The programme coordinator for Plains FM 96.9, one of 13 organisations to receive a Diversity Award from the Human Rights Commission this year, says she may have never got into broadcasting career if it were not for access radio.
"I remember when I was 24, and I had come back from overseas and still didn't know what I was going to do," recalls Lizzie Belcher. "I had really low self-esteem, but then I came in here, and there was support and positivity that I ended up doing a radio show and then going to broadcasting school."
Since 1988, Plains Fm 96.9 in Christchurch has provided training and facilities for local community groups, schools, organisations and individuals to make and broadcast their own radio programmes. These programmes allow people to share ideas and express opinions in their own language; the schedule now includes 85 programmes, 23 of which are in languages other than English.
"For instance, we have Nepalese man, Dilli Rajal, who does 'Namaste Nepal. It is his programme and in his language. He's not a representative [for Nepal] and he might be mainly playing music, but it's really important for small communities here to be able to hear that."
"That is why access radio exists, because all of these different ethnic groups and cultures make up our landscape and they must be represented in the media," says Ms Belcher. "And they wouldn't be represented without it."
Ms Belcher has worked in radio broadcasting for the past 15 years, only recently shifting from commercial radio to access radio. "They are like chalk and cheese," she says. "Commercial radio is about the money, but that's not what we are interested in. We're interested in getting as may diverse cultures on air. Here I feel like I'm making a difference, in a little way."
Access radio stations are financially supported by New Zealand on Air, which has guidelines on what sort of programmes require most support, but it is not exclusively for ethnic groups.
One of the longest running shows is the Elvis Presley Show, started by Elvis fan Lynn Campbell 20 years ago, and which is still presented by her, along with Maria Van Ham and Judy Pyne. "One of the great things for access is that anybody can come along here and share their passion and interests," says Ms Belcher.
Note: The Association of Community Access Broadcasters annual conference takes place in Nelson this week from 15-17 October. View the programme here.