Wednesday, 8 August 2012

CFRC: A debate on community radio in Kingston

This past February, I wrote an article for the Queen's Journal on a proposal by the the AMS Board of Directors (the student government body at Queen's University) to restructure the radio station and impose on it essentially the same management and employment structure and rules that other services operate under. As a former member of the AMS Board of Directors who had played a role in having CFRC transferred from direct university ownership and control to student ownership and as someone who had also been on the board of CKLN in Toronto which lost its license in 2011, I felt I had some insights to contribute.

My "No" article arguing against the AMS' proposals was paired with a "Yes" article by the (then) current chair of the Board.

CFRC structure in perspective

Among other things, I pointed out that the AMS' attempt to impose a new management structure and staff policy directly without consultation with CFRC was a violation of CRTC regulations requiring the station to be managed by its own board, one that reflects all its stakeholders (including volunteers and the community). The AMS ultimately agreed and on March 1, 2012, the AMS abandoned its restructuring proposal. However, subsequently things headed in the opposite direction:

Radio station's separation finalized

CFRC has become independent of the AMS. On the one hand, the AMS was not interested in having a service that it did not completely manage, on the other CFRC wanted to be independent, particularly in light of the restructuring attempt. Independence, however, is a bit of a risky strategy. For one thing, the station's student fee is $4.93. While that would be sufficient at a large university such as U of T or York, Queen's only had 15,792 full-time undergraduate students in 2011/2012 meaning that the total yielded by the fee was just under $78,000. While half the station's budget has come from fundraising, advertising and other sources there has been a budget shortfall of about $10,000 a year which has been covered out of the AMS' budget in addition to student interest fee revenue. That arrangement will end after a transition period and CFRC is now seeking an increase in its student fee. Queen's students, however, have been very reluctant to approve any fee increases in recent years and CFRC specifically has been unsuccessful in several past referenda attempts to increase the fee. Moreover, as CFRC is no longer an AMS service but an "external service", its fee will be up for triennial review meaning it could be lost in its entirety in the future. The mandatory fee review will, however, keep CFRC accountable since it will have to not only continue to provide volunteer opportunities for hundreds of students but will also have to maintain a good relationship with the student body as a whole if it is to maintain its fee.

CFRC remains dependent on a certain degree of goodwill on the parts of both the university and the student body. The station's studios and officers in Carruthers Hall are provided rent free by Queen's and, of course, the student fee represents 40% of the station's budget - a figure which will rise to 50% if the student interest fee increase is attained. CFRC can't afford to allow independence to go to its head. CFRC needs to maintain and enhance it's relationship with students and faculty so that they have a real stake in the radio station's survival and success.
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