‘Fiercely loyal’ fans show support for Yellowknife station fighting for FM licence

The N.W.T.’s Cabin Radio — a locally-owned news website and online radio station launched in 2017 — has long been seeking a commercial FM broadcasting licence. (Sidney Cohen/CBC)

Federal court dismissed application for appeal; judicial review and new licence application ongoing

After the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decided earlier this year that Yellowknife’s market can’t support another commercial FM station, the N.W.T.’s Cabin Radio embarked on a multi-pronged effort to reverse the decision.

Now, as the small media outlet continues its efforts to obtain a commercial FM broadcasting licence, an Instagram account dedicated to reflecting the Yellowknife zeitgeist shows Cabin Radio still has its audience’s backing.

Cabin Radio — a locally-owned news website and online radio station launched in 2017 — submitted a new application for its FM licence in May. At the same time, it has asked the Federal Court of Appeal for a judicial review as well as for a “leave to appeal” — a step before an appeal where a party is asking for permission to bring an appeal.

The federal court has rejected the leave for appeal, meaning Cabin is now left with its new CRTC application — which could take years — and the request for a judicial review.

Vista Radio, which owns True North FM in Yellowknife, has expressed opposition to Cabin’s licence application and on Sept. 11 cross-examined Cabin Radio as part of the judicial review process. In the days that followed, the “YK Memes” Instagram account posted over 50 memes satirizing Vista’s opposition.

“Life-saving resource”

Brie O’Keefe is the creator and curator of the Instagram account. She says Yellowknifers are “fiercely loyal” to Cabin Radio and argues that’s reflected in the meme submissions she receives.

“When something hits home, the memes flood in and it’s very apparent that it’s not just me who thinks this,” she said.

O’Keefe believes many Yellowknifers resent the fact that Vista is actively blocking another media service that residents appreciate and rely on.

During the city’s wildfire evacuation this summer, O’Keefe called Cabin a “life-saving resource” and said it helped communicate highway conditions and resources for different kinds of support.

“I can’t imagine what it would have been like trying to navigate the evacuation and the supports or challenges along the road if we didn’t have Cabin Radio crowdsourcing all that information for us and, you know, True North FM, with all of their corporate resources, literally did nothing in comparison,” she said.

“I just have no patience for that or the fact that they were here first and our legislation seems to be outdated and that gives them an advantage.”

Number of ways to be in touch with audience ‘dwindling’

Ollie Williams, Cabin Radio’s editor and part-owner, says the number of ways to reach their audience is shrinking.

“Thousands of people are saying we really enjoy what you do and we would like more of it, but virtually with every passing month the ways to give people what they’re asking for dwindle,” Williams said, referring to the CRTC’s decision on their FM licence, as well as federal legislation that prompted Meta to block Canadian news from its platform.

“We’re doing everything in our power to make sure it’s as easy as possible for our audience to be connected to what we do and we’re very grateful that so many people want there to be more options,” Williams said.

Cabin Radio is waiting to hear whether the Court of Appeal will hear the judicial review of the CRTC’s decision to dismiss its initial FM licence application.

Toby Kruger, a Yellowknife lawyer representing Cabin Radio, said there is no timeline as to when that decision will come, but they hope to hear back before the end of the year. If there is a judicial review that leads to an oral hearing, he said they will ask that it be heard in Yellowknife.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Amid pandemic, amateur radio societies in Northern Canada are seeking new recruits, CBC News

Russia: Russian media pushing “business-as-usual” narrative in Arctic despite sanctions, say media researchers, Eye on the Arctic

Natalie Pressman, CBC News

Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at natalie.pressman@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @natpressman.

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