Culture //

A birthday party, and we’re all invited

Avani Dias looks back on FBi radio’s 10 years



“It’s not necessarily male or female, it doesn’t necessarily look like anything in particular, but it’s got a particular attitude.” It sounds a little cheesy, but for Dan Zilber, the General Manager of Music at FBi Radio, programming the music for Sydney’s youth radio station for the past decade was easier when he could envisage it as a person.  “I think it’s a really dedicated, passionate, authentic, enthusiastic van of culture and creativity… it’s important to support what the station, if it were a person, would enjoy.”  This Sunday, FBi Radio is celebrating ten years of broadcasting with a gig expected to draw over 8000 fans and featuring 35 acts. The concert will feature some of the greatest local and international talent – playing as a thank you to the station for all they have done.

FBi’s existence was transient before it found its current 94.5 home. The formative years began in 1995: Paul Keating was about to be beaten by John Howard, Anna Wood passed away after taking ecstacy at a rave which sparked the debate surrounding illicit drugs and rave culture, and ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC hit number 4 on the Australian charts.  Meanwhile, FBi began test broadcasting as an ‘aspirant broadcaster’ in the pursuit of a permanent, community radio license.  A caravan on the beach in Bondi, a room above the Marly in Newtown, and above a Chinese restaurant on George Street, were some of the spaces that the team would broadcast from during those years. They would pop up for a few months at a time, pack up and then another aspirant station would fill that place. In 2002, it was granted the biggest community broadcasting footprint ever offered, and permanent broadcasting began in August 2003.

For a number of local artists, it has catapulted their careers into the centre of the music industry.  The early demos of the likes of Tame Impala, Sarah Blasko, Flume and The Presets lie in the dusty depths of the music library at the station. John Hassell is a part of one of the most prolific, electronic bands in Sydney, Seekae. He says that FBi was integral to their success as a band: “They were the one station that were happy to play our kind of music at that time and were open to anything.”  The band appeared on the music scene in 2006 at a time when electronic music, accompanied by computer-assisted performances, was only just beginning to flourish internationally. “The only shows we happened to get [at the start] were with rock bands and bands that just had guitars and keyboards on stage.  We were just these three dorks with computers and I think it was a blessing in disguise because it made us stand out a little bit,” said Hassell.

But as government cuts to community radio continue to increase, and technology rapidly develops, the future for FBi is difficult to gauge.  Sydney two-piece, FISHING, came into the electronic scene at a time when people were able to create music in the comfort of their own homes and release it online within a day. The beats scene in Sydney has flourished as a result of this but Russell Fitzgibbon, one half of the band, thinks that they owe their initial success to the colliding of two mediums of publishing, “We began at the same time as that intersection of the blog and local scene.  There were some really nice blogs coming out of Sydney… giving our music to FBi at the same time was a really nice way of pulling it all together.”  He suggested that FBi provides the locality that the internet can never produce, “It’s all about making connections between people who live and make music in the same place… the internet can’t do that because it relies on people seeking out things, it’s not just an active member of the community.”

Both Seekae and FISHING are on the lineup for Sunday. Zilber and the rest of the team have been lucky to survive on the generosity of the bands and artists who have waived all their usual fees for the fundraiser gig, and Carriageworks who allowed to host the event for free. FBI is not a cheap operation, and just 5% of the station’s funding comes from the government. The rest comes from the station’s sponsors and individual supporters that can pay $5, $10, or $15 a month to help keep the station alive.  To say FBi rides on the back of the community is an incredibly apt statement.

For Hassell, FBi is all about the music:  “they’re just…supporting an artistic community as much as they can – purely out of the love of art and music, nothing else.”