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By Raven Brass
Canada’s national aboriginal television broadcaster is hoping to get the green light to operate radio stations in five major Canadian broadcasting markets.
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is applying to the CRTC to take over five vacant license areas in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The proposed national FM radio network will be called First People’s Radio Inc. and will broadcast in both English and Indigenous languages.
An opening came when another national radio service, Aboriginal Voices Radio Network, lost CRTC sanction.
In 2015 the CRTC revoked AVRN's radio licenses for what the commission described as repeated noncompliance and not fulfilling the needs of the Aboriginal communities.
After AVRN lost a federal court appeal in November 2016, the CRTC made the license locations available to others and announced they were accepting applications that would focus on serving Aboriginal Canadians. First People’s Radio Inc. has applied for the locations in all three provinces.
Jean La Rose, chief executive officer of APTN, told J-Source that over the years the cable TV channel has had high hopes for a chance to move into radio.
“We’ve come to realize that APTN is offering a service that is basically unique to the Aboriginal or Indigenous community in Canada and there’s a huge demand for what we offer on the television side from our community. But on the radio side, especially in urban centres, our community is still (so) totally un-served that we can’t even say 'underserved.' They literally are un-served, and there was AVR for a few years that attempted to fill that aid but the(ir) network never really took off,” said La Rose.
He added that having multiple locations come available at the same time across the country is a rare opportunity for APTN to “step into the ring” and establish a national radio network.
“All the frequencies are taken (up) in pretty well every major urban centre except the five that are up right now and we think the community certainly has been supportive of it. The number of letters of support we’ve received on the initiative right now is quite substantial,” said La Rose.
But APTN is not the only organization looking for space on the dial. Other Indigenous media organizations are also looking to expand within their own provincial territories. Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta is just one of the organizations competing with APTN for the two radio licenses in Calgary and Edmonton.
Bert Crowfoot, the CEO of AMMSA sits on one of the boards with APTN, putting him in an awkward position. He said when the topic of the radio licenses came up in the boardroom, he declared a conflict of interest and recused himself from the meeting, along with another board member.
Nonetheless, he didn't shy away from sharing his thoughts with J-Source. Crowfoot said APTN's proposal is "a solid plan," and APTN will do a "great job" in other locations -- but he'd like the Alberta market to stay with an Alberta broadcaster.
“I was part of that organization when we first started applying for licenses, and then I realized that it would become a competition, not only for licenses like it is right now, but it would become a competition for staff, it would become a competition for listeners, it would become a competition for advertising revenues. So, we felt it best that we apply for those licenses so that we are in control of all of what’s going on in basically our territory,” said Crowfoot.
APTN said that they haven’t closed the door to other Indigenous broadcasters, and that it’s just a question of competing priorities for others that made them decide to go on their own.
“The commission will hear all the arguments and make its decision based on who it thinks and what it thinks is the best way to go forward. But down the road, whoever ends up being assigned the licenses, APTN hopes to work with, either as First People's Radio if we are the successful applicants or as APTN with those entities to reach our communities into those urban markets,” said La Rose.
The other applicants are the Wawatay Native Communications Society, seeking the two Ontario spots, Native Northern Broadcasting, applying for the Vancouver license, and VMS Media Group, also competing for the Alberta market.
The CRTC will hold a hearing for the radio licenses starting on March 27, 2017 in Quebec.
Raven Brass is a freelance writer and journalist. She voiced the character "Raven" on the award winning television series Wapos Bay and won a Gemini Award for Best Individual or Ensemble Performance in an Animated Program or Series. She is currently based out of Regina.