Monday, September 12, 2016

THREE RURAL RADIO STATIONS SIGN-OFF

The demographic and economic realities that have led to the closures of dozens of fish plants, a pair of pulp and paper mills, hundreds of small shops, dozens of churches and schools in rural Newfoundland have hit the province's radio broadcasting industry.

Details are scanty but Steele Communications has taken the axe to a number of it's satellite stations in rural Newfoundland. There is no mention of the changes on the company's parent website which has not been updated since August 11th.

Staff at CHCM Marystown, CFSX Stephenville and CKCM in Grand Falls were apparently given pink slips last week. It is anticipated that the locations will join CFGN in Port Aux Basques as repeater stations, or local content might be provided from booths in St. John's.  The company has not offered an explanation or insight into future services.

CFSX in Stephenville began as a rebroadcaster of CFCB's signal in 1964. It opened its own studio in 1970.

The Colonial Broadcasting System Limited opened CHCM Marystown on May 23rd 1962.

The move may reflect the challenge media outlets are facing generating profits in smaller markets and providing adequate returns for investors. 

In its Second Quarter Report ending in June 2016, Newfoundland Capital Corporation posted revenue for the second quarter of $44.2 million, which was $1.6 million or 4% higher than the same quarter last year.  Year-to-date revenue of $81.1 million was $3.0 million or 4% higher than 2015.

It would appear that the rationalization of resources and advances in technology means that it no longer makes business sense to operate full independent stations in these regions.

In recent years, Transcontinental, which owns the overwhelming majority of the provinces' community newspapers,  shuttered the doors on community newspapers in Stephenville, Placentia, Corner Brook and Harbour Breton. 

The big question, can the void be filled to ensure strong local content continues? While VOCM's three daily public talk shows fuel the oxygen for our democracy, it remains to be seen what impact the closures will have on local news gathering, the promotion of community events, local regional weather advisories and local content.

It will be interesting to see if the impacted communities rise to the challenge of developing new media alternatives through co-operatives, community radio or even new private operators. 

On a personal note, having started my working life as a broadcast journalist, it is sad to see local radio stations and regional papers close. I have worked at CFSX, CFGN, CFLW and CHCM. These stations were fixtures in the communities they served. The staff - many of them providing in excess of 25 years to the company - are local icons - Garry Myles, Larry Bennett and Dynamite Don Gibbons rush to my mind.

The three communities (and surrounding regions) are obviously disappointed. The loss of jobs and of local programming are big blows to geographic regions that have been pommeled by declining economic development. 

Private corporations do not have access to the taxpayers purse to subsidize or prop up money loosing propositions. 

It is the law of the jungle and profits trump all. 

I wonder how much longer before government has to act seriously, and definitively, on the costs associated with operating and subsidizing rural communities, municipal infrastructure, roads and ferries. 

Like businesses, government has to look at the bottom line and cut the garment to fit the cloth - not simply raise taxes, levies and fees - while continuing to throw billions away as it kicks the most contentious fiscal issues down the road. 





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