CFRC ‘confident’ after Queen’s AMS rules to run fee referendum again

Inside the CFRC studio on Queen’s University campus. Submitted photo.

The future of CFRC Radio remains uncertain, but those with the station are feeling “confident” after winning an appeal to Queen’s Alma Mater Society to re-run a referendum on including the station’s fees in the list of fees presented to students during registration.

As previously reported, CFRC 101.9 FM – one of the longest continuously running radio stations in the world – experienced financial hardship after the Ontario government creation of the ‘Student Choice Initiative,’ which allowed students to opt out of some student fees, including the annual fee to the Queen’s University radio station. Despite the Student Choice Initiative being overturned in the Ontario Divisional Court in November of 2019, damage had already been done to CFRC, who said in November that the initiative cost the station approximately $50,000 in losses after students opted out of the station’s fees.

Prior to the Student Choice Initiative, students at Queen’s automatically paid a fee of $7.50 to CFRC annually – one of the cheapest campus radio fees in the province. In September of 2019, 26.3 per cent of undergraduate students and 31 per cent of graduate students opted out of the fee, creating approximately $50,000 in lost revenue from the station’s $200,000 operating budget.

In light of this, those with the station and those who support the station waited with baited breath for the AMS referendum that would decide whether or not CFRC’s fee would appear on a list of fees presented to students during registration. However, when that referendum took place on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, 52.7 per cent voted against having CFRC’s optional fee included.

“The vote last week, among other things, asked the AMS membership if they wanted to continue to allow the organizations on the ballot to continue to appear on the ‘list’ presented to them during the registration process in the fall. Since we lost the vote last week, CFRC will not appear on that list,” said Dave Cunningham, President of the Board of Directors for CFRC. He noted that this vote meant there would be no opportunity for new or returning students to opt in on paying the fee to CFRC Radio.

“So, in September 2020, CFRC will see no income from AMS members,” he said right after the referendum vote. “Our loss does not preclude us from participating in a future referendum.”

Cunningham said that, without that money in the fall of 2020, the station’s existence “is at risk.”

“But CFRC is 97 years old, believed to be the oldest campus/community radio station in the world, and definitely now, the longest-running station in Canada. We plan on being here for our 100th [anniversary], and beyond!” he said.

At the time, Cunningham said the station planned on talking with its stakeholders – staff, volunteers, alumni, students and administration at the University, and listeners – to ask them to help find a way to generate a stable, regular income stream, which would undoubtedly include approaching alumni and the Kingston community for donations.

“As you might expect, this is all still very fresh in our minds. We need to map out a strategy and that may take a while. As it stands now, programming continues as usual,” he said. “Staff and our volunteers are disappointed, worried about the future. But we have a lot of talent here more than determined to continue to show how important CFRC is to Queen’s and Kingston!”

However, since the January 29 referendum, CFRC lodged an appeal with the AMS regarding the wording of the referendum question itself. That question was “Do you agree to a change in CFRC’s fee of $8.22 from individual opt out to mandatory collection for the next three years?” and many students believed that if the CFRC fee lost this referendum it would remain as an optional fee, according to the AMS.

“This was not the case and was not communicated clearly,” the AMS said in a statement on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.

“Due to a lack of communication between the AMS Elections team and CFRC, the CFRC Referendum question did not follow the expected question format and was unfairly biased against CFRC,” the statement continues. “The CEO ruled that due to the issues related to their question, CFRC will go up for referendum again during the March Trustee By-election.”

That question will read “Do you agree to the continuation of CFRC 101.9 FM’s optional fee of $ 8.22? This fee was originally established in 1976 and last went to referendum in 2016.”

For Cunningham and the rest of the CFRC team – many of whom are volunteers – this decision was a welcomed one.

“We are pleased that the AMS has acknowledged our appeal and we are confident that, with a properly framed question, we will be successful in the March referendum,” Cunningham said. “CFRC has been an important part of the Queen’s community for almost 100 years. Through unique and innovative programming, including our increased emphasis on podcasting, we continue to be an important voice on campus and in the community.”

The CFRC annual funding drive, which wrapped up in December of 2019, exceeded its goal, bringing in $22,500. But without student fees in September of 2020 guaranteed, the future of the station remains unclear.

“We need community support! We know that we have listeners who tune in on a regular basis; who believe very strongly in local radio; who want to see us continue to offer the wide range of accessible programming we offer, 24 hours a day/7 days a week,” Cunningham expressed. For more information on CFRC 101.9 FM, click here. To find out how you can support to the station, which has been broadcasting from Kingston since 1922, click here.

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