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Dragons’ Den of the airwaves decided at Ara

It’s always a tension-filled contest when Bachelor of Broadcasting Communications (Radio) ākonga (students) vie for the right to set up shop on the New Zealand Broadcasting School’s (NZBS) radio frequency.

Picture this. Selling your on air idea in front of an Ara Institute of Canterbury lecture theatre full of up-and-coming broadcasters and a front row packed with industry professionals.

Three groups, pitching a broad range of formats, took on the challenge this week to win the chance to make their mark on 96.1fm for 2024.

The Lab 96.1 team zeroed in on a gap in the market for a new music station appealing to males in their 20s. The Yard positioned itself as “hitting country music home” for millennials; and Bassline wanted to offer handpicked R&B to the Christchurch scene.

The teams had a few weeks to come up with their business cases to launch a station on the high-powered frequency stretching from Kaikōura to Timaru. They had just 20 minutes to convince the judges they deserved a place on the dial.

In the end, Bassline’s mix of R&B, Funk and ‘a little bit of hip-hop’ got the green light.

Station manager Sam Hodges said they felt lucky to get the nod ahead of some stiff competition and it was now all hands on deck.

“It’s time now to get all the teams on board with our concept because from here we need to work together,” he said. “But we’re up for the challenge. We know the station is a unique and interesting idea and people who get a taste will want to stay.”

Department of Creative Industries Senior Academic Staff Member Brendan Reilly said it would be straight to work for the winning format.

“With the brand now locked in for 2024 the sales strategy starts immediately,” he said noting that the ākonga-run station operates to the same formula as its competition in a tough commercial environment.

“Departments are set up to select music, run shows with announcers, sell to advertisers and promote the product to their potential audience,” he said. “In addition, students from the journalism stream will have the opportunity to provide news bulletins for Bassline.”

The students have a short on-air season in which to make their mark in a market saturated with streaming services, podcasts and commercial radio.

Speaking on behalf of the judges, New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) Christchurch General manager Ben Harris said the calibre of pitches had been outstanding and left the judges feeling that New Zealand Broadcasting was “in good heart”.

“I can say the deliberations were contentious after seeing these dynamic and creative presentations. All the teams interacted well, and you could see the work that had gone in terms of knowing their target markets well.

“All three were well researched and relatable. You could see the students really wore their hearts on their sleeves and believed in the projects,” Harris said.

After the win Hodges said he was excited to bring the concept to life adding their target listener would stay firmly in their sights.

“We’ve identified our target listeners as 25-39-year-old males, so we’re going for white collar working individuals. But we’ve made sure there’s room for female listeners as well.

“We can’t wait to get stuck in and make a name for ourselves.”


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