Stations upset after new frequencies awarded to bigger players
Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald CALGARY, AB: JUNE 25, 2012 - Ranjit Singh Sidhu, radio host, at Radio Sursangam in Calgary, Alberta Monday, June 25, 2012. The asian radio station is appealing a decision by the CRTC to deny them an application for a radio frequency. The application was won by Jim Pattison Broadcast Group Apar Kahlon, VP of operations for Unison Media, was not present for the photo, (Stuart Gradon/Calgary Herald) (For City story by Amanda Stephenson) 10038823A (Photograph by: Stuart Gradon , Calgary Herald)
By Amanda Stephenson June 26, 2012
CALGARY - Three local ethnic radio stations are asking the federal government to overturn a decision by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Comission (CRTC) that saw them passed over for a broadcast license in favour of an out-of-province broadcaster and an English commercial station.
Unison Media, Punjabi World Network Ltd., and non-profit organization Diversified Society of Alberta — all of whom are based in Calgary — have submitted a joint petition to the Governor in Council asking for a reversal of the May CRTC ruling that saw Jim Pattison Broadcast Group and a Vancouver-based ethnic broadcaster beat out a pool of nine other applicants seeking permission to launch new radio stations in Calgary.
Apar Kahlon — vice-president of operations for Unison Media — said when the CRTC put out the call for applicants in the fall of 2011, his company jumped at the opportunity. The chance to secure a brand-new radio frequency in a city like Calgary does not come around often.
“It can be decades before you get a chance like this,” Kahlon said. “This was the one opportunity — I don’t think there are any future opportunities for a station like us.”
Unison Media operates Radio Sursangam, a Calgary station offering news, talk, and music programming in Hindu, Urdu, and Punjabi. As an SCMO (subsidiary communications multiplex operation) station, Radio Sursangam is not available on a regular radio frequency — all of its listeners must purchase a special radio in order to tune in. In spite of that roadblock, however, Radio Sursangam has spent the last 11 years building up an audience that is now made up of more than 20,000 listeners. In addition to providing Calgary’s South Asian community with radio programming in their own language, the station also broadcasts public service information aimed at helping recent immigrants adapt to Calgary — such as how to navigate the Canadian health care system and how to find a job.
Punjabi World Network Ltd.’s station, Radio Spice, is similar in concept to Radio Sursangam. Both broadcasters saw the CRTC call for applicants as a chance to launch an ethnic commercial radio station with a greatly expanded reach, accessible on mainstream radio dials. Diversified Society of Alberta was interested in starting a non-profit community station, also aimed at Calgary’s growing South Asian community, which is expected to grow from 70,000 to 200,000 people within a generation.
The Jim Pattison Broadcast Group proposal, which was awarded the coveted 95.3 MHz frequency, was for an adult alternative commercial station targeting the 25-49 female demographic. One factor that set the Pattison proposal apart was the company’s commitment to spending $8.75 million over a seven-year period to meet the CRTC’s mandate of “Canadian Content Development,” the highest financial commitment of any commercial applicant. Of that amount, $4.9 million will go toward the “Peak Performance Project,” a unique talent fostering program that exposes young musicians to the business side of the music industry.
“The industry really needs a huge injection of money to help struggling new artists get a foothold,” said Jim Pattison Broadcast Group president Rick Arnish. “We’re very excited about this.”
In its written decision, the CRTC states that the Calgary market is ready for a new ethnic radio station. However, instead of awarding a license to a local applicant, the 106.7 MHz frequency — a less-powerful signal that only covers three-quarters of the city — was awarded to Vancouver-based Multicultural Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). In its decision, the CRTC called MBC “a well-financed and experienced broadcaster whose experience would contribute to its ability to establish itself in (the Calgary) radio market.”
Kahlon said he believes that in this case, the CRTC put money before the needs of the community — first by awarding a broadcast licence to a mainstream commercial station when the city already has so many, and then by passing over three local ethnic applications in favour of a better financed out-of-province one.
Peter Menzies, the CRTC commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories, was the lone dissenting voice on the committee. He argued the 95.3 MHz frequency, the one that was awarded to Pattison and can reach the whole city, should have gone to an ethnic station.
“Meeting the growing demand for service to the Punjabi- Hindi-speaking community would fulfill a clearly defined social need and contribute more to the diversity of Calgary’s radio market than would the addition of yet another commercial radio station,” Menzies said in a written statement. Menzies also pointed out that the Unison proposal, not MBC’s, offered the most hours of Punjabi broadcasting.
While the CRTC declined to comment on the decision or the appeal, an analyst covering the telecommunications industry said Calgary’s ethnic broadcasters appear to have a legitimate complaint.
“They have a voice that should be heard — why aren’t they being heard? Those are very appropriate questions,” said Iain Grant of SeaBoard Group. “The commission may be putting too much value on the money aspect of developing Canadian content, and not enough developing the voices that need to be heard.”
The CRTC’s mandate is to ensure that both the broadcasting and telecommunications systems serve the Canadian public. According to the CRTC’s website, “programming in the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect Canadian creativity and talent, our bilingual nature, our multicultural diversity and the special place of aboriginal peoples in our society.”