Cree radio is entering the 21st century in the fast lane of the information highway. Cree radio stations are being equipped with satellite dishes, computers, digital phone lines and high-tech training.

It’s all being done to get ready for the launch of the Cree regional radio network some time before March in the year 2000.

For the first time, the Cree radio signal will be controlled from Cree territory, and not Montreal. For years, Cree regional radio shows have been beamed down to Montreal where CBC-North decides what gets on the air and when.

“The CBC has the switch. They give us the schedule. We really have no say. Everything is controlled by the CBC in Montreal. They transmit everything,” said Lloyd Cheechoo, executive director of the James Bay Cree Communications Society, a nonprofit association that represents the nine Quebec Cree radio stations and The Nation.

“The JBCCS would like to be independent of the CBC,” he said.

When the new Cree radio network goes on the air, local shows can be beamed to the JBCCS studio in Mistissini and broadcast across Iyiyuuschii. Also, the program schedule will be decided by Crees. “The communities will have the last say,” Cheechoo said.

That means programs like CBC-North’s show in the choice 7-to-9 a.m. time slot could potentially be moved. This is one of the tough questions facing the new radio network.
“This is prime time that CBC has always had,” said Cheechoo. “This still has to be scheduled and decided on.”

Cheechoo said the Cree network may want to come up with its own morning show. He said the JBCCS has offered to tape the CBC’s morning show and air it later in the day, but “they refused that.”

Also still to be decided is the schedule for Cree local and regional shows. Some local shows will be aired region-wide, and the JBCCS will try to get funding for some new regional shows, too.

Just how simple all these plans will be is still unclear. Some Cree communities don’t have their own transmitters. Instead, they broadcast Cree radio shows on transmitters that the CBC owns in six Cree communities.

And the CBC is refusing to carry all the new Cree shows. “For sure we would not broadcast all the programs from the JBCCS network,” said Suzanne Aubin, area manager of CBC-North Quebec.

Cheechoo insisted that the JBCCS has a right to air whatever it wants on the CBC’s transmitters because the JBCCS holds the broadcast licenses for these transmitters.

But Aubin denied this. She said the CBC has only granted access to its transmitters until now to the Crees. The CBC will still control what goes on the air on them.

The dispute looks like it will only be resolved when the Crees get their own transmitters in all nine communities. There is no money for that at the moment.

The JBCCS’s new equipment was funded with a one-time injection of $525,000 from the province under the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding agreement.

The centrepiece of the new network is an $80,000 super-computer to be used for on-air production of radio shows. The system has three servers, three monitors, the latest software and enough memory to store the JBCCS’s entire music collection.

There is also money for a 10-watt increase in the power of every station’s signal. This will make a big difference for stations with half a watt of power, but not much for those with 50,000 watts like Mistissini’s CINI-FM.

Cheechoo said one of the main challenges is finding trained personnel to fill the new jobs that will be created. Especially needed are people skilled in journalism, computers and the technical side of radio.

“I would like to encourage the youth or anyone interested in communications to consider it in their education,” said Cheechoo. “It’s a very important field for the Cree Nation.”