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The History of Community Radio

Radio Centre-Ville (CINQ), 

multi-ethnic radio

  by Roger Fritz Rhéaume





Community radio in Montreal (2)


Multi-ethnic community radio makes an appearance

 A little lobbying in  Saint-Louis

In 1972, a group of Montrealers met with representatives of the Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission (CRTC); the group was made up of community organizers and media specialists. The project, financed among others by funds from the Company of Young Canadians, the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration and the Quebec Ministry of Education, was to set up a modest community radio station in the Saint-Louis district in downtown Montreal.  

Project promoters believed that, with the help of professionals from the National Film Board and Radio-Canada, residents could learn to produce broadcasts about the life of their own neighbourhoods. They maintained that the big stations hesitated to cover subjects that were not of general interest. Further, neither the commercial stations nor the public radio stations were interested in broadcasting minority points of view and social perspectives, especially socialist ones. As well, since the district was multicultural, it was only natural that the station should broadcast in many languages in order to serve the French-speaking, Portuguese, Greek, Spanish-speaking and Jewish residents.


The following statement was made by Hyman Glustein, one of the members of the group and a pioneer of community radio in Montreal. It is a terse statement that nevertheless captures that state of mind of people who believed in community, non-commercial radio:


“Community radio is a necessary alternative because of the way that radio works today. The federal government through the agency of the Board of Governors and the CRTC 1 is responsible for this state of affairs. These organizations have never done a thing to ensure community access to the media and active community participation, or to guarantee that the listeners are the ones who are truly responsible for what is broadcast to them. The fact is that all they have done is to grant licences to millionaires, to let them run their little businesses, to broadcast their advertisements, to squeeze all they can out of the public. It is the CRTC’s responsibility to regulate the stations from a commercial point of view, not to decide what is said on air, but at least to suggest structures that will offer some choice within the system. It now appears that the CRTC is not prepared to play such a role and it is clear that it must be prepared to answer to the following demands: immediately to make the channels accessible to the entire community, to ensure that the equipment is available so that the community broadcasting centres can function and finally, to keep these centres operating by means of subsidies.” [free translation]


The CRTC made the broadcasting channels available but it did not play any role in financing community radio. Finally, it was the communities themselves and the Quebec government, through an assistance program, that contributed to community broadcasting.




Audio bands were produced with help from a federal subsidy, granted under the auspices of an employment program but no radio station, not even public radio, would agree to broadcast them. Following its incorporation in 1972, Radio Centre-Ville attempted an inconclusive experiment with student radio at McGill University and then another attempt to broadcast at night over a small commercial station that also failed to bear fruit. In October of 1973, after several attempts at lobbying, including the one mentioned above, Radio Centre-Ville Saint-Louis lodged a request for a licence with the CRTC and in 1974 received a permit to broadcast.


On January 28, 1975 Radio Centre-Ville Saint-Louis began broadcasting. Despite the fact that CKRL in Quebec City had started a year earlier, the CRTC stated clearly in the text of its decision that “This is the first time the Commission has approved an application for an FM licence to serve a distinct local community within an urban area.”  The station was already broadcasting in five languages: French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Greek. Its  broadcast power was minimal at 7.2 watts.


One of the licence conditions required by the CRTC states that Radio Centre-Ville Saint-Louis (the neighbourhood-of-origin) is a French-language, urban, community radio station … with a licence that allows it to broadcast up to 40% of its programming in languages other than French and English.


Canada’s first multi-ethnic radio station was born.



Statement of principles

This document dates back to 1978, and is one of the station’s foundational texts. It is key to the evolution of the station and remains a reference, perhaps the reference, in the areas of programming, operations and philosophy at CINQ FM. (I say this with some feeling, since I was part of the team that drafted it, as a station member and as member of the permanent staff at the station).

From the outset, one basic principle was clear: the station intended to give preferred access to “those neglected by other media.” We continued with what must be considered the multi-ethnic credo of the organization:

“Radio Centre-Ville will respect our community's diversity in a spirit of impartiality. The minorities' right to airtime will be respected as much as the majority's. As a community medium, CINQ FM will invite ethnic groups to express themselves in their own language. The development of dialogue and communication between the different ethnic and linguistic groups will be encouraged, in order to promote mutual understanding. We will work to bring about the objective conditions necessary for the active participation of immigrants in Quebec society.”


Another major principle was that “Inner-city residents can be best served by guaranteeing their participation in programming through Radio Centre-Ville’s policy of open access.”  Access was to be assured though a number of means, including access to airtime, training in producing shows and encouragement to develop innovative broadcasting approaches. The statement also mentions the importance of producing shows that develop a critical spirit rather than conformity.


Finally, it is stipulated that the station will remain independent and will not support any party, sect or doctrine and will refute all dogmas. Journalistically, there is the will to work in the spirit of democratic journalism. We may add that the condition for becoming a member of the station is accepting the statement of principles. 


Theme Song

In 1978, singer-songwriters Louise Forestier and Pierre Flynn wrote a song called Radio Centre-Ville in honour of the station.  




The multicultural exception

 Not long after it began, Radio Centre-Ville Saint-Louis was broadcasting in seven languages and it still does today. Seven ethnic groups rub shoulders daily as they prepare their shows and experience something that goes far beyond broadcasting. More than simply a radio experience, this is a collective project, an intercultural, community collective project.


The following ethnic groups are full partners in the adventure: Francophone, Anglophone, Spanish-speakers (but more specifically Latin American), Portuguese, Greek, Haitian and Chinese. These groups form production teams. The station also enjoys the active participation of the Southeast Asian, Philippine, African, Irish and Arab communities. Thus, over 40 communities today benefit from the services of Radio Centre-Ville.


Broadcasts offered to the cultural communities are devoted to intercultural and community activities, to news from countries of origin and of course to the information that will help community members integrate into the new society they have chosen. Shows having to do with elections in other countries attract many listeners. Each of the production teams is able to contact correspondents in the field to take the pulse of the situation. At times, these volunteer journalists have to take risks (for example, elections in Haiti are not always serene events). Where news is concerned, the cultural communities served by the station enjoy, to a certain extent, the best of two worlds: information from their countries of origin and information about their adopted country. 

Overall, the time devoted to the broadcasts of the different communities breaks down as follows: 67 broadcast hours in French; 11.5 broadcast hours in English; a total of 13 broadcast hours in Spanish and Portuguese; 12.5 hours in Greek; 6 hours in Haitian Creole and 5 hours in Chinese, both Mandarin and Cantonese.


How participation is structured


We will spare you details of the administrative structure of the station. It is important, however, to understand the production structure since it reflects the will of the station to give the ethnic teams a degree of autonomy over the programming they offer to the people of Montreal, the multicultural collectivity.


Over three hundred volunteers pass through the station in any given week. Participation is organized around seven autonomous production teams. The production teams are working committees to which the station delegates tasks and responsibilities  related to the programming and financing of the station. The way the production teams work is determined to a large extent by the active members.


One of the production team’s important tasks is to “allocate airtime among the volunteers assigned to producing shows in one of the station’s broadcast languages.” This means that the members of the cultural communities have some leeway in determining which services, which shows, will be best able to meet the needs of the community.


This is clearly a complex structure in which, on occasion, conflicts arise. These may be within a team (for example, over a definition of the community’s needs), or between teams, as all do not have the same approach. Therein lies a good part of the challenge of the organization. A double challenge: on the one hand to make the “machine” work and on the other to have different cultures work side by side.


The challenge of interculturalism

To get a community organization, radio or not, to work smoothly is a constant challenge. This applies without doubt to Radio Centre-Ville, which brings together very different cultures and approaches. The station has continually met this challenge, sometimes with difficulty, but most often with success.


The Quebec government expressed its appreciation of the station publicly in 1991, when it awarded Radio Centre-Ville the Prix des communautés culturelles for its excellent work with cultural communities on the island of Montreal.


Evan Kapetanakis, one of the station’s pioneers, spoke of the years he spent helping to make the station a link among all the cultural communities that make Montreal a cosmopolitan city: 

“People from the four corners of the world were able to sit together, to discuss and to enter into debates and (…) were able to move things forward; they influenced and through their influence helped thousands of people:

·         understand how the society we live in works

·         become aware that despite our differences, in fact we are very close to each other; and that we can live in harmony and contribute, every one of us, to our society.”


What distinguishes this station still today is the fact that interculturalism and democracy remain central to it. In the words of Arlindo Vieira, of the Conseil des communautés culturelles et de l’immigration, in a 1996 workshop on future directions for Radio Centre-Ville:


“Radio Centre-Ville must remain a site for socialization that aims to engage all citizens, beyond their cultures, languages or particular allegiances and integrate them into the local civic society.”


Is this not a major part of the mission of a community, multi-ethnic radio station, or quite simply of any community station?


A station that sets the example


Radio Centre-Ville is Montreal’s premier multiethnic radio station (it is the only station recognized as such by the CRTC). Nonetheless, other community or non-commercial stations have followed in its footsteps, including the university radio stations CISM (Université de Montréal) and CKUT (McGill University).


Starting at the beginning of 1980 and continuing until today, CIBL FM has been broadcasting to the Haitian community from its studios in Hochelaga Maisonneuve. CKUT FM broadcasts to many cultural communities (Palestinian, Jewish, Korean, Muslim, Latin American and Caribbean).

CISM FM produces shows for members of the Haitian, African and Middle Eastern communities.


Community stations outside Montreal have also developed a sensitivity to the intercultural phenomenon. For example, CHAA FM, on the South Shore of Montreal, broadcasts shows for members of the Greek, Polish and Vietnamese communities.


All of these stations have been inspired by Radio Centre-Ville to reflect their environments with all the cultural diversity they contain. 


Radio Centre-Ville – Historical Notes



Start of the community radio project


An application is filed with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission


A licence is granted to Radio Centre-Ville Saint-Louis


A new frequency on the FM band is awarded, 102.3


Move into the current premises at 5212 St. Lawrence boulevard


The CRTC grants a power increase of 50 watts


The CRTC grants a new increase of 1,300 watts

Prix des communautés culturelles awarded by the Quebec government


Radio Centre-Ville’s Greek broadcast wins the Media 1998 Greek press ministry's prize for the best expatriate media


(1) Board of Governors, precursor to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).



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