Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Students Vote to End Fees in Support of College Radio Station CKMS

In response to a recent election in which students at the University of Waterloo in Canada voted to end automatic funding of radio station CKMS through student fees ($5.50 per term), Macleans OnCampus published this opinion piece about the declining importance of college radio to college students. According to the author of "Who Killed the (Campus) Radio Star?":

"Frankly, the FM band is pretty much a dead medium for the typical university student. Personally, I have a wind-up radio for emergencies and that’s all - even then, I will be on the AM dial. I get my radio over the tubes. (Right now, I am listening to WNYC - the NPR station in New York City) I can’t even think of the last time I used FM. In short, the university radio station is no longer fulfilling its purpose - its not reaching students. This cannot really change. In the 80’s there was no choice, one could not get more than a half dozen stations decently in a urban area, maybe one could get a dozen - but one was limited. Today, I can get anything, anytime, from anywhere. If I want an intellectual discussion, I go to the internet. If I want indy music - again, the internet."

These are valid points about how students use radio, but I'm a bit frightened by the following comment that those using radio should pay for it. The author writes:

"If there really is a demand from the community at large for the service, the users should pay, not all students. Instead of fighting against the will of students, campus radio stations should look at the National Public Radio model for their future."

I hope we're not moving towards a system where we need to pay for all forms of media. Additionally, all of us are members of organizations (colleges included) where we pay fees to support a variety of services and activities even if we aren't personally involved or invested and I think that's OK. Most colleges provide financial support to their campus radio stations, but this money may not be directly apparent in the breakdown of student fees. I wonder why this station's funding was linked to a specific student fee? I don't believe college radio should evolve into a National Public Radio model as there's something very special about the local and eclectic nature of independent college radio stations.

For a little more background on the situation at this station see this piece on Indyish, which includes a press release about the referendum. Also, according to the college's election website, the turnout for this vote was less than 13%, so it is clear that many students didn't care about the station or the election.

My experience with college radio is in the U.S., so it was interesting to read that in Canada campus radio station licenses are not held by the university housing the station. According to the CKMS website:

"Radio Waterloo, Inc. is the corporation that holds the licence for CKMS-FM. It is a requirement of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that the licence for a campus radio station is held by a corporation separate from the associated university and student union, and that the board of directors of this corporation meet certain requirements for its membership and structure."

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