
Stani: What we spoke about earlier regarding regulation, greater integration of media is necessary and engaging the youth more via digital media. The changing technology is posing many serious questions too. Like when someone gives me music in a format other than a CD, how will that translate in my radio station on my playlist? How transferable is that music? These are some of the challenges smaller, independent radio stations face and some of them are incredibly basic because it requires funding to keep your hardware up-to-date so they’d require financial support. But we must maintain that level of quality because artists want to hear us reproduce the same quality that they’ve recorded in the studio. If that’s in digital format then we’ve got to step it up because it’s something younger bands appreciate.
Mandovi: And finally–the key trends you notice within Australian media, currently speaking?
Stani: A major trend really, and I’m looking forward to what impact it would have is that we’ve gone from being very small and localised (sometimes reaching out to a niche within a certain country or even a class if you like) to becoming far more international with the advent of the internet and I believe that it would be very interesting to see what the impact of that would be. For example: There are radio stations that might have for a long time emerged as a student scene, very much linked to people who might have gone to a particular network but when that radio station then has an audience outside of this community through the internet then what impact does it have on the way they progress? It’s a big development that I’m curious to keep a tab on.
Photos courtesy: PBS-FM and Bob De Fossil