News
3 min

Radio partners split

CRTC to hold hearings Jan 16

DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL. How gay will Rainbow Radio be?

A partnership seeking to launch a gay and lesbian radio station in Toronto has collapsed, with one partner saying the bid may not be in the community’s best interests.

Pink Triangle Press (PTP), which publishes Xtra, was part of a coalition with CKMW Radio and George Marchi trying to establish a gay and lesbian radio station to be broadcast on 103.9FM. The Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunication Commission(CRTC) hearings are scheduled for Mon, Jan 16.

CKMW is best known for its top 40 station Z103.5FM and the multicultural station CIAOAM, both in Toronto. But Ken Popert, the president and executive director of PTP, says he has come to doubt CKMW’s intentions.

“On the basis of our experience here, I have doubts about their interest in our community. I don’t know what their motives are.”

Popert says that CKMW, which is owned by the Evanov Radio Group, won’t guarantee the station’s orientation. The joint brief to the CRTC states it will be “the first Canadian radio service with a mandate to serve the gay and lesbian community.”

“They won’t guarantee that it would be a gay and lesbian radio station,” says Popert. “They won’t put it in any legal form to us. They have stalled and stalled in providing a commitment.”

Popert says PTP had entered the arrangement, and helped to gather community support, on the understanding that the press would provide much of the news content of the station; he says CKMW wouldn’t guarantee that.

“They sent us an agreement and it represents no advance on the agreement of 18 months ago. They do not intend to give us anything in exchange for our support.”

Carmela Laurignano, the vice-president and radio group manager of Evanov Radio Group, says there were letters of intent which CKMW planned to honour. She says there were no agreements executed in order to avoid legal constraints before the fact of a CRTC approval.

“We’re broadcasters. We’ve been around for a long time. This is the way we do business.”

Laurignano says the remaining partners have every intention to serve gay and lesbian audiences.

“That’s the number one commitment,” she says.

Will PTP’s decision hurt the application?

“It’s unfortunate that the business relationship didn’t work,” says Laurignano.

Popert says that if the application is successful, CKMW would no longer require the support that PTP has helped to gather. A number of community groups and individuals have written in support of the bid, including Egale Canada, the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto, Supporting Our Youth, Pride Toronto, the Inside Out film festival, and politicians such as George Smitherman, Bill Graham and Kyle Rae.

When PTP withdrew its support, Laurignano sent a demand for the letters of support. “The damages that Rainbow will suffer if its application is obstructed in any way by you and your organization will certainly be in the millions of dollars. We will hold you personally responsible along with your organization for those damages.”

“Once they have the licence, they don’t need our support,” says Popert. “It’s really disappointing. We had assumed they were genuinely interested in doing something for the community and that’s the basis on which we lent our name.”

Popert says he hasn’t decided what action PTP might take in opposing the bid.

Laurignano says CKMW has been interested in establishing a queer station in Toronto for almost a decade. CKMW has tried several times to start a gay station in the past, losing out to other bidders looking to establish stations with different formats three times since 1999.

Laurignano says this time is different. Past applications have involved applying for frequencies that become available, in open competition with other bidders. In this case, because of the proximity of the proposed frequency, 103.9, to CKMW’s existing station, 103.5, the frequency is restricted to CKMW to protect their existing signal. There are no competitors.

The signal would be low-powered, only reaching from Lake Ontario to the 401 and from the 427 to Scarborough.

“To the best of my knowledge, this would be the first gay station in Canada, in North America and the world,” says Laurignano.

Laurignano said the CRTC usually issues a decision within six months of holding a hearing.

“We could be having a very merry Christmas at this time next year.”