“They gave up on the community”: Programmers and supporters fight to save CHRY 105.5

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by Michael Romandel

On May 1, 2015, the board of CHRY 105.5 FM—the York University community radio station—fired all of its volunteers and community programmers and re-branded itself as VIBE 105.5. VIBE 105.5 now advertises itself as an alt-urban music station, playing electronic music, reggae, soca, r&b and hip-hop.

Upset and offended community residents, students, advertisers, and former programmers met on May 12 at York’s Centre for Women and Trans People. For many, CHRY had been more than just a radio station: it had solid historical links to the Jane-Finch corridor and the Toronto region’s Caribbean community. Many felt that the board had conspired to deny the community any voice in the future of the station. The feeling in the room was largely that, in the words of one speaker, “[the board] just gave up on the community.”

During the meeting, it emerged that over the previous weeks many of the former volunteers and programmers had attempted to call the CHRY board members or meet with them at the station. In response, the board locked the station’s doors and ignored all calls.

“The fundamental issue is that we serve as the channel for voices that are unheard, marginalised, and under-represented”, explained Pet Cleto, a programmer for Radio Migrante (a show previously hosted by CHRY) to BASICS. With the re-branding of the station as a commercial urban music broadcaster, there seems to be little future at the new station for media exploring the struggles of migrant labourers in Canada.

Omme-Salma Rahemtullah, a programmer for Amandla: An African Perspective and former CHRY board member, expressed frustration at the closing down of a space of community expression. “ Amandla continues to get requests for interviews from activists in Toronto. For example, the recent mass drowning of Eritrean migrants in the Mediterranean was to receive special attention on our upcoming shows. Now family members and activists have no outlet for their voices on Toronto airwaves,” she said.

The discussion quickly turned to the legality, according to the radio station’s by-laws, of the board’s actions. In spite of a long-term understanding that CHRY was a partnership between students, community, and alumni, this partnership was never officially recognised. A legalistic and bureaucratic board would have little trouble shooting down a challenge made on legal grounds.

Participants at the meeting decided to take action collectively through an open letter to the VIBE 105.5 board, asking them to sit down with the former programmers and come to an amicable solution.

In the following two weeks, the board failed to take any significant action toward satisfying these demands, and further community meetings were held in late May and June, to plan how to organise against the board’s cynical and opportunist—but likely technically legal—actions.

The outcome of this has been the Save CHRY campaign, which is currently running a WordPress site , Facebook page and Change.org petition . The campaign will be hosting a day of live jams and spoken word poetry on Monday July 6 , featuring programmers and performers who are steadfast in their desire to see the station returned to the community that built it in the first place.

(Photo Credit: Save CHRY Facebook page)