Volunteers using the airwaves to broadcast the French language and its culture

By Robert Rothon, Vancouver, British Columbia

Canada has been celebrating International Volunteer Day since 1985, when the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution “recognizing the desirability of stimulating the work of all volunteers both in the field and in organizations . . . and of giving encouragement to those volunteers, many of whom engage in volunteer service at considerable personal sacrifice.”

Every December 5, International Volunteer Day offers volunteer organizations and individual volunteers an opportunity to promote their contributions to the greater good.

One such volunteer organization is the Société radio communautaire de Victoria, which runs CILS-FM, a 24/7 alternative radio station located, in the words of its president Jacques Vallée, “at the end of the road of the Trans-Canada” in Victoria, BC. (Vallée joked that CILS-FM is located in “Cascadia, not Acadia,” referring to a popular term for the Pacific Northwest). Available on-line, CILS-FM delivers technically good sound, professional on-air delivery, varied and interesting musical content, and grassroots news and discussions relevant to the region’s French-speaking community.

CILS-FM has become a choice outreach tool for Victoria’s estimated 7,000 Francophones and 30,000 Francophiles, according to Christian Francey, executive director of the Société francophone de Victoria (in French only).

“Their French-speaking audience has been growing, especially since they began broadcasting on-line but, on a recent visit to the local military base, I was floored by the number of unilingual Anglophones who are also listeners,” said Francey.

This unexpected following is the result, says Vallée, of the station’s reaching out to Anglophone and Francophile listeners, primarily through the weekly English-language two hour-long show, Pop Café, featuring Francophone music.

CILS-FM primarily serves the area’s French-speaking community, including its not-for-profit organizations. Francine Wallace of Réseau-Femmes has seen increased attendance at her events ever since CILS-FM began regularly promoting her organization’s activities. These successes are also indicative of her experiences with community-radio in Nova Scotia. In her opinion, this outlet is particularly able to reach adults in minority-language communities who need local issues and events covered in their own language.

Credit: CILS-FM

Friendly competition

CILS-FM also serves Francophone youth. A talent contest organized by the station highlighted the musical accomplishments of students at the local French school, Victor-Brodeur. The school’s music teacher, Samuel Sixto, encouraged his students to compete because “it’s not always easy to find an opportunity for our students to express themselves in French outside of the school milieu. We do take part in a number of activities in town, but rarely have the opportunity to do so in French.”

The impact of having their performances recorded and broadcast, with listeners voting for their favourites, was significant, said Sixto. “The students who took part in the contest were proud to have performed on air and to have people come up and tell them that they had heard them on the radio. Many of them have family elsewhere in Canada, and I know that some of my students were able to send a recording to their families.”

Powered by volunteers

CILS-FM functions, as it always has, by volunteer committee. In fact, the original 235-page submission to the CRTC to obtain an FM licence was written by one. “As highlighted on the station’s website, volunteer committes are an effective way of involving the community in the project … it gives both French- and English-speaking individuals a sense of belonging to a community with a common goal.”

Photographer: Christian Tatonetti
Owner: Societe radio communautaire Victoria
Published by: CILS-FM

According to Vallée, “to become CILS-FM volunteers, individuals need the right skill set and the right attitude. In return, volunteers acquire new skills and valuable work experience. One volunteer confided to me that he was able to improve his resumé and get a job with the CBC thanks to us.”

As a community radio station, CILS-FM is particularly responsive to the evolving tastes and needs of the small community it serves. If, for example, jazz is currently in greater demand than heavy metal (and the station can track this because listeners call, fax, e-mail or buttonhole station representatives), then CILS-FM will recruit volunteers who know and love jazz as on air hosts.

As a result of its ability to mirror its community, CILS-FM has become a beacon for French-language culture and community at the end of the Trans-Canada.

Published on Monday, December 06, 2010

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