Campus radio stations struggling due to Ford government fee changes

Campus radio stations in eastern Ontario say they've felt the pinch ever since the provincial government announced earlier this year it would allow students to opt out of certain university fees.

"We're all in an awful boat together," said Erin Flynn, station manager at CHUO.

The province's student choice initiative, announced by Premier Doug Ford's government in January, allows students to drop services deemed "non-essential."

Flynn said her station, located on the University of Ottawa campus, had its budget reduced by 28 per cent, which amounts to approximately $90,000.

'Change in focus'

She and her team predicted six years ago these changes would eventually come but still called the hit "significant."

And she isn't alone. Flynn, Matthew Crosier and Dinah Jansen, station managers for CKCU and CHRC respectively, all spoke to All in a Day Friday about the hardships they're facing.

"We now know, obviously, that advertising and community partnerships need to increase a great deal and so it's a change in focus," said Crosier, whose station broadcasts from Carleton University.

"Programming is still super important [as we broadcast] more than 100 shows a week, 24 hours a day. But we now have to think of ourselves in a way that a commercial station would in terms of day-to-day funding."

Crosier said the station is facing a $60,000 loss over the fall and spring semesters, barring changes in the number of students who opt out.  

Both CKCU and CFRC, which is located on the Queen's University campus in Kingston, Ont., have planned fundraising drives to make up for losses they're facing. 

Teghan Beaudette/CBC

Future uncertain

Jansen said CFRC initially predicted they would lose anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000, but learned Thursday that they'll actually be facing losses of $50,000.

"We're a little shaken, let's just say," she said. "But we're plunging forward with our funding drive at this moment." 

Flynn said the U of O station has moved away from pledge drives, as it sees its role as providing a voice for underrepresented people.

"And then to ask those same people to be paying for the space that they're in just wasn't really jiving with us," she said.

While her group is planning a drive in February, they hope to find other ways to come up with the cash. Flynn said they've identified ways to modernize the station to "meet audiences where they are," but wouldn't go into detail as to what that would sound like.

Crosier said his station has been in discussions with other groups affected by the initiative. He's uncertain what the long-term future of these stations looks like, and whether that means moving off campus or shutting down.

"In the end, that is certainly a possibility," he said.