UBC's CiTR may be ready for graduation

//Idlir Fida, Writer

I am trying to interview Nardwar. This is not an easy feat, given that the self-proclaimed Human Serviette is every bit as skittery in person as he comes off in his TV interviews with indie personalities. We are in a small booth equipped with, amongst other things, a record player and various 45s through which Nardwar leafs to find the next track he means to queue. He tells me he is playing hockey records, and quickly fades in a song featuring the sounds of Guy Lafleur speaking over a disco beat. Live on the air, at 101.9 FM, this is CiTR, UBC’s campus radio station.

I’ve come to the station in order to find out exactly how much campus radio, a privilege we don’t yet enjoy at Capilano, is really by, and for the students. Nardwar is ebullient. Some friends of his are coming by the booth at to talk about Hard Core Logo, a play they are putting on which is a stage adaptation of a movie Nardwar had a role in. And so the interview ends up being very brief, excitable and slightly tangential to my subject of inquiry. The woman who introduced him to me, however is CiTR’s station manager, Brenda Gruneau.

She explains that CiTR is funded through a combination of student levies ($4 per student, which works out to roughly $150,000 annually) and membership fees ($20 for students, and $35 for others, which make up the rest of the organization’s $225,000 budget.) An estimated $30,000 to $45,000 of its budget goes toward its free publication, Discorder, 2,000 copies of which are distributed monthly around the UBC campus, and another 6,000 to other post-secondary schools, record stores and venues around the city. To produce and broadcast the station’s 76 current shows, on any given week, around 100 volunteers will walk through the hallways of Room 233 at the Student Union Building, only 10 per cent of whom are UBC students. If you are keeping track, that is well over half of the station’s budget funded by students, only a quarter of the print publication distributed at UBC, and only around 10 students directly involved with the production of on-air shows.

I ask Gruneau about the disparity. “The problem we face,” she tells me, “is not finding air time for students, but having students complete demos and apply for shows.” A demo, she explains, is a 25-minute example of a proposed show’s format and style, as well as a showcase of the members’ ability to communicate effectively, use the on-site equipment, remain in accordance with various layers of guidelines, etc.

CiTR wants more students involved. In fact, that is one of the main priorities of its Board of Directors (composed of student union representatives and faculty members) and Student Executive Body (a group of 16 students to whom Gruneau reports.) “A student only has so much free time, just like any other person, and they choose which activities to invest their time in,” says Gruneau, “So for us the first thing is letting them know that the opportunity exists, and the second is making it easy or desirable to do that.”

To that end, CiTR makes training sessions available to its members, allowing them to learn the ins and outs of radio production in a low-pressure environment. Many students go through these sessions, but few end up submitting a demo. Other responsibilities get in the way. “I would get more involved if I had time, but I don’t have time,” explains Andrew Mackenzie, a student who has previously written for , and done a bit of radio. “The problem is money. Money doesn’t match up your time. You can’t get a career ... doing music for a career. If you get to a certain age where you have options, you will choose the [better paying] options.”

A change in strategy seems to be what CiTR needs, or to “refocus our energy,” as Gruneau puts it – but how can you argue with capitalist logic? The station is by design a non-profit, a machine fuelled by passion. CiTR is not where the money is.

When I ask Gruneau what kind of data they gather on their audience, she tells me that in 2009 they commissioned an expensive Bureau of Broadcast Measurement survey of their listenership. However, to be counted for the survey, you needed to be in the phone book and have a valid home address. These two requirements effectively eliminated the vast majority of the campus population (i.e. cell phones and residence dorms don’t count.) The survey told them they had on average 14,400 listeners per week, on par with Radio Canada, but that number, again, does not say anything about the student body. The last independent survey conducted by the station among 150 students revealed that about half of them were aware that CiTR exists, and a quarter had listened to the station. She tells me all this data with the proviso that much of it is statistically inaccurate, and not necessarily useful.

I decide to conduct my own informal survey. I walk around the cafeteria and get feedback from 37 students. Amongst them, only six are aware that the station exists, only one listens in, and only three are satisfied with having to pay for its continued operation. This last bit makes sense, of course, if it’s the first time most of them have ever heard of the radio station, or that they are paying for it to begin with.

One can certainly draw connections between a student body that is largely unaware of (or apathetic to) the radio station’s existence, and a radio station produced only partially for and by the students. Nardwuar himself started at CiTR as a freshman in 1987 and never left. Obviously there was a time when students cared about radio, but today’s instant-gratification culture isn’t interested in putting the time into what they consider to be volunteer work. While experience at a student radio station is an excellent opportunity to get started in many different careers, students aren’t taking advantage of it. In order to survive and keep student funding, it’s evident that CiTR needs to adapt their strategy.

//Idlir Fida, Writer

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