It’s been a week now.
On February 23, 2012 Fernwood Autonomous Radio 99.1 FM was shut down by Industry Canada at approximately 10:00PM. This came to no surprise but was a disappointment nonetheless. We never hid who we were, quite the opposite in fact. In an ongoing act of free speech we operated in open defiance of the law with our antenna hoisted high, risking legal action with every broadcast. We broadcast on a set day and time. We advertised. We were not afraid. We intended to be caught.
It’s been a week now since the government of Canada has forced us to shut down and only now am I beginning to realize the hole this has left in the community. Our community. Thursday nights at the Stanley Avenue house were a vibrant affair, complete with potlucks, knitting circles, paint ins, tears, laughter and love. Tea was in abundance as well as the odd case of local craft brews. I can’t speak for anyone else but Fernwood Autonomous Radio was one of those few moments where I honestly felt a direct and visceral connection to my community. Tonight the airwaves are filled with talk radio, commercials and over-compressed pop music. There is no void left in the wake of FAR but an indistinguishable wall of static, occasionally punctuated by a snippet of 99.3 in Vancouver.
Fernwood Autonomous Radio set sail as a grad project with the intention of building community. We were a collective of creatives, musicians, artists, poets, bakers, guerilla gardeners, poets, DJ’s, rebels, conformists and lovers. By bringing together local culture, talent, art and ideas and providing a forum in which friends and neighbours could speak freely we brought culture to the community, from the community. We were local, centralized in terms of terrestrial coverage. The transmitter now sits idly by in an apple box under a desk. We now have to pay to broadcast.
The law clearly states that for “Every person who contravenes or fails to comply with an order issued under paragraph 5(1)(I), is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable, in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year […] furthermore, where an offence under this section is committed or continued on mo more than one day, the person who committed the offence is liable to be convicted of a separate offence for each day on which the offence is committed or continued.” We do not have the finances required to speak through an easily attainable medium.
It is wretched of the Government to have shut us down. Wretched for the government to step on the face of free speech, muting our voices with the heal of their boot while patting each other on the back for the good job they’ve done. I was forced to allow Industry Canada into my own house under the threat of being taken into custody so they could capture photographic evidence of our illegal meanderings. I was told of the “legal means” in which we could broadcast our message but in reality those legal means are incredibly difficult to achieve.
I’ve spent four and a half years in community radio before founding FAR and I know the challenge community organizations face when dealing with the CRTC. Gabriola Co-Op Radio CKGI got their community radio license after nine years. Salt Spring is in a similar boat. Radio Cortez received their designation after only two years but were a quasi-recognized station to begin with and the island would sooner see annexation from Canada before losing their station.
PhD Gil Wilkes notes that the Pirate Radio, as a tool in community building, is a thorn in the side of big business. He states that “hyper local is our future. Which means enterprises like yours. It’s the only alternative to the massive media consolidation where a few corporate centres control most of the content. The frontiers are closing in media: with the decline in revenues everyone is fighting everyone else for listeners, income – you were a threat that was easily disposed of.” The inherited loss of our airwaves is just another example of our diminishing public sphere.
What did Fernwood Autonomous Radio offer? We offered immediate access to our airwaves with zero gatekeeping. We relied on our community to monitor our content. You became a part of Fernwood Autonomous Radio by listening. You participated. Some of you bemoaned the fact that we dragged our feet when it came to live streaming online – and rightly so. It now seams that our only option now is to gain a license or go digital. We believe that the momentum is here, the interest is here and most importantly, our community is here for us, enabling us to move forward.
For now, Fernwood Autonomous Radio will be silent on the airwaves. I feel blessed to have been part of such an honourable crew including Orange Owl, Indigo Mermaid, DJ Danny Tanner and the Minister of Casual Living. But these stormy waters have grown far too dangerous for this pirate to sail. I alone can’t face the legal ramifications of operating a pirate radio broadcast.
I encourage all of you to pick up the torch. As a community we can move forward to reclaim our airwaves. Our voice, our rights, our freedom of speech is being taken away from us every single day in the name of privatization, growth and progress. In Canada the internet is controlled by a media monopoly. It’s time to take back what is ours. Dust off your transmitters. Free Radio Berkley sells a very easy DIY kit to build your own micro powered transmitter. Schematics and detailed instructions can easily be found online.
It’s time to hoist your own antenna. Fly the flag. Some of you have transmitters or access to. The colonial ships are spending less time in these waters and there are more of us then them. I may have been muzzled for the meantime, but you haven’t received the knock on the door. I have a cease and desist order with my name next to my BA. I see each honour as equal to one another. The Government of Canada has prevented me from broadcasting on the airwaves, a piece of paper reminding me of the cost of what we are fighting for. It’s time you go out and earn yours.
– Joey Chaos
A few former guests of Fernwood Autonomous Radio have written in with comments on the importance of Community Pirate Radio.
“Fernwood Autonomous Radio reignites my passion and nostalgia for grassroots media. A welcoming, inclusive and community-based project that sheds light on what the body and soul of Victoria is really made of, its people and the f**kin’ rad things they do that make this city so unique. From a former indie/campus radio host and independent social entrepreneur to another, FAR, it was short and sweet. Thanks for listening, your frequency was formidable ”
– Christina Chan, Heart and Hands Community Health Collective
1) Community radio is the underground grass roots voice – seldom heard – transmuted into others living rooms. It is intimate and closest to the cause – RAW and in its unchanged state. Because of this, it does not risk the contamination of slander and outside objectives and controlling forces.
2) Community radio is unlike other forms of entertainment and knowledge dissemination because it does not use the functions of capitalism to exist. Unlike many other social streams that function to some level of commerce – community radio cuts past all that shit and makes it possible to create absolutely free dialogues and knowledge streams.
3) Community radio IS COMMUNITY. It’s something we are building together. Everyone can be a part of it. It has the possibility of being a wildly creative mode of self expression shared with other people and made into a collective synergistic project. Everyone inherently feels it is part of their own – and proud of the fact that they can be influential and expressive. Yes WE own the air waves….xx
– Aubrey Burke, Minister of Casual Living