Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Legacy radio

Thirty-five years after losing US federal funding, ICRT is still running Taiwan’s only English-language broadcast. Here’s what it looks like today

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

This file photo taken on July 15, 1996 shows the former location of ICRT at Yangmingshan, Taipei.

Photo courtesy of ICRT

International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT, 台北國際社區廣播電台), which turns 35 years old today, is on a campaign to connect with more listeners online, said general manager Tim Berge.

“If you’re under a certain age these days, you probably don’t have a radio. One thing that’s hurting us is that we don’t have our own app to get directly to those ears,” he said.

By year’s end, ICRT will launch a mobile app featuring live streaming and on-demand access to any of its shows through the Internet radio network TuneIn.

The service will join “ICRT Daily News,” a dedicated English-learning app released late last month for iPhone and currently under development for Android.

“We’re also making our Web site mobile-friendly. Traditionally our Web site has been flash-based, which is not friendly to cell phones,” Berge said. “This way even if you don’t download our app, you can listen directly, too.”

By migrating to digital platforms, ICRT hopes to reach its stronghold audiences — cities like Taipei with relatively low rates of car ownership and high rates of smartphone uptake.

The station is also looking to reach parts of Taiwan, for instance Yangmei (楊梅) in Taoyuan County, where the terrain weakens signals from one of its four transmitters.

“Taiwan is a difficult place to broadcast in because of all the mountains,” he said. “There are lots of little pockets in Taiwan where it’s difficult for people to listen to us, even though Taiwan is not that big ... What we want to do with our app is to fill in those holes.”

‘DON’T NEED RADIO LIKE YOU USED TO’

ICRT came into existence shortly after the US broke ties with the Republic of China in January 1979.

As troops rolled out, the US military sold its Armed Forces Network Radio Taiwan to Taiwan’s Government Information Office for a dollar, and the station began a new life as ICRT on April 16, 1979.

For the next 15 years, ICRT was able to coast on a program of US billboard hits and international news, which it broadcast on an AM and FM channel.

“Basically, if you went to the US during that time and turned on the station, that sound was what we sounded like,” said Berge, who arrived in 1991 as a news broadcaster who also did traffic reports.

But in January 1993, the central government lifted its ban on new radio stations, going on to approve 46 new stations across Taiwan on Dec. 24, 1994.

ICRT found itself floundering: Within the next few years, it had taken the AM channel permanently off-air and severely downsized its FM.

“People hadn’t been listening to us for English per se, but they were listening for English music ... Then Hit FM (台北之音) and UFO Radio (飛碟聯播網) came — all these stations started playing western music,” he said.

More recently, rapid Internet penetration has also been chipping away at ICRT’s core audience.

“You don’t need radio like you used to,” Berge said.

“In the old days, the DJs would spend a lot of time talking about what was going on overseas. Because there was limited information, we were kind of filling a void. But now there is all sorts of information on the Internet … And it’s been constant change all these years.”

STATE OF THE STATION

Since the end of Martial Law and subsequent media liberalization, ICRT has tested many measures in the bid to stay competitive, at times alienating its audience.

It’s tilted toward more music and less banter, then back to more banter and less music. In the early 2000s, the station had a brief and badly-received experiment with a bilingual format, with DJs entertaining on a mix of English and Mandarin in hopes of appealing to a broader audience.

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