By Michael Asiffo
Transcribed by Joseph Lopez
For years, radio has connected communities across Canada through news, music, events, parties, special programming and more. This National Radio Day, celebrate the spark of community radio with VIBE105.
In this VIBE TALKS interview Correspondent Michael Asiffo speaks with Jim Carr – Professor, Broadcasting (Radio) at Seneca College. Carr explains the importance of radio, speaks about his career as a radio broadcaster and why radio is the voice of the community.
Michael: When you think of radio in Canada, what’s the first that you think of?
Jim: Well, we’re lucky enough to have enjoyed radio in Canada longer than a lot of other places in the world. When I think of radio, to me, it’s community. Radio is about telling stories, and sharing stories for our community and I think that’s what it’s always been for me. Growing up listening to Chum and the FTR in Toronto, it was part of my daily routine and it was something that I shared with all my friends. When we got together and discussed things, we didn’t talk about Pokémon, we didn’t talk about this movie or that movie, we talked about what was going on in radio. We talked about what the personalities were doing, and about the artists that were being played on the radio. We talked about the music and that all started from a community mindset that was going on in radio.
Michael: You’ve had this long and illustrious road in radio but, where did it start for you?
Jim: The first time that I was ever on the radio, I was probably 10 or 11. It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and I was listening to Chum in my house. I was hanging out with my sister, goofing around, and then the DJ’s had something about: “Call in if you want to get on the radio.” Like, so many days in that era of radio, the jocks were just taking calls and every stop set, every break, was a voice from our community. I just, on whim, called up and I said: “Yeah, I’d like to be on the radio.” He said: “What’s your name?” I said: “Jimmy Carr,” because that’s what every one called me back then. He laughed and said: “Jimmy Carr wants to be a star, does he?” and he put me on the radio and recorded it. He said: “I’m going to get you to do the weather.” So, I found a piece of paper and a pen, scribbled down whatever he was telling me the weather was and he recorded the call. I hung up the phone, and ran to the radio to listen to the played recorded phone call I made. I thought, this amazing little box that was sitting there, that was a part of our furniture in our living room, all of a sudden had my voice on it. It just really made an impact on me. So I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something with radio and audio. One thing led to another, but it didn’t actually start right away as a career. I was more into the theatre side, the technical audio and lighting of theatres. Then, I met some guy that was working at a radio station in Kingston when I was on a trip, and I just started to really strongly think about a career in radio after seeing how much fun he was having, doing what I was doing myself. Except he was getting paid for it and I wasn’t. That was kind of my first foyer into the idea of radio.
Michael: Such an interesting story that kind of highlights this point in radio. Typically, for the audience, they just hear the announcer, they hear music and that’s it. But, being in the industry, we’ve learned and seen that there’s way more to radio. Can you talk about those aspects?
Jim: I always say this at orientations, to new students, for every one voice you hear there’s (and I used to say there’s 8 or 9 people behind the scenes (now it’s probably 5 or 6), a bunch of other people doing things to make that one voice possible. From engineering, to promotions, to sales, to production and writing, and news obviously. So there’s a lot of other things going on, and as soon as you get a grasp or a little bit of an understanding of what it takes to put together a radio program, you have a much stronger appreciation for what radio does and how it impacts our communities.
Michael: In what ways would you say it impacts our communities?
Jim: Just look at the charity side of things, it’s a little bit of a cart before the horse kind of thing. But without listeners you’re not going to have advertising and without the advertising you’re not going to earn money. Radio stations put together contests and they do events that are catered around trying to build that audience. A lot of radio stations do a lot of charity work, so that’s the biggest, and foremost, important aspect that radio does to give back. There’s the other side of it too, being that source of information for someone that needs it. You think of the power outages, the ice storms and all of these different things that have happened over the years, its radio that you turn to. It’s radio that you go to for information and clarification on what’s going on. You’re driving in the car on the 401 in Toronto, traffic starts to slow down, you flip over to 680 NEWS so you can hear a traffic report and know what’s going on ahead of you. Yes, there are apps and other sources of information, but the truth is that source is readily available to you and it’s current. It’s poignant information that you need as a member of the community. So radio gives back in a tremendous amount of ways.
Michael: You mentioned some of those aspects of radio, but I think one that gets overlooked is the aspect that radio gives you freedom and particularly freedom of speech. Not to get too philosophical, but there was a time where radio was a means for people to get their political views out, and not just political, but their views on life in general. For you, when you see radio, do you see that nowadays in radio stations in Canada?
Jim: Absolutely. I don’t think it’s as polarizing in Canada as it is in the U.S. If I were to use that as an example, talk radio in the U.S. is so polarized that it’s the Democrats vs the Republicans, and people have built philosophies and listen to the stations that push that message or that philosophy forward. In Canada, I think it’s a little bit different but radio being that voice of a community is exactly that. Some people would say the great thing about radio in these last 10 years is the downsizing of things and the fact that there are less people at radio stations, and less jobs at radio stations now compared to what there was 15 years ago. That’s true, but the other side of that coin is that there are so many more signals and sources of information that allow more people to hear more of their own messages. To the point that you’re making about someone’s personal opinion, you could put together a radio show that talks exclusively about how awesome the Toronto Maple Leafs’ are, and you could put together a podcast and that would be your voice and you’ll find listeners that would be agreeing with that same philosophy. So that’s exactly what you’re saying, in regards on being able to share an alternative message out there. That is the power of radio, that mind story that it creates, being able to tell you in a few words what your feelings are, and bring the person that’s listening into your side of things and then they agree with you.
Michael: Back in the 50’s or the 40’s, radio was this conventional thing that was on a box or in the room set, and it has transcended to now where you can get radio everywhere. For you, are you impressed with radio despite the fact that the devices have changed and the ways you can listen to radio have changed but still, kind of, remain the same in the fact that you get a wave length signal, it goes your device and you hear information?
Jim: I’m totally amazed at the transition of radio and what’s happened to radio since I started 20-24-25 years ago to what it is now. The older guard in the radio side of things would argue that radio’s hay day was 25- 26 years ago. The late 80’s was where radio still had very few competition and there were very few alternatives for getting information and music, and learning about new music. With all that’s happened with the internet, smartphones, apps, satellite radio, podcasting and all these different methods, the truth is that the community message that radio is, still holds true and you’re telling stories that are important. It doesn’t matter how it’s delivered; it doesn’t matter how it gets to you, it just matters that it gets you and that you have a connection to it. That’s exactly why radio has maintained. Whereas, the last 5 or 6 years, print advertising has gone down, many newspapers have closed, television stations have struggled with Netflix and other streaming services, and so they’re losing market share. Radio has pretty much remained on track, and what it has been. It’s still a profitable industry. Radio has made, I think $5-$6 million last year in Canada, and I think that’s pretty remarkable. Especially when so many people are saying that radio is dead, but the truth is it’s not. There are more places to hear more signals, which means more competition, and your slice of the pie might be a bit smaller but you’re still making money. So I think that’s something we can be proud about the transition of radio.
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