What Tamil radio taught CRTC about the power of radio

What Tamil radio taught Steve Kowch about local coverageFrom where I sit On The Kowch, it took an intervention at the CRTC by a woman appearing on behalf of my client, the Multicultural Broadcasting Company (MBC), to drive home just how important radio is to the community it serves. Mainstream radio can learn a lesson or two from Sumathi Prabaharan, the president of Magdala Home Care that provides staffing to the elderly.

Sumathi only had five minutes to make her point to the three CRTC Commissioners on why MBC president Kandiah Sivasothy should be awarded the license to 102.7FM. MBC wants the FM license to broadcast an Ethnic radio station serving Scarborough, Pickering and Ajax covering the eastern tip of the Greater Toronto Area.

By the time she was finished, many of the Tamils in the room were in tears – even those who were competing against MBC for 102.7FM because she spoke from the heart and captured what it’s like to be a new immigrant to Canada.

Sumathi Prabaharan tells CRTC about importance of Tamil radio“Let me explain the power of radio as it relates to the impact on immigrants.” -Sumathi Prabaharan

“25 years ago, like many immigrants to this new land, the SriLankan Tamil community sought asylum in this beautiful country called Canada, which we now call our home.

“However, the early years of settlement were extremely challenging for all of us. We worked day and night, long hours, sacrificed family time, health and inner peace to survive and to give the best to our children.

“In the process, we became lost, isolated, displaced, depressed and unhealthy both emotionally and physically.

“Then one day, 20 years ago, Mr. Sivasothy came into our lives with his radio station and started talking about all the issues we were experiencing. CTBC was not just any ordinary radio station.

“The station  connected with all the lost Tamil souls, brought them together, spoke to us, listened to us, heard us, healed us, engaged us, empowered us and gave us a new meaning for life. CTBC became our safe haven.

“My mom, like many other elderly women, was completely lost in this country until she started listening to CTBC. That radio station rejuvenated her spirit.”

Sivasothy is the father of Tamil radio in Canada. He was the first to introduce 24/7 Tamil radio using SCMO technology to broadcast CTBC Radio. Today he is an icon in Toronto’s Tamil community.  Despite all the accolades he received at the commission from the five people who intervened on his behalf or the more than 75 awards for public service from the community, Sivasothy is a humble man.

Near the end of the MBC presentation at the CRTC hearing, he sounded like the lead character in Jimmy Stewart’s 1939 movie: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

“After everything is said and done, all we can do is live up to our promises and do the best we can to serve the community. That is what I have always done since I started in as an owner in Canadian radio in 1995. For me, a promise made has always been a promise kept.”

Steve Kowch with Vickrah Sivasothy at CRTC hearing for a license to operate a Tamil radio station in Toronto

Steve Kowch with Vickrah Sivasothy

From where I sit On The Kowch, if there was one super star at the CRTC hearings, it was Sivasothy’s 24-year-old son, Vickrah, a second generation Tamil who grew up around radio. His enthusiasm and commitment to his community was a chip off the old block.

“Radio has become as much of a part of my life as it has for my dad, ” said Vickrah. “I look forward to expand our radio station’s influence to the second and third generation so that they can embrace our cultures and still take advantage of all that this great country, Canada, has to offer.

“Everyone recognizes this country is among the most multicultural in the world. Most people looking from the outside in would expect us to know something about each others’ culture. But the sad reality is that we all live our own separate lives in cultural silos.

“Our station will be a hub connecting all members of the community with the goal of promoting understanding and interaction between the predominant cultural groups in the service area.

“It is time for us now to move our people forward and to create opportunities for one another. MBC will not follow the same blue print as others to be just another ethnic radio station.  We are poised to be ‘game changers’. We don’t want to just provide focused programming for ethnic groups, we want to bring everyone together and be the inclusive station that Scarborough, Pickering and Ajax needs.”

Watching Vickrah speak, I couldn’t help think how I was looking at a new generation of broadcasters who are in radio for all the right reasons – to serve the community you broadcast to. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only Pollyanna when it comes to radio.

Steve Kowch ran two of Canada’s largest newstalk radio stations in Montreal and Toronto for more than 14 years. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media.