Boosting the signal: CICV expands reach

Mike Bishop of Radio Cowichan is ecstatic.

"More than five years of preparation can be summed up in one word: approved!" he said.

That’s the magic word the volunteer-run community radio station, CICV, has been waiting to hear from Industry Canada, the final link in a long chain of events.

Now preparation turns to installation of equipment that will increase CICV’s broadcast strength tenfold, going from five watts to 50 watts.

That means the Cowichan Valley Community Radio Society’s board and volunteers are busy.

"We are working feverously to relocate our broadcast antenna to its new and improved elevation near the intersection of Deer Road and the Youbou Highway, next-door to Ts’uubaaasatx, the Lake Cowichan First Nation," said Bishop, who besides being an on air stalwart, is also CVCRS chair.

The power increase sounds tiny but it’s huge for this little station.

Right now, it can only be heard around Cowichan Lake but the CICV gang have been counting on the increase in wattage to increase their audience.

"Only final testing will confirm the coverage area but we are targeting the complete Cowichan watershed starting in Youbou and fanning out south-eastward from Crofton to Cobble Hill," he said.

Another change is a move to a new spot on the radio dial.

"Because of the power increase CICV has been instructed as part of the upgrade to change our frequency to 97.5 MHz FM. We will be conducting an information blitz when the new frequency takes effect."

Worldwide listeners will still find a link to the station’s programming at cicv.ca where you click on the old-fashioned radio, give the tubes a second to warm up, and then Cowichan Lake is broadcasting to you.

The Radio Cowichan studios are now located in the former band room at the Lake Cowichan School, after moving from the previous site in the old ranger station in the downtown core.

"This location on the school campus allows for great interaction between station volunteers and the student/teacher population," Bishop said, pointing out that it’s a community station offering tours and broadcast training to interested students, a recording and broadcast venue to local artists, and perhaps most importantly an off-the-grid link between the general public and emergency services in times of emergency or disaster.

Although they’re staffed by volunteers, there’s always the need for money to support the operation of the station and its many community minded projects.

Donations can be made at any branch of Island Savings to account number 2068823.

It’s been a long journey for the Cowichan Valley Community Radio Society, which owes its existence to three friends: Ron McKenzie, Karl Dalskog and Brian Simpson.

They were sitting around the kitchen table over cups of tea about eight years ago, and according to Bishop, "the discussion started, the pen hit the napkin and an idea took form: a radio station for the Lake Cowichan area."

An Internet operation at first, the fledgling station moved from location to location and finally found a home in the old Lake Cowichan Ambulance building which had been moved to Wellington Road.

The three "founding fathers" filled out all the necessary paperwork to obtain a CRTC licence to operate as a low power "developmental" station.

CICV has been on the air ever since, except for some dead air due to the occasional equipment malfunction. Bishop said that the favourable decision from Industry Canada allowing the actual construction of the new antenna and operation of the more powerful transmitter was due in large part to two very favourable letters of support, one from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the other from the Lake Cowichan First Nation.

The CVRD’s Conrad Cowan, manager of its public safety division, wrote to Bishop, saying, "From a public safety perspective, the CVRD Emergency Program is pleased to know the [society] has the ability to broadcast off the grid in times of a power failure during emergency or disaster events. Broadcasting via their new transmitter antenna will afford maximum listener coverage at times when it will be of great benefit to all the residents of the greater Cowichan Valley," Cowan said.

"It is a pleasure knowing that the Cowichan Valley has such dedicated organizations like the Cowichan Valley Community Radio Society serving our communities," he added.

The Lake Cowichan First Nation’s Chief Cyril Livingstone, said the band had also looked carefully at the application to move the tower.

"We are pleased to see that over the long term there is an appetite and desire to have joint programming occur to have our traditional language shared across the airwaves," Livingstone said. "We feel that this will only enhance our efforts to regain our language and culture and we believe that any and all mediums should be utilized to assist in such a process."