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1XX keeps it local in tough times

The Radio Broadcaster of the Year prize usually goes to a big name in the business with nationwide reach. But this year the honour went to a distinctly local outfit for its response to a local crisis - and a rare commitment to local news on air.

Most of the prizes at the NZ Radio Awards this year went to the two big commercial radio companies NZME and MediaWorks. Some were picked up by state-funded RNZ.

But small independent Whakatāne station 1XX carried off one of the main prizes - the Sir Paul Holmes Radio Broadcaster of the Year.

The 1XX newsroom and reporters got the message out quickly when Cyclone Debbie struck in April 2017. Edgecumbe bore the brunt of it and people there only had minutes to leave homes and businesses before floodwaters surged in.

1XX lost around $50,000 from businesses wiped out or shut down by the floods but gave away advertising later to local firms getting back up and running. It supported an 'Edgecumbe’s back in business' campaign along with other local media and raised more than $60,000 for families through its own charitable trust.

When 1XX managing director Glenn Smith picked up the award he reminded the audience the story wasn’t over yet in Edgecumbe.

"A lot of people after more than a year were still not in their homes. They are living as refugees," he said.

It wasn’t the first time 1XX in Whakatāne has been recognised for its emergency broadcasting when floodwaters rose in the Bay of Plenty.

1XX reporters won the 2014 NZ Radio Award for best team coverage of a news story after what was reported at the time as a "one in 100-year flood."

“Its work in this emergency has been tremendous and I want to compare that with places like Tūrangi that got caught up in the floods in February," the Minister of Civil Defence George Hawkins told Parliament at the time.

"The Tūrangi radio station goes on to a network over the weekend, and people could not get local messages. Here, 1XX was able to do that,” he said.

When an emergency strikes somewhere in rural or regional New Zealand, it’s unlikely there will be few or any radio reporters on the ground to gather news in the way 1XX can.

During the 47 years 1XX has been on air many local broadcasters have been taken over by the big two commercial broadcasters.

Most of them have been 'networked' meaning that they mostly carry the output of a national radio brand coming out of a faraway studio, usually one in Auckland. While there may still be station staff selling ads locally, not many reporters have been retained.

But 1XX still generates its own local news stories in Whakatāne which you won't hear anywhere else.

"It's expensive to run a newsroom but we value it and we know the people there value it," Glenn Smith told Mediawatch.

"At times like disasters it comes into its own but we are turning out more than 80 bulletins a week. It's an essential part of our station . . . and I will continue with news as long as I can," he said.

He urges other stations to supplement sales teams with local reporters.

"It's good for journalism in general and public discourse. Local news is that base of all news," he said.
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