Popular radio G98.7 FM is about to change ownership hands, and members of the community hope it stays Black-owned
|Toronto Star 14 Sep 2020 at 18:32|
Amid the imminent sale of Toronto’s only Black-owned commercial radio station, community members and politicians continue to demand that the new company that gets its licence be majority-Black owned.
G98.7 FM, a radio station that has served Black communities around the Greater Toronto Area for nearly a decade, is about to be handed to the highest bidder following a court-ordered receivership.
The station’s financial troubles came to light last year after the . A call was later put out for interested individuals and companies to submit the bid, and the final decision on the new owners is expected this month.
Members of Black communities and allies in Ontario and across the country have been drumming up support for the next owners of the station to be Black, saying Black-owned spaces in the city are already few and far between. At a time when the fight against systemic racism is at its peak, they argue, it would be counter-productive to have a Black voice such as G98.7 FM station owned by anyone outside the community.
An online petition calling to keep G98.7 FM Black-owned and operated has garnered over 12,000 signatures. Politicians of all stripes — including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor John Tory and a host of MPs and MPPs — have submitted letters of support to Peter Crawley and his A. Farber & Partners Inc., the agency that’s handling the insolvency. They ask CRTC to uphold G98.7 FM’s original mandate of being a Black-owned, Black-led and Black-serving station.
Over the past nine years on air, the station has played a critical role in amplifying Black voices across Toronto and the GTA through a diversity of programming, as well as by critically addressing issues that matter to the community, said Mark Campbell, a music and culture professor at the University of Toronto.
Black owners of the radio station are more likely than a non-Black owner to accept and understand issues affecting the Black community and be willing to give those issues airtime, he said.
There are levels of anti-Black racism that are embedded in our societal structures, Campbell said, citing examples of kids being told to cut their dreadlocks at schools, or banks denying people an opportunity to work due to their natural hair. Such incidences of racism can only be effectively uprooted when safe and free spaces exist to help elevate those stories and voices, he said, and that’s the work G98.7 FM is doing.
“The value-add in this circumstance is that profit doesn’t become the only metric of success,” he said. “You can assess the merit and the quality of the radio broadcast and the organization in general by looking at more than just the numbers.”
Beyond the programming, remaining Black-owned and operated also matters when thinking about discussions around equity and diversity in corporate environments.
“The staff that works under white ownership would never feel the kind of freedom and comfort in being who they are and sharing their authentic selves in the workplace,” he said.
Dalton Higgins, a long-time media practitioner in Toronto and a big fan of G98.7 FM station since its inception, said that unlike in the United States, corporate Canada has not looked at Black-owned radio stations as a viable investment and big companies tend to shy away from spending big bucks on advertising with such stations. He hopes that can change and that Black-owned radio stations can be seen as a sound investment commodity going forward.
G98.7 FM in particular had been “much bigger” than just playing Black music such as reggae and Afrobeat tunes, he said, and was seen as a tool to increase Black emancipation in the city.
“There needs to be a political will from government and the CRTC to encourage Black ownership of radio stations,” he said.