Despite all the good that happens on Bell Island, it’s the challenges faced by its people that often make the news, whether it’s trouble with the ferries or a water shortage or a devastating house fire.
The community members aren’t strangers to adversity, said resident Kelly Russell, and they’re used to pulling together when times get tough.
Russell is hoping the island’s current project, a week-long radio broadcast, will add to the residents’ sense of pride and place, much like it did last year.
Russell was asked by the local town council to head up the idea, given his successful career as a musician and his extensive experience with radio performance. He was immediately “enthralled,” and saw the potential for community development and outreach.
“Bell Island is no different from a lot of rural Newfoundland communities where we’re very economically challenged,” Russell said. “There’s no industry here on Bell Island — there’s no mining, no fishery, no farming, nothing that goes on here to employ people. We have a lot of difficulties here … and given its proximity to St. John’s in comparison to other rural areas on the Avalon, I would say Bell Island falls down nearly to the bottom of the list as far as our socio-economic challenges.”
After receiving the necessary go-ahead from Industry Canada, a radio studio was set up last week in St. Michael’s Regional High School gym, with the help of communications specialist, Fred Campbell, who owns the transmitter and antenna and other equipment and contracts it out for special broadcasts. Radio Bell Island, found at 100.1 FM, began its one-week broadcast on Monday and will continue daily live broadcasts from 4-10 p.m. until Saturday. Each live broadcast will be repeated the following morning.
In a sense, Russell explained, the radio station is a school project since it’s mainly being run by students, but they’re reaching out to all members of the community and involving them.
“It’s a fantastic display of community members of all ages and various walks of life, working together for the common good of the community,” Russell said.
Radio Bell Island’s program schedule for the week is blocked and varied: there’s a daily trivia quiz show, a suppertime news broadcast featuring local, national and international news, and an Open Line call-in show. There’s “Teddy Time,” a daily storytime show for children, and radio theatre, performed by both school kids and adult drama troupes.
The radio station includes a small soundstage, where live music by local singer/songwriters will be performed.
There’s also “Cop Talk,” today and Friday, during which students will interrogate a local police officer.
“You see the local Mountie as a law enforcement officer, but he’s not regarded as a person that has a family, a pas and a home somewhere else in the country,” Russell said. “We try to bring that out and personalize the law enforcement officer and give people a sense of just who is this person and what are his likes and dislikes, little things like that.”
One of last year’s most popular programs, which Radio Bell Island is repeating this week, is “Talk Down Memory Lane” with Henry Crane, during which Crane interviews some of the island’s senior residents, sharing everything from ghost stories to humorous tales to bits of the community’s history and culture.
There are two programs on the schedule — “OTG Playlist Countdown” and “The Shed with DJ Johnny” — when contemporary Top 40 music will be played; other than that, the station’s music programming is entirely local music, both from Bell Island and around the province.
Russell has a program today and Friday called “Vintage ViNL,” where he’ll spin some old local records.
“We have a USB turntable as part of the setup, so we’ll be able to play records. I’m going to feature some gems from Newfoundland’s musical past,” he said.
Radio Bell Island has also set up what Russell calls the media centre, where there are computers dedicated to Skype, Twitter and Facebook. The station is planning to link with other community radio stations in the province, like those on Fogo Island, Bonne Bay and Burnt Islands, involving listeners from those communities, too. The team is also hoping to connect a local family with their son, currently serving in Afghanistan, via Skype, and will broadcast the exchange.
The broadcast week will end with a live concert finale starting at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, including performances by Sean McCann and The Committed, Craig Young, Russells in the Corner, Beacon Point and more. The public is invited to attend the show in the school gym.
It’s a big undertaking for one week, Russell admits, but all those participating are thoroughly enjoying the project. The listeners are, too.
“One older gentleman who called into our Open Line last year said something in such a way that I think sums it all up,” Russell said. “He said, ‘I haven’t had this many Bell Islanders in our kitchen in about 20 years.’ People just love to hear all the voices of those in their community.”
The group is working to establish Radio Bell Island as a permanent community radio station, and has applied to both Industry Canada and the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for the required permits. Industry Canada has already given its approval; the CRTC process takes a little longer.
The broadcast team has started fundraising, and is hoping to be able to buy the $14,000 worth of equipment needed.
“It’s our hope to try and do this without going looking for government funding, so that this becomes a truly community radio station in that we created it, we paid fo the equipment, and we did it all. That’s the way we’d like to have this turn out,” Russell explained.
Listeners can tune in online to Radio Bell Island this week at www.ryakuga.net.