TERRACE, British Columbia — At first listen, CFNR-FM on 92.1 sounds like other classic rock stations you might pick up in northern British Columbia, Canada. But listen a bit longer, and you’ll likely catch other musical styles such as Aboriginal Rock and Blues, Graffiti, and Mainstream Blues.
Wild William Wesley has been broadcasting with CFNR since it opened 28 years ago. He hosts the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. show weekdays.
The station’s callsign explains why: CFNR stands for “Canada’s First Nations Radio.’ In fact, “CFNR is an independent Native owned-and-operated radio station based in Terrace, BC, Canada,” said Greg Smith, CFNR’s CEO. Heard in Terrace plus northern/central BC via satellite downlinks and local re-transmitters, “our goal continues to be serving the Aboriginal population, who have been under-served by mainstream media,” he said. CFNR can also be heard through its audio stream, and on the station’s new Apple and Android apps.
CFNR first went on air 28 years ago, after “my predecessor and group of others that paid a visit to Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon (CHON-FM in Whitehorse) that started up in the mid 1980s,” said Smith. Since that time, CFNR has built up a solid audience for its native-focused content.
“We estimate over 150,000 listeners (over the air), plus our website streaming listenership that stretches to numerous other countries,” he told RWI. “Our reach includes 80 communities that are in the northern part of BC, covering approximately 70 to 75 percent of BC. We estimate a mix of approximately 60 percent Aboriginal and 40 percent non-aboriginal listeners.”
CFNR prides itself on presenting a professional home page.
One reason CFNR has built such a sizeable audience could be due to its professionalism. Presentation-wise, the advertising-supported station stands up to anything offered on Canadian commercial radio. (It currently has 19 full-time staff members and four full-time contracted workers.)
At the same time, the station is committed to honoring its Aboriginal roots and serving its community fully. To balance these opposing forces, the station provides the music mix noted above, plus local news coverage every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and a daily program called ‘Journeys’ that showcases Aboriginal success stories. CFNR also covers First Nation events such as coverage of the Annual 50 team All Native Basketball tournament, and cultural events including National Aboriginal Day festivities.
“There is an expectation or assumption about our programming being 100 percent culture and language, which is totally unrealistic and unsustainable,” Smith said. “The challenge is finding the right balance of effectively serving First Nations, and also being appealing to mainstream listeners.”
CFNR current covers two-thirds of British Columbia using a series of retransmitters.
TOTAL PROVINCE COVERAGE
Evidently CFNR is doing something right, given its longevity as a commercial radio station/network rebroadcaster. But Smith isn’t content to rest on his laurels. “Our utmost goal is to create a province-wide network since we have been recently approved for a radio license in Vancouver, the largest city in BC,” he said. CFNR’s goal is to open this standalone station (CJNY-FM; branded as Journey 106.3) in the fall of 2018.
Smith knows that achieving these goals won’t be easy. “To remain independent and to be a First Nations broadcaster is a huge challenge,” he noted. “We don’t have the deep pockets like that of Corporate Radio.” This said, it wasn’t easy to get CFNR to where it is today — but Smith, his dedicated staff, and loyal CFNR listeners have made it happen.