COLUMN: Surrey deserves a dedicated radio station

Last week, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission had hearings in Surrey about potential new radio licences in the area.

The bulk of the 17 applications it heard proposed a station that would be based in Surrey.

While most of the applicants are seeking to serve the large South Asian population living in the city, several pointed out that Surrey is not well-served by the current radio broadcasters, almost all of whom are based in  Vancouver.

At least one applicant, Surdel Broadcasting, would like to offer more English-language programming to younger South Asian people who communicate largely in English, and any such station would certainly attract a broader audience. Mosaic Media, another applicant, would like to offer a more inclusive Surrey perspective to its programming, which would be in English and Punjabi, and possibly other languages.

With the exception of some Punjabi-language radio stations and JoyTV, which has its studio in the eastern portion of Surrey, broadcasters have not had much presence here.

Considering that Surrey is the second-largest city in the region, and will one day be the largest, this omission is strange.

But as the submission by Mosaic pointed out, it isn’t just where the radio or television stations are based that matters. It’s how well they serve the community.

With the notable exception of CBC Radio, which recently has been doing a series of live broadcasts on Fridays from a variety of locations in Metro Vancouver (all outside the City of Vancouver), radio often ignores this area.

Oh, the traffic conditions get plenty of attention, as do the high-profile news items, notably murders, but there is a lack of understanding of the day-to-day conditions of life in this part of the region.

It didn’t used to be quite this bad. For many years, CKNW was based in New Westminster (that’s what the “NW” in the call letters stands for), and it had a good audience and strong connections to Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby and other areas outside the downtown core. Top-notch reporters like Ted Field, a Surrey native, and George Garrett, were omnipresent in Surrey – and not just at big news events.

However, when CKNW moved to downtown Vancouver, it seemed to devalue that connection.

It still has plenty of listeners out here, and some staff members live here, but the understanding of Surrey issues isn’t as good as it once was.

One notable exception is reporter Janet Brown, who lives in Surrey and has done some stellar work on issues that concern Surrey residents, such as transit, crime and public safety.

Most other radio stations, whether news-oriented or music-based, consider Surrey as just another part of the “Vancouver” market and do little to try to understand the nuances that make this city in any way different.

At one time, Langley was home to radio station CJJC, which appealed to Surrey as well as Langley residents. However, it hasn’t operated for more than 20 years.

Having a broadcaster based in your city is a sign of maturity and recognition. In the Metro Toronto area, radio stations have been based in communities like Oakville for decades. It doesn’t seem to happen here.

Hopefully, the CRTC will take some of these factors into consideration as it considers whether to grant a licence to a Surrey-based broadcaster.

In terms of unique characteristics, Surrey offers a large South Asian population, people from many other nationalities, a very young audience (more people under 18 than anywhere else in Metro Vancouver), a growing business community, some urban challenges which could be used as creative opportunities for change, and a tremendous future potential.

It sounds like a recipe for a creative broadcasting company to take advantage of.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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