Genossenschaftlich organisierter Radiosender: Co-op Radio Vancouver (in English)
Special for the International Day of Cooperatives 2019
Reading time: 5-7 minutes
The 6th of July marks the international day of cooperatives, which is why this months “Geno schafft”-post covers the story of a very interesting foreign cooperative and is written in English. At a recent conference in Canada, Gregor Rabong met Vesta Sahatçiu, who is part of a Vancouver based cooperative radio station. Whereas she herself interviewed many participants at the conference, for the following conversation the tables were turned.
For more information on the International Day of Cooperatives, check out the United Nations' Website.
“Geno schafft“: First, please introduce yourself and tell us what you are doing here in Montreal at the ACE - CASC - ICA-CCR 2019 conference.
Vesta Sahatçiu: My name is Vesta Sahatçiu. I am a volunteer for Co-op Radio, which is a cooperatively owned radio station in Vancouver, British Columbia. There I am part of a show called "Each For All: The Co-operative Connection" which is a show about cooperatives - most of all cooperative connections - which I joined as a volunteer about six months ago. Currently, I take on a more outgoing role in which I have been sent to this conference to talk to people and to get their thoughts about cooperatives in general and about their research in particular.
“Geno schafft”: When did the project with the cooperative radio start?
Vesta Sahatçiu: Co-op Radio started in the early 1970s in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, which is the place where the most low income marginalized groups live in the greater Vancouver region. It started because no mainstream radio station would air the voices of indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, and queer people, so Coop Radio started as an attempt to amplify their voices and be able to spread them to the wider community.
“Geno schafft”: How did Co-op Radio manage to reach out to people in the surroundings?
Vesta Sahatçiu: I believe in the beginning they used a radio tower located on top of a mountain that was being used by Simon Fraser University (short: SFU, University situated in British Columbia). The university already had its own community radio station, and Co-op Radio used its tower at that time to be able to signal to the entire Vancouver area.
“Geno schafft”: Nonetheless, the equipment of a radio station and its running costs are certainly not cheap. How is the radio station funded? Are all operations financed by its members? Do you also receive money from advertisements or other sources?
Vesta Sahatçiu: No, we do not have any advertisement. Co-op Radio is community-owned and community-funded, there is no political backing, which means that only the members own the cooperative and there is no other notable source of money other than the money brought in by members.
Thousands of members joined the cooperative over the past years. In the beginning, it was members of two groups, the Muckrakers and Neighbourhood Radio, who were already producing alternative content for radio and press. The membership fee at the beginning was $2, and the idea was for it to be wholly funded by members and donors. Today it also receives grants from the government to be able to continue operations, because it continues to be a non-profit coop.
Membership now is a minimum of 10$, but it’s on a sliding scale so you can give as much as you want. Additionally, there is a donation drive two times a year (in spring and in fall). During that time, the hosts of each show have to get a certain amount of money, because otherwise it will be taken off the air essentially. For example, if your show that is on air for an hour a week, I think you have to collect somewhere around 2.000$ a year from donations. But this depends from show to show, and I do not think that they are very strict about the threshold.
“Geno schafft”: So you are responsible on your own so your show does not get withdrawn from the program?
Vesta Sahatçiu: I guess you could say so. In my opinion, the amount you have to collect is not that high and it really makes sense that you are responsible for getting a certain amount of donations to Co-op Radio, because of all the equipment and services that the radio is providing you.
For example, they provide you with a space to record the show, free training for volunteers to become a radio producer, information on how to edit your show and many other capacities. All these things the cooperative offers to you free over the year. For all of that you have to meet a minimum donation threshold for your show.
Moreover, this is only if you want to make your own show. Me for example, I joined another show that already existed, so everyone involved in that show has to work towards meeting that goal collectively.
“Geno schafft”: How often do you have your show?
Vesta Sahatçiu: Once a week on Tuesdays at 8pm for one hour.
“Geno schafft”: Maybe you could explain why young people like you are interested in joining this cooperative. Are there many people in your age that are part of Coop Radio?
Vesta Sahatçiu: I think it offers a unique experience in the world of radio. It not only provides top-quality professional technical training, but also encourages you to think more critically about issues surrounding social justice and empowerment of marginalized groups. Many people who would not feel comfortable at all in a mainstream media broadcaster have the opportunity to feel at home in a space that does not prejudice against you for your skin color, gender, sexuality, etc. It even offers the space for people who want to air something in their native language to do so, with more than 20% of its programming being in a language other than English or French. So, for youth that are inclined towards working on enhancing the voices of marginalized communities, this provides a very welcoming starting point.
“Geno schafft”: What are the advantages and disadvantages with respect to the cooperative setting of your radio station in your opinion?
Vesta Sahatçiu: The way that Co-op Radio has been run so far is to target low-income marginalized groups and all the problems that they have to deal with specifically. These people usually do not get any voice in mainstream radio or mainstream television. Therefore, I think one of the reasons why the radio station exists is because of its biggest advantage: It would be impossible to have a radio station where you can amplify the voices of your own community unless it was organized in the financially viable model that the cooperative sector provides.
Furthermore, I think that Co-op Radio and other cooperative media companies can have an influence on the actual provision of news on topics such as sustainability and such that have an impact on our community. We cover information that is not being paid for by specific financial and multinational institutions, as it is the case in other media providers of all kind. This means that the program in Co-op Radio is not biased by the interests of these firms in any way.
“Geno schafft”: Do you think that community-owned cooperative radios might be a model for the future? A model also for other countries to protect media from the interests of large companies? I ask because as far as I am informed, there is only few community-owned radios in Austria and Europe.
Vesta Sahatçiu: Yes, I definitely think so.
However, I am also realistic and I think that a radio station is particularly hard to establish since you need a lot of specialized equipment. The equipment that we have is pretty old, and trying to get new equipment would probably run us dry. This is certainly one of the disadvantages of being a (cooperatively owned) radio station with limited funds.
I think being a newspaper or some online platform would be much easier because the only things you would need would be a printing station and people writing. For the radio, you need the machinery, the board, the tower, a large physical space, et cetera. I think the main reason for that Co-op Radio could start in the very beginning was that it had access to the university tower of SFU. I do not know the details in how they worked that out, but in Canada and in the US it is very common for universities to have their own radio stations. I do not know whether this is also the case in Europe.
“Geno schafft”: No, it is not very common in Europe that universities have their own radio stations. I know that our university (University of Economics and Business (WU)) does not have a radio station. I know that our university owns an online TV station instead.
Vesta Sahatçiu: Yes, I am not sure either, whether it is viable in these days and age to start a cooperative radio from the beginning, since you need many funds to be able to have your own studio. But I do not know, I mean I could be surprised. Nonetheless, I think that for a cooperative TV it would be even less likely to succeed since the equipment would be even more expensive. Maybe a cooperative newspaper as a cheap option for a cooperative media company could be introduced in Austria or other countries in Europe.
“Geno schafft”: This is definitely an interesting idea, Vesta. Thank you very much for your time and I hope that you will continue to have success with Co-op Radio!
Vesta Sahatçiu: Thank you very much. See you at another conference.
The interview was recorded on May 30th 2019.
For all readers interested in Coop Radio and its program, follow this link for June 4th episode of "Each for all" where Vesta talks about her experiences at the ACE - CASC - ICA-CCR 2019 conference, and here is the general link to "Each for all", the show that Vesta is a part of.
Interview partner: Vesta Sahatçiu
Interviewer: Gregor Rabong