Once was a TV station: SCU's community television history

20 August 2014
SCU & ABC sign LINC TV agreement. L-R Front: ABC Manager Mike McClusky, SCU Chancellor Pro. Barry Conyngham, Dean of Arts Pro. Leon Cantrell. Back: Station Manager Ian Slade, Co Producer Joanna Kargilis.
SCU & ABC sign LINC TV agreement. L-R Front: ABC Manager Mike McClusky, SCU Chancellor Pro. Barry Conyngham, Dean of Arts Pro. Leon Cantrell. Back: Station Manager Ian Slade, Co Producer Joanna Kargilis.

It has been 20 years since Southern Cross University made the transition from a teachers college to a fully established university in 1994, making 2014 a year for celebration and reflection for the particularly young establishment.

Back then, in a time before distance education and online collaboration became such prominent aspects of university education, Southern Cross University's Lismore campus was a cultural hub for students and teachers to work together on projects that enhanced their university experience.

The university ran projects like a student association paper, which allowed students to write and contribute content related to student life, and for a time SCU was home to both a community radio station and television station.

And while the radio station, 2NCR River-FM has moved on to a new home, memories are all that are left of Australia’s first regional community television station. Well, memories and an extremely large tower on top of the Rous Road fire station in Lismore.

An article in the Northern Rivers Echo, Oct 1995, celebrates the installation of  the transmission tower on top of the Rous Road fire station in Lismore. Sourced: Ian Slade.

In 1989, a passionate arts student came up with the idea to create a community television station in Lismore.

After working on test broadcasts with CAT TV in Sydney, Marion Conrow was inspired by the community television station.

“CTV meant that all parts of the community could air their views in a visual way, which I saw as more powerful than radio,” Conrow said.

The passion in Conrow’s voice, as she explained how she came up with idea and how much it meant to her even 20 years later, was palpable.

Linda Perry and Marion Conrow at the LINC TV opening in 1994. Photo: Karen Gosse.

She said that it was due to Lismore’s “diverse, talented and interesting community” that she thought the idea could work and be worth doing, but she knew it would be no easy feat.

“There was nothing, we started with nothing, just an idea, no money, no resources,” she said.

The idea was presented to SCU’s current Media Facilities Officer, Ian Slade who, despite Conrow’s excitement, was not convinced a community television station in Lismore could work because he said “TV eats money for breakfast."

“I thought it was an impossible dream,” he said.

However, despite his reservations, Slade agreed to assist Conrow and provide the necessary equipment for the project.

“Marion was the real driving force behind the whole project,” he said.

In 1992 LINC TV went from just an idea to a reality when Conrow and her team received an eight-month license for test broadcasting.

“I gathered people, we had public meetings and there was a lot of interest,” she said.

Initially LINC TV gained a lot of interest, with over 500 people wishing to volunteer their time to help get the station running through fundraisers and gaining sponsorship for the station.

With a variety of shows, which included nature documentaries, music videos and a news program, LINC TV was most popular with people aged 25-and-under and amongst the over 65-year-olds.

“I worked as station manager for 10 hours plus a day for five to six years,” she said. “It was my passion, my life.”

Whilst Conrow was working on the national community television standing committee of the Community Broadcasting Association Australia (CBAA), LINC TV won the sixth channel over education and commercial applicants.

“It was a very exciting time and we were all passionately working and creating,” she said. “We finally secured a small grant and got to set up a station on Molesworth Street [Lismore].”

When Southern Cross was established in 1994, Slade took over as the station manager and went through what can only be described as a roller coaster ride in a battle to gain a permanent license for broadcasting.

Ian Slade (back row, centre) and some of the LINC TV team. Source: Ian Slade

As Slade described the extensive amounts of trouble he went through to ensure the continued success of LINC TV it was clear that the emotions he felt then are still very strong today.

After being granted $260,000 by the university and a permanent licence in 1994, it took a year for Slade to find an appropriate location for the transmission tower.

“I got rejected twice before approaching the fire station on Rous Road,” he said. “At that point I thought 'oh my god, it’s going to happen'.”

Once the tower was established erected by Vodafone, a control room was built in D Block of the university.

“From the moment the control panel was turned on, we were on air in 11 minutes,” Slade said.

“I had 11 employees and we broadcasted for 42 hours a week for the next 3 years,”

Once the station was up and running, Slade resumed some of his teaching duties and allowed the students and community members to continue broadcasting.

The station was producing, at that point, a home improvement, a gardening and a veterinary program as well as a news bulletin, which was produced by the university students.

LINC TV and the local community radio station 2NCR, now known as RiverFM, worked together in terms of training people through the university.

The facilities that were created for both stations were described by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) as the model they wanted to see in community television and radio across the nation, Slade explained.

“We clung to that comment and ran with it,” Slade said. “That was a big deal.”

But, despite the positivity surrounding each of the community stations, both the television and radio stations lost their university funding in 1999 due to political pressure from Canberra.

“The same vice chancellor [that granted the money] shut it down,” he reflected.

Another attempt was made to bring LINC TV back as a digital station in 2002, however it was never completed.

“I just look back on it as an experience.” Slade said.

Currently, there is no such project running at the university today.

While Conrow thought the idea of a community television station returning to Lismore would be “awesome”, but said it required a lot of resources and passion.

“Our generation was very politicised and active,” she said, “I think students should know about LINC TV, its history, and really you learn so much from actively participating in the media.”