By Melissa Wilson
This summer, infighting at CKLN 88.1 FM has one of Toronto’s oldest campus-community radio stations broadcasting static. And with CKLN’s student levy set to rise to $9.81, Ryerson students are stuck paying for silence.
With two boards fighting for control of the station, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is withholding the $100,000 CKLN would have recieved in late September — the first of three installments for the year.
Ryerson’s Student Campus Centre (SCC), where CKLN broadcasts rent-free, has seen a flurry of activity since May when interim station manager Mike Phillips dismissed more than 25 volunteer programmers with a letter reading:
“Please be advised that your volunteer services are no longer needed, effective immediately.”
Other volunteers, some of whom have worked at the station for more than a decade and many of who were integral to the station’s grassroots foundation in alternative programming, received no notice at all, said Oriel Varga, a dismissed volunteer. Their access cards were simply deactivated.
Since then, angry protesters, lawyers and police officers hired by Phillips for station security have occupied the SCC, and CKLN’s doors have been locked since mid-summer.
All the while, students have been on summer break, most unaware that their contribution of 60 per cent of CKLN’s operating budget is going down the drain.
And though Phillips said he plans to engage students and increase Ryerson involvement at the station, he told one confused student: “If it’s locked, you’re at the right door.”
“Community radio is dead,” said Don Weitz, former host of Anti-Psychiatry Radio, and volunteer who was suddenly fired after 12 years at the station.
According to Weitz, Phillips has no authority to set foot in a studio, let alone sign pink slips.
The trouble began in May 2007, when CKLN was operating without a station manager.
A human resources report, costing $8,000 and paid for by the RSU, examined the internal workings of CKLN and recommended an interim station manager be appointed for three months until a proper search could be done to hire a permanent replacement by September 2007.
The board appointed Phillips, then engineer, as interim station manager in November 2007.
Tony Barnes, a member of the CKLN board of directors, was hired as program director in January 2008. When contacted, Barnes declined to comment.
Under their management, CKLN began moving in a more commercial direction, according to Weitz.
Phillips doesn’t disagree. According to him CKLN can air four minutes of advertisements per hour during regular programming without “batting an eyelid.”
While ads aired on CKLN have traditionally been community-oriented, Phillips said he would have no problem selling ad space to Canadian Tire, though he would be hesitant to do business with a company like Wal-Mart.
Conflict erupted last February when more than 140 volunteers, students and annual donors, gathered at a special membership meeting and voted to impeach the non-student members of CKLN’s board of directors as well as fire Phillips and Barnes.
In late spring, new board members were elected to take over for the impeached board.
However, the dismissed board members have refused to recognize the impeachment as valid, claiming that the special members meeting was called illegally and the vote didn’t follow CKLN bylaws. Phillips and Barnes have refused to vacate their offices, and hired lawyer Brian Iler to represent them. Students and community donors are stuck paying the bill.
Varga said the the board was impeached due to suspicion surrounding the hiring of former board members Phillips and Barnes for paying positions. Although CKLN’s bylaws are murky at best, Varga considered the appointments to be conflicts of interest.
Phillips called a meeting on July 16 to elect two volunteer representatives to sit on the old board — spots that were arguably filled in April.
Only CKLN volunteers approved by Phillips were given access to the meeting. According to Phillips, this was to ensure a fair vote.
Police flanked the doors to the meeting and Weitz was one of the many volunteers who were locked out.
During the meeting Phillips was unable to explain why volunteers received no reason for their dismissal. The meeting quickly deteriorated and no election was held, as volunteers accused Phillips and the old board of breaking station policy and bylaws, and volunteers moved to hold off on the election until one board was recognized as legally valid or two months goes by.
Phillips said volunteers are misunderstanding the bylaws and claims all of his actions have been by the book. “Even people who think they can read a set of bylaws don’t,” Phillips said.
However, CKLN’s bylaws state: “Community members may by a two-thirds majority at a regular or special meeting of the Community members pass a resolution removing their Director from office before the expiration of her/his term for just cause.”
The procedure for ditching a volunteer representative is similar, though the protocol for booting out a staff member is unclear.
Community member Owen Leach blames the confusion on ambiguous language in the by-laws.
“An inadequate constitution always leads to trouble.”
By the books or not, Phillips said cuts were needed to make room for student programming, calling the lack of Ryerson involvement “obscene.”
And though from opposing teams, Arnold Minors, chair of the newly elected board, agreed with Phillips, citing engaging students as a top priority. Toby Whitfield, RSU vice president of finance and services and the RSU rep on CKLN’s board of directors, would love to see more students on the airwaves but worries that the circumstances might pit Ryerson students against veteran volunteers.
“If students are replacing programmers, there’s going to be a negative connotation and people that have been around for a long time are going to be frustrated,” he said. Carmelle Wolfson, a former Eyeopener fun editor, was dismissed from her show, Radio Cliteracy, just weeks before graduating from Ryerson. Wolfson said Phillips’s offer is little more than a token gesture.
“Students who are vocal about opposition to changes at the station will be ousted just as quickly as I was.” Currently, the RSU is withholding the student levy money meant for CKLN until the two boards can work it out.
“It’s a large chunk of students’ money and it would be extremely unfortunate if we gave it to the wrong person,” said Whitfield.
Phillips indicated that, given the income potential of advertisements, CKLN doesn’t need the student levy to keep the station out of the red.
Kristin Schwartz, recently back from maternity leave and longtime news director — a paid staff position—was the latest to be fired on Aug.11.
CKLN staffers were recently unionized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 1281 and CUPE is fighting Schwartz’ termination on her behalf.
For those left at CKLN, the hallways have become a “toxic environment,” according to Ron Gaskin, host of AM/FM, who called the station a “police state where those in power have engaged constables to protect them.”
The RSU has proposed a meeting of the two boards with the help of an arbitrator. “If students decide they don’t want to fund CKLN anymore — then there will be a referendum,” said Whitfield.
And with RUtv starting in the fall and many student projects existing with no support, the money could certainly do better than lining lawyers’ pockets.