Kodiak, an eight-week-old husky cross, in Cabin Radio's Studio Three. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Broadcast regulator the CRTC has decided Yellowknife’s economy cannot sustain a new commercial FM radio station, in effect ending Cabin Radio’s bid for FM status.
Launched in 2017, Cabin Radio had applied for a commercial FM licence in the city in August 2019. The CRTC’s decision on Wednesday arrived 42 months after that application was filed.
However, the CRTC never formally opened Cabin Radio’s application. Instead, the commission chose first to assess whether Yellowknife was big enough – and economically healthy enough – for Cabin Radio to join the lone existing commercial licence-holder, True North FM.
Citing in part a submission from Vista Radio, the corporation that operates Yellowknife’s True North FM alongside several dozen other Canadian stations, the CRTC said “the market of Yellowknife cannot support an additional radio station.”
As a result, Cabin Radio’s application is “returned,” in the commission’s language, without being read. The CRTC said it was unlikely to accept a fresh application for at least another two years.
In its decision, the CRTC said Vista Radio had opposed the granting of a licence to Cabin Radio on economic grounds but had, at the same time, submitted its own application to open a second commercial FM station in Yellowknife.
CKLB, a primarily Indigenous-language station serving many NWT communities and backed by federal and territorial funding, had also opposed the addition of a new FM station in Yellowknife.
Summarizing the concerns of Vista Radio and CKLB, the CRTC said those stations feared “that the introduction of a new radio station deriving advertising in the market at this time will impact the incumbent stations’ viability to provide local programming.”
Cabin Radio had contended that, as a company in existence for five years and financed primarily by similar sources of advertising revenue, the majority of any impact it could be expected to have on the market had already taken place.
Commissioners criticize majority’s verdict
Two CRTC commissioners filed dissenting opinions.
Commissioner Claire Anderson said the majority of the commission had relied too heavily on territory-wide data rather than an analysis of Yellowknife’s own circumstances, and argued that Yellowknife’s large number of government jobs insulated it from economic change in a way the majority had not considered.
“There was not enough evidence on the record to show me that Yellowknife cannot sustain a second commercial radio station,” Anderson wrote.
Commissioner Joanne T Levy noted that despite Vista Radio’s stated concerns, “that did not stop Vista Radio from applying for another licence itself.”
“The worst of the pandemic is over. The existing commercial radio station in Yellowknife cannot bar competition indefinitely by citing unprofitability,” Levy wrote.
“Diversity of voices should be supported as much in a somewhat remote northern community as anywhere else in Canada.”
Cabin Radio, in a statement to itself, said it was reviewing the commission’s decision and extremely disappointed for the staff and volunteers who have worked so hard on its behalf, alongside the many community members who have provided years of support in Yellowknife and beyond.
The station said it had no immediate plans to change its current programming, led by a round-the-clock online live stream that acts as though it were a Yellowknife FM radio station, including several dozen locally produced shows each week.