By Herman Silochan
Toronto’s Caribbean and African Radio Network broadcasting, 98.7FM, is getting closer to its launch, given, it seems, overcoming the final hurdles over the CBC’s objections.
“All the stops have been removed, we want to be on air by Caribana,” said Fitzroy Gordon speaking to me by phone from Ottawa on Tuesday. Gordon, the President and CEO of CARN, made no bones about it, that the CBC’s objections to using the 98.7FM frequency has cost him time and lots of money, but never once did he back down in the light of technical reports favouring him and his business partners. So far, they have shelled out about half a million dollars.
This paper has reported frequently about CARN’s roller coaster ride as it sought to gain that niche as a voice of Toronto’s Caribbean and African community. Another Toronto station, FLOW 93.5 FM had once been celebrated as that medium, but moved away in a populist direction dictated by the demands of a hip hop and Top 40 youthful audience. (FLOW is now owned by the CHUM group.)
Late last year, CARN was all set to begin preparing its studios; at that time Gordon was enthusiastic as he detailed the nitty-gritty of what it takes to get a studio on air. But the CBC continued its objections. They have always claimed that their FM 99.1 MHz in Toronto and 98.7 MHz FM in Peterborough were subject to interference from CARN and wanted to hold on to its control of the Toronto 98.7 MHz airwave. But in May this year, there were engineering tests and a trial run for CARN using this 98.7FM Toronto frequency. It was a success in favour of CARN. The non-stop music was catching. Indeed that trial period proved popular with the local Caribbean population, because once the tests stopped, there was a collective groan and a question, when will we hear more? At least this is my reading of all of this as I talked to many people in our community about CARN’s future. Last September final frequency tests showed that CARN’s wave will not interfere with the CBC’s frequency.
As we reported then, this is not a business for the faint of heart. You need lots of patience, time and deep pockets, plus a bit of political savvy. Gordon has been at it for about ten years. It was a case of David versus Goliath. Not only with the CBC, but with the powerful broadcasting establishment, an old boy’s network that is extremely difficult to breach. Then there was the credibility factor. Whom do you believe after you have been brainwashed for decades that only those in power know how to get things done, and we the outsiders, the upstarts, lack credibility, “our inability to do things right.”
On the political side of this broadcast equation, there has been persistent talk about the federal Conservatives playing handmaiden to Gordon and CARN, degenerating into spats with CBC honchos. Immigration Minister, Jason Kenny had long accused the CBC of trying to block CARN in its own narrow corporate interests. Not so said CBC officials, they had even offered CARN advice and surplus equipment. In my telephone conversation with Gordon, he was adamant that the CBC never offered him anything.
Now as we enter Black History Month, we find that Kenney demanding that the CBC apologize to the black community in Toronto for its obstructionist role. I doubt that this will ever happen. After all the CBC is also run like a business and seeks to maintain a maximum audience.
Why mention Black History Month now? Well at a major event and reception at the Ottawa Convention Centre on Tuesday, a cross-national audience was treated to a spectacle of black achievement and success in Canada. One highlight was the unveiling of a new postage stamp by Canada Post to honour pitcher Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins, as many of you know, was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987, and to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 at Cooperstown New York, the first Canadian so honoured. But if Jenkins was to be the centre of this year’s adulation, it was a speech by CARN’s Fitzroy Gordon that drew rapturous applause and several standing ovations. He spoke about the need for a voice in the black and Caribbean community, the offer of real debate, the struggle to be heard. After twenty minutes, the line up to shake his hand was long, even other federal ministers having to wait their turns. Gordon collected a bagful of business cards with many asking to do future business with this new radio station.
CARN has come a long way to its final creation, and to see it stopped now by any corporate obstructionism will bring massive public outcry.
So at this year’s Caribana, not only will we have the usual spectacle of sight, but hopefully we shall be listening to a new sound, our own.