Indigenous radio call-in show a 'bridge' keeping communities connected during pandemic
Friends on Friday broadcasts across the province on NCI FM
The people behind an Indigenous radio station's weekly call-in and request show say it's helping its listeners connect with their families and friends throughout Manitoba now more than ever during the pandemic.
"Friends on Friday is a gathering place," said Native Communications Inc. (NCI) CEO David McLeod.
"The community comes together to share requests and to update families, to give greetings, to give birthdays, anniversaries and a lot of goodwill is shared in the show."
McLeod, who is Anishinaabe from Pine Creek First Nation about 315 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, has been at the radio station for 25 years.
The NCI FM station was started in northern Manitoba in 1971 and is approaching its 50th anniversary in September. McLeod said NCI has 57 transmitters from Winnipeg to Churchill and its signal reaches 98 per cent of the province of Manitoba.
McLeod said he believes the call-in show has helped listeners stay closer to their communities as they have navigated the pandemic.
"We are that bridge to communicate back home," said McLeod.
"Part of it has to do with the music as well. There's some fan favourite songs that are ongoing and they remind people of home. They remind people of when they were younger, they remind people of their grandparents. So there's a community aspect not only in the phone calls, but in the music that's being played."
At any given time during the four-hour show, callers shout out their First Nations, and listeners get to hear Cree, Dene, Ojibway and Dakota languages on the airwaves.
"I know one listener said 'All my relatives are listening to Friends on Friday.' So that's why it has such an extreme reach in the province," said McLeod.
Like hosting a party
Every Friday, the two hosts start their shift at 5:30 p.m., and almost immediately the nine-call switchboard lights up with people trying to get their requests in for the four-hour show that starts at 6.
For host Davey Gott, the job is a dream come true.
Gott, who is from Chemawawin Cree Nation about 440 kilometres north of Winnipeg, grew up listening to the show and radio station.
He has been in the hosting chair for over a year after working his way up as the receptionist at the station and remembers the excitement of getting a chance to host the show that everyone in his family listened to.
"My family couldn't stop screaming. Same with my community. They were like blasting up the radio, they were telling me," said Gott, who also hosts the Cree Hour, a one-hour show dedicated to the language.
Jordan Knight, who is Black and Ukrainian, has been hosting the show for five years. She said it has grown in popularity through the pandemic.
"I think there's definitely more callers. A lot more connections on Facebook and people talking about it," said Knight.
"This has brought the community together and we all just have a party. That's pretty much what we do from six to 10; we party and we laugh."
As a non-Indigenous host, Knight said she has enjoyed learning about Indigenous people's traditions and culture.
"There's so much richness in it and it's so powerful when you actually take the time out and you learn it."