Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
CARLSBAD SPRINGS — Veteran Russell-based journalist Candice Vetter is looking forward to expansion of CJRO Community Radio into Russell Township because, as an on-air reporter and announcer, she appreciates the greater coverage area with more chances to “listen in my car”.
In addition, Vetter describes herself as someone who has “always fancied the idea of being a radio personality”, and although she is working fewer hours, she loves being able to give voice to local news.
Over the past decade, Vetter made a name for herself in community newspapers across Eastern Ontario before calling it quits, believing she was done covering local events. Then CJRO came up and she was hired as one of two paid reporters at the bilingual, largely volunteer station, the other being Maelie Levesque working in French.
Vetter has set off on a whole new connected career in broadcast journalism. In print, she says, there’s always a barrier between the speaker and the reader: “I often used to wish I could just put up a recorded interview so the public could make their own judgements.”
A community, non-profit FM station covering and promoting local and regional events in south-east rural Ottawa – soon to be adding Russell – CJRO crackled to life in February, 2020, several months later than anticipated and just in time for the global pandemic. Delays were caused in acquiring CRTC permits, raising funds to buy equipment, and locking in partnerships with local businesses and organizations.
Available at 107.7 and 107.9 on the dial, the station also streams online 24 hours-a-day, with music filling in the night shift. Launched in 2017 as a tourist information station, it’s owned by the Carlsbad Springs Community Association with a studio located inside the local community centre. As off last November, the CRTC approved a transmitter for Embrun serving Russell Township on 107.9.
The antenna will be located on the roof of the township hall, with the transmitter inside the building, said CJRO founder and past president of the association Denis Labreche. No money is changing hands; it’s a partnership between the station and municipality providing Russell news coverage.
In another partnership with Embrun’s Boston Pizza, a small studio will be set up in some available space there where township volunteers can assemble their contributions.
COVID-19 has slowed the expansion process, Labreche said. While almost all necessary equipment has been acquired, installation has to await better weather; he expects mid-April with about three weeks of frequency testing and final certification. By the time Embrun is connected, Labreche said about $15,000 will have been invested in getting CJRO off the ground, some of it provided by the association and some of it grant money.
With the absence of local media in the area and many local newspapers closing, the association felt that having a voice for the community and source of local news was increasingly important: “Large commercial and community radio stations rarely promote local events or talk about rural Ottawa. CJRO Radio fills this void.”
Now Labreche feels the station is growing too big and is falling outside the mandate of the community centre. He has proposed striking an independent board of directors to manage it, a proposal to be considered by the association in February.
In addition to alternating French and English news reports, programming includes themed bilingual music shows and interviews; there’s a distinct emphasis on local information with, for example, a regular roundup of fundraisers and opportunities for skating and tobogganing. There are brief ads and frequent mention of program partners. Radio Bingo will be introduced in February with cards available at local businesses.
Vetter said she always saw the area as being in a “no-man’s land for news.” She insists there’s a lot of news to report and, being based within Ottawa, city decisions warrant coverage. As well, there’s a worldwide crisis requiring extensive local attention.
CJRO not only welcomes volunteers but encourages them. There are opportunities to produce and host music programs, podcasts, to provide news, prepare promos and ads, and help on the technical end. Volunteering can provide useful workplace experience, Labreche maintains.
While other communities have approached him about getting hooked up, Labreche –who has extensive broadcasting experience – said there won’t be any further expansion for the time being.