Toronto

Thousands sign petition to keep Toronto radio station G98.7 Black-owned and operated

For years, it was one of Canada's only Black-owned and operated radio stations, but now many worry the sale of G98.7 could mean a vital gateway for Black voices in radio could disappear from the airwaves.

Station up for sale following death of founder Fitzroy Gordon last year

Launched by Fitzroy Gordon in 2011, G98.7 or CKFG-FM, was dedicated to providing Caribbean programming, with its show Grapevine a favourite among many older Black Canadians. (@G987GM/Twitter)

For years, it's been one of Canada's only Black-owned and operated radio stations, but now many worry the sale of G98.7 could mean a vital gateway for Black voices in radio could disappear from the airwaves.

Launched by Fitzroy Gordon in 2011, G98.7 or CKFG-FM, was dedicated to providing Caribbean programming, with its show Grapevine a favourite among many older Black Canadians.

With Gordon at the helm, the station "spoke powerfully to urban issues," Toronto Mayor John Tory said in in 2019 upon Gordon's death. 

But in the months since, the station was placed into receivership and is now up for sale — something Aubrey Clarke, president of Envision Urban Sales and Marketing, fears could mean permanently losing a key platform for Black voices.

"There are no more FM frequencies left in Canada and if the Black community loses this frequency, the chance of them getting a radio voice again in Canada is like next to none," Clarke told CBC News.

 
Fitzroy Gordon, the founder of Toronto-based radio station dedicated to providing Caribbean programming, died last year. (Submitted by Marvette Gordon)

Clarke started on radio in the early 2000s when Flow 93.5 was the first Black-owned radio station in Canada. But after that station changed hands, there was a dearth of Black-owned radio platforms, and eventually G98.7 became the go-to for Black voices, he explained. 

But with final bids going by the end of the month, the station is set to be awarded to a bidder Sept. 11, Clarke says.

'The gateway would be closed'

"My worst fear is that the Black community will lose its voice forever in the Canadian market. The gateway would be closed for other people like myself to be able to get into the market."

With the sale date fast approaching, Clarke launched an online petition, signed by more than 4,000 people so far, calling for the station to remain majority Black-owned and operated at all times and to make that a condition of its licence.

The radio station's executive director Delford Blythe declined to comment on the petition.

He also points out that G98.7 was subject to strict conditions to primarily play genres of music other than R&B and hip-hop, something he wants to see change. 

"We have several stations playing our urban content in the marketplace but none of them are controlled by Black people," he said, adding Black-owned media helped launched the careers of many mainstream artists today. 

After its founder Fitzroy Gordon's death, the station was placed into receivership and is now up for sale — something Aubrey Clarke, president of Envision Urban Sales and Marketing, fears could mean losing a key platform for Black voices permanently. (CBC)

"Blacks in music influence popular culture and a Black-owned station should be able to play all of it."

So far, Clarke says he's received letters of support from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, the NDP Black caucus and Toronto's mayor among others.

"Representation on the airwaves is as important as representation within our institutions," Tory said in a letter to the receiver A. Farber & Partners. 

"Ownership by a non-Black group will impede the ability and agency of Black Torontonians to speak for themselves at a time when it is extremely critical to our resolution of serious race-related issues in Canada's most populous region," the letter says.

Station sale expected by early September

In a statement to CBC News, the CRTC said the matter doesn't currently involve the commission as it is a court-ordered receivership and sales process.

"At this point there is no application before the CRTC requesting a change of ownership or effective control.  Should such an application be received, we will take into consideration all of the concerns of interested parties in an open and transparent public process, as is our normal practice," said spokesperson Patricia Valladao.

Reggae musician Exco Levi is among those supporting the call. 

"This is our main platform," he said, especially "as a local artist that's not signed to a major record label."

Shari Yearwood of New Haven Funeral Centre says the platform is also vital for Black business owners and worries losing it will mean an "underserved market will be even more underserved."

"It's been our sole opportunity to communicate to our community, to talk to them the way we can, the way we speak. This is probably the only station we have the opportunity to do this with," she said. 

But for Clarke, it's also an important pathway for the next generation of Black broadcasters.

"It's inspired us... It's given our young people something to look up to and say, 'Hey, maybe I can be on radio one day.'"

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

With files from Talia Ricci

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