Kowie FM changes questioned

BIG changes have been made behind the scenes at Kowie FM which have raised questions about its status as a community radio station.

The community which “owns” the station have been denied the right to vote at future annual general meetings and the board has set itself up to remain in office indefinitely.

Members of the public are not automatically members of the radio station as they were in the original articles of incorporation, but now have to apply to be members, and may be denied membership at the whim of the board.

The most unfortunate aspect of all these changes is whether the community really cares.

A community radio station for Ndlambe was a great idea, and there was a lot of buzz around Port Alfred when it was first launched in 2009. Local talent emerged among volunteer presenters and there was significant investment in the station by co-founder Robbie Blake.

They claim a listenership of 23 000 people, but there has been very little financial support from within the community to make the station sustainable.

Nearly two years ago the station nearly closed down for lack of funds, but was bailed out by the River Group.

But the River Group’s involvement became contentious as it made cuts to local programming to save money and used content from Link FM in East London. Some people expressed concern that Kowie FM was being turned into a Christian radio station rather than a community radio station.

Kowie FM AGMs have never been well-supported, but at the last AGM in July, there was enough of a groundswell of opposition to the River Group that saw it being ousted from the board. Other board members resigned at a board meeting shortly after the AGM.

Now, just five months after the board was changed at the AGM, the community station has undergone another overhaul of its board and articles of incorporation, this time without public participation.

There would have a furore if River Group had done what the new board did.

Most of the remaining board members elected at the July AGM resigned earlier this month but have taken up positions on a “managing committee” running parallel to the board, with the positions of secretary and treasurer now on the managing committee rather than the board.

The station announced the changes in a flowery press release, but one has to read the new memorandum of incorporation to see the devil in the details.

A co-founder of Kowie FM has contacted ICASA with his concerns that the station may in contravention of its licencing conditions, and ICASA has promised to investigate.

– Jon Houzet

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