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Newcastle Herald

Contest for FM licence

Date: 05/07/1999
Words: 412
          Publication: Newcastle Herald
Section: News
Page: 6
THE baton in the race for Newcastle's one available high-power FM radio channel will change hands at midnight on August 1.

Rhema FM, the long-standing candidate for the city's only remaining community broadcasting frequency, will go off the air and be replaced by fledgling group VIP Radio (for Visually Impaired Persons) over 99.7 on the FM band for three months from August 2.

The Newcastle Herald tipped the changeover in May.

VIP was supposed to have made its debut on the air in February but was not ready, so Rhema was granted another licence through to August.

After 20 months of continuous transmission under four consecutive temporary broadcast licences issued by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), the Christian group is reluctant to go off the air.

In recent days it has broadcast a series of announcements directing disappointed listeners, members and sponsors to write to the ABA to complain.

But under broadcasting regulations, airtime must be shared among all aspiring radio groups.

Rhema general manager John Marks said the station would struggle to retain its two full-time staff and seven casuals until it resumed broadcasting on December 1.

But VIP Radio may not be the only challenger for the frequency, with a Sydney-based group called BEATZ-FM apparently keen to establish a youth dance music station in the city.

VIP FM Radio station manager Cliff Thompson said he will be looking to make an impact during the three-month test period.

Mr Thompson said during the trial his group of volunteers hope to `open the world up to people who are visually impaired or have disabilities'.

`I believe we will be providing an important service,' he said.

Mr Thompson said programs will include helpful information on sports, shopping and entertainment.

`So much information comes to us in print form, people who are visually impaired miss out on all of that,' he said.

Rhema, which has been test broadcasting in Newcastle since 1984 and is part of a network of Christian broadcast groups across Australia and New Zealand, is keen to establish its credentials as the leading candidate to win the permanent licence.

The ABA issued its final licence area plan for Newcastle radio last November and had hoped to call for applications last month.

But it is unlikely to do so until early 2000.

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