Local radio on the Internet helps communities stay connected
- INCA Staff | July 23, 2021
No matter where you live, community radio can take you home.
That’s what Pauline Clarke discovered when the station she set up in her northern community started streaming local programs on the Internet.
Clarke studied journalism at the First Nations University of Canada. In 2000, she completed the Indigenous Communication Arts (INCA) Summer Institute and did an internship at MBC in La Ronge.
She was shy to go on the radio at first, but when an announcer didn’t show up for his shift, and she was the only Cree speaker available, she had no choice.
That experience inspired her to set up CIRL 97.7 FM in Southend, Saskatchewan, 222 km north of La Ronge, accessible only by gravel road, on the southern tip of Reindeer Lake.
Clarke got help from veteran broadcaster and mentor Robert Merasty, who helped found Missinipi radio in 1983 and is now the Cree/Michif broadcaster in Ile a la Crosse.
Merasty helped Clarke set up a non-profit called Reindeer Lake Communications, apply to the CRTC for a radio license and find money to hire an engineering firm to install their tower and transmitter.
The CIRL signal travels about 20 kilometers out from the tower and reaches everyone in the community of 1,100 people. Many community members live and work outside the community, mostly in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
Clarke goes on the air for four hours every weekday, plus evening BINGOs once a week. When she's not on the air, she switches it to MBC’s programming from La Ronge.
About 10 years ago she realized that they had enough local programming to set up a live stream on the Internet. Their streaming service lets her see everyone who logs on.
Overnight their listening audience grew to include community members located all over Saskatchewan and as far away as Halifax, Las Vegas and Alaska.
Clarke says listening to the CIRL livestream gives people “a feeling of being at home.”
Everyone’s favourite show is the request hour, but she also does local news, weather and sports in Cree and English (for nurses, teachers and RCMP).
With their station streamed live on the Internet, people living away can participate in pledge drives to help community members experiencing iillness or loss.”In that way, they can show their support, even though they're far away,” says Clarke.
During COVID, streaming radio helped people get news from home. “We had very important updates and they could tune in from wherever they were...because everything that happens here affects them as well,” said Clarke.
Reindeer Communication Society has a Facebook page with over 2,200 followers and a link to their live stream.
(This article is part of a series supported by the InSpirit Foundation, which gave INCA-FNUniv a grant to do research with Indigenous radio broadcasters.)