By Roy L Hales
George Sirk whispered “Cortes Radio” for years before he found the right pair of ears. This led to a meeting at Manson’s Hall, to discuss possibilities. Howie Roman attended and, six months after the station was launched, became a DJ. He still is. “My prime interest in Cortes radio is [that] I really enjoy having a show.” Howie served on CKTZ’s board for five years, the maximum amount allowed by the society’s constitution, and now is the station’s manager. In this morning’s interview, I ask Howie about the process of becoming Cortes Community Radio, CKTZ 89.5 FM.
Becoming Cortes Community Radio
“This is my story. It’s not Sean’s story, it’s not Amber’s story; it would not have been Vicki’s story and not John Jordan’s story – people who were really there at the very beginning and are still part of Cortes Radio,” he explained.
Then he proceeded to describe incidents from CKTZ’s past. The station’s first antennae was up a tree. After it was destroyed in a storm, they used a 30 foot analog TV tower. One of Howie’s “coolest, craziest days” was when he and about twenty others raised the current 85 foot radio tower at Thunder Road.
“Those are the days I live here for. The days when a group of us get something big done,” he says.
(Listen to the full story in the podcast above)
Two weeks later the board received letters stating that if they did not apply for a license, the society was liable for a $20,000 fine and each director was personally liable for $5,000, and could serve up to a year in prison.
“None of us took that extremely seriously, in terms of the year in prison. I didn’t think that was going to happen … put a 60-year-old guy in prison for running a pirate radio station?” he laughed.
Howie’s copy of that letter hangs in the station.
So Cortes Radio became a “legitimate” radio station.
What’s the difference between being a pirate and licensed radio station?
“A hell of lot more paperwork. We didn’t do paperwork; we didn’t set ourselves up for paperwork … Every one of the organizations we are involved with, either with licensing or grants or whatever, requires big reports. We were not prepared for that and still aren’t,” he said.
“The positive change is that we are now open for business and can have relationships with the [Strathcona] Regional District over emergency services stuff and receive grants from the Community Radio Fund of Canada. If you are not legitimate, you can’t do those things.”
DJS & Talk Shows Needed
Cortes Community radio’s mandate is to provide a platform where interests, talents and concerns of the Northern Gulf Islands can be expressed. This is partially fulfilled by a network of volunteer DJs and local talk shows, but more are needed.
“What I’ve never understood, is why don’t we have a garden show? If there is one thing that this community is united on, it is food. Everybody here is involved in growing, producing, accumulating, collecting food and usually doing fabulous things with it. We, as a community, eat really well. I’ve never understood why we con’t have to be a garden show.”
“You don’t have to be the only one. It could be a cooperative garden show – people take one week a month rather than every week.”
Sean Cowell set up the station’s initial play list. Howie and some others have added to it.
“It has changed; It needs to change more and change more frequently. It is a big project. When people walk up to me and say ‘There is too much Robert Craig,’ you are asking someone to put weeks of time into the playlist. It just hasn’t happened and, just as an aside, no matter what we play there are people who are going to hate it and come up to me and say ‘too much Rush’ too much this. I hear it all the time. Occasionally I hear, hey that is a great playlist.”
“Having just done the SOCAN lists for the third or fourth time, in thee or four years, I don’t think the playlist has changed that drastically … We are playing a good amount of Canadian content, but the Canadian content needs to change. We’ve been playing the Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo and whoever – Ian Tamblyn music comes up a lot – for years. And our local artists don’t come up as much as they should. That’s a hard one because a local artist will have one CD and after a few years we’ve heard it.”
Lip Syncs & Solar Lanterns
“In fundraising, probably the most major area I work in, we’ve lowered the bar on silly. The lip Syncs and now the Cabaret, this is special stuff and again it is community stuff. It is a lot of people putting a lot of effort into fun evenings that a lot of people come to. We’ve had twenty shows now and we are stilling selling out the Manson’s Hall. That is amazing and that is out of Cortes radio.”
“In terms of the people in this community that need to be on stage … Its been a long series of ups and downs and progressions. For the last ten years, it has been Lip Syncs. I don’t believe that is forever, we’ll see.
“When I put a call out for cabaret last year, we had twenty-one acts come in. For me, that’s the heart of it, the community does get behind the radio has gotten behind the radio station, is behind the radio station.
“And the radio station has added a lot to people’s lives, solar lanterns for instance … You can’t go into a house on Cortes that doesn’t have two or three of them on the window sill. Thats something Cortes Radio effected this community and we have a new solar lantern that is much much brighter. It does not have the pizzaz of the inflatables – but it does really work.”
“We hung one on the highest setting, setting number three … about eight feet up in the air in our bedroom and we could both read in bed.”
What Is Important About Cortes Community Radio?
Though the broadcast includes much of Campbell River, Quadra Island and extends down Vancouver Island to the outskirts of Courtenay, the heart of Cortes Community Radio is a small island with less than a thousand full time residents.
“For a community this small to have its own radio station that it can control a large part of the content and the discussion, the entertainment – that’s special,” says Howie.
”Through our national organization [National Campus and Community Radio Association], I’ve heard of a couple of stations smaller than us …. There is a station somewhere in Canada that has a $5,000 a year budget. That means it is a guy broadcasting out of his basement – its has got be, he’s not paying rent! Cortes Radio is the smallest radio stations in Canada, but is one of the smallest..”
The station has one year-round employee and pays a number of people to do different tasks, but is primarily run by volunteers. The 2016 tally of volunteer hours was the equivalent of four full time employees.
“We need lots more volunteers for the station to live up to the bigger part of its potential,” says Howie.
“The emergency services possibilities, as we expand into that … We might become an essential service, a service where we save lives in a really horrible situation. Hopefully we are never there, but part of growing up is that we are able to put ourselves in that position. That is pretty special and it makes this little group of islands unique.”
“The radio station adds a whole lot to the community, everything from entertainment and laughter to, potentially, essential services.”
Top photo credit: (l to r) Sean Cowell, Howie Roman, Joe (water taxi driver) and , Don Mitchinson from Powell River Community Radio (CJMP)