For many foreigners in Taiwan, International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT) provided a shared experience that transcended nationality, vocation, age and income. It connected us to one another and to the Taiwanese community at large.
Foreign commuters listened in to keep informed about current traffic conditions; Taiwanese students listened in for a cultural barometer of what was popular overseas and to practice their English comprehension; expat community groups listened in and made announcements of interest to the community; and everyone listened in to stay up-to-date on breaking news, whether it be earthquakes, typhoons, or -- worst of all -- national elections. How many taxi drivers, businessmen and shopkeepers -- among a long list of others -- owe even modest success in English to faithfully tuning into ICRT? A countless number.
Sadly, this phenomenon seems to be coming to an end. At forumosa.com our online petition expressing dissatisfaction has already attracted more than 300 signatures.
When Janet Chu (朱雅如), the new general manager of ICRT, took the reins last year, she pledged change.
Unfortunately these changes have alienated the foreign listeners of ICRT, the station's purported raison d'etre. The increased rotation of Mandopop, the Chinglish in the new jingle ("We Radio Life") and the dearth of an English-language talk-radio morning format have forced foreign listeners to turn off ICRT and turn on their CD players.
To remain "commercially viable," the station has cut its news broadcasts to a bare-bones minimum, replaced experienced DJs with less experienced talent and encouraged more Mandarin and less English when DJs are on air. It is now possible to listen to ICRT for the better part of an hour without even realizing that it is supposed to be international.
Simply put, ICRT is no longer a radio station for the international community, despite the station's ambitious claim of serving foreigners as its primary mandate. It does not help that the only market surveys measuring the effectiveness of the radio business do not poll foreigners. Instead, they concentrate exclusively on local listeners. ICRT, as a non-profit station, claims a charitable status. This makes us wonder, is ICRT in breach of that status?
Nelson Chang (張安平), chairman of the Taipei International Community Cultural Foundation which runs ICRT, feels that a lack of support, both from the foreign community and from the government, is hindering ICRT's success. While. Chang has been extremely gracious and approachable to the foreign community personally, his dismay is unfounded.
Taiwan's radio industry today is not the same as the one in which ICRT grew up. It's a cutthroat arena, where only the flashiest and hungriest thrive. Expecting ICRT to operate here while catering to a tiny but special community seems like asking a lot. But should ICRT be fending for itself?
Could the government do more to support the country's only English-language radio station? Certainly, having such a station makes Taiwan that much more attractive as a global and regional hub for business, in line with Taiwan's aspirations to be an active global player. If Formosa TV's new English-language news program can receive NT$80 million a year from the government for one hour of news a day, then surely at least a similar amount could be made available to fund ICRT -- a 24-hour media outlet with an established brand -- which we understand to have a considerably smaller operating budget.