CHSR reacts to Ontario’s campus radio funding crisis

Campus radio stations in the Ontario struggled as they lost the guarantee of their funding from student levys. Mark Kilfoil (above) of Fredericton’s CHSR-FM said it’s not uncommon for a station’s budget to be as much as 95 per cent dependant on this money. (Johnny James/AQ)

According to its program director Mark Kilfoil, if students had the option to opt-out the campus radio station student fee in New Brunswick, Fredericton’s campus radio station CHSR-FM wouldn’t be able to sustain itself.

That’s not the case right now, but after Ontario’s recent Student Choice Initiative was implemented and then deemed unlawful, he said no station in the country can say they are safe from it. Still he feels no immediate worry of something similar happening in New Brunswick.

“The lie that was sold was this was going to reduce student burden. And the reality is it actually increases student burden considerably, because now they have less things they can actually participate in,” said Kilfoil, also a National Campus Radio Association board member.

The Student Choice Initiative was implemented by the Ontario government on Sept. 1, 2019. It allowed people to choose which student fees they wanted to pay and left many programs, whose income depended on the student fees, without sufficient funding to operate.

The initiative also leaves these programs uncertain of how much money they will be receiving, as their funding guarantee is gone and can fluctuate each semester depending on how many students opt to pay the campus radio station fee.

As a result, multiple protests have been held in the province to overturn the law.

According to Kilfoil, almost all of CHSR’s funding come from the $15 they receive from each student enrolled at St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick.

“Ninety to 95 per cent of our budget, that’s levies, and that’s not uncommon across our sector.”

After losing their guarantee on this funding, effects quickly took their toll on many Ontario stations. The University of Windsor, for example, saw 29 per cent of its students opt out of their levy for their station CJAM-FM. This meant the radio station lost out on $15,700 of its funds.

There are 106 campus radio stations across Canada. Ontario has 17 stations which all need this funding for sustainable operation.

The province of Ontario is currently reviewing the decision which struck down the initiative.

Kilfoil said this kind of legislation preys on the financial burdens of students. He said students, especially first-years, aren’t aware of the contributions of programs such as campus radio and student newspapers make to campus life. He said all extracurricular programs need to be supported by everyone even if some students don’t use all of them.

“You are preying upon a vulnerable populace by fooling, persuading or even dissuading a populace who isn’t in a position to really understand what they are doing and that is terrible.”

Campus stations like CHSR provide a hands-on learning experience at a low cost, with students memberships at the discounted rate of $10, since $15 is already covered by their student fees.

There are approximately eight to 12 student-run shows at CHSR and between 10 to 15 total student members.

The implementation of this legislation forces stations, and other programs affected, turn to cutting staff to stay within their budget and rely on an unreasonable amount on fundraising, said Kilfoil.

Kilfoil adds that it would be difficult to entice willing donors to their cause because the amounts needed are too expensive to convince them their contributions are going towards an attainable goal.

“It’s a spiral with no support, and no easy way to overcome it. Some of the stations went into fundraising mode,” said Kilfoil.

“[The problem is] you’re making a big campaign about trying to raise money about some uncertainty, because you don’t know if you’re going to actually lose all that money.”

Even though the bill is defeated, Kilfoil said there is already damage done and has no idea of when the affected stations will be paid, if they will be at all.

“They might say ‘Nope, that was a decision made at the time. For the time the law existed, it stood and now it’s been struck down so it won’t go forward that way.’ So, there’s still a considerable amount of uncertainty,” said Kilfoil.

“I know that nobody really has all the answers just yet. But at least someone recognized at a high level that this was a damaging and harmful practice that was done for political reasons that make no sense.”