This year Channel 31 – now known as C31– celebrated 22 years of national broadcasting. But on December 31 the community television station will broadcast for the last time.
“It’s sad because we’ll be going off air and [being] replaced with nothing,” says Shane Dunlop, executive producer at C31 in Melbourne.
The government is standing by a 2014 decision to close the self-funded network. The decision was made in order to free up broadcast spectrum space to sell to commercial free-to-air channels or subscription TV providers, such as Telstra and Optus.
“The reasons put forward in 2014 are no longer valid, and the technical reality of what will happen to the space we occupy on the spectrum is it will lie dormant for years,” says Dunlop.
Many Australian media personalities, TV stars and comedians have cut their teeth in community television, including Rove McManus, Waleed Aly, Tommy Little, Hamish & Andy, Dave Thornton and Jo Stanley.
C31 has also been a breeding ground for many producers, sound engineers, directors and screenwriters.
“The footprint that C31 has made is massive,” says Dunlop. “Our studio and facilities have been open access to anyone who had aspirations. We provided a free platform for marginalised groups and niche interests to have a voice.”
Waleed Aly, for example, was a regular panel member and producer for RMITV’s Salam Cafe TV show. It brought Muslims together to talk about important issues in their community, but in a way that spoke to a wider audience. “And that’s what’s important,” says Dunlop. “It was about always being there for the up-and-coming voices of Australia.”
C31 will still exist as a non-for-profit production company, with an online presence through its website, app, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook channels. But it’s not leaving our television screens quietly.
The network will wrap up its final week in December with a 144-hour live broadcast marathon (that’s six straight days). Current and past Channel 31 alumni will appear throughout the week.
“To our knowledge, this will be the longest live, continuous broadcast on free-to-air TV in Australian history,” Dunlop says. “We want to pay respect to the past and display how strong the community is around TV, which is a hell of a lot better than limping to the finish line.
“It’s going to be a historical footnote in Australia’s TV history… we existed and we achieved this crazy feat right at the end.”