Plains FM: Celebrating 30 years of citizen-made media in many languages

Plains FM: Celebrating 30 years of citizen-made media in many languages

(Picture caption: Canterbury Sanjha Radio team with greetings in various languages at the entrance of Plains FM)

(Picture and content courtesy: Plains FM)

Supported with funding from NZ On AIR and owned by the Canterbury Communications Trust not-for-profit access radio station, Plains FM, has provided the means for a huge variety of community groups, organisations, educational institutions and individuals to have a voice in the media since 1988.

Plains FM is one of 12 such “access” radio stations across New Zealand from Auckland to Southland. Content for broadcast and online delivery is made by advocates, activists, organisations, newcomers, children, elders, music fans, people with disabilities, youth, health practitioners, international students, refugees, experts and enthusiasts. Airtime charges are kept low so any barriers to involvement are minimal. Plains FM currently has 91 locally made programmes produced by 200 broadcasters in 16 different languages. It also re-broadcasts 19 programmes from sister access radio stations from around NZ utilising a platform called AIR (Access Internet Radio) which has just clocked up 1 million online hits in 12 months. 

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“We believe in the value of citizen-made media for democratic health and we want ordinary people to participate” says Station Manager, Nicki Reece. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve never broadcast before or your first language is not English because we can train most people to a high standard. We want to reflect those whose voices are not easily heard and whose stories are not widely told - the more niche the content the better!” 

Plains FM’s ethos is to help build community cohesion, educate, entertain and empower. Language is not a barrier – many multicultural content-makers share their unique perspectives, offer support to their communities and share wonderful music. Others talk about their culture in English for a broader audience. New content creators with a solid idea apply for an airtime slot and go through an intensive one-on-one or small group training process. They retain editorial control of their programme content and decide which information or stories they want to share through news gathering, interview and commentary. 

Many - culturally and linguistically diverse or CALD - young people have experienced their first taste of broadcasting at the station. People who never thought they could be broadcasters have learnt media skills, made programmes in languages other than English, and even won national recognition in the process. Radio is more than just a voice behind the microphone these days. It encompasses a visual aspect through social media and Facebook Live and opportunities to develop a “TV” option so presenters can be seen as well as heard in the studio. Time-shifted online delivery means content can be accessed via any device and has a global appeal. 

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Newcomers or long-term migrants speaking Greek, Mandarin, Polish, Spanish, Samoan, Tagalog or Farsi, to mention a few, can be heard by family and friends overseas. Listeners can also get a sense of life in Canterbury through programmes made by staff from organisations supporting migrants and refugees such as Christchurch Resettlement Services, Interpreting Canterbury or Tangata Atumotu Trust.

Project funding through the Ministry of Education has resulted in a weekly programme called STeudaemonia – International Students Living Well where students discuss how they live fulfilling, happy lives far away from home. They discuss the challenges living in a new country, and how they overcome homesickness and lack of family support. Participation in this project has exceeded all expectations and so far 65 young people have been involved from a range of English language schools or educational institutions, most of them never having been behind a microphone before.

Plains FM is about ordinary people from all walks of life connecting with each other and creating engaging, illuminating, quirky or useful content across a range of platforms. Who knows what the next 30 years will bring! 

For enquiries email or ring 03 365 7997 or apply online at

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