This spring, when coronavirus lockdown measures required the closure of community spaces, many churches in Peterborough pivoted to offer their worship services over the internet.
At All Saints’ Anglican Church on Rubidge Street, the worship team moved quickly and offered a service through Facebook Live on Sunday, March 15.
But according to Cormac Culkeen, the director of children, youth and family ministry at the church, the team wasn’t wholly satisfied with their livestreams.
For one, producing a high-quality video stream proved to be a challenge. But secondly, Culkeen says All Saints couldn’t reach all of their congregants that way. “A lot of our congregation doesn’t have regular access to computers and the internet,” they say.
So All Saints took a different approach. “We decided that rather than doing a livestream and trying to improve that, we would just take a different tack and go on the radio,” Culkeen says.
Culkeen turned to Trent Radio to make the project happen. While it’s funded primarily by Trent University students through a levy, Trent Radio is a resource for the whole community. Their facilities are open to any community member who wants to make and broadcast radio.
Turning to the Trent Radio airwaves (92.7 FM) proved to be a smart idea for All Saints. “It’s been so good,” Culkeen says. “Being able to just turn on the radio and be connected to a service has been instrumental in keeping our community linked together.”
And without a screen to look at, Culkeen says the medium of radio, which requires listeners to engage more actively and use their imagination, is better suited to a church service anyway. “I think it invites people to enter into the worship in a different way,” they say.
The All Saints‘ Radio Hour now airs on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. It’s pre-recorded, and Culkeen does the audio editing. The program features recordings of morning prayer, including sacred music and a sermon. Plus, some weeks include a “saint of the week” interview with a member of the All Saints community.
In the first “saint of the week” interview, former mayor Sylvia Sutherland discussed her decades-long involvement with the All Saints community.
Culkeen says, “There are people who have been part of our congregation for a really long time, who have been isolated, whether due to illness or disability or age, who have actually been more connected during the pandemic than they have been previously.”
“There’s something about the magic of radio that connects people.”
A “rekindled relationship” with radio
Many have been quick to point out that the pandemic has revealed just how essential the internet is. But it’s also revealed the value of community radio as a technology for keeping people connected to one another.
With so many of us stuck at home, “Canadians have been rekindling their relationship with radio,” wrote Alex Freedman in the Globe and Mail this July. Freedman is the executive director of the Community Radio Fund of Canada.
Freedman wrote that overall radio listenership has increased by eight percent during the pandemic. But community and campus listenership has increased by double that — 16 percent.
“Connecting people is what community radio does best, and it’s something we need more than ever during this time of unprecedented separation,” Freedman wrote.
Jill Staveley, the director of programming at Trent Radio, says the pandemic hasn’t changed the station’s ethos. But it has presented many new opportunities to serve the community.
For example, Staveley realized this spring that a resident she knew at St. Joseph’s at Fleming long-term care home was turning 100, and wouldn’t be able to celebrate in the usual way due to the COVID-19 restrictions around long-term care facilities.
So Staveley reached out to the staff at St. Joseph’s and asked: “Can we celebrate her on the radio?”
The answer was yes. To create a special birthday broadcast, Staveley put together an interview with the resident, as well as a playlist of songs and audio messages recorded by other St. Joseph’s residents and family members who lived elsewhere. When the program aired, residents of St. Joseph’s were able to tune in, as well as friends and family outside the facility.
Since that birthday broadcast, Trent Radio has aired two others: one for a second St. Joseph’s resident who turned 100, and one for long-time Trent Radio volunteer Devon Wilkins.
This fall, Trent Radio also aired a series of interviews produced in partnership with the New Canadians Centre, where newcomers to Peterborough share their stories of transition, settlement and belonging.
And next week, Trent Radio will connect the Peterborough community in a different way when it airs a reimagined radio version of In From The Cold. A favourite Peterborough holiday tradition, In From The Cold is an annual Celtic-themed Christmas concert featuring local musicians that raises money for the YES Shelter for Youth and Families. With the pandemic precluding an in-person concert this year, Trent Radio will air a program featuring recordings from past years instead. In From The Cold airs this year on December 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. Listeners are still encouraged to donate to the YES Shelter.
“I hope people will gather around the radio much like they did back in the 1930s and ’40s, and share our musical memories with us,” concert organizer John Hoffman told KawarthaNOW.
A more human medium
Echoing some of the concerns raised by Culkeen, Staveley points out that the internet isn’t accessible to everyone. “For one, not everyone can afford it,” she says. “And two, not everyone knows how to use it.”
Radio is free (as long as you have a radio) and it’s a more intuitive technology for people who don’t know how to use computers well. Because of that, Staveley says radio “gets a different demographic of people who might actually be more shut-in.”
Staveley proudly describes herself as a “radio nerd.” Her passion isn’t just because of the accessibility of radio — she also loves the intimacy and immediacy of the medium itself.
“When we all go to listen to In From The Cold, we’re going to be listening to it at the same moment,” she says. “We’re going to be laughing at the same time. We’re going to follow that experience together. And radio does that. Analog radio does that, because you’re all actually experiencing it in real time.”
When you listen to the radio, “you have to intentionally engage,” Staveley says. “You become part of the experience.”
Open for program proposals
In addition to community initiatives like the ones mentioned above, individual programmers have continued to produce radio during the pandemic.
In March, Trent Radio closed down for one week to assess the situation, and then they pivoted to a remote production model. Since then, programmers have pre-produced their shows at home and then sent them to the station to be broadcast. That means there is no longer the magic of live radio making, but the airwaves have continued to have content. Here’s the station’s current schedule.
Staveley says support is available for people who need some extra help to produce their programs at home.