Paris, 2021-12-21 17:35:00. Indigenous Radio celebrates 50 years of programming
It’s 6pm on a Friday night and the lines of communication are flashing on one of Canada’s largest local radio stations.
This will be the case for the next four hours as hundreds of listeners across Manitoba attempt to access NCI FM’s flagship program called “Friends on Friday”.
Live Demand Show began in 2004 and is a staple in many Indigenous families. Some listeners have been waiting over a year just to send a special shout out to their loved ones.
“Basically getting ahead is like winning the lottery,” says Davey Gott, one of the show’s co-hosts. Cousins brags all the time. It’s a level of love for the show that has completely astounded the community.
On any given Friday night, listeners can hear requests for songs, shouts of “cups” in other communities, or tales of big wins at a game of bingo. The heart of the show, just like the station on which it is broadcast, is around the representation of everyday life in Aboriginal communities.
NCI FM celebrates 50 years of outreach and advocacy for parts of the county that aren’t often included in mainstream media.
“You listen to it and you hear some languages, but it’s also about the community. You hear people you might know. You hear the names of the communities and you hear stories that you can relate to as well,” says David MacLeod, the station’s CEO.
Native Communications Inc. or NCI in the fall of 1971 in northern Manitoba. At the time, there was a thriving media scene in Thomson City, but MacLeod says there was a “skewed” representation when it came to Aboriginal people.
A group of Northern Aboriginal communities decided to form a committee to set up a station that would introduce Aboriginal language and culture, which later evolved into the NCI, MacLeod says.
Part of it involved conveying messages to those working on the ground, says Sidney McKay, the original board member and former broadcaster at NCI.
“People needed to send messages to hunters, hunters, and hunters, and be able to have a one-way communication system,” he recalls.
Mackay was living in Thompson when, at age 21, he was asked to be a member of the NCI board of directors.
“It was an honor. He was in the middle of something new. It wasn’t done in the North at the time, not in the language of the aborigines.”
Mackay and his co-host, Arnold Dysart, were recording the broadcast using a single microphone on a folding table. NCI has purchased airtime from local radio stations and will run half-hour programs featuring music and content in Cree. It later expanded to include religious programming as well as interviews with indigenous politicians and leaders.
The station’s primary growth occurred in the 1990s when it began purchasing transmitters to broadcast its own content. NCI was officially launched on the air in Winnipeg in the fall of 1998.
MacLeod says it now operates 57 transmitters that reach nearly every corner of the county.
“We are venturing into communities that commercial radio is not interested in. This is something that is at the heart of what we do.”
Originally from Chemawin Cree Nation, about 440 kilometers north of Winnipeg, Gott has been working with the station for about three years. Some of his early memories include NCI playing in the background while his grandmother was baking banok in their local community.
“The NCI is like the sound of the house,” says Gott. “It’s like the theme of the community.”
Other integrated programming of the station includes “Metis Hour x 2”, a two-hour show hosted by Metis music legend Ray Saint-Germain; “Countdown to Indigenous Music”, country show of Cree music; and weekly bingo games.
Roz McIvor, of Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, is the voice of “Indigenous Music Countdown” and the afternoon driving program. She says NCI hosts connect with the public in a way not seen at other stations because they understand the complex challenges facing many communities.
“NCI is a really safe place for everyone to forget everything negative and bad in their life, and enjoy their favorite music on air.”
MacLeod says the station’s future includes a push to expand its online reach to urban audiences, but notes that the essence of what it does will never change.
“Indigenous communities want to hear (themselves) and want to connect, and I think radio will always be there.”
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on December 21, 2021
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