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CIVL Radio achieves much with little

“You’ve been to the studio — half the shit’s falling apart, and we’ve made do,” said Alex Giordano, host of 101.7 FM CIVL Radio’s Thrash and Trash. “A lot of our shit’s held together with duct tape. Literally.”

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By Kier-Christer Junos (Contributor) – Email

Aaron Levy CIVL

“You’ve been to the studio — half the shit’s falling apart, and we’ve made do,” said Alex Giordano, host of 101.7 FM CIVL Radio’s Thrash and Trash. “A lot of our shit’s held together with duct tape. Literally.”

It’s true — CIVL lacks assets for the station to reach full potential. But in the last three years, the UFV’s radio station has inched closer than what seemed possible, both in meeting financial projections and allocating available resources. CIVL even earned some prizes along the way.

Before CIVL started broadcasting in September 2010, it couldn’t even broadcast on AM or FM because it lacked a tower. Shows and podcasts were only available online. And even when they began broadcasting on FM, they operated at a tiny wattage due to complications.

But CIVL literally and figuratively powered up.

The station began broadcasting at 10 times its initial power. Because of this boost, the station was better equipped and could strengthen its community presence. CIVL gained volunteers, trained students in the art of broadcast, and sparked careers in commercial broadcasting.

They are the only campus radio station in Canada that broadcasts regular professional sports (AHL Abbotsford Heat) and broadcasted UFV’s Cascades basketball team for the first time. CIVL organized live shows and raised thousands of dollars for local bands. It won a cultural diversity award, and in 2011, the National Campus and Community Radio Association award.

Of 47 campus radio stations in Canada, it also receives the second-lowest funding.

Since CIVL is short on money, it’s short on staff too. CIVL doesn’t meet the average number of full-time staff (three) or the average number of part-time staff (five). Most Canadian campus stations have four to five full-time staff members.

Station manager Aaron Levy is the only paid full-time staff member.

CIVL serves a population of just over 170,000 people, and the number of CIVL’s volunteers and volunteer hours compared with other campus stations shows how the station serves many with only a little. In 2013, CIVL had 88 volunteers and 11,000 volunteer hours, with an estimated 125 hours per volunteer per year, according to data compiled by campus radio stations across Canada.

“I think this station has accomplished much more than would have seemed possible given our financial and physical resources as they looked three years ago,” said Levy. “Despite the fact that we have one of the most difficult environments for a campus radio station in the country, we’ve established ourselves as one of the best at what we do in all of Canada, which is a major accomplishment that UFV students and Fraser Valley residents should be very proud of, and many are.”

But not all Fraser Valley residents have the chance to be proud of it, merely because many don’t get to hear it. CIVL only recently began broadcasting to parts of Langley and Maple Ridge via a radio tower shared with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Chilliwack residents can’t tune in to CIVL with clear reception, because the station doesn’t have a tower east of Abbotsford. This means UFV students strictly in Chilliwack — who currently pay $6.00 a year in student fees for their school radio station — can only tune in online.

The tower CIVL secured wasn’t ideal because they needed a tower that could reach the three major campuses in Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack. In 2006, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) initially approved CIVL to broadcast from the only tower that would reach Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack, but in 2008, Rogers Wireless bought that same tower.

Sharing the CBC tower was the station’s only alternative; all other tower locations were unsuitable. CIVL used a loan to fund the tower’s construction and to pay annual leasing fees to share the tower. Subsequently, CIVL is in debt $12,000 per year for rent and an additional $15,000 (and growing) to repay a debt written into all their budgets ever since the loan was taken out. Each measure was necessary if CIVL wanted to operate before the 2008 recession.

“This means that our ability to devote funds to other areas of operations is limited,” said Levy. “In general, we struggle to keep up with the demands of running a student funded service that provides opportunities to community members as well, and operates 24/7, 365.”

As if it wasn’t obvious before, CIVL needed some money.

When the Community Radio Fund of Canada (CRFC) granted CIVL Radio $20,000 in 2012, CIVL hired Sophia Suderman as fundraising coordinator on a 10-month contract. The first major fundraising program CIVL started under her authority was called Amplify Your Community. Some of the events people enjoyed included a Battle of the Bands during the summer; a sold-out gala event at the Reach gallery and museum; a Punjabi poetry reading; and a drive-in movie in the UFV Abbotsford campus parking lot. Before the summer was out, the station surpassed its goal of $10,000 and instead made $12,000.

“The purpose of this grant was to allow CIVL to operate a funding drive the way that most other stations do annually,” said Levy. “However, other stations have the benefit of staff compliments that can dedicate time exclusively and in collaboration to fundraising drive initiatives, without sacrificing day-to-day operational support.”

Now, CIVL can upgrade existing gear. Also, the station is getting closer to the goal of broadcasting to Chilliwack, though, they do have many more years to go. Beyond money, Levy said fundraising showed listeners and volunteers that CIVL does have support from the community, if there was ever a doubt.

“As a non-profit corporation, CIVL has no ‘owner’ and any funds incoming throughout the year go right back into operations,” said Levy. “CIVL doesn’t make money, it makes radio!”

***Editor’s note: At the time of publication, CIVL radio passed a referendum, pending ratification, raising the student fee from $6.00 per student to $10.85.

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