My jaw dropped when I learned the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released Decision 2011-56 late Friday morning, announcing that it had revoked the licence of campus-community radio station CKLN.
The regulatory body had hauled CKLN to a hearing this past December 8 to discuss performance issues and the station was put on notice that it was expected to "show cause why the Commission should not take steps to suspend or revoke the broadcasting licence in question."
Fighting words or formality, I wondered at the time, in an article in NOW.
I truly didn't expect the CRTC to dispense with this volunteer-driven station.
Andrew Lehrer, elected by station members to sit on an interim board as vice-chair, acknowledged there had been an internal power struggle that had led to chaos at the station, putting it off the air for a few months.
But repairs were well underway. Lehrer and his fellow board members had amended bylaws to keep the station functioning even in the event of future disagreements. The station also had a new logger system, and other safeguards were also put in place to keep CKLN in compliance with CRTC rules.
"It's a process we have to take seriously," Lehrer told me, when I asked him back then about the pending hearing.
When I reach him at CKLN Friday afternoon, Lehrer tells me, he's in shock.
"Listeners have been phoning up and crying on the air," he tells me.
"We didn't expect this. We thought they were leaning towards either suspension or mandatory orders."
Lehrer urges me to read the lone dissenting opinion in the CRTC decision, by commissioner Louise Poirier.
The full text of the decision, including Poirier's detailed opinion, is online. In a nutshell, though, she stated that she "firmly opposed" the panel's decision because licence revocation "should not have been used as a first step for this station."
Calling the decision "premature, disproportionate and inequitable," Poirier said that hastily revoking CKLN's licence in Canada's biggest radio market "will not send a positive signal to the campus radio community, which consists of organizations comprised mainly of volunteers, who unstintingly contribute time and energy to give their community a voice."
Amen. As a former volunteer programmer with CIUT at the University of Toronto, I feel numb. The tears are falling on my keyboard as I type.
Sure, there were power struggles at CIUT - no shortage of them, given that the campus-community radio milieu, by its very nature, is highly politicized. Reflecting on things afterwards, the disagreements, while painful to witness or endure, are a necessary by-product of the intense passion and commitment that goes into volunteer programming.
Campus-community radioheads are there because they love the medium of radio and because they care deeply about the issues. And station diversity pretty well guarantees disagreement. Which is good and healthy so long as it does not spin out of control.
It spun out of control a few times at CIUT, and I left after a new faction took power. I needed some calm in my life, at that time. But, aside from a two-week interim when a CD changer replaced locked out volunteers, CIUT has largely survived.
CKLN, however, appears to be in mortal danger, and the CRTC's decision leaves me wondering if the majority of commissioners on the panel truly understand and appreciate the chaotic nature of grassroots radio.
While CKLN's troubles largely stem from a power struggle within the station, I wonder if what would appear to be the station's demise stems, in part, from a power struggle between the CRTC and the feds
A news report last year indicated there's tension between the Harper government and CRTC board members, largely over Fox News North.
Interestingly, the past few months have seen the CRTC take a harder-than-usual line against broadcast stations deemed to be breaching the rules. CHSC, a commercial station in St. Catharines, was ordered off the air this past summer following the CRTC's repeated attempts to enforce adherence to conditions of its licence.
And, stations found to have broken even relatively minor rules, such as Canadian content violations, or failure to provide logger tapes, have increasingly and rather dramatically been subject to censures well beyond what has traditionally been the norm.
Which begs the question - is the CRTC asserting it's authority as part of some behind-the-scenes showdown? Might CKLN possibly be the victim of two power struggles, one of which is entirely not of its own making?
CKLN has the statutory right to appeal the CRTC's decision, but will it?
Lehrer says the station is exploring its options.
Coincidentally, the board was already planning to meet tonight (Friday) and a general meeting of members is scheduled for Monday, ostensibly to elect a new board to replace the current interim one.
"I guess that may still happen, but we'll obviously be discussing what's going on, what we can do."
Here's hoping. Stay tuned!