Here are a few thoughts about community radio, what it is and what it could be for the people of Parrsboro.
Community radio gives citizens the power to create and broadcast their own programs over stations that are community-owned and democratically governed.
Since community stations cannot be bought and relocated, they are rooted in the communities they serve. Or, at least, they should be.
The National Campus and Community Radio Association says that community radio is about many things including volunteerism, learning by doing, citizen journalism, independent music and social engagement. The NCRA says community radio stations can also strengthen the communities they serve.
In an article for Briarpatch magazine, Sharmeen Kahn defines community radio as a distinctive part of Canadian broadcasting. “What sets community radio apart from corporate radio or the CBC is how it relies on listeners to also be broadcasters,” she writes. “Community radio broadcasters take seriously the old slogan, ‘Don’t hate the media, become the media,’ volunteering their time to produce media that would otherwise not be possible.”
If the Parrsboro Radio Society were to live up to these definitions, it would need to attract and train more volunteers to create programs featuring a variety of music as well as more local news and community information.
And, as part of its efforts to strengthen the community, PRS would need to form partnerships with other local institutions such as Ship’s Company Theatre, The Hall, local schools, the Lion’s Arena, Ottawa House and the Fundy Geological Museum.
A short history of community radio
Canadian community radio grew out of the social ferment of the 1960s when activists complained that traditional media ignored their voices. As CRTC Vice-Chair, Peter Menzies has pointed out, the average citizen’s access to the media was through letters-to-the-editor or radio phone-in shows and even then, such access was controlled by editors and producers.
“During a period of social upheaval in the 1960s,” Menzies writes, “it was decided by Parliament that Canadian democracy and social order would be enhanced by giving those with alternative voices access to broadcasting that would be beyond the control of either corporate or public ownership.” (See Menzies’ dissenting opinion at the conclusion of Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-507.)
Community radio, however, got established quite slowly as the National Campus and Community Radio Association points out:
“Although the first community radio station in the United States started operation in 1949 as KPFA in Berkeley, California, community radio in Canada did not begin until 1974/1975 when four stations, CFRO-FM Vancouver, CINQ-FM Montreal, CKCU Ottawa and CKWR-FM Kitchener began operation. The late start was due primarily to the fact that in Canada, community radio stations must depend on donations from listeners for financial support.”
Today those first stations are still on the air providing a wide range of music and spoken word programming.
CRTC and community radio
In 1991, the federal Broadcasting Act formally recognized campus/community radio as a distinct part of the Canadian broadcasting system. Over the next couple of decades, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission developed policies for community stations. In 2010, for example, the CRTC set forth it’s latest mandate for community stations:
“Community radio guarantees local broadcasting service through community ownership, which means that community stations cannot be privately purchased by a for-profit organization. Community radio:
- permits and facilitates communication among members of the community by fostering diversity in the broadcasting of opinions, spoken word content and musical programming;
- participates in the stimulation of socio-economic endeavours and in the cultural enrichment of communities; and
- reflects the diversity of the communities served. Local programming is produced, in part, by volunteers.”
The new policy also said community stations would be required to offer programming:
- based on the needs and interests of a community through the broadcast of local and regional news and information;
- the broadcast and promotion of local cultural and artistic expression;
- the promotion of new Canadian talent with an emphasis on local musicians and local storytelling
- and, the broadcast of programming that deals with local and regional social, economic and community issues.
CICR and the CRTC
When it was granted a full-time licence in 2008, the Parrsboro Radio Society promised its spoken word programming would “consist of weather and news, as well as community events coverage, for example, town council meetings and high school sporting events.”
PRS also pledged to devote two-thirds of its news time to local and regional news and to publicize local talent including musicians and theatre groups. It promised that a Volunteer Program Coordinator would help provide training for on-air volunteers.
Unfortunately, PRS has had trouble keeping these promises mainly because of its inability to attract and train enough volunteers due to the ongoing conflict within the Society.
Since 2010, CRTC policies require that community stations broadcast a minimum of 15%, locally produced, spoken word content each week. That means that when it applies for licence renewal in 2015, CICR will have to show that it can produce nearly 19 hours of spoken word content per week. At the moment, it’s not even close to meeting that requirement. In 2015, the PRS will also have to demonstrate how its spoken word content meets the needs and interests of the community; describe how it focuses on local issues and indicate how much of it is produced by volunteers.
Volunteers key in rebuilding community radio
At its heart, community radio is about giving volunteers a voice — volunteers who can create and broadcast interesting programs; gather and present community news and information and, help raise money.
However, few volunteers are willing to donate their time and effort in the midst of a bitter, internal war.
In April, the Society elected a new board that is now studying ways of improving programming and attracting volunteers. It’s still not clear, however, whether the board would be willing to move CICR to a neutral location so that everyone can come together to build a station that will once again serve and strengthen Parrsboro and its surrounding communities.