Last Month, Fusion Radio held a referendum vote for students to decide on whether or not they would allow the university to increase the student levy that funds Fusion Radio. The referendum was attended by about 50 students, and the staff of the station presented their new ideas to revitalize their programming and infrastructure for students. The current levy collected is 4.85 CAD per term per student, and would increase to eight dollars. Some have expressed concern, some absolutely love it.

Our News Editor, Sajjad Jaffery decided to go straight to the station and look at the work being done by Fusion Radio in the flesh. Marc Laurin, the station manager and a UTSC student, gave us a cool tour, let us play around with the studio equipment and shared his perspective on increased funding and its impact of campus life.  

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The Underground (UG): Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do?

Marc Laurin (ML): I’m the station manager, so I oversee all operations like marketing and technical duties. The President, Ramisa, oversees the budget, contracts and collaboration.  Essentially, the board votes on it and the staff actually does the work. The staff is paid, but the board is not since it is a not-for-profit organization.

UG: Fusion Radio made the choice to hold a referendum to increase the student levy. Are you able to tell us what led you guys to hold the referendum?

ML: The students actually made the decision to [hold a referendum] at our Annual General Meeting earlier last year. Obviously we made the initial call out for funding. Especially for radio, the market right now is so saturated so it will take some flexing to get on there. We are in Scarborough so it’s not as bad. The frequency that was open last year [had] five radio stations [fighting] for it. Our station is at a good standing, so if we were in competition with other radio stations we could get it. Obviously it’s not a sure thing.  

A great thing about us is that we are tied to the National Campus Radio Association (NCRA) who oversee the operations of 50-100 other stations. Our setup is good and we have the equipment and knowledge to run a radio station. The Canadian Radio-television & telecommunication commission (CRTC) looks at things like that. Basically, we need funding to expand our programming. Our [recording] studio has been upgraded because it was really cramped.

Taking over as station manager I really wanted to streamline everything. Nothing should be difficult for anyone, there should be no red tape. Even small things like the [recording] studio is very hard to access. That’s not a good thing especially since we are here for students. It was in use, but not usually by students. We changed small things and got to the point where we can now worry about bigger things like getting on to FM. After an analysis conducted for FM, the implementation would cost over $40 000. We can absorb the cost at this point, but isn’t the only expenditure when it comes to FM. There are other costs for lawyers, lobbying, regulation and other fees.

The old [recording] booth in the [recording] studio was delaptated. [Not only is] that unprofessional, that’s [also] a health hazard. That’s why we endeavoured to build our own [and] anything we do is done by us. We have money, we aren’t hurting, but we also don’t like wasting money so we do a lot ourselves.  In any project the biggest cost is the labour. Kajan, a few others and I would spend nights and numerous hours putting things together ourselves.  

We even started to look at staffing and realized we may need more. The AGM was used to gauge the interest of students. Do students even think this is a good idea? With the CIUT they are FM, you can drive around downtown listening to them but they are very well funded meaning they have been able to establish themselves.  

The funding we are asking for is to do the same.  Some people may think the cost is too high, the NCRA has campaigns where defunding is an option which is legitimate. If the students want to lower fees in a couple years they can.

UG: What is the fee going up to now?

ML: We get a per term student fee, so if you look at your tuition the fee for Fusion Radio is 4.85 CAD. So we would like to increase it to about eight dollars. At the AGM we posed it as 7.10 CAD. Once we went through the hard numbers we just added some cushion for safety. Even with the Radio, we have predicted a price but that’s not set in stone. We have FM equipment, it is a bit dated and not the strongest stuff, but it is a good place to start.  

As we do move forward though we will have to get more equipment.  We have a finance manager and a finance assistant, who went through all of this material.  The members supported it, even though the turnout wasn’t huge. 50-100 people for me isn’t enough but obviously in terms of by-laws it meets quorum and therefore is sufficient. It really is about reaching the larger student population. A lot of people have the apathetic commuter student attitude and they won’t care and you can’t really do much about it. We took the summer to look at the idea. In September, we decided we should do a referendum.

The referendum was good but we haven’t got the official results. There is obviously bureaucracy involved, but i’m hoping they are in today. I’m sure the votes have been dealt with, we just need the CRO report to finally announce the results. It seemed like we have enough support, but you can’t really tell. Everyone seemed really cool, but there were a couple people who were kind of opposed to it. The way I look at it, every other campus has a radio station, and we still think radio is on it’s way out. But, if you look at stats, there are obviously changes in the market, but FM and AM radio are still going strong. Obviously there are new platforms, like online. The penetration rate is still high, however. People who drive are still radio users, unless you only bump your mp3 or a CD. Not being over the air hurts my pride. I want people to drive around Scarborough and listen to our music. I listen to the radio and I think Fusion is way better, why are we not on this? It’s a goal. Not everyone will be into radio so that’s why we have other things.

You can still listen to us on your phone or online but we want it to be accessible for people not just at UTSC. We want people who are not students knowing what we are doing.  This is U of T, we are a reputable school.  

UG: Yeah, like adding a solid number would give you a bit more legitimacy?

ML: Fusion Radio has been around for more than 20 years now so we are fairly established. There are certain things in terms of legitimacy like having a frequency that could help us. I’m not trying to undermine what’s already going on but we need to strive for more. The [recording] studio setup and the events we have are all huge for us too. I’m new here. I’ve been here for maybe a year now, but not with staff control. I’m not sure if you are familiar with what happened last year, but it was basically an overturn of students. You know how student organizations are – people come for three to four years and then there is a turn over. You get really good crowds, but the last administration was just so-so. I can say it myself. I am an honest guy and I don’t beat around the bush. They were so-so. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t exceptionally great either. They did their job which was good. But the crowd before them were exceptionally great, they were the last people to strive for FM. They made a lot of changes and made a crazy radio set up, changed the [recording] booth, and made a custom made table. They put in some hard work.  

When I came in we had to change the recording studio – it was way too cramped.  It was outdated, still good, but we needed to change it.  That is still a high priority item since for a lot of students this [recording] studio will be a huge asset. It’s not just for [music] production, you can use that area for video editing and everything else production wise. To make this available to students, that’s huge!

UG: What were some challenges while you were restructuring?

ML: When you’re trying to restructure your organization, you can’t always show people what you are doing. When there is a problem, I fix it then I tell people. I officially became station manager in April last year, we have a great team and have made huge changes in the last six months. We have changed up the crowd, the staff has changed. Obviously certain people like Kajan are amazing.  

I won’t beat around the bush, a lot of people were fired or resigned since their terms were coming up. I don’t want to be cold about it – they are great people, don’t get me wrong.  Rudolf was a great guy. There was a position we had for music director in which we were paying someone to largely stay connected to a lot of record labels. We got 100 CDs a week. We are on the map, people know us. It’s just that this position has to network with these labels but it was being largely underutilized, so why do we have someone being paid for it?  Don’t get me wrong, the position is valuable but at that point in time it was not useful. So we cut the position and let the person go. We had merge those duties to other people and we felt that position was inefficient and was a waste of money. So there was a lot of cutting. We also had to introduce standards and radio policy.  

UG: Can you tell us more about those?

ML: Well this may seem like just a piece of paper to many but this was a game changer.  This was drafted and went through a few people and the board. Some of the items on the standards sheet are just basic things. It’s good to have a document that everyone can see before using the studio.  

One of the articles that The Underground has written, and I don’t hold grudges, but I felt the article went from one situation and segued into the Fusion Radio situation which was irrelevant.  None of that should have been said, but it says that I was tearing down stickers. You see that first item [in terms of our standards] to help create a positive space. I think with the article, it was a personal issue that became a political issue that got put on the map – which is good, but maybe not the way it happened. It definitely was a grassroot issue pushed to the top. This is an example of a great change that happened here.  

We already had SC:OUT have their own show here. We had a good relationship with them and it had nothing to do with them. Someone was coming to studio who was a friend of a staff member and put stickers all over the windows kind of haphazardly placed. So I wanted to clean the office up. Someone was really upset the stickers were taken down. But if we went slapping stickers everywhere people wouldn’t like that either. It’s not a personal front to your message. It kind of got spun in different ways, the person who wrote it was going off information they were told, not sure if it was verified or not.  

The person that gave out the information was terminated here. It was a sticky situation, but we support positive space. We are not going to tolerate any homophobia or anything of that sort.

We want to make an environment where everything is kind of smooth and flowing. The axe did come down on a lot of people. But there are people like Kajan who are amazing. He used to do double the work that the station manager was doing and was getting paid a lot less. If we break down what this guy gets paid in a year, it’s like two dollars an hour maybe [Laughs].

We aren’t paid a lot to begin with. I work more than full-time here and I get like $20 000 a year. I’m not complaining, but it can put you onto other things. People have to understand we are putting so much work to make this all smooth. But to see people getting paid and underperforming, we have to let you go.  

Our website is good and it has all the forms and documents you need to get started. We want everyone to know that we have these assets and they are open for student use.

UG: How does music licensing and royalties work?

ML: Well, I just got mail from The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) and we have to pay licensing fees and royalties. They have recently changed the fees for online radio. Even with NCRA, we pay a fee and they put us onto a lot of cool stuff. But it’s like a few grand a year for us to stay with them. As a legit radio station, you can’t ignore SOCAN – that’s the Canadian music licensing body. You have to pay them or they will get onto you like, ‘where’s the money?’

UG: Do you guys network extensively?

ML: We are not small, we have people send us stuff. No one major comes up here to be honest. You can compare us to FLOW – they really only have established names and DJs.  Our setup is at par. There are two major microphones you can use, the SM7Bs or an older model. Our consoles are industry standard. We aren’t small, but we just aren’t reputable yet.  When artists come to the city they want to come on radio. You don’t have to pay them, they will come through. We’ve had a few C-list artists come in. The ball is rolling.  

We don’t like to talk about this too much because it didn’t happen, but before Rudy and the old crowd left, I was also involved and we were trying to boost the reputation of the station. So, we planned to have a tri-campus concert event. At the time we were shopping for artists, and I was in a fraternity with a few people who worked at clubs downtown, and were plugged into the right crowd. We had a link with the Weeknd’s management, and before the summer we planned to have him for orientation. Who do we really have? Shawn Desman? That’s embarrassing! I remember him from 10 years ago. He was like meh?

UG: That super dope, the Weeknd is so Scarborough!

ML: We had negotiations with his team and he said about 50 to 60 000 CAD.  Which for us is still out of our budget.  But if we would have signed the deal then, we would have had the Weeknd for orientation.  We had our own internal struggles, and many were trying to be conducive. At the time I was a board member and only had voting rights. But if you have a staff that is unwilling to take the risk, it becomes impossible. Money was obviously a huge issue – we don’t have $60 000 we can send. I know our budget has room for our usual stuff but not if we want to book talent. It’s not that it’s a loss, we get the money back from ticket sales.  It’s the initial capital we need to invest in things like this.

How dope would it be if we told you the Weeknd is coming to U of T to perform?  If

we want to make it work, we could. But it really is kind of late because to get the Weeknd now it’s like over $300 000 to do a show. Take in he did triple Billboard, was on SNL and had Grammy nominations. We lost out on the Weeknd when we could have had him.  

I hate talking about it, it hurts me. But we will make something work. We have our eyes on Future, even though Ryerson University already did it. York University did Big Sean. Scarbrough has to be next.

Increased funding will help us increase reputation and help us get talent into the building. I’m super glad The Underground came around to help get this message out to the students.  We just need more money for programming and we will make it work for them.

UG: That would be super awesome if he came through. Maybe you can get me backstage. Is there anything else you would like students to know?

ML: We are plugged in everywhere. We are helping with TED talks, we gave SCSU money.  We are doing a lot but students are not aware. Students don’t know we gave $3 500 to the SCSU for orientation. I just want people to know that we are using their money wisely and working very hard.  

UG: Thanks Marc and hopefully we will hear the results soon!