The community’s media landscape got a lot more interesting this spring with the flip of a switch on a transmitter that’s located on Toronto’s lakeshore, due south of East York.
The East York community is at the epicenter of the coverage area of the city’s newest radio station, CJRU, which began broadcasting on March 31 at 1280 on the AM dial. The transmitter is 99 watts — compared to powerhouses like CFRB at 1010 AM with its 50,000 watts — but station manager Jacky Tuinstra Harrison says that relatively low power is actually to East York’s advantage, and to the advantage of Toronto’s southeast corner generally.
“It makes us a really hyper-local station,” Tuinstra Harrison said in an interview. “It’s a (geographically) small community and it’s in the densest part of the city.”
So she and program director Elissa Matthews are programming CJRU accordingly, with shows like “Neighbourly News” — highlights from the pages of the East York Observer newspaper. That newscast airs for the final time this season on Wednesday morning, May 11, at 10:10. Students anchor the newscast, just like they prepare the stories and pages of the hard-copy edition of the newspaper. Although this Wednesday’s show is the season-ender, both it and the newsprint edition of the East York Observer will ramp up again in the fall, after the students’ summer vacation.
“Having community newspapers is a way for us to get into the neighbourhoods where we’re broadcasting,” said Tuinstra Harrison, “and our signal is stronger in East York, so that doesn’t hurt either.”
It could be said that CJRU-AM is the phoenix that’s arisen from the ashes of a previous radio station, CKLN-FM. That Ryerson University-based FM station lost its license from the federal broadcast regulator, the CRTC, five years ago. Advocates for a new Ryerson radio station asked the CRTC for another chance with the former frequency, 88.1, but that went to an indie rock station instead.
“Students wanted a campus radio station and after missing out on one station we found a nice frequency on 1280 AM,” said Tuinstra Harrison. She and her Ryerson radio colleagues programmed an Internet radio station called The Scope in the meantime. The Scope has been online for three years, while Tuinstra Harrison and her colleagues applied for 1280, got permission, and organized to put the station actually on the air.
For the station manager, the sign-on five weeks ago means all’s well that ends well.
“All those things were good things,” Tuinstra Harrison said — including the near-thousand people who turned out for the promotional events around her station’s AM sign-on.
Tuinstra Harrison is a community broadcasting veteran with an educational background in non-profit management. While the transmitter and antenna for 1280 are in the Toronto Port Lands neighbourhood, her CJRU offices and studios are at the Ryerson Student Centre, on Gould Street downtown. She and her staff work with a board of directors drawn from the community, the station’s volunteer ranks, and the university.
The terms of CJRU’s license specify a wide variety of music originating in Canada — especially in Toronto, and especially from new artists. The license also calls for extensive spoken-word programming with the coverage area’s specific communities in mind.
So there are shows like “Morning Mixtape” with Ram Raj, “Urban Spotlight” with Paula Too Much and “Word on the Street” with Jennifer Rawley and Jesse George. Those on-air personalities are the proverbial tip of the iceberg — a staff of more than 100 volunteers who pitch in at CJRU both in front of the mic and behind it.
“We love our volunteers,” said Tuinstra Harrison. “They help make it possible for students, faculty, and the neighbours at Ryerson to get to share their hobbies with the community.” In a pitch to other prospective volunteers, she added: “Whatever you’re doing, we have a program for you.” And to listeners: “Whether it’s the music you love, or your passion for dogs and cats, or astronomy, we have all kinds of programs…. It’s fun, it’s sort of like the voice of your life and it carries you through your day.”
Tuinstra Harrison even had a term for her programming that one doesn’t often hear associated with her medium in the age of mass-marketed radio: artisanal.
“Content it what’s important now,” she said. “If you’re in East York, you can get the station…. It’s fun, it’s artisanal and it’s the voices of your friends and neighbours.”