“There is a sense of value attached to being played on the radio, and there is also a sense of value for a volunteer that is on the radio. Being on the radio is still considered a privileged position.”
Media in Canada has undergone a substantial cultural shift in the past two years. The combination of a serious economic crisis, combined with a revolution in media consumption has informed an ever-growing critical base of citizens. Media has been an influential medium depended on for a non-partisan and impartial reflection of world, and local events since the advent of the printing press.
Despite the perception that media is unbiased, multi perspective, and transparent; the truth is media is rarely any of these things. Every writer, television news anchor, radio personality, and production manager has an opinion, a perspective, and a bias that will undoubtedly be present in his or her work. Selecting what story to run with, who to speak too, and what ‘experts’ to qualify their angle all contribute to ensuring that the story told is the ‘right’ one.
This is inescapable, it is impossible to divorce. All media operates this way and as such, many are turning to more and more specialized media. Blogs, twitter streams, personalized news feeds all are symptoms of this incurable illness: flash media consumption. As media becomes increasingly diversified, traditional media sources are becoming less and less relied upon and thus less and less valued within our communities.
One such medium that has faced significant challenges to its very existence is radio. Both mainstream and campus-community (or any independent radio station, be it formalized or pirate) are often under attack for no longer being relevant to their direct audience or to boarder audiences.
The Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commissions (CRTC) is the governing and policy creating body that regulates all media in Canada. The body that sets Canadian content regulations, gives licensing to media outlets, and takes those licenses away. Radio is one of the most contested media outlets as far as licensing renewals go. As much attention as the closing (or amalgamation) of local television stations have gotten, local campus-community stations have been under fire due to the lack of support given to these organizations by both their community and national bodies at large.
Campus-community radio exists solely under the good will of the community it serves and reflects. Without community support, whether that be the campus community, or the community at large, it would just not be possible to maintain a media outlet this complex. No campus-community radio station is in operation to make money, or even to act as a significant industry to be employed in. Often, campus-community radio employees are underpaid, and over worked. The minutia of running a media outlet, especially an outlet as diverse and loosely structured as campus-community radio stations are inherently is time consuming and an organizational nightmare. Volunteer bases upwards of several hundred people to manage, staff, ensuring the regulations of the Broadcasting act are being observed, and first and foremost ensuring that the content being broadcasted is both of a quality nature, but also that is reflects the community they serve to represent.
Reactive radio rest stops…
The CRTC Broadcasting act maintains that campus-community radio is “an important element of the Canadian broadcasting system”. Stipulating the primary purpose as “offer(ing) programming that is different in style and substance from the programming offered by other types of radio stations”.
The recent debates about open and accessible content and information is ever more pertinent as there is a noticeable decline of support for campus-community radio stations. One of the greatest strengths of this form of media is that programmers, almost exclusively volunteer based, are held to no corporate interests and are able to accurately and truthfully reflect their community. Publicly funded media, such as the oft-hailed Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is another example of ensuring that public interest is held above that of corporate interest. Martine Menard, long time volunteer for the University of Lethbridge based CKXU radio station and Vice-President of the CKXU Board of Directors, commented that campus-community radio stations in Canada are held to a higher level of accountability. “With the CRTC policy, if someone doesn’t agree with what they hear, it is much more easily contested. (Campus-community radio) is more accountable on a higher level than mainstream media, because mainstream has the help of the corporate conglomerate, whereas campus-community radio stations are non-profit entities onto themselves.”
As for the programmers themselves, and their ability to impact what is reflected in their local media, the open and diverse nature of campus-community radio means that programmers have few regulations, outside those that all Canadian citizens must abide by, regarding their on-air content. Avenues explored in the on-air programming of CKXU are as diverse are the members of our community. Our own on-campus radio station has ran the gauntlet in the past six years, since being granted an FM license by the CRTC, with the nature of its programming. Music shows explore every genre and represent almost every cultural subset in Lethbridge. CKXU has broadcasted vintage radio dramas, sexual education programs, peace and conflict programs, LBGT oriented programming, and local poetry.
Aside from our own local base, there is an organization designed to support campus-community radio stations that allow radio stations to branch out to explore and broadcast programming of a national interest. One such program is the twenty-four hour Homelessness Marathon, which broadcasts yearly around Canada on campus-community stations and pulls stories and ground level interviews from sea to sea to sea. This is only one example, programming sharing is prevalent amongst stations, and great programming is recognized as such and given the air plan nationally it deserves. Menard hails radio as a necessary outlet for both local and national programming, “while there are some restrictions on what you can do, and based on the broadcasting act of Canada, but that doesn’t hinder you from providing your own point of view that is misrepresented in mainstream media. It’s a perfect venue for activists.”
Money, money, money, money
As independent media maintains a policy of little to no corporate stake holding, it also means funding to maintain operations is inconsistent and based on the goodwill of the community it serves. Last year, CKXU received a $2.00 increase to their student levy, bringing the per-student, semester fee to $5.00. While this $2.00 is negligible to the majority of the campus population, the increase in funding has ensured that CKXU can continue to operate with a consistent level of quality and stability.
All independent media preservers in its goals while balancing on the head of a top. While it spins in perfect rotation, order is maintained, programming is the first and foremost concern, and the public that the media is subject too embraces and participates in the act. A vestige of non-corporative content that is volunteer driven, and democratically organized. It provides an example to all of us of what we can do in our communities, and how important the public is to the health of our communities. However, the winds of change are fierce and change comes in many forms for independent media. Funding pulls from the federal and provincial government. Lack of space granted from the campus needed to operate out of. The worst challenge is an ever-growing lack of interest and engagement by the populations which independent media caters too.
As independent media is concerned with content over profit, it is able to reflect perspective and does not benefit from sensitization or thinly veiled ad campaigns. Without these forms of media, Canadian’s would rely even more so on Canwest and Global to provide all news and public information. While Toronto is a rather hip city, I still prefer to be informed on events and news stories from Lethbridge. I want to know what is happening in my direct community, alongside national events. I want to be able to contextualize the bigger picture by placing it in my community and deciphering the potential or actual effects.
Campus-community radio serves this purpose admirable. As radio once replaced personal ownership of music, the Internet is now having the same impact on radio. Menard recognizes this as a challenge to overcome, a challenge manifested in both listener and volunteer engagement. “This internet and the download ability of music have become so prevalent. It is something that our generation has internalized, you can so easily access whatever music that you want, why would you want to tune into a radio station and be subjected to someone else playlist?”
However, campus-community radio is much more that being subjected to someone else’s playlist. It is about the accessible nature of media and its ability to transform culture into a tangible community ideal. The ideal that our community is one that wants, no, needs, a media outlet that exists to reflect relatable and relevant perspectives and progress. While national interests must be maintained, campus-community radio is dependent not on Ottawa or national media conglomerates, but on the population that chooses these lush coulee valleys and small city charm as a home.
Whether it be for a year or for a lifetime, this is our community and independent media is an integral component. Further, we are integral to independent media remaining as such. Without a community present, CKXU, like all independent media, means as much as an empty room with a few microphones. Instead, Lethbridge has continued to embrace CKXU and the other independent media outlets offered. Both through time and money, this community reaches out, and shows to all that we value of freedom of speech and believe in the importance of accessible and inclusive media.
CKXU’s annual FUNdrive takes place October 30th – November 6th. Go to an event, eat some cupcakes and phone into pledge. Keep your local radio station alive, and gain some pretty excellent CKXU gear in exchange. CKXU can be found at 88.3 on your FM dial or at http://www.ckxu.com. Support independent media.