Broken record of CKLN infighting hits a new low with dismissals.
"Please be advised that your volunteer services at CKLN Radio Inc are no longer required effective immediately" is the entirety of an e-mail making the rounds among volunteers at the Ryerson University campus radio station at 88.1 FM that's seen more than its share of infighting over the years.
DJ Denise Benson, who's hosted Mental Chatter for more than two decades at CKLN, was one of the most recent recipients of unceremonious termination. She says it's part of an effort by newly appointed - and anti-union - management to muzzle outspoken opponents. Underneath that static, though, lies the old concern that the station's eclectic, street-wise and offbeat lefty political mix is being excised to prepare the way for selling air time to corporate advertisers.
Does that mean CKLN could become CanTire FM, kind of like Virgin 999 is the new flag being flown by the defunct Mix 99.9? It's hard to say. The firings have been taking place smack dab in the middle of a union drive. Police have been brought in by management to deal with programmer dismissals and to quell protests outside the offices. But there's no denying, at least in the view of management, that something drastic needs to be done if the station is to get out from under its six-figure debt.
Says Benson, "People are being fired as a form of censorship rather than for programming errors."
Wading through the charges and countercharges being levied by both sides suggests the purge of staff, some 22 of the 30 in all, began after a February special meeting of the membership in which some volunteer programmers called for the ouster of interim station manager Mike Phillips and interim program director Tony Barnes.
"[The meeting] was not legitimately called and did not follow the processes laid down by CKLN," says Phillips, who along with Barnes remains at his posts.
Volunteer programmers at the station have been getting the boot ever since.
Benson says three new members of the board, which oversees station operations, were elected at a subsequent meeting in April, but those members, who are sympathetic to programmers' concerns, remain unrecognized. Since then, CKLN has been a two-headed beast seemingly intent on mauling itself to death. Management, according to Benson, actually hired off-duty police officers to keep fired programmers out.
"It seems to be this megalomania thing of ‘us versus them,'" she suggests. "They kept deleting me [bleeping parts of her show] remotely," says Benson, highlighting the troublesome fact that a community station known for its outspoken views and committed to giving a voice to marginalized parts of our society is being silenced.
Benson fears the firings mark a pending shift in ideology at CKLN, from grassroots social and political activism to mainstream commercialism.
"When you look at who's being dismissed...," she says.
Phillips maintains that those fired were breaking CRTC rules, although he's not specific about which rules those were. "If you have people decrying the station that is allowing them to go on the air, and breaking CRTC rules in the process, that can't be allowed to go on for very long," says Phillips.
David James, who DJs on CKLN, has worked at the station for a decade dealing with funding and student programming. He says talk of a philosophical shift is crap.
"I've heard the rhetoric about ‘Corporate this' and ‘We're selling out that,' but we're still going to be alternative," says James.
He says dismissed programmers are just hiding behind "sanctimonious" wordplay.
"They appointed their own board. They're sending letters on fake letterhead and have tried to seize assets and close down bank accounts. You can't fucking do that," says James, adding that he has no sympathy for the locked-out radio folk.
His take is that DJs got comfy with radio shows, acting like it was their right to be there, keeping students out and using programs as advertising tools for their DJ nights around town.
Phillips admits that paid advertising is an issue the station will be addressing in the future. The CRTC allows CKLN to air four minutes of commercials per hour, and that would help defray the $320,000 yearly operating costs.
"We should be raising $160,000 a year with that. We don't raise a third of that now," Phillips says. He points out that Wal-Mart and Nike aren't the desired advertisers, but a business like Canadian Tire would be. "Canadian company, students buy products from Canadian Tire, and I'll say, ‘Thank you very much, sir. I'll take your money.'"
He also acknowledges that more attention will be paid to attracting student interest. At rare times over the last few years, he says, CKLN has had no student programmers at all.
"With the amount of money students are giving the station, we're certainly concerned with the governance there," says Ryerson Student Union vice-president of finance and services Toby Whitfield, a CKLN board member who is watching the slow burn carefully.
Whitfield is also worried about CKLN management bringing in police to deal with personnel issues. Ideally, he says, CKLN would offer a mentorship program allowing students to benefit from the station's pool of experienced radio hosts and managers.
"There are students who have no idea how to function in a radio station, and we have an amazing opportunity with volunteers who have been around for a long time to work together in a co-op set-up," suggests Whitfield.
That ideal keeps receding with the departure of long-time programmers. Another big blow was delivered when paid staffer news director Kristin Schwartz returned from parental leave to discover she'd been canned without warning.
"I was shocked. I had no inkling that they would try to do something like that, given that it's a unionized position," says Schwartz, who suggests the timing was more than convenient, considering there would be a strike vote two days after her firing.
Phillips says he has no problem with unions, and claims says there's more to it than that.
"We discovered that all sorts of underhanded things were going on," he says - namely, attempts to wind people up and stack board meetings with OCAP and CUPE people.
Listeners, meanwhile, have been left with an on-air void. Benson says she tuned in to her program slot and was met with music, but nobody was talking or picking up phones. She says the station isn't adhering to CRTC regs and urges people to contact the government body.
Phillips and James both say slots are being filled with programming. The question is how good could it be?
"It's going to be a rough year," admits James. "We're going to take a beating and have to slog it out."
Dismissed CKLN DJ Denise Benson suggests firings are a form of censorship:
CKLN station manager on dismissal of programmers:
CKLN station manager Mike Phillips on filling advertising holes: