Hong Kong Radio Stations

Earlier this week, in a Kwun Tong industrial building, three young people sat in a smoky studio talking about art, family and music. Every so often, they took a break and played a song from My Little Airport, an independent band known for its twee sound and ironic lyrics. After an hour and fifteen minutes — fifteen minutes longer than scheduled — they came out of the studio to make way for the next hosts.

All in all, a fairly ordinary night at Hong Kong’s newest radio station, FM 101, which launched last autumn and broadcasts both on the web and the FM dial. That wasn’t the case a week earlier.

On March 4th, police and officials from the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) forced their way into the studio and seized $20, 000 worth of transmitting equipment. FM 101 is a pirate radio station that broadcasts without a licence, which means its hosts and guests run the risk of hefty fines and even jail time. The station’s founders say they are deliberately circumventing Hong Kong’s broadcast laws in an attempt to force the government to open the airwaves to small, non-profit radio stations.

“All I want is a place to play indie music, ” said Leung Wing-lai, 28, a musician and one of the station’s founders. “It’s absurd that this is illegal.”

In order to obtain a broadcast licence in Hong Kong, a radio station must demonstrate that it is financially sound, offers a large amount of programming and provides “benefits to the local broadcasting industry, the audience and the community as a whole, ” according to the Telecommunications Ordinance. But activists and media observers claim those requirements are too subjective, and that they stifle freedom of speech by making it too onerous for small, non-profit radio stations to operate. Recently, new ventures like FM 101 have begun to challenge the government’s restrictions.

FM 101 was inspired by Citizens’ Radio, the pro-democracy pirate radio station that has operated since 2005. Unlike Citizens’ Radio, however, FM 101’s broadcasts focus largely on music, art, society and local Kwun Tong issues. Normally, its broadcast can only be heard in East Kowloon and in parts of Hong Kong Island’s Eastern District. “I guess you could call it pirate radio, but it’s really more like a community radio that just happens to be illegal, ” said composer Ah-Kok Wong, a Citizens’ Radio host and FM 101 listener.

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