Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 18 News List

A quarter century of community radio

Over the 25 years, ICRT's popularity has flip-flopped between top of the pops and bottom of the flops, but with the appointment of a new general manager, the station is hoping to reclaim the airwaves

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

ICRT icon and veteran DJ Richie Walker believes that large numbers of the nation's newer radio station's learned to ply their trade from listening to Taiwan's only English-language radio station.

PHOTO: GAVIN PHIPPS, TAIPEI TIMES

Rising out of the ashes of Armed Forces Network Taiwan (AFNRT), International Community Radio Taipei's (ICRT) was born at one minute past midnight on April 16, 1979. Using equipment purchased from the US military for the nominal sum of US$1, the station's inaugural broadcast was hosted by a DJ who didn't bother to introduce himself and featured cover tunes by unknown artists.

The anonymity with which the station came into being was to be short lived. Within five years the station had gained nationwide appeal due to its professional programming and built up audience figures averaging 10,000 listeners per day.

"There were only three television stations and the other radio stations played a limited amount of boring, conservative music. We were different and people used ICRT as a way to leave the island and emigrate," said Morning Call host, Rick Monday. "We had a lot of talented people and real radio professionals working for us who knew what audiences wanted."

As well as having a feel for their audiences, many of ICRT's early DJs become larger-than-life celebrity figures in Taiwan. Radio personalities such as Patrick Steele and Tony Taylor were regularly featured in magazine articles, appeared on television game shows and were recognized and swamped by fans wherever they went.

"At that time, ICRT was huge with everyone on the island. It was a fun period with so much notoriety. It was certainly a time of great popularity for the station," said ICRT's News Director Todd van Wykes. "DJs like Samantha K were treated like pop stars."

It was not all fun and games at ICRT and the station did have its more serious side, in the form of its news department. Nicholas Gould's cutting-edge Issues and Opinions broke new ground when it was first broadcast in the late-'80s and was lauded both locally and internationally for its unrivaled and non-politically partisan coverage of local news events.

Controversy was never far behind, however, and came to a head on April 17, 1991. After the station aired reports from a protest organized by the then-opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the station's board of directors canned the show, demoted Gould and fired the program's reporters on the ground's that ICRT was becoming too pro-DPP.

"We were always accused of being run by a board of a pro-KMT business leaders, but [Gould] went out and proved that ICRT had a balanced voice," said Monday. "You have to hand it to him for what he did. He made us stand out."

The station's decade-and-a-half of unrivalled prosperity came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s following the government's revised of the Broadcast and Television Law (廣播電視法) in 1996. Faced with stiff competition from new radio stations offering listeners everything from jazz to English language lessons, ICRT began to feel the pinch for the first time.

"There were suddenly a lot more players in the field and more radio stations were fighting for a piece of the pie. It was a gradual thing for us, as we were a strong brand and long-term sponsors knew this," said van Wykes. "But with new [stations] about, the big-name ad agencies had more options."

Ironically it was to be the reason behind ICRT's popularity that was to prove its undoing. Many of Taiwan's early music-radio stations set about claiming the airwaves and poaching listeners by aping ICRT's tried, tested and hugely popular format.

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