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Arctic Chillin’: Cool Off with Canadian Community Radio

Usually this blog points the way to breath-taking, ground-breaking, mind-expanding, awe-inspiring innovation in the public media sphere. (At least, that’s what I try to do.) But with temperatures in the East climbing toward triple digits, and with a heat emergency in effect, perhaps it’s a good time to journey north…super far, far north to Gwich’in territory in the Canadian Arctic. There, a volunteer-run radio station won’t wow you with its high-tech fancy cross-platform production, but you might find it moving to hear (and see) quintessential community radio in action.

Check out this new documentary from National Film Board of Canada which profiles CBQM, a bare-bones station that plays a ton of country music and where residents play bingo over the air. In an icy hinterland where there’s more wildlife than people, CBQM is a lifeline that connects a rural natives to their neighbors and their culture. It’s the kind of place where people call in to send messages to their friends over the air. Not song dedications, but stuff like, “Charlene, Debra wants you to come over for tea…”


CBQM delivers what residents want and need, including recipes, contests, wolf sighting reports, stories and prayers. Sue, the local minister, hosts a show. One of my favorite moments of the documentary is when she gives a weather report, thanking God for the gift of sunshine. She then offers up a biblical version of a rural traffic report, warning that by now, everyone’s probably heard that “the McKenzie and the Peel crossings are closed. So for goodness sakes, unless you are Moses parting the Red Sea or Peter walking on water, please do not attempt to cross either of those rivers in the next few hours.”

The documentary takes us back and forth between the station’s simple studio and the various scenes where people are listening, and you can see how the voices coming out of that little talking box known as radio helps to overcome isolation of the frozen tundra. You can watch the full documentary here, read an interview with Dennis Allen, the filmmaker, here, and become a Facebook Fan here.

So, for today, let’s burst the bubble of chit-chat about cloud computing, augmented reality, iPads, apps, and other high-tech mumbo-jumbo, and go back in time to the present time where old-fashioned AM community radio is the mass medium of choice and default.

One word of caution about the film itself: CBQM keeps the phone ringing live on air all the time…you will surely find this more annoying than charming. I suspect the sound of a ringing telephone might be music to somebody’s ears. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.