Ryerson's Radio Coup: The Struggle to Take Back CKLN 88.1 FM

Article excerpt

THE TENSION WAS THICK in the room as the ballots were counted. At stake was the future of CKLN 88.1FM, Toronto (1) s beacon of progressive community radio based at Ryerson University. On one side was a slate of five candidates determined to cut back on the station's commitment to critical public affairs programming. On the other side was a fractured group with no common strategy for defending the station's noncommercial, anti-racist, queer-positive and feminist voices.


Few knew the significance of that election, held in spring 2007, and the results of the vote were inconclusive. Only two of the five candidates on the slate Tony Barnes and Doug Barrett won seats. But by November 2007 their faction had pushed out other members and taken control of the board.

Fifteen months later, almost sixty volunteers more than one in four have been expelled from CKLN without warning or explanation. Hosts of two explicitly feminist shows, an aboriginal woman (1)s program, an African news feature, reggae, calypsosoca, jazz and open format music shows have been kicked out. Most of the station (1) s queer women and transpeople are banned, as are members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and No One is Illegal Canadian Dimension's "Alert Radio" was pulled off the air.


All long-term employees have resigned, been fired or laid off. A unionization drive with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1281 was unable to turn the tide despite CUPE's best efforts. In late 2007 the board appointed Mike Phillips as station manager followed by Tony Barnes as program director. Under this leadership, many listeners have observed that programming has taken a turn toward commercial music and insubstantial commentary. A 70% drop in donations in the fall 2008 fundraising drive suggests that over two-thirds of listeners have abandoned the station.

Management has hired police to bar volunteers and community supporters from CKLN studios and meetings.

Listeners and volunteers alike were taken by surprise by the ruthlessness of this takeover and are left asking "why"? Some speculate that the administration of Ryerson University or other authorities have played a role. Certainly the station irritated the police with programs like "Bad Cop No Donut" and "OCAP Radio". Many recall the on-site arrest and subsequent deportation on an immigration warrant of CKLN programmer Wendy Maxwell, akaQueen Nzinga, in 2005. But there is no evidence of any external influence in the takeover.

Instead the reasons seem to be more banal. For years Phillips has been the station's engineer and he was chair of the board when the station manager resigned in 2003. Instead of ensuring that the position was filled he assumed many duties of the manager himself, billing for his time. Barnes is a long-term CKLN volunteer who sat on the station's board in the late 1990s, describing himself as "President and CEO" of the non-profit organization. He was unable to gain any position of authority after 1998, until the fateful election of 2007.


CKLN members were appalled by the appointments of Phillips and Barnes to management positions. 150 volunteer and community members attended a meeting in February 2008 and voted by a 90% majority to reverse the appointments and to remove Barnes, Barrett and three others from the board of directors. This was the largest membership meeting in years and it was conducted with careful attention to CKLN's bylaws, which allow for members to remove directors. …