Toronto needs all the community it can get: Ryerson Radio loses frequency bid to Rock 95

The CRTC recently announced that a new indie-rock station, INDIE 88.1, run by Barrie’s Rock 95, was granted the license to broadcast on the 88.1 frequency in Toronto. The new station pledged to play 40% Canadian popular music (5% more than required) and of that 60% will be emerging artists. According to the sample playlist that was part of Rock 95’s application, the new station will play the likes of Owen Pallett, Tegan & Sara, New Pornographers, Hey Rosetta, Arcade Fire, The Arkells, Feist, Dan Mangan, The Weakerthans and many American indie-artists as well.

Last January, the CRTC revoked CKLN’s (Radio Ryerson) broadcast license due to numerous and ongoing infractions. Since then, a new group of Ryerson radio enthusiasts, consisting of a balance of staff, students, and community members, applied to get their 88.1 frequency back. Twenty one other stations applied as well but Ryerson Radio had the support of the National Campus/Community Radio Association.

The NCRA and Rodney Diverlus, President of the Ryerson Student Union, used the application process to emphasis the importance of community radio in general:

“We sent a clear message to the CRTC that we, as the future leaders and community members, see value in a radio station that is for our community and the broader Toronto community. Unfortunately this means less young voices and community voices will be heard on the airwaves.”

The CRTC based its decision on the following criteria: “the diversity of voices in the market, the impact a new station would have on the competitive state of the radio market,  and the quality of the application.”

The diversity of voices requirement is based on a CRTC mandate and was interpreted by the NCRA’s Executive director Shelley Robinson as a diversity of voices participating in radio, not just represented by a radio station’s demographic or listenership:

“There is already so much commercial radio available,” she said. “This was a chance for something different. Radio Ryerson was a place where people would get to be citizens and creators, not just passive consumers of a set format.”

Trent Alumni and BCIT radio broadcasting student Philip Benmore noted a larger trend at the CRTC “away from grassroots, not-for-profit media, towards corporate controlled and heavily formatted commercial radio.”

In Radio Ryerson’s cover letter for their application, it is mentioned that:

“Radio Ryerson’s promises vastly exceed the normal levels required of commercial stations in Canada which have no requirements to air new Canadian music or Canadian music created by emerging Canadian artists. Clearly in a market with so much musical diversity, it is critical that an opportunity for airplay be given to talented Canadian musicians to find their audiences.”

INDIE 88.1 will do just that and is cited by Leonard Katz (then CRTC acting Chair and Vice-Chairman of Telecommunications) as one of the reason’s Rock 95 was granted their license:

“Even in the age of digital media, Canadian artists who do not have major-label support face a tough road to success. Rock 95’s station will give much-needed radio exposure to those artists and listeners will have an opportunity to discover new talent.”

Local NCRA member Trent Radio weighed in on the consultation process to lend support to campus/community radio in general. At an April 1st, 2012 meeting of the board, Trent Radio decided to support Radio Ryerson’s application, not with “cogent and winning arguments,” (since the application was deemed to be sufficient in such endeavours) but with a short statement of approval that included the quip: “Toronto needs all the community it can get.”

The clear advantage to having Radio Ryerson on the FM band in Toronto is the diversity of languages and cultures their programming would represent. They promised 1 hour of French language programming and had 3 promised hours of “third language” programming; “Radio Ryerson’s third-language programming will be in languages not served by existing licensees.” 15% of their programming would have been Pop Rock Dance and 15% would have been Worldbeat.

While INDIE 88.1 will only provide English language programming, they do have more resources to dedicate to putting on “indie” music festivals and revolving all web content around emerging Canadian artists. When it comes to non-regulated web content, they plan to have an interactive iPhone application, webstreaming and podcasting (with proper royalties paid to artists), interactive software that connects on-air programming to their website, and a place to purchase music heard from emerging artists on their website. INDIE 88.1 also dedicated 126 hours a week to local content.

The INDIE 88.1 news department plans to include “the various First Nations to ensure that [INDIE 88.1] news reports include their information when appropriate.” Also, Rock 95 has had a history of providing resources to First Nations community radio and “through [their] Native Radio shows [they] have provided training and employment for Native Broadcasters.”

The future is unwritten for Radio Ryerson, but “more than 850 people from Toronto and across Canada wrote letters of support… in order to preserve a place for community-access programming on the dial.” As for Rock 95’s INDIE 88.1, in the words of CKUW Station Manager (University of Winnipeg campus/community radio) Rob Schmidt: “in my opinion[,] Rock 95 is definitely the lesser of the private evils.”

About Anthony P. Gulston 36 Articles
Redheaded radio writer that specializes in events coverage, underwater journalism and media news. Listen to his reggae radio program, the Anth co dub-Station on Trent Radio, read his blog, read his work in Absynthe or follow him on Twitter.