A fight for control of a Ryerson University radio station has led to a number of queer and queer-friendly volunteers losing their shows.
The battle between volunteer staff and management at CKLN 88.1 FM has meant the cancellation of at least eight shows and the dismissal of at least a dozen on-air hosts.
Verlia Stephens, host of Limin’ in de African Diaspora, says the cancellation of her show will have an effect on the black queer community.
“My show does so much for my African people,” she says. “I’m out as a dyke on my show. I’ve allowed my folks to have dialogue about homophobia, to show how [homosexuality] is not just a white thing. For me to be able to play soca music and be a woman and be a lesbian is huge.”
Stephens says she and other volunteers received a one-line letter from station manager Mike Phillips in the second week of May saying only “Please be advised that your volunteer services at CKLN Radio Inc are no longer required effective immediately.”
Stephens says when she showed up to do her show on May 7 she was escorted off the premises by security.
“I’ve been with the show for 12 years,” says Stephens. “Being out on my show and doing that show is what makes my day. It’s pretty shitty actually.”
CKLN is housed in Ryerson’s campus and is funded in part by student fees but the university administration has no direct management control of the station.
The volunteers claim that Phillips and program director Tony Barnes were appointed in January in contravention of the station’s bylaws and are unilaterally turning CKLN away from its mandate as a community voice.
“There’s no transparency,” says Barbara Goslawski, who was removed from her film show Frameline as she was about to begin a three-week series on Inside Out. “They were making a lot of decisions to turn the station away from being a community station. They announced they were going to stop community sponsorships. All of a sudden there were commercials on our station.”
Phillips did not return Xtra’s phone calls. Barnes refused to answer any questions.
“At this point I can’t make any comment,” he says. “No comment, okay.”
In a February letter to the Ryerson student newspaper The Eyeopener, Barnes and Phillips wrote that their appointments were made completely openly.
“The board consciously made the decision to appoint a station manager and program director as interim management positions as allowed within the existing bylaws,” they stated.
But volunteers say they’re still being forced out for opposing the appointments.
Goslawski was also escorted out by security on May 8. She says the station is now paying to have an off-duty police officer stationed full-time at the station to vet who gets in.
The decisions are affecting hosts who have built up devoted audiences over years, says Goslawski.
“Kicking out someone who’s been there for 18 years is stupid,” she says.
Volunteers and members of the station — those who have donated money — held a meeting in February to impeach Barnes and Phillips. They also held meetings to appoint new volunteer and community members to the board. Goslawski says these were all done in accordance with CKLN’s bylaws, but have been ignored by management.
But CUPE Local 1281, which is trying to unionize CKLN staff, said in February it’s those staff members behind the complaints, not volunteers.
“During the last several months members of the bargaining unit have played a leadership role in the political activity surrounding this meeting,” said a CUPE statements. “This activity was not appropriate and the union apologizes for the impact this has had.”
Even volunteers who have not lost their shows are upset at the events at the station.
“A place that has been for a long time the voice of marginalized people, black people, queer people is being ruined by power-hungry individuals,” says Nik Red, host of the show Afrotransit for 16 years. “It’s ruining a really great station that gives a voice to the voiceless.
“A lot of local and independent artists have definitely lost a place where they can perform and talk about art and music and politics.”
Red says he doesn’t know if his show will be cancelled.
“As of last week I still had a show,” he says, “but I haven’t checked my mail yet today.”
Red says the station’s change in direction will directly affect coverage of Pride — where he’ll be DJing at both Blockorama and the trans stage — and the queer community.
“For the last five or six years the station has always had live coverage of Pride and of Blockorama, which I helped to organize,” he says. “That doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year.”