Overview: Vancouver Co-operative Radio, CFRO, 100.5FM is a non-commercial, co-operatively-owned, listener-supported community radio station. Located in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Co-op Radio strives to encourage community participation in the examination of social and political concerns, and provide a space for under-represented and marginalized communities to voice out.
IHO Site Supervisor: Anju Singh, Director of Technical Services
Q: What is your background?
A: “I have a degree from SFU but mostly I’ve taught myself by self-learning through work experiences, internships and on-the-job training. I’ve been working as a technician for seven or eight years now in a variety of environments; I’ve done a bunch of different technical jobs that qualified me for this position. I came to Co-op Radio in September of 2011.”
Q: What is your mandate at Co-op Radio?
A: “The most important thing for Co-op Radio is to provide a place for marginalized voices to be heard. It’s alternative media, so it’s meant to be a place where things that get lost in mainstream media can be expressed. Our location, being in the Downtown Eastside, also means that we’re in this community and part of this community, and we have a strong responsibility to represent the community. This is a really critical space where you definitely have a lot of people questioning the bullshit that we’re fed on a regular basis. This place helps a person to form these questions and to be able to have other people to engage with that are asking the same questions. Our work is important, being on air is important, having mics working is important, but the most important thing is that we’re all learning together and trying to create an incredible, focused, aware, conscious community with shared, similar goals. The work is important and the community work is almost more important.”
Q: Describe your typical day at Co-op Radio.
A: “I don’t have a typical day. There’s no such thing. When I walk in the door anything and everything can happen. For me to have a typical day isn’t possible because my job and my role is so diverse and I have so many different things happening and so many different types of tasks. My more structured days are days that I have with interns or contractors. With an intern, a typical day starts with meeting in the morning, getting coffee, figuring out what we’re going to do for the day, me or the intern decide what’s high priority for the day and make a list of things we want to accomplish. It’s pretty much technical work, especially in my role. It’s highly based on troubleshooting, problem-solving, responding to specific concerns, repairing headphones, meetings, writing reports, grants, web work, teaching training on audio recording, anything related to tech. Often I’m trying to fix servers and having a lot of networking issues.”
Q: What are some challenges that you face at Co-op Radio?
A: “There are things that make the job more difficult but they’re kind of necessary things. A lot of people have trouble with the location of Co-op Radio because of it being in the Downtown Eastside, but I think that that suits the purpose of the organization and station overall. My biggest challenge is balancing my workload because I have so many different tasks. One minute I have to be an administrator and then I have to be an electronics technician, web designer, instructor, a really good communicator or someone who has really good conflict resolution skills. Also, our staff group operates as a collective and station runs as co-operative. A lot of people find collective-based decision making challenging, but I like it. A lot of the challenges that come with the job are the same reasons I like the job.”
Q: What are some challenges that the local community faces?
A: “I think that question would be better suited for someone living within the community. There are the obvious ones; poverty is a big problem, substance abuse is a big problem, the fact that the city takes advantage of the fact that people around here are enduring hardship, the police are a problem. There are lots of problems, but I think that someone who lives here can really articulate that. The challenges that are happening out there are being talked about on air here. There is actually a Downtown Eastside radio show. Our job is to make sure they’re heard. It would be nice for people to go listen to their shows.”
Q: What successes have you had in addressing challenges at Co-op Radio and in the local community?
A: “I think the biggest success is the fact that I feel really energized coming here; the more I come here, meet people, work here and become engaged with the community in and around Co-op Radio, the prouder, more energized, more excited I am. It’s meaningful to me. I don’t think any of the challenges we experience in or around Co-op Radio are things that can be overcome; there’s always conflict, things to think about. The successes are that I’m excited about it and proud to be here. I think this community has a lot to offer, a stronger community than most places in Vancouver, and it’s amazing the work that goes on, it’s inspiring.”
Q: What has been your experience working with VCN?
A: “It’s been amazing. I think it’s a great program. A huge accomplishment of VCN is providing computer access and a place for people to go. It’s a big deal, especially in the winter, in the rain, or on a bad day. The internship program and the workshops have also been amazing. I think the program is very valuable and important for the community. I think it’s a great resource. Even at the public library you need a card to use the computer. So the public library isn’t really public. VCN’s sort of a necessary resource at this point because there’s a huge gap, and VCN is filling it, targeting areas where people really need it.”
Q: How can a VCN intern help to address challenges at Co-op Radio and in the local community?
A: “The interns teach workshops, and those workshops provide skills to people who need those skills. Another big thing is recording and editing interviews for shows. It’s important for Co-op Radio because people can come in and get their shows done and say what they need to say. Another thing is just contributing to our strong safe space policy. Co-op Radio is really meant to be a space where people are respected and treated with respect, and the interns uphold that, respecting someone who’s not communicating what they really need to say or may need help. The interns continue that spirit of a safe space and supportive environment.”
Q: What advice would you give to a VCN intern beginning work at Co-op Radio?
A: “To make sure you don’t take too much on that you’re not comfortable with. If there’s a scenario where you’re not comfortable, walk away and have a staff member deal with it. Have strong boundaries, respect for your own space, mental health, things you want to do in your life, ambitions. It’s also important to me to challenge the traditional notion of work, the idea that you’re not in control. It’s really important that the interns come in here and they’re in control, that they take ownership over what they’re doing day-to-day. Come in without this idea that you’re a wage slave, that there’s more to it than that. And because my position is so insane I feel like the interns really need to give me feedback and direction, and I’m open to discussing that with them. It doesn’t work for me for someone to come in, tell them what time to work, make sure they’re here, and tell them what to do. It has to be reciprocal. I wouldn’t want someone telling me what to do all the time so I don’t want to do that to someone else.”
Q: What do you believe a VCN intern could take away from working at Co-op Radio?
A: “First of all, putting it on their resume that they’ve had a technical job; having skills in computers and other technical areas is key for the working world. The other thing is being able to take on a project and finish it and learn something from it. One of our interns from VCN learned how to use Powerpoint, do a presentation, use surveying software, Excel, so they took away a lot of skills in software central to presentations, collecting data, things that can be really useful for pretty much any position. Another intern learned Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, and went from making a sign in Microsoft Word to Photoshop where you can do much more with it. Research skills, testing out new software, learning new software, teaching workshops, learning about audio, networking and IT, Linex, Windows and Mac operating systems, practicing all of those skills.”
Q: What has been one of your most memorable experiences working at Co-op Radio?
A: “A lot of the guest speakers are memorable because you have amazing thoughtful people on the air. Also the staff collective is really special. We don’t really have a ‘boss’, we’re each directors of our department. We have a staff collective and that’s really important to me because I’m really interested in alternative forms of organization. It’s actually a very old and traditional form of organization, to work collectively. It’s really amazing.”
Q: What is one little-known fact about Co-op Radio?
A: “The fact that the staff is all women.”
Q: What can someone who is interested in getting involved at Co-op Radio do to help?
A: “On the website there are email addresses for each of the directors of each of the departments. Leila is the program coordinator, so if you want to be a part of a show or do a show, talk to her. If you want to go to an event and table or design new mugs or recruit people or help out with fundraisers, Nicole would be the one. If you want to lead teaching workshops or volunteer with technical things you would contact me at email@example.com.”