The Leading Women of Trent Radio

Front of Trent Radio house, at 715 George street North, Peterborough, Ontario.

Women are often described as the pillars of our communities, and Peterborough is no exception. And women’s work is often only seen as being women’s work when it is explicitly about being a woman, though it obviously encompasses so much more. There are countless organizations in this city where women are doing important work, and we could have highlighted any of them, but the work that Trent Radio does is especially close to our hearts.

This community-oriented non-profit organization has been engaging the community in the production of exceptional radio since 1968, and women have always been at the heart of this organization. The power and potential of women in radio is boundless, so in honour of International Women’s Day, Arthur sat down with some of the women who keep this community jewel thriving to learn more about their experiences with, and love for, Trent Radio.

Jill Staveley, Trent Radio’s Production Manager and Deputy General Manager, first got involved with Trent Radio around two decades ago when she first arrived in Peterborough as a Trent student. She had just transferred from Queen’s University, a decision that meant learning “about critical thinking and actually having a chance to exist in a classroom where the professor was going to know my name.”

20 years later, these roles are reversed. Staveley is currently teaching a radio/podcast workshop at the university, where she has the opportunity to provide that same level of engagement and that personal touch that made her time studying at Trent so unique.

Staveley’s community engagement goes far beyond the classroom, but for her, it’s all about balancing this work with her most important priority: her family. She feels lucky to live in a place that makes this possible.

Trent Radio Production Manager and Deputy General Manager Jill Staveley. Photo via Trent Radio on Facebook.

“I can raise my kids here. They’re a part of the community. We’re doing the International Women’s Day live broadcast,” she said. “I get to bring my kids to work to go to an International Women’s Day potluck. My kids have a radio show. I go to my kids’ school. I recorded a Record Production Month (RPM) [challenge] album with eight of the classes last year. I get to do Rock Camp 4 Girls*.”

Here, Staveley touches on one of Trent Radio’s most fundamental characteristics that makes it such a special place. Her children are welcomed warmly, because everyone who comes in to Trent Radio is. Most who have had the pleasure of spending time in the Trent Radio kitchen are likely to agree that it embodies inclusivity. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make this space so positive.

When asked about the power and potential of radio, Staveley said, “It’s not for us to tell a person how to use the radio.”

“If you’re actually creating a space for a community of diverse voices to share their ideas and perspectives, it doesn’t work out if anybody tells them what to do,” she explained. “Our job is to empower people to have the confidence to actually say what they think is important, and to make mistakes, and to understand that making mistakes is part of community engagement.”

Vulnerability is what makes Trent Radio such a positive learning environment for so many of the students who get to be a part of Trent Radio. Whether you’re learning how to make content for the airwaves, about the technology involved, or even just how to better engage with your community, Trent Radio offers so many chances to learn.

Recently, on World Radio Day, Trent student Daniela Leal reflected on how much she has learned over the past three years through her employment at Trent Radio, writing, “What I have done at Trent Radio and what Trent Radio has done for me does remain. I do not physically forget, nor can I unlearn. I walk into Studio B and realize I can quickly figure out what to do. When someone asks for help… I remember that I only know because I have learned it.”

Trent Radio has given so many students like Leal experience and knowledge that they will carry with them far beyond its walls.

Shannon Culkeen, Trent Radio’s board president, had very similar things to say about the community learning that takes place at Trent Radio.

When asked what her favorite experience was in working for Trent Radio Culkeen said, “For me the greatest gift that Trent Radio could ever have ever offered me was learning about charitable and not-for-profit governance in a place where it was safe to learn. We have been really fortunate that we have had John K. Muir and Jill Staveley, who were really devoted to the idea of students as learners. I have a love for that stuff now, the fine lines and the details that actually give us the power to do all the weird stuff that we wanna do.

“We’re one of the only community radio stations in Canada who retained that charitable organization status,” she continued. “That’s what’s so cool, it’s these little nitty gritty things, paperwork and different levels of municipal government that means that we actually get to do things that are cooler than we ever could have imagined.”

President of Trent Radio’s Board of Directors Shannon Culkeen. Photo by Andy Carroll.

Culkeen has been involved with the radio station since moving to Peterborough in 2010, after pursuing a fine arts degree at York University. Her twin, Cormack Culkeen, has also previously served as board president. Since her arrival in 2010, Shannon Culkeen, at the suggestion of her twin, began hosting shows, then operating, and has now begun a second year on the Trent Radio board. She credits the radio station with helping her to find community and connection after moving to Peterborough.

“I think that one of the most wonderful things about the power and potential of radio is that it provides a space where people can be themselves freely,” she explained. “I think that to not let coolness be the barrier to self-expression or expertise be the barrier, means that we have one of the most diverse communities of producers and creators and members who are simply following their passions.”

When asked about the importance of women in radio, Culkeen stated, “When I walk into the studio and sit down and turn on the mic, then I am in one of the only places in my week where I will never be interrupted because I’m a woman.”

“I think that I got to practice public speak, and I also got to ask myself this radical question of “What do I want?” Every single time before I get in the studio, I get to value that time just for myself alone,” she said. “For me, Trent Radio feels a lot like an act of self-love, and women need that. And trans people need that. And queer people need that. You know? I get to sit with the knowledge that what I have to say is important.”