On August 31, listeners of The Lovecast were treated to an unscheduled interruption. As host Dave O Rama winded down a block of indie rock, he was interrupted by an RCMP officer. Despite pleas by Dave O and his guests, the studio was emptied, and the remaining half hour was replaced with a rebroadcast of Not Rocket Science intermingled with dead air.
Dave O’s barring from the building marked the first of nine bans in the past three weeks, as seven programmers/hosts and two other volunteers have so far been asked not to return to the station. These bans are being initiated by CHLY’s new management, Jesse Schroeder and Greg Boulter.
Matt Carter, host of Impending Loom, was one of the programmers kicked out of the station on August 30. Carter says the bans reflect Boulter and Schroeder’s “confrontational” style of management.
“They’re not loud, bombastic people,” says Carter. “For instance, until the last couple of weeks, my cohost Tom and I had no problem with them. They had treated us with respect and in a friendly manner, and had even complimented us with the work we had done. It was only when I stood up to challenge Schroeder on the right of him to kick Dave O out of the studio did everything change—all of a sudden he’s wagging his finger at me, yelling ‘shameful, shameful, shameful,’ and Greg is in there telling police he intends to ban me from the station. It hasn’t just been me; it’s been other programmers as well.”
Boulter responded to the allegations of the bans being unjustified by producing contracts signed by several programmers, including Dave O Rama. Section 22 of the contracts, to paraphrase, stated that the programmer must comply with whatever station management asks of them.
“I don’t really have to have a reason,” says Boulter, “it should be understood that if you’re working for a volunteer society, that volunteers don’t have rights—they have privileges—and I can suspend those privileges any time I want. This is not a clubhouse—this is our office—and nobody who thinks they’re a volunteer is ever going to be in charge.”
Enforcement of the bans reached its peak on September 7, when the locks to the building were changed. Schroeder, who ran as MP for the Nanaimo-Alberni Pirate Party in the 2011 federal election, and Boulter’s leadership of the station has been criticized for more than just the bans. Boulter was appointed as executive director in August by a board of directors that has shrunk from ten members to four (including Boulter himself) since October 2012.
“Typically, by society rules, you cannot hold the position of a board member while also holding a staff position, and that’s standard policy in societies,” says Marian Van Der Zon, VIU professor and host of Be the Media. “It’s a conflict of interest; it gives one person too much power in a society. The other issue is that CHLY hasn’t even had an executive director in many, many years…there have been ten to 20 written allegations of harassment and abuse, so it’s even more of a conflict of interest, because a lot of those have been submitted to the board, but they’re still under investigation—they haven’t been resolved in any way.”
Boulter not only claimed that he was appointed by the board after a meeting he had left early, but that CHLY needed an executive director in order to protect its license. With the annual general meeting coming up in October, Boulter explained, advertising the position for thirty days before filling it, as is required, would not have been an option.
“In the interim, there can’t be a situation where there is nobody in charge,” says Boulter, “so we don’t have any alternative but to actually appoint somebody, unless we’re going to deal with a situation where nobody is in charge—and if that’s the situation then the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will have every right to pull our licence. You need to have what they call a ‘duty of care’ over your broadcasts, and so when you have a duty of care over what goes over the air, there must be somebody who is in charge who can say ‘I am responsible for what goes over the air.’”
Van Der Zon, who has been involved with radio broadcasting for well over a decade, stated that Boulter’s claim was simply untrue. She also said “CHLY has had this problem with Jesse Schroeder for a number of years, but to my knowledge, in terms of staff ,we’ve never had any problem like we’re having presently in the history of the entire society.There are a number of programmers who have come forward who have left in January of this year or last year or the year before, and they’ve now come forward to say they left because they felt they were bullied by Schroeder and that not enough was being done about it.”
Boulter admits that some members have stated him and Schroeder as reasons for leaving, but doubts the sincerity of such accusations, stating ulterior motives.
“People give their reasons why they resign when they do, but those reasons may not be the real reasons,” says Boulter, “so when somebody leaves and says they’re resigning because ‘I don’t like Jesse’ or ‘I don’t like Greg,’ there may be another reason. They may in fact have a conflict of interest that they declare, and realize that they cannot sit [on the board] any longer, so when they leave they take a swipe.”
In a press release Van Der Zon released with Carter and Sandeep Chauhan, host of The Late Shift, there is also mention of “allegations of financial and legal mismanagement.”
“The allegations are around a couple of things, like the van that was brought into the [Radio Malaspina] Society,” says Van Der Zon. “Nobody except for Schroeder and Boulter know if it was paid for, nobody knows if it’s a donation, nobody knows if it was tied up in the Parksville car show in any way. In the budget that was released in the beginning of the year, one of the things it said for rent was $7000, and that covers the rent of the station underneath The Queens, which is $600 a month, but the rent at The Globe comes to $103k.That is very different from $7000, and it wasn’t in the budget. When the Globe Hotel was put to the membership to vote on, there was no business plan that was put forward with it—there were no hard numbers. There are a number of people who actually went down to the station and have been able to look at the lease, but at the time the press release was put out, there was no access to the lease; they weren’t giving it to any members, even though they had a legal responsibility to do so.”
The online outcry over Boulter and Schroeder’s recent decisions has been enormous, and the CHLY 101.7 Facebook group has been flooded with criticism of the two. Although Boulter stated on September 8 that there were “only a tenth of as many posts as there were two days ago,” 115 posts were made that day regarding either the management or the programmer bans. Nonetheless, Boulter and Schroeder are unphased by the comments. Boulter stated that fighting is status quo for online forums, and the people involved are only attacking him and Schroeder for the sake of attacking someone. Schroeder added that “maybe this is a good opportunity for people to realize that they may need to go out and do something productive,” and he doubts many of these people were actually Radio Malaspina Society members.
“We have 9000 members, so what am I going to do about the infighting amongst my 9000 members?” says Schroeder. “I’d be pretty frickin’ busy because I bet amongst my 9000 members, considering a bunch of them are university students. There’s a bunch of infighting… first of all we need to establish that these people who are saying this stuff on this Facebook site are our members [laughs]. So, there, again, when we actually get into who our members, are. We have our membership list, and a bunch of these people who are supposedly infighting are actually out there because they’re not in here and have never been in here.”
If you’ve listened to CHLY at all in the past three weeks, you’ve probably noticed a fair amount of rebroadcasts. The seven shows that have been affected by the ban, as well as the shows of any programmers who have opted not to return to the station because of the ongoing situation, such as the whole Changes team, are being replaced with rebroadcasts and pre-made playlists. If this is not fixed, it could have dire consequences for the station.
“The whole point is to have independent programming,” says Van Der Zon, “the CRTC license is not set up to simply put playlists on, so having numerous programmers banned and having more programmers choose not to do their shows because they don’t want to be in that toxic environment is really problematic. It definitely puts our license at risk.”
CHLY’s future will effectively be decided in October at the annual general meeting. The new board of directors will be elected, filling all ten seats once again. The meeting will take place on VIU’s Nanaimo campus with all Radio Malaspina Society Members who have paid their $20 fee. Voting is also open to VIU students, both part-time and full-time, as all students contribute $0.95 of their tuition fees per month to Radio Malaspina Society, making VIU and its students the highest source of revenue for CHLY.
“I am at this point very confident that a new board will be elected, because word is getting out there,” says Carter. “At the very least, if a new board is elected, then it shifts the balance of power. Schroeder and Boulter couldn’t act unilaterally anymore, which is what they’re doing now—they’re acting without any proper backing, and if you don’t agree with it you’re banned. It’s a return to democracy.”
Van Der Zon, however, says a new board of directors would only be the beginning of the solution. “There are larger problems with CHLY. There are a lot of gaps in the way our policies and our constitution and bylaws are written, so when a healthy board is brought in, one of the things that needs to happen is the policies of CHLY and the bylaws and constitution need to be looked at and arguably rewritten and made more democratic and inclined to bring students in healthy ways. One thing that is clear is that we need to repair the VIU student-CHLY relationship. We may have to look at doing a by-election in April, because typically we have a board of directors who are elected in October, and typically, by March or April, we’ve lost a few, so a by-election in April would allow new board members to be voted on in a democratic way. There is a lot of shifting in terms of policies that need to be structured so that it doesn’t provide the opportunity for an individual or two to come in and take over the station in the way that’s happening right now.”
When I asked Boulter and Schroeder who they felt was responsible for the current situation, their answer was clear:
“Groups that may make less or more money based on our decisions here,” says Schroeder. “Our decisions here may mean that the company that goes out and does car shows and live broadcast car shows on their temporary FM broadcast that they set up and charge money for might make less money if we’re successful at going out and organizing and broadcasting car shows. That one’s pretty much deadly clear to me.”
“We have a place where we can actually assemble 145 people to actually put out news and give people a platform to go on,” adds Boulter. “So if you are the other media sources and suddenly see that there is this media source coming up that you had never considered would be competition and you start to see that ‘oh, look, these guys now have $10k a month to make to pay their rent instead of $1000. Oh, look, they’re paying it. Where are they getting this money from? Oh, look, they’re getting this money from advertisers. Oh, who are these advertisers not advertising with anymore? Oh, it’s us!’”
Boulter described these attempts against him as “sabotage,” and among the perpetrators are Gabriola Co-op Radio, Nanaimo Daily News, and Tom Lee Music. Van Der Zon had a very different impression of the situation.
“I think the situation is that Greg Boulter and Jesse Schroeder have a very particular vision in mind of how the station is supposed to be run,” says Van Der Zon, “and anybody who disagrees with that vision they deem as a threat. That vision doesn’t include a community style of leadership, and it doesn’t include bringing in many people in order to move the station forward with a community vision and the ideas of the membership. They want to do it their way, and their style of getting their own way is questionable.”
The tide is turbulent at CHLY, and nine volunteers have been given to the sea. The breaches have been revealed in the hull, and depending on the outcome of the forthcoming general meeting, the station could be capsized under the foolhardy weight of its crew.
“It’s pretty simple, right?” says Schroeder.” It’s a sandbox; everybody wants to play with the toys in the sandbox, but, y’know, everybody’s got to share. It’s simple.”