Tuning out the students

In Features, Uncategorized /

By Tim Cook

Its programming comes from the margins. It is the voice of people of colour, First Nations, lesbians and gays and other people not often heard from. And it is supposed to be the voice of Ryerson.

Like many campus/community radio stations in Canada, CKLN 88.1 FM is committed to representing the diversity of its community over the airwaves. Money from Ryerson students makes up over 40 per cent of CKLN’s budget, and the school houses the station for free. But you will be hard-pressed to hear Ryerson’s name mentioned on the air.

Tucked away in a corner office, hidden behind RyeSAC in room A71, is where you will find CKLN’s station manager Conrad Collaco. His office is no bigger than a walk-in closet and his desk and floor are cluttered with books, papers and CDs. A flow-chart on his computer screen tells him how many hits CKLN’s Internet broadcast is receiving. He is eager to talk. After all, any press is good press when you are running a station as far off the beaten path as CKLN.

“[CKLN] is trying to represent minorities. That’s our motive,” Collaco says. “We’re not motivated by money, so we don’t fall into the trap of having our programming dictated by Bell or Coke.”

It’s all laid out in the station’s mandate. A mandate the promises to develop musical, artistic and cultural expressions. A mandate that does not mention the name Ryerson.

The station is run on a $215,000 budget, $90,000 of which comes from Ryerson students. Each full-time student contributes $8.03 a year out of their tuition to support the station. By the end of a four-year program, each student will have given $32.12 to the station, with many never really knowing what CKLN is about.

“I don’t think the students are getting their money’s worth at this time and that is what I am working on,” says Vladimir Vaskilko, RyeSAC’s v.p. or finance and development and treasurer for the CKLN board of directors. He says the $90,000 the students pay to the station is actually higher when the freebies CKLN receives from the school are taken into account.

“[CKLN doesn’t] pay anything for the office or studio space and they don’t pay any hydro,” Vasilko says. In fact, along with funding and rent-free space, the school also provides free heat, lights, maintenance and security. When all expenses are considered, Ryerson gives more than $100,000 a year to CKLN.

Vasilko would like to see more student involvement in the station.

Last February, RyeSAC’s board formed an ad-hoc committee to look into CKLN’s role at Ryerson. The committee submitted a list of recommendations ranging from entrenching a commitment to Ryerson in the station’s mandate to keeping more accurate financial records. Many of the recommendations centred around making Ryerson a part of station.

Over the next couple of weeks, RyeSAC will be evaluating the progress CKLN has made with regard to this ad-hoc committee report.

Sheila Chevalier is a programmer at CKLN and heads up the nine-member board of directors — the station’s governing body. Since Chevalier took the position in June, she says she has tried to make sure CKLN is fulfilling RyeSAC’s recommendations to the best of their ability. She thinks CKLN is close to satisfying the ad-hoc committee’s suggestions.

“We are doing really well,” Chevalier says. “This report is not something that just got stuck in a drawer… we have gone through each of the recommendations and we feel really good about how far we have come with this.” Chevalier says CKLN knows it is partially funded by other people’s money. “We are accountable to anyone who gives us money because we are a not-for-profit organization,” she says.

Meetings between RyeSAC and CKLN about the ad-hoc committee report are continuing, and the response from RyeSAC has been generally positive regarding the station’s progress.

“We didn’t really conclude anything at this time,” Vasilko says. “We have only talked about things in general, but the fact that they broke even or sort of made money last year, that certainly makes us happy.”

At the end of the last fiscal year, CKLN reported a budget surplus of over $3,000. Good news for a station that has run at an operating deficit for the past few years.

While CKLN’s finances may be looking up, there aren’t any programs dealing specifically with Ryerson issues. Collaco says he cannot recall ever seeing a proposal for a Ryerson program since he took the job in 1997. According to the ad-hoc committee’s report, a Ryerson student-focused program was turned down in 1996 because “no programming space was currently available.”

Many Ryerson graduates work on and off the air at CKLN (Collaco is a 1992 graduate of the journalism program) but according to Vasilko, actual student involvement is low.

This is in sharp contrast to many other campus/community stations in Ontario.

CHRW at the University of Western Ontario is a campus/community station that is considered to have a high rate of student participation. Of the 250 volunteers that work at CHRW, 60 per cent are students.

CKLN has a staff of about 150 volunteers. Collaco will not estimate how many of them are Ryerson students because he says many have graduated or do not say they are from Ryerson when applying for a position. He feel such a guess “would be unfair.”

“We are of the view that we are here for the students,” says Mario Circelli, station manager of CHRW. “However, we don’t disregard the community.”

Each full-time student at Western gives $9.00 a year to the station. This makes up 80 per cent of the station’s total income. CHRW in turn offers four programs geared directly to Western students, including the broadcast of over 40 live sporting events. Some other Western programs include a current affairs show that focuses on student politics, recitals from the school of music and a women’s issues program.

“It wouldn’t be in our best interest to turn our back on the students who are essentially stakeholders in our station,” Circelli says. “We are very sensitive to the students.”

These ideas are shared by other campus/community radio stations across the province.

CRFC is the radio station at Queen’s University. Half of its staff are students and half are members of the community. They broadcast live varsity sporting events. A $3.75 fee that goes to funding the radio station is included in each Queen’s student’s tuition. However, students are able to opt out of this fee if they wish.

Option out of the station fee is not a choice for Ryerson students because they voted to continue to help funding the station in a 1992 referendum.

Unlike Western’s CHRW and Queen’s CRFC, CKLN does not broadcast any live Ryerson Rams games. Collaco says this is because no one has proposed covering varsity sports to the station. CKLN used to broadcast Rams’ games in the ’70s, and was once even known as “The Voice of the Rams.” Broadcasts were stopped in 1981 because of poor listenership.

“We have not been approached by someone who is passionate about live Ryerson sports and wanted to broadcast the games,” Collaco says.

Western’s radio station operates on a budget of between $230,000 to $240,000 per year, only $15,000 more than CKLN. However, they manage to broadcast over 40 live sporting events a year.

“I don’t know about other universities, but live broadcasts are expensive for us,” Collaco says. “If we were approached [by someone wanting to broadcast Ryerson sports live] it would definitely be considered.”

Queen’s radio station has a budget of only $95,000, according to station manager Maureen Plunkett. This is less than have of CKLN’s budget. However, Queen’s manages to run a transmitter of 3,000 watts, 12 times stronger than CKLN’s.

So where does all of CKLN’s money go? Most of it goes to transmitter fees and equipment upkeep. There is also a full-time paid staff of three, and publicity takes a small portion of the money as well.

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