This week in the Future of Ottawa series, together with someone working in the Canadian soundscape, we reflect on how local radio stations, programming and communities are now and where they are headed. Read on for a Q&A with Kwende Kefentse about the future of local radio.
Know Kefentse is the Acting CEO of the local radio station CKCU. He has worked for more than 15 years at the crossroads of art, public policy, urban studies, music and economics. Kwende played a crucial role in the development of the City of Ottawa’s renewed action plan for arts, heritage and culture for the period 2013 to 2018. He also led the development of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC), a non-profit organization working on the development of local music industry. Recently, Kwende worked on the Ottawa Music Strategy for the period 2018 to 2020.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: What is the current landscape of local radio in Ottawa?
What is the word I would use? Underdeveloped but promising. I think there is a great potential for this medium and especially for this medium in this city at this moment. By saying underdeveloped and promising, I might be trying to say that I think there are many opportunities there.
I know you grew up in the Greater Toronto area and that you took an education in London, UK. Do these places come to mind when you think about what makes Ottawa’s local radio scene underdeveloped? Is it in relation to a certain kind of goal you have in mind?
No, I think it’s a bit compared to my experience in the city. And that I have been fortunate to have a lot of really dynamic experiences with a lot of different kinds of people all over Ottawa. And I do not always see or hear these stories prominently in the media. That’s more what I’m talking about. These platforms, it’s a kind of role that they play now, and could be. I think there is an opportunity to reconsider the position of these businesses, and a kind of role that they can play in creating platforms for these stories and people leaving these experiences that I have been so lucky having.
Would it be fair to say that the development of the city’s local radio scene would require more overlap in terms of what stories are told on these platforms with what is actually happening out in the communities they are to serve?
Yes, absolutely. That’s more what I’m saying. More a sympathetic dynamic relationship between things that happen and what is present on these platforms, and so by virtue of that, I think it also extends to the way the city sees itself. I think that’s ultimately how success looks.
Where do you anticipate that local radio will go to Ottawa in 2021?
Both the major local radio stations (CHUO and CKCU) are undergoing some very major changes right now. And I find that exciting. Both are in the process of rethinking and trying to rethink both the constitution and the impact of these platforms. I think these changes will bring us, at least in the case of CKCU, more into collaboration with some of the other platforms. Both community radio stations on campus will eventually redefine themselves in different ways, and it will be in conjunction with all of these other community platforms in the field that did not exist. [before]. And I think it will have a real impact on the way Ottawa is able to connect to and digest this moment of change that is happening in general.
Where in your wildest dreams could local radio go in your lifetime?
I think it can go really far, of course. I do.
Local media organizations like CKCU could play that role, not just for the community or for this country, insofar as they are critical businesses where people learn about what it means to live here in all the different facets of it. From being able to broadcast alternative and grassroots perspectives on the spectrum of life experiences one can get here. It is one of our advantages that we can go anywhere. We can go all the places that commercial media can not, will not, never will. And we must lean into that.
What is the best innovation that has taken place in local radio since the pandemic began to affect Ottawa?
Our whole thing at CKCU was built on intuition and tradition. I think this interruption was good. It was the best innovation that it interrupted all that and forced everyone to really reconsider our approach to self-producing content, which for me is a really important part of the transformation that needs to happen with the station. It would have been a very challenging thing to convince people that “Hey, maybe we should think about content in a different way.”
What is the future of local radio in Ottawa?
I do not know. It is the community in the end. That’s Ottawa’s face changing. That’s who it is. It is he who is the future of it.
Tell us something you wish someone had told you before you start your career in local radio.
Male. There are many things. [Laughs]. I do not know. I’m so stuck in administrative mumbo jumbo right now. I wish someone told me how long it would take me to get to the music section. I’ve not even done anything related to music at the station yet, because it’s just been admin. In so many ways, it feels a bit like a startup because we bring administrative systems out of the paper age.
It’s a lot of it right now, just getting infrastructure that allows us to scale. Obviously, we can get in there and do a lot of flashy things now, create content, do things that might attract more eyes. But none of that will prepare us to grow to the place where we will grow. So we just need to get some of that foundation down right now. I wish someone told me how long it would take.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we bring the series back and ask experts, artists and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry as it looks now and where they think – or dream – it will go over the next few years. Every week, we profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored – from social justice to theater, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural surroundings. See the whole series here.