The ABC announced this week its three HF shortwave radio transmitters at Katherine, Tennant Creek and Roe Creek (Alice Springs), would be switched off on January 31, 2017.
ABC Radio will continue to broadcast on FM and AM bands, via the viewer access satellite television (VAST) service, streaming online and via the mobile phone application.
Mark Crocombe from the Thamarrurr Rangers, in the remote community of Wadeye, said the rangers spent days and sometimes weeks at a time away in the bush and out on sea patrols.
He said the group relied on the ABC’s shortwave radio for weather reports and emergency information.
“Otherwise you have to call back to the base on the HF radio to ask people [there], but then you can’t listen to the report yourself, you are relying on someone else’s second-hand report,” Mr Crocombe said.
Mr Crocombe said on previous bush trips he had received warnings of cyclones via the ABC’s shortwave service, without which he would not have had any notice.
“Sure, it is expensive to keep the shortwave radio service going, but during cyclones, for the bush camps and people on boats, that is their only way of getting the weather reports,” he said.
“It could be life threatening, if you are out and you don’t know a cyclone is coming.”
Mr Crocombe said the VAST service did not work during cloudy weather, especially during monsoons and cyclones.
“The VAST satellite dish is fixed to your house, we are working in the field, and when we are on the boats we are not in mobile phone range, so applications and VAST do not work in the bush,” he said.
In response to Mr Crocombe’s concerns, a spokesperson for the ABC said “In emergencies, the ABC works very hard to ensure that its services remain available through a range of FM broadcasts and re-broadcast arrangements in the NT.
“Cyclone activity is usually coastal in nature, in which case users are covered by FM, Maritime distress frequencies, and the ABC’s close working relationship with northern Indigenous broadcasters — particularly in times of emergency broadcasting,” the statement read.
“The BOM provides forecasts and warnings in HF on the hour, every hour. The Emergency Flying Doctor service also broadcasts in HF.”
Cattleman’s Association says ABC decision ignores people in the bush
The national broadcaster said in a statement on Tuesday the move was in line with its “commitment to dispense with outdated technology and to expand its digital content offerings.”
But the announcement was met with anger by the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association.
President Tom Stockwell, who lives on Sunday Creek Station with no access to AM or FM radio or mobile phone coverage, said the ABC’s decision to focus on digital transmission ignored people in the bush.
“It affects a big area of Australia and it affects those people that are remote from other forms of communication that rely on radio network,” he said.
“The ABC argument that it’s a 100-year-old technology doesn’t stack up. Electricity is 100-years-old — is the ABC going to get rid of electricity as well?
“Anybody who’s remote and away from a satellite dish won’t get local radio, won’t get emergency radio, won’t get emergency messages and they’re going to use the money to put in another digital platform for crying out loud.
“It’s just the most selfish, ridiculous decision I’ve ever heard,” Mr Stockwell said.
Head of ABC Radio strategy Jeremy Millar defended the broadcaster’s decision while admitting he was unsure about the size of the shortwave audience in the Northern Territory.
“[It is] very hard to identify audiences in remote areas that are specifically hinged on these services.
“Our estimates are that they are fairly low given the VAST service is available across the Northern Territory,” Mr Miller said.
“The downside is that VAST is a technology which is best working in a stationary environment, at home, a business or a place of work and not necessarily mobile.
“But a number of communities have a landed service which means they receive VAST off the satellite and then can rebroadcast their programs on a low-powered FM in their market.
“That landed VAST service has certainly plugged a lot of gaps in terms of geographic coverage.”
Mr Millar would not reveal how much the ABC would save by ending the service.
More information on the cessation of the ABC’s shortwave service can be found on the website.