Saturday's Gazette features an article by yours truly about new radio station KKIC.
KKIC (Kahnawake Keeps It Country) was born out of frustration: Montreal is the largest market in North America without a (full-time) country music station. And while that style of music might not be that popular among the hip urbanites of Quebec's métropole, it's very popular among the closely-knit population of the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake.
It began as a pirate radio station in December 2009 on 106.7 MHz, the frequency formerly occupied by Aboriginal Voices Radio's Montreal station. Its goal - then and now - is to fill the need for country music in the region but in the Kahnawake community in particular.
Montreal has only two other stations that carry country music: CJMS 1040 AM, a French station that is mostly talk during peak hours, and CKRK 103.7 FM, Kahnawake's community station, which plays country music only on the weekends.
The latter helped raise KKIC's profile in 2010, when it followed up on the hiring of Ted Bird by bringing on board CJAD castoffs Laurie and Olga on the weekends and ditching country music. The decision was more financial than anything else - there wasn't advertising with the country music, and K103 hoped Laurie and Olga's following would bring in some ad money on the weekends. And it did, at first, with the Bar B Barn remaining loyal to the long-time on-air duo.
But killing country ended up backfiring, with the community up in arms about the disappearance of country music. Many were driven to KKIC, even if it was mostly automated and broadcast with less power. There was even a "passing of the country music torch" from K103 to KKIC.
By the end of 2010, the outrage drummed up sponsorship for country music weekends on K103, and Laurie and Olga were out the door.
Still, for Moon, weekends weren't enough. KKIC would keep on.
While K103 was experimenting with more lucrative programming, Industry Canada had taken interest in the pirate transmitter on 106.7 MHz. An inspector was sent in January 2010 to take readings, and though there are conflicting stories circulating about what exactly happened, the parties involved (Moon, the Peacekeepers and Industry Canada) all say there was full cooperation afterward. KKIC, which says it had no intention of operating as a pirate station, was guided through the process of obtaining a CRTC license and proper authorization for broadcasting.
Politics in Kahnawake being what they are, Moon at first approached the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake instead of the Canadian government for authorization, and in the initial CRTC application Moon asked for an exclusion from its Canadian content requirements because Kahnawake doesn't treat international borders the same way the Canadian and U.S. governments do.
In the end, Moon relented and accepted the 35% CanCon minimum (he wants to spotlight local artists in particular, so he expects to easily meet this requirement), as well as a change in frequency from 106.7 MHz to 89.9 MHz, and the CRTC approved the license on Sept. 29.
The approval came the day after I visited the station on Route 207.
It's a house. Or at least, that's what it used to be. Nobody lives there anymore, and Moon, with partners Don Patrick Martin and Patrick Periard, plan to reconfigure it for use as a radio station, including setting up a studio where live performances can be recorded.
The transmitter sits in a small rack next to the computer desk in the living room. The songs are stored on the computer, and there's a sound board and some professional microphones. It's usable as a radio studio, even though it feels like you're in someone's home.
The antenna is on a freshly-installed tower in the back yard. According to the Industry Canada database, it's 26 metres high, and when it begins operating on its assigned frequency it will be running with an average effective radiated power of 360 watts. That's about three times what it has now, and even a bit better than K103, but its coverage area will still be limited to the reserve and neighbouring communities (including, they hope, neighbouring areas on the island like Lachine and LaSalle).
Switching frequencies requires installing a new transmitter, and Moon confirmed this week that it's on track to launch on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Their callsign will be CKKI-FM.
KKIC has big plans for the station. It's still going to be mostly music, and a lot of it will be animated, but they're adding people to the schedule. Cornbread Country on Sundays. A weekly show tied with the Eastern Door newspaper. Not much, but others are planned.
The big thing to start Nov. 1 was supposed to be a new morning man, Lance Delisle, who used to work at K103. But the deal with Delisle fell through, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Moon said Delisle had decided on a better offer elsewhere. Delisle made a somewhat cryptic remark about how the station still had some things to work out first but that he wished them the best.
Moon says the station will still relaunch on Nov. 1, even if he has to be the one doing the morning show himself.
Can Kahnawake afford two stations?
For a community of only about 8,000 residents, its seems astonishing that they would have not one but two radio stations. But Kahnawake has plenty of media, some in more competition than others. I'm not sure if it's a sign of a healthy commitment to supporting not only local media but diversity in local media, or if it's a bad sign that anything designed to bring the community together will inevitably drive it apart.
For what it's worth, KKIC doesn't see itself as competing with K103. It's a commercial country music station, while K103 is a community station. Each has its role, and the two complement more than they clash.
The proof will be in whether the station can stay on its feet financially. Periard, whose fancy shirt, styled hair and BlackBerry was just about the opposite look of Moon's long hair and T-shirt when I met them at KKIC's studio last month, sees them hiring about a dozen people, including ad salespeople, who he thinks can help the station break even, particularly if it develops an audience just across the river. In any case, airing mostly music ("we get calls and emails from our listeners when we talk too much", Moon says) means their overhead is low.
The group wouldn't get into their finances much, except to say they have private investors.
I'm a bit more skeptical about their chances for financial survival. K103 isn't exactly drowning in cash, and this second station is going to divide the community's advertising budgets even further. And even at 300 watts KKIC has a long way to go before being considered a powerhouse in the region. Even mostly automated, there's a lot of overhead for a radio station.
But it's nice to see someone try.
CKKI-FM (re)launches Nov. 1 at 89.9 MHz FM. You can also stream it live at kkicradio.com