This April 98.9 best the country celebrated its 27th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of its move to West End.

98.9 FM started as 4AAA on Tuesday, 6 April 1993. Station manager Dan Rennie told me that the station had its beginnings well before that with the Murri Hour on 4ZZZ in the early 1980s.[i]

“There was nothing like it at the time around the country: Aboriginal voices, Aboriginal music, Aboriginal topics and information, and in particular information about what was happening with the [Commonwealth Games and Land Rights] protests.” [ii]

Ross Watson, cousin of Uncle Sam Watson, was the founder of the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association (BIMA), with his older cousin, Tiga Bayles, who was instrumental in the formative years of the station.

“Tiga Bayles spent time in Radio Skid Row and Radio Redfern, down in Sydney, and he brought a lot of that knowledge back to Brisbane when no one had that sort of experience. Tiga was looked upon as a keeper of that knowledge, and he shared it amongst everyone in those days.”

Speaking about the Murri Hour, Ross Watson said, “The Murri Hour experience allowed the Indigenous community to regain the power of self-definition for the first time since 1788. It also gave the community the opportunity to demand that Indigenous media be recognised as an essential service. This recognition eventually became manifest in the form of Federal government funding to establish a 4ZZZ collective from the Murri community.” [iii]

Dan said that radio was an information highway before the Internet.

“It was an instant way to get information out to the mob. We needed to come together. So, it was a real opportunity to showcase Aboriginal artists who were largely ignored by mainstream media.”

In 1991 BMIA secured a community radio licence and successfully fought a legal challenge from other community groups with the assistance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). In defence of their claim, Ross Watson and other founders argued that Indigenous radio was an essential community service.

On 6 April 1993, 4AAA radio was finally launched and began broadcasting from its base in Rocklea.

“Uncle Neville Bonner was there as part of the proceedings. I’ve had a listen to some of the back-to-back reels from that very first broadcast, and there’s a lot of love, a lot of passion, and I try to keep that in my mind when we look at where we are today,” Dan said.

At the launch, Neville Bonner said:

“…Aboriginal people will be broadcasting to all of the people in Brisbane. Specifically, they are broadcasting to our people. They are going to be telling our people … the importance of education, the importance of health, the importance of employment, and all of those things will be told to our people and to the rest of the Queensland people through this station, by Aboriginal people.” [iv]

Indigenous music and Country music are central to the identity of 98.9fm.

“The music that we played at that time was predominantly indigenous music and country music. You might think that’s a bit of a weird combination, but a lot of us mob when we were growing up were listening to country music like Charlie Pride, Slim Dusty. More recently, to people like Troy Cassar Daley, Uncle Kev Carmody [who was recorded for the very first time at the 4ZZZ studios], and Archie Roach,” Dan Rennie said.

“No one else was playing country music at the time.”

This was a wise strategy by the station’s founders. Country music attracted Aboriginal listeners a well as a strong non-Indigenous following by country music fans: an audience that otherwise had very little exposure to Aboriginal people and culture.

Dan says that through radio, you can talk directly to people.

“It’s a conversation you’re having on a personal level with your audience and your listener. They’re hearing about things that they never probably heard of before. And they question those sorts of things: “what is the stolen generation: this is news to me?”. So, it’s not only meant to be informative and entertaining, but it’s also educating people some of the time.”

In terms of demographics, Dan said that their analytics tell them that by and large, the audience is non-Indigenous and often blue-collar workers.

“It’s a good split of men and women, and young people as well, who love country music: it’s one of the fastest-growing genres in the world,” Dan said.

The station has had a deep connection with West End, initially via the 4AAA Kiosk in Boundary Street, and from April 2011, West End became its permanent home.

Newspaper cutting with headline 4AAA Kiosk Turns One!

Westender, August 2001.

The new 98.9fm building was under construction in Ambleside Street in West End during the 2011 floods. At the time, the old premises at Rocklea was under water.

“So, for a while, the station was broadcasting from a little van, at Family Radio in New Market.”

West End is a significant place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. From its outdoor broadcasting hub at the Boundary Street Kiosk through to its permanent move here, West End has been the spiritual home for 98.9fm. The decision to establish the 4AAA Kiosk 21 years ago, Dan said, was vital to  the station’s cultural connection to the area.

“We wanted to be down on the ground, and in and around Boundary Street and Musgrave Park. That area is synonymous with our people and a special place that we hold. So, the Kiosk was an opportunity for people to come up and connect, and not just blackfellas, but all sorts of people. It was also a bit of an information hub; even tourists would come and ask for directions.”

Dan said he is happy that the station has been able to re-energise the Kiosk and People’s Park more recently.

98.9FM and Community House tune in at West End’s People’s Park

“During COVID, it’s been more important than ever that we are looking out for those more vulnerable people in particular, because they’re more isolated than they’ve ever been before, and they can be forgotten.”

While the station concentrates on southeast Queensland, it links to National Indigenous Radio and has a broader presence through its streaming app on smartphones.

“And that’s been important, particularly during the COVID period. We are getting health advice from the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health. That is a trusted source of information. We try to stick to the facts as opposed to switching to a mainstream channel where we have ten different people saying ten different things, and that gets confusing.”

Talk programs are popular at 98.9. Its flagship program is Let’s Talk which is broadcast every weekday morning from 9 until 10.

Dan said they try to balance positive stories with negative stories:

“But unfortunately, there’s a lot of negative stories out there. There are a lot of positive ones. We do our best to try and keep the balance.”

The station also focuses time and energy on historical material that was once not taught in our schools.

“Now young people are learning about the frontier wars and pre-colonial history. But for people over a certain age, they wouldn’t have talked about that stuff at schools.”

The station’s role in preserving and sharing Aboriginal history is exemplified in Boe Spearim’s podcast, Frontier War Stories, which he describes as “dedicated to truth-telling about a side of Australia that has been left out of the history books.”

98.9 has also had a role in fostering the careers of musicians and broadcasters across the country. For example, the Murri Hour first recorded Kev Carmody in the 1980s.

Celebrated poet Samuel Wagan Watson was at one time a writer-in-residence for 98.9FM in Brisbane. Musician Emily Wurramara started as a trainee at the radio station, and Clancy Overell, who began the satirical paper, Betoota Advocate, also came through 98.9fm.

“We do a “news” segment with Clancy Overell each week,” Dan said.

“We’ve had a lot of people who have moved on to commercial television. Sometimes they drift back and say they didn’t realise how good they had it here.”

Dan’s brother, Michael Rennie, started at 98.9 and now works as the Brisbane reporter for ABC News.

98.9 has about 35 full-time staff with contractors who work on specific shows and continues to grow and adapt. With advances in digital media, 98.9 has expanded its streaming and podcasting services.

“As to the future, everything is shifting to an on-demand type of programming. And 98.9 has been moving to streaming services; our podcasts downloads are doubling,” Dan said.

“That’s been the trend for about the last five years. And it’s something we identified pretty early on. Streaming is how people consume media now; it is how people will consume media in the future, listening to podcasts on the phone. When you have busy lives, it’s an easy way to catch up.”

Congratulations to the 98.9fm team. We look forward to celebrating 30 years of 98.9 in 2023.

Newspaper cutting with headline, What's been happening at the 4AAA Kiosk?

Westender, October 2000

[i] You can listen to archival radio excerpts from Murri Hour on 4ZZZ at this link from the State Library

[ii] Commonwealth Games Protests

[iii] Murri Hour, by Ross Watson, Cambridge University Press: 26 February 2016,

[iv] Neville Bonner, 98.9FM launch, 6 April 1993. Courtesy of 98.9FM