Wednesday, April 9, 2008

No Editorial Love for Canadian Campus Station CHRW

I always get a bit defensive when I hear grumblings about a campus radio station. Today I ran across this editorial Irrelevant CHRW Needs to Step up its Game in Canadian student paper The Gazette, in which the author expresses his distaste for University of Western Ontario college radio station CHRW 94.9 FM. He writes:

"There is a school of thought that considers it bad form to kick someone when they’re down. However, I prefer a quick shot to the ribs as a way to rouse the fallen back to life. Consider this my metaphorical kick to CHRW. With the exception of live sports coverage, I don’t know anyone who listens to 94.9 on the London FM dial. The product 94.9 FM CHRW provides reaches no one despite having the potential to reach anyone with a radio or a computer, anywhere in London.

Because there is a fee of about $13 attached to every student’s University Students’ Council fees, I’ve spent $65 over my university career on something I’ve gotten absolutely nothing out of. Yes, I could have listened had I chosen to, but the only thing worse than wasting money is wasting money and time."

I've seen this student fees argument before and it always irritates me because I think of college media (newspaper, radio, TV, etc.) as being a given, something that should be supported, whether or not I'm a particular fan of the output or not. Just because radio is less popular than, say, football, doesn't mean that it shouldn't receive student support and funding.

By the way, every time I post about the student fee issue at another Canadian station I get comments from station detractors who keep reiterating a point about that particular station's failings and that's why they don't support funding it. I still have real issues with this. I think that if a particular station has problems that the administration and students should work with them to improve rather than eliminating funding as a punishment. At least in the U.S., I fear that once a station loses funding it may lose its license, its on-air signal, etc. and it's very difficult to get all that back in such a crowded/expensive radio market.

Additionally, the author simply calls the station irrelevant and says that he doesn't know anyone who listens to it. However, he doesn't offer any specific critiques of the station or make suggestions for its improvement. Perhaps the station could improve, but from this editorial I have no sense of where it's faltering.

One interesting thing to consider is that most college stations struggle with gaining listeners and often are unknown and not listened to much on campus. They may receive some university or student funding, but often have to conduct fundraisers with actual listeners in order to come up with the cash needed to survive.

What do you think, as a student would you support fees for campus media even if you aren't a fan? And, what's the best way to get a sub-standard station to change?


Anonymous said...

Revoking funding was not the first or only solution proposed by critics of CKMS. Critics of CKMS attempted to work within the system by running for positions on the board. How did CKMS respond? By violating its own bylaws to silence its critics (even its own attorney admitted that the vote that the CKMS establishment obstructed was legal). Other behaviour by CKMS in the same vein include what I listed, with links, in a comment to your previous CKMS post (namely, conducting meetings in a poisoned environment, obstructing students' access to operations information that their own attorney admitted was their right, and breaking referendum rules repeatedly).

The opportunity to reform such an institution was taken off the table by that institution itself. And not only was this a failure of the CKMS establishment -- it was a failure by well-wishers who thought the appropriate response to the circumstances was to goad the CKMS establishment on in its all-or-nothing attitude rather than pressuring it to reform. These people may have meant well, but in the end they contributed to the demise of CKMS.

I urge you to reflect on this, in light of your own comments.

Jennifer Waits said...

I looked at some of your links about CKMS and clearly this is a complex issue, that's hard to sort through with limited time. Since you are fully immersed in it, can you succinctly answer a few questions:

1) What were the main criticisms of the station and who, specifically are the critics (besides anything related to the referendum)?

2) Do critics see the station as beyond repair?

3) What's the hoped for outcome from removing student funding?

4) How do you hope the station will change and are you optimistic about this?

Jon Schleuss said...

This is an extremely complex issue. However, it seems that these stations have completely closed down the lines of communication. If this is what I'm getting, it's very bad.

Campus media has to stick together! I write for our school's newspaper because there's a need for us to scratch each other's backs. If CKMS and CHRW aren't working to improve their transparency or working well with others, then, yes they'll ultimately fail. No one likes an elitist organization.

Having said that, I agree with you, Jennifer, about campus media funding as a "given." College radio staff runs in cycles, changing every year. Every college station/paper/yearbook has a history with not-so-stellar years. But they should be supported enough to get the job done. Campus media should get the minimum amount of funding to have their "basics" covered. I'm all for not giving special treatment to organizations in year's they're not doing so hot. Then, if these organizations are doing a great job, vote on more funding.

For instance, if our radio station wasn't doing a good job, I'd expect SGA to not support trips to CMJ. We have to prove ourselves, but not just for the sake of existence.

Anyway, one of the advantages that we have at KSCL is our umbrella organizations. I'm not sure how other station's have it set up, but we have KSCL, under the Media Committee, under Student Government, under the Faculty Coordinating Committee. It just keeps going up. The Media Committee and SGA protect us in those "not so hot" years with the administration. Yet, we have to answer to them.

All in all, it's a crazy bit of drama that happens every four years or so, when new students arrive, knowing little about the past. Our history must work to our advantage!

I hope for the best!

WhereIsBisonDele? said...

I agree campus media are both a 'given' and necessary components of student life. True, too, is that turnover leads to years that are better than others.

Sure, I have an inherent bias as a CHRW alum, but this is the same station that has won two Juno awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for best campus radio station in Canada over the last decade.

Importantly, too -- beyond, gasp! -- the listenership, these stations are also fertile training grounds for people seeking careers in braodcasting. On its own, CHRW has produced a solid dozen or so national-level news and sports anchors, including former Good Morning America and ABC News Anchor, Kevin Newman, and current CBS Evening News anchor Thalia Assuras.

Student fees fund many diverse projects that don't benefit anyone, but a campus without independent media? I don't think so. The paper in which tha author wrote his piece would, ironically, have had no place to do so.

Anonymous said...

"1) What were the main criticisms of the station and who, specifically are the critics (besides anything related to the referendum)?"

Criticisms of CKMS would, I believe, fall into the following broad categories:

A) Relevant content

B) Student involvement

C) Organizational conduct

I've given you reading material regarding (C). I believe that, whatever the good intentions of the founders of CKMS, if it can't hold itself to some modicum of responsible conduct (showing a minimal amount of respect for the students who pay its bills), then it is not viable as a campus organization. Some would blame (A) and (B) on student apathy, but I believe that point is moot -- if CKMS and the core of sympathetic individuals who surround it cannot preserve its identity as a source of relevant content with high student involvement (as compared to Imprint, our student newspaper, for example), then it is not viable as a campus organization, and blaming student apathy is a distraction.

"2) Do critics see the station as beyond repair?"

That's entirely up to CKMS, as far as I'm concerned. The obstacles to repair include, admittedly, the restrictive license it has from the CRTC (Canadian version of FCC) (which holds it to be a source of "alternative programming"). It's possible that there's no reconciliation possible between the student body and CKMS because of this constraint. But I personally perceive a very significant obstacle to being the current establishment and its desire (demonstrated by deeds and not words) to fight students instead of working with them. If the leadership of CKMS had resigned, or shown contrition, the results of the referendum might have been much different.

"3) What's the hoped for outcome from removing student funding?"

I believe it is to assert student control over the organizations that draw funding from student fees. I believe that the student population has a general attitude in favour of student initiatives, regardless of their cost-benefit tradeoff, and that despite this bias CKMS still lost the referendum because of its out-of-control behaviour. I think the more relevant question was, what was the hoped for outcome of threatening CKMS with removal of student funding, and I believe the answer is reform (after other paths to reform were stonewalled by CKMS itself). Without the threat of revoking student fees, all admonitions from students to CKMS were toothless pronouncements, and CKMS itself proved how little it put stock in those pronouncements. Sadly, after facing a real threat, CKMS still clung to obstinacy.

"4) How do you hope the station will change and are you optimistic about this?"

I have no desire to see CKMS fail. It may yet survive with alternative sources of funding. It is not my concern, because as far as I'm concerned CKMS will no longer be a campus organization after September. Should the campus welcome CKMS back if reforms take place? If the establishment at CKMS is unseated or shows genuine contrition for its ways, I believe that would be possible depending on the outcome of another referendum. I would personally expect, as a condition for consideration, the emergence of a visible core of student volunteers willing to contribute to making CKMS function responsibly and respectfully.