99.5FM – a Singapore radio frequency that has struggled to maintain sustainability since its early days as an arts station.

The National Arts Council launched a radio station focused on the arts, Passion 99.5FM, on 31 December 1997 but was, however, shut down in December 2003 because its listenership was too small to attract sustained sponsorship and advertising revenue to cover its operating cost.

Sound familiar?

Passion99.5FM’s successor – Lush99.5FM – would make its debut about a year later with the objective to focus on indie and electronic music and ultimately taking on the mantle of Singapore music champions in recent years.

While Lush99.5FM surpassed the six years that Passion99.5FM endured, once again the fact that the station had the lowest audience among Mediacorp’s radio stations determined its fate. Thus, it was announced that Lush99.5FM would stop broadcasting from 1st September 2017.

So what? Isn’t radio passe?

Shouldn’t Singapore bands/artists concentrate on being ‘streamed’ on the streaming services (like Spotify and Apple Music) as that is where the young music listeners discover new music in 2017?

Yes and no.

Radio continues to be important within the traditional local music scene, like say to the nightspots around town. The owners/operators of these nightspots still believe that their patrons want to hear songs from the radio played live and hence the dominance of covers band, as we have discussed before.

But if the radio will not play Singapore music – why would nightspot owners/operators feel the need to change the status quo?  They won’t.

So is the situation hopeless? Is Singapore music doomed to play second fiddle to cover music for the foreseeable future?

Apart from the introduction of a radio quota for Singapore music – which seems unlikely – the other possible solution is for our education system to inculcate in our children a strong appreciation of the arts and in particular, Singapore music.

Or, and this might be the harder task, the National Arts Council may conduct an aggressive campaign to raise an awareness of the importance of the arts, which would include a component educating the masses on how to appreciate the arts.

As a society, we need to see that the arts can develop the values of risk-taking, self-expression and creative thinking in our children – all values which will prove crucial in the new economy of digital disruption.

Only then, will Singaporeans seek out the arts, to discover music that resonate with their beliefs and principles rather than sheepishly following the dictates of Top 40 radio.

If that happens, then the radio will by necessity have to change the status quo in order to meet this need of Singaporeans for Singapore arts and music.

And of course, it’s a big ‘if’!

Something as fundamental as this might take an entire generation to adopt. The only other (faster) option is to force the change by insisting on a radio quota in favour of Singapore music.

But this can only be done if there is a will to sacrifice immediate goals for infinitely more profitable ones but sometime in the future (whether near or distant who can tell?)

In any case, the need for a comprehensive arts education in our education system is – we believe – vital for our economic survival in the years ahead.

The times are a-changing but will we be ready? That’s the question.

… still there’s more …



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