How much do you value independent media? Can you see the need for a group to be free to assemble and publicly disseminate thoughts, ideas, and reports free from government and corporate influence?
And how about community media? While pertinent global issues should by no means be ignored, the events happening close at hand, in the slice of world we call home, are often naturally at the forefront of our concerns.
Trent Radio is both. As an independent, community-focused broadcast facility, among its core aims is to “encourage cooperation, interaction, communication and understanding within and between” the Peterborough and Trent communities, principally through promoting access to the facilities and “the production of programming which reflects both of these communities”.
For students interested in the production of analogue media, Trent Radio offers a unique opportunity. The world of broadcast radio is not always the most readily accessible, but here, anyone with a solid show idea can get technical training and go out on the air after agreeing to abide by standard Canadian broadcasting laws.
In practice, what this becomes is the criss-crossing of paths of people of varying ages, backgrounds, demographics, and radio experience as they walk through the doors of the radio house at the corner of George and Parkhill and go out on the airwaves, the focus being entirely on them and the radio they produce, as opposed to any potential audience (being non-commercial, there’s no way to gauge one anyway).
The blending of student and city social spheres at the station, too, allows for a more real-world application of education than might be provided on campus alone. As Acting General Manager Jill Staveley highlights, “Academic success is one thing, but actually applying that information or being challenged, having to debate or engage on the radio or with the people who are here helps enhance the learning and become a more critical thinker.”
Additionally, the CBC Peter Gzowski Radio Internship, established in connection with Trent University and three other universities, gives one student from each institution the chance to learn the ins-and-outs of broadcasting at the national level. Of course, this relationship is a source of benefit for the university itself – they’re able to create positive press and promotional material every year around the internship and successful candidates.
Incorporated in 1978 after a Trent Student Union (TSU, the predecessor of the TCSA) referendum the preceding year, Trent Radio immediately collected a membership fee from students and is a registered charity. The funds were and are still almost entirely allocated to the maintenance, upkeep and operational costs of the facility.
Hardware, utilities, telecommunications, insurance, security, and administrative fees form the bulk of these. Last year, there were only four paid staff, whose salaries weren’t even entirely covered by the fees.
Given the nature of the organization and what is required to maintain it, the funds they collect from students every year are basically always used in the same way. The cost of anything and everything besides core operations (including a portion of regular staff salary) is covered by external revenue, such as grants. Community events and special projects are some examples.
In the face of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), Trent Radio has opted to apply for a smaller Special Project grant than usual this year. As levy fees are used for nothing beyond core operations, the stability of the facility’s paid staff is now at stake, and without the security of that resource, they felt they could not in good faith plan to engage in such projects.
Core operations will now be overseen by a reduced two full-time staff, impacting the number of new programmers, training opportunities, and special project commitments, at least until opt-out numbers are confirmed.
Perhaps even more ominously, as Community Outreach Development Manager Mauricio Interiano says, the cuts “would put us in a situation where we’ll be looking for other sources of funding.” Given the absence of Trent Radio’s accountability to anyone other than its members (the students), this “will change what [we] do in principle.”