2010: A Zed Odyssey

Community radio station and Brisbane institution 4ZZZ celebrates thirty-five years of existence this year. To celebrate, or maybe just for the heck of it, they painted their offices with a three storey high mural. In keeping with the general idealism and radicalism that emanates from the place, the 4ZZZ offices are also the former HQ of the Australian Communist Party.

4ZZZ was originally a student station, started at UQ under a liberalization made possible by the Whitlam government (though National Peter Nixon amusingly ended up signing the paper). It moved to the current office in the valley after a formative struggle which has an almost mythological status. A change of power at the UQ student union put the Young Nationals in power. Under president Victoria Brazil, they cut costs, including kicking 4ZZZ off campus. The National Party had been in power in the state of Queensland for several decades straight, leaning well over the line towards a thuggish police state at the end, rigging the electoral system and intertwined with corrupt police. Though in retrospect it seems obvious the Nationals were on their last legs, at the time occupying the radio station in protest must have seemed proportional resistance to a semi-fascist regime disturbingly willing to use illegal or paramilitary force. By John Birmingham’s 90’s account in the UQ student newspaper, Semper – he rather gleefully described punching Young Nationals in the face – the station occupation wasn’t exactly a model of Gandhian non-violence either. (Semper archives are still dead-tree based, unfortunately.)

It may appall every other subscriber, but I think kicking 4ZZZ out of the uni has been good for it. Certainly it was a Thatcherite kill-or-cure solution, and probably intended with more kill than cure. The content is still flavoured by a student aesthetic. The title of this post comes from the anniversary booklet of the same name, and it’s very reminiscent of Semper, the UQ paper. It’s not a bad paper, but the programming itself looks beyond the somewhat self-absorbed venue of the campus. The result of eviction, even if unintentional, was creating an independent pillar of civic society, that stood on its own terms, not beholden to any parent organisation. You could call it an institutional expression of anarcho-syndicalism at the centre of a modern corporate city, or you could just say it’s like the local cricket team. Not too large. Fit to purpose.

4ZZZ programming mostly displays the glorious, fractious diversity of the left, but it’s also a distinctly local voice. It doesn’t have playlists, and though there is a kind of consensus 4ZZZ reality, its shows become windows into the Brisbane community, and communities within that community, in a way other stations cannot, simply because of their central corporate or national organisation. Triple J, for instance, the national youth broadcaster, and not a bad one, if you’re going to have such a thing, simply can’t give as many local bands a break as ZZZ, because of its size. And because of its no playlist policy, you get a delirious skittering around during the week, from Nothing But The Blues, to Zed Games, to the New Zealand Show, to Dykes on Mykes. It has an amateurish charm. It resists a mere demographic averaging in a way that anticipated the internet, and is as old as free speech and songs without words. It’s a week late, but happy birthday.

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