November 26, 2020

Many campus radio stations across Ontario have been anxious about their future after the Ontario government announced plans to introduce the “student choice initiative” — a policy which would allow students to opt out of student services that are not deemed essential.

Services considered essential are athletics and recreation, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, walk-safe programs and student buildings, including student centres.

Campus media, which include campus news websites, newspapers and radio stations, have started campaigns to be added to the list of essential services.

Conestoga College’s campus radio station CJIQ-FM is not at risk of losing funding through the student choice initiative, its station manager says.

CJIQ station manager Brian Clemens said the student choice initiative will have no effect on revenue for the radio station. Photo by Colin Burrowes, Spoke News

“CJIQ is funded through advertising and other means,” said Brian Clemens. “It’s not funded through any student fees.”

Clemens acknowledged CJIQ’s situation is unique and not all campus stations are in the same situation.

“Our station received a minimal amount from CSI, but that ceased six years ago,” he said. “As for CJIQ, we generate revenue with advertising, which helps offset the cost of operating. That’s our main revenue source.”

CJIQ operates like a commercial radio station. The students learn to broadcast a regular format with commercial music and formatted logs with content elements heard on any commercial radio station. But that is not to say they don’t give a voice to the community.

Bruno Cortez Sibella hosts the Brazilian Show on CJIQ Saturday nights at 8 p.m. He spoke of how important the community aspect of radio is to him.

Bruno Cortez Sibella hosts the Brazilian Show on CJIQ-FM Saturdays at 8 p.m.. Photo by Colin Burrowes, Spoke News

“We are from Brazil,” he said. “We are away from everything we know about our culture, so if it’s just getting to this community in Kitchener, this show is important.”

The target audience for his show is people new to Canada, particularly Brazilians. Sibella shares news about events, talks to people about getting involved in Canadian culture, promotes Brazilian businesses and plays Brazilian music.

“CJIQ is really important to the Tri-Cities area,” said Sibella. “Sometimes commercial radio stations have a different approach. Community radio — you go there and learn how to do it … it’s an important channel for the community.”

During weekends on CJIQ, there is a selection of multicultural programming. Sibella starts his show at 8 p.m.  and it’s followed by three hours of Spanish music on the Latin Party. On Sunday, there is the Polish Show and the Serbian Show.

Sibella also broadcasts his Brazilian Show on Facebook Live while he is on the air.

“It’s really special,” he said. “People will stop me on the street and say, ‘You gave me this advice and it was really nice.’ It’s really rewarding.”

Sibella started the show in 2017 when he was still a student. He graduated in April 2018 and hired by the college one month later.

“I’m still doing it,” said Sibella. “We are organizing our second anniversary show and that will also be show number 100. We are at 84 now.”

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) provides campus community stations with a licence to broadcast with certain conditions. One of them is that stations must have languages other than English on the air. As well, they must broadcast Category 3 music which is jazz, new age and classical.

CJIQ started as an instructional campus station, but that category has been eliminated. Now it is a campus/community station.

Clemens said there is a possibility some campus stations across Ontario might have to move to a funding format like CJIQ’s if funding from student fees is cut or lowered, but he admitted the content on many other stations is often outside the mainstream and often more political.

“There is a lot of special interest programming,” he said. “They have a different mandate for their radio stations, but they will have to generate revenue somewhere.”

As the station manager, Clemens is one of only two paid employees at CJIQ, the other being the sales representative. All the other content on CJIQ is developed through community partners, volunteers and students.

Many other campus stations across Ontario have formats that do not allow for the same advertising safety net that CJIQ, which is modelled in a commercial radio format, can rely on.

Representatives from five stations across the province spoke to SpokeOnline about their individual situations and their concerns about the implementation of the student choice initiative.

“This is going to impact all our young people. It’s going to impact our access to the airwaves. It’s going to impact job readiness and funding for people who study media,” said Radio Ryerson station manager Jacky Tuinstra Harrison.

Dave Cunningham, a board member at CFRC-FM in Kingston, spoke of graduates who went on to have distinguished careers in media, such as the CBC’s Shelagh Rogers, former Globe and Mail writer Jeffrey Simpson and the late Peter Watts.

CKCU-FM station Manager Matthew Crosier pointed out financial situations are unique to each campus station. As an example, some stations are on campus rent-free while others have considerable rent to cover.

“We’ve always been a service that students could opt out of,” said volunteer co-ordinator at CFRU FM Jenny Mitchell. “I’d say we have about one or two people a year, if that, who choose to come up to the station to get their seven dollars back … I think the major concern with the way it’s being framed now is you are staring this service in the face and you have to figure out whether you have a relationship with it.”

“Sometimes negative things bring forth necessity and great ideas and solutions that will keep you alive and will keep you afloat … so those things are already in motion and away we go and we’ll see what happens,” said CIUT station manager Ken Stowar.

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