Why we need community radio in Toronto
By now, even those with a passing interest in Toronto media already know about the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC) decision to shut down CKLN 88.1 FM, a community radio station based in Ryerson's student centre.
First let me first show my cards: I've been volunteering for CKLN on a segment called "Word of Mouth." Actually, I've worked on only three shows, having received the CRTC's charges the day of our last show (we have two more to go before the guillotine). So, it might be fair to assume that I'm writing out of self interest. Well, I am. But not because I'm a volunteer of the station; instead because I'm a dedicated listener and have been for many years.
I believe in community radio. I believe in radio as a medium first and foremost, because of the intimacy it creates between listener and speaker, because it trains people to be better listeners, to be patient, and to appreciate the craft of narrative and storytelling for the ear, an entirely different exercise than writing, or visual media. While I listen to commercial radio, I also believe that we have too much of it right now, and believe that Toronto is increasingly moving towards commercialized airwaves. Such commercialization robs us of diversity, privileges sameness over difference, quantity over quality, and the status quo over creativity. We thus need community radio stations, which offer alternatives to repetitive and often clichĂŠd programming.
We owe much to community radio stations and specialized commercial stations, such as Toronto's most popular urban station Flow 93.5 FM, which was recently bought out by CTV resulting in the dismissal of numerous employees. The podcast genre, for instance, can be traced back to the radio documentary, a cornerstone of community stations, which have always featured spoken-word segments on specialized topics. The difference between them, of course, is the degree of spontaneity and improvisation which occurs. Radio documentaries tend to be more polished, edited for speech tics and lags in conversation, with sound flourishes and effects added. Talk radio offers the unexpected, sometimes inelegant -- and sometimes poetic -- often rife with speech tics and lapses in conversation, but exciting precisely because of its immediacy and rawness.
Community radio tends to represent marginalized interests and voices otherwise ignored by mainstream and commercial radio. Stations like CKLN have been the most progressive voices in Toronto, offering space for the discussion of important topics, ranging from community announcements, politics, globalization, feminism, racism, mothering, psychology, economics, health, food, immigration, art, culture, music -- you name it, you'll find it. And what you'll also find is voices that reflect the actual population of Toronto, without the sanitizing effect of mainstream radio, where nearly all hosts have Western accents and "radio voices."
NOW Magazine's Saul Chernos recently described the mentorship opportunities provided by stations such as CKLN, and I have seen these first hand, even though I've only been at it for just about 3 weeks. The radio station operates collaboratively, with segment hosts and techs all working together.
While the official notice from the CRTC speaks to CKLN's violation of several statutes, namely its failure to log and account for all its segments, its failure to abide by language laws prohibiting the use of particular language, and its inadequate integration with the Ryerson campus, many feel that CKLN and other community radio stations have been targeted for political reasons. Some have speculated that, should the 88.1 FM frequency become available again, a commercial company like Rogers or BCE would likely have the resources necessary to apply for the license before any other community organization.
There is a dearth of community radio in Toronto, with most operating as campus community stations, including the University of Toronto's CIUT 89.5 FM and York University's CHRY 105.5FM (their Glendon campus also has a station). CKLN was the first campus community station in Toronto, and perhaps its best known.
Keep in mind that host institutions do not own campus community stations, as required by the CRTC. Funding comes from student fees, and governing boards are made up of student representatives, but there are also paid and volunteer staff from the community at large. Indeed current legal actions to seek a stay of the CRTC's order, while a reconsideration or appeal of the order is sought, will tap out resources quickly for CKLN.
What will it mean for Toronto if its oldest and boldest community station disappears? To what extent will this set a dangerous precedent for community radio in Toronto and Canada? At the annual general meeting for CKLN on Monday, one community member and radio contributor suggested that the CRTC's regulations are too onerous for stations staffed mainly by volunteers, and that only commercial stations can cope with the CRTC's current regulations. Perhaps a re-examination of the CRTC's regulations are necessary to accommodate smaller stations. How else will we protect these vital community spaces?
Writing by Sheetal Lodhia.
Photo by Zcott on Flickr.
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