This year, CJSW put forward a referendum question during the students union election. The university radio station asked students if they would be willing to provide an extra dollar each year to the station, increasing the overall levy from $5 to $6. The extra dollar would create an extra $60,000 in funding for CJSW, allowing them to hire on a web developer to create and manage a new online area where all of the station's shows would be made available for download in podcast form. The students voted, their response, no.
Before I continue, let it be known that I have been volunteering at the station over the past 2 months. I was also a student at the University of Calgary for 7 years, having had no affiliation with the station while I was there. So I know what it's like to be asked to pay for something you aren't involved with or interested in, but I've also seen the important role that the station plays on campus, in Calgary, and across Canada. I feel that if students had known what CJSW is all about, they would have voted differently. I feel confident making this assertion, because I went out and campaigned for the levy increase, and after I was done my elevator pitch and question period, every student I spoke to got on board with the station. So why did over 3000 students turn down this modest request? Let's address the major argument I heard for voting "no" to this referendum question.
Essentially, most naysayers argued that they shouldn't foot the extra dollar for the station, because it's not their responsibility to pay for something they don't use. Worse, the station plays for all of Calgary, so why pay for them to listen? It's not a bad argument, but it does fail to take the whole picture into account. Think about positive externalities. The money students contribute to the station goes towards developing the culture of the university, creating a positive impact that most students benefit from either directly, or indirectly. Think about how the overall economy improves thanks to subsidized university costs. Even if you don't have a child going to university, you do benefit indirectly by living in an area that invests in education. If the referendum would have went through, students would have gained access to so much high quality content made available for digital download. News, debates, comedy, panel discussions, tons of music, and multicultural content!
Unfortunately, being a diverse station with dozens of hosts and programs, it's not always easy to listen to connect listeners to shows that they may be interested in. Each show runs two hours a week, so if you're not around to hear it, then you'll never know what you're missing. Podcasting all the shows would have significantly increased accessibility to important community driven programs, creating an amazing opportunity for great content to be discussed. Think about the way that Netflix has created a common area for people to talk about TV shows and documentaries. I can't count how many times I've heard a great discussion take off because of the common access people have to their service. Now imagine the same idea, but instead the content being discussed is tailored to where you live. Who knows where these community focused conversations may lead? Perhaps to new projects that benefit the whole university? Maybe to a greater appreciation of the arts and the heart of the university? Or maybe to awareness about events happening around campus, like the Last Lecture speaker series? And why not feel good about spreading the word to the whole city? The university benefits tremendously by increased communication between itself and the city (engagement, fundraising, partnerships...). And what about the increased exposure for local artists and intellectuals that call Calgary home? Our city is built around networking and collaboration, and increasing exposure to new art, businesses, and ideas helps everyone in the city discover what's going on, and opens them up to new areas to get involved that fit with their interests. You don't get that with Virgin radio! There's so much potential benefit to be gained by bridging information gaps, and community radio can play a big part in that. Anyone who volunteers in the community knows how much good comes from community building: jobs, new products, social connections, great vibes...All valuable from the perspective of an individual, and a community.
The point: everything is connected. The health of community radio is tied to the health of the city as a whole. I wish students could agree that foregoing a cup of coffee a year is a worthwhile investment in the university, and the city that they care about.