Video may have killed the radio star in late 1979 when British pop outfit The Buggles released their worldwide smash hit single. But in Hong Kong, it was thug tactics that silenced the airwaves. Starting with the bloody 1998 assault on Albert Cheng King-hon, the outspoken radio host of Teacup in a Storm, that left him nursing six knife wounds, fears over press freedom reached boiling point seven years later when Commercial Radio presenter Raymond Wong Yuk-man was also threatened. Mr Wong eventually left his job as host of The Politically Concerned programme in May last year. He had been attacked by unidentified thugs and his beef noodle restaurant in Kowloon City was defaced with red paint. 'I didn't say the names of those who had threatened me, not because I was afraid of retaliation. Why should I announce their names? I was threatened,' Mr Wong said. 'Even before [the threats], someone had asked me to go off the air. Then someone offered to pay me.' Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the sole publicly funded broadcaster in Hong Kong, also found its editorial independence under fire after Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen expressed his displeasure over its horse racing coverage. 'I don't like its live broadcast of horse-racing meetings. As a public broadcaster, it should not go into the entertainment business' and compete with commercial broadcasters, he had said earlier in his election campaign. RTHK announced its decision to axe the racing programmes in July, although an agreement was reached with the government to do so in May, fuelling speculation of a conspiracy. Controversy has also dogged Metro Broadcast, controlled by tycoon Li Ka-shing. In February 2001, it alienated audiences and advertisers by turning its back on popular but politically sensitive phone-in programmes and reformatting the entire lineup with finance and entertainment programmes. 'That was a big change. We had to practically give up our audience and do vertical programming, which is not mass market,' Metro's deputy managing director, Bianca Ma Kinsan, said. 'There were threats from advertisers who questioned why they should support us.' According to Ms Ma, total radio advertising in 1997 was growing by a respectable 6 per cent year-on-year. Today, the growth has halved to less than 3 per cent. 'Advertising funds the media. If there is no support, we cannot survive,' she said. Uncertainties surrounding industry regulation did not make matters any better. Government plans to merge the Office of the Telecommunications Authority and the Broadcasting Authority into a single watchdog, while bringing the city in line with industry developments in Britain and Australia, would alter the licensing and regulatory landscape in Hong Kong. 'We feel there should be a code of practice, especially guidelines for who produces content and the providers of the service, which are the carriers and broadcasters. There's also a need to educate the consumer and there needs to be a complaint committee to deal with public complaints,' Ms Ma said. Under a single supervisory body, regulators would focus more on market research than on industry guidelines and would only intervene when 'market failure' occurred, Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang Chun-wah said. The aim is to reduce or remove barriers to innovation and investment. According to Chris Cheah, acting deputy chair of the recently merged Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the rapidly changing business environment for broadcasters demands that the regulator respond quickly and flexibly, while minimising market intervention that inhibits industry development. The experiences of ACMA also argue that enforcement and customer education should top the agenda for regulators. 'For the industry's part, we expect telecommunications and radio communications providers and broadcasters to act responsibly, especially in relation to the spirit of the law, the expectations of the general community and to work constructively with ACMA, even when we don't agree, which will of course sometimes happen,' Mr Cheah said at a recent seminar in Hong Kong. 'Our goal is to help create an environment which allows companies to get on with their business while at the same time fulfilling the requirements of the legislation.' Although overseas experience shows that industry cost savings would materialise as a result of the merger, such as in lower annual licensing fees and the streamlining of operational efficiency, Ms Ma believed the key was 'convergent regulation', or how to regulate the increasing convergence of new mediums like the internet and mobile phones. Starting in 2007, Hong Kong's digital TV platform will also be ready. This will affect the traditional radio broadcasting industry, she added. 'The question is should this convergence be regulated. The general feeling is it should be regulated and the radio industry understands that there is a need to regulate. But there are fears that there would be a negative impact on creativity, which would also affect the consumer,' Ms Ma said. So far, this does not appear to be the case. About three years ago, Anni Lam set up New York-based internet radio station Hong Kong Vintage Pop (HKVP), a 24-hour Chinese music radio station for golden oldies. Today, she counts overseas Hong Kong people in Canada, US, Europe, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, where Canto-pop can't occupy FM frequencies, among her loyal listeners. The lack of an audience in Hong Kong stems largely from there being other forms of Canto-pop entertainment. 'In the mid-1990s, about 1995 to 1997, radio began to decline and, over the years, radio is less of a reflection of what is relevant. Many people don't know what they want as they find it hard to describe' what they want out of their radio listening experience, Ms Lam said. Marcel Fenez, Asia Pacific leader for entertainment and media at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, also warned of the marginalisation of radio. 'Radio is increasingly becoming a niche media, and in order to remain competitive will need to identify opportunities for working with advertisers as well as other media for integrated marketing campaigns,' he said. HKVP doesn't generate any advertising revenue, but this is expected to change next year when Ms Lam moves to a pay-per-view platform with advertising. 'This will be the existing radio station but with more bells and whistles,' she said. The pay-per-view platform will offer concerts, recordings and more in-house shows, which listeners can download on to their iPods. The launch is scheduled for spring next year. Next summer, Ms Lam will also unveil Neptune Asia, which is essentially HKVP for the younger generation, with Top 40 Canto-pop music. 'We will target whatever advertising we can get initially as internet radio is not mature yet. Media buyers do not necessarily recommend Internet radio as it is not yet a proven medium in terms of products being launched by internet radio. 'The audience is quite spread out. It is not easy to get paying customers. At the end of the day, people just want to be entertained.' As with print media and the free paper market's remarkable growth, it seems radio too is capable of reinventing itself.