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UG FM’s Peter Weeks could not hold back the tears as he accepted the Tony Staley award on behalf of his station at the Community Broadcasting Awards last night. Upper Goulburn Community Radio, known as Radio Murrindindi, was right in the middle of last year’s disastrous Victorian bushfires. It lost two transmission towers, but managed to stay on air during the disaster, keeping listeners informed as the fire front swept through Marysville and other towns in the listening area.

“We are local, we live there. We knew the area, which roads were closed and how to advise people on the safest way to get out… we know we helped saved lives with the information we put on air,” Weeks told the audience at the CBAA Gala Dinner and Awards presentation.

179 people lost their lives in the Black Saturday Bushfires, many of them close friends of Weeks and other station volunteers. The shire lost 1,200 homes and 130 people in the sire were killed. 40% of the Murrindindi Shire was burnt during the fires.

UG FM stayed on air during the fires, giving emergency updates continually. It has now rebuilt its transmitters and has introduced a daily program to help the burnt out region as people return to the area and rebuild their communities. The station is training new volunteers in the affected communities so that they have their own voice as they return to the area.

The station is keen to work with other community stations and other sectors to help improve emergency broadcasting the future. Weeks urges any station in a potential disaster area to get a seat at the table on the local emergency management planning committee.

The station received the prestigious award in recognition of its efforts supporting the community during the disaster and afterwards. Tony Staley, who was the minister who introduced legislation enabling Community Radio in the 1970s, was at the conference and presented the award in person.

The sector’s other top level award, the Michael Law award, was awarded to Radio Print Handicapped pioneer Stephen Jolley, a blind broadcaster who was instrumental in starting up the print handicapped network in the 1970s and is still actively involved in management of RPH stations.

According to the latest stats released at the conference, the community radio sector in Australia has 19,858 volunteers with an average of 72 per station. 26% of volunteers are aged under under 26 years old.

Community radio stations broadcast an average of 129 hours of local content per week, much of it local Australian music.

The sector attracts $8.4 million in donations from over 117,000 subscribers nationally. Sponsorship revenue across the sector is just under $29 million, up 30% on the previous two year period when the surveys are taken