Petition launched to keep FM license in the hands of the Black community

By Egbert Gaye

Aubrey Clarke, remembers the day in 2001, when he strolled into the offices of Flow 93.5 Canada’s first Black-owned radio station to collect on a prize that he had won and meeting an executive who introduced him to the prospects of a career in media sales and marketing.
“Flow, as a Black owned and operated radio station opened doors to the industry not only for me but to dozens of others in our community, providing opportunities for us to get involved at different capacities” the Toronto based media professional told the CONTACT in a recent telephone interview. “Many of us are still involved and many are excelling.”
Sadly, Flow is no longer community owned and operated and the lifeline it provided to the industry is no longer available to Black and Caribbean youth, aspiring to a career in radio or the media in general.
Now G-98.7FM stands as Canada’s only Black owned and operated commercial radio station with the unique opportunity of giving voice to a community of an estimated 750,000 people in and around Toronto and hundreds of thousands more around the country.
However, the station, which was founded by the late Fitzroy Gordon in 2011 has been placed in receivership with a reported debt-load of about $2.6 million and will soon be up for sale to the highest bidder, which means there’s a distinct possibility of it slipping out of the community’s hands.
For Clarke, who is the founder and president of Envision Urban Media Sales and Marketing, a leading communications company providing sales and media services to radio, television, print and digital outlets, the stakes are too high to allow that to happen.
‘If we lose this license, we lose our voice on the radio also we lose a pathway to the industry,” is the way he sees it. “The opportunity I had to be where I’m today would be lost to others looking to make their way into the industry as well as to a generation of Black programmers and broadcasters.”
In 2001, Denham Jolly through his flagship company, Milestone Communications Group, became the first Black Canadian to be granted a commercial license. He was able to convince the CRTC based on strong community support in the form of 12,000 signatures demanding a commercial platform to reflect the music, issues and tenor of the Black and Caribbean community.
However, the station quickly moved away from its projected mandate and adopted a youthful, urban focus and lost much of its community support. In 2011 it was sold to CTV Limited’s CHUM Radio for a reported $27 million. Flow 93.5 FM is now owned by the Montreal-based Stingray Corp.
Clarke places the responsibility of keeping the station and or the license in the hands of the Black community, squarely on the shoulders of the CRTC, Canada’s telecommunications regulating body whose Diversity of Voices policy recognizes the need for diversity in ownership, editorial voice and programming, which paved the way for Gordon to acquire the license for the frequency in 2011.
He says with the loss of Flow Blacks who makes up one of the largest minority groups in Canada, stand to be struck off the bandwidth of commercial radio in the country, if 98.7 FM falls out of our grasp.
“These days with so much talk of social justice and calls to recognize that Black lives matter, it will be the very definition of institutional /systemic racism to have anyone outside of the Black Community to own the station that represents the Black voice,” says Clarke. “My struggle is not to salvage a radio station, it’s to keep the frequency 98.7 FM in the ownership of the community.”
He says the situation is made even more urgent by the fact that “there are no more FM frequencies available in the Greater Toronto Area, therefore we have to hold on to this one so that the Black community will always have a broadcast voice in Canada like the Indigenous Community.”
“Today Flow continue to target segments of our community with the music it plays but there is no Black representation at the station and the opportunities that were there before are now lost,”
So, in his determination to make sure that the license to broadcast on 98.7Fm remains in the hands of Black ownership Clarke launched a petition calling on the CRTC to be mindful of the implications of taking away this valued opportunity for our community.
He says the commission cannot go back on the commitment it made to the community when it granted the specialty license to Gordon in 2011
The petition, available at Change.Org calls the regulating body to “Keep CKFGFM 98.7 In Toronto Black
Owned and Operated” and Clarke has been solicit support from high-ranking Ontario provincial politicians, including Premier Doug Ford on the importance of “the Black voice” on the commercial airwaves.
In his letter the premier urged the CRTC to “uphold the original mandate of G98.7FM.”
“Our government believes in taking concrete steps to end racism and discrimination in Ontario.G98.7FM has played a vital role in reflecting, promoting and supporting Black lives in our province. Maintaining the position of this station is crucial to this mission, especially considering that losing it could effectively remove Black voices and concerns from the FM frequency in Toronto.”
Among the politicians supporting the petition are Toronto Mayor John Tory as well as provincial opposition leader Andrea Howarth of the New Democratic Party.
The bids or letters of intent to the CRTC were closed in early September but Clarke said that he and other advocates have been able to convince the commission to hold public proceedings on the matter.
Clarke encourages all in the community to support the petition available at Change.Org.