Valery Vlad is optimistic. He also looks decidedly out of place. Sitting outside a small café at the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, wearing a rough green sweater, jeans, work boots, his big hands engulfing a tiny white mug of expresso, Vlad can’t stop smiling. He’s president of the board of directors for Le Cooperative Radiophonique de Toronto – a new, francophone radio station that will serve the GTA with local news and modern French music – two areas that the SRC (the French version of the CBC) is not covering.

“We will service all the francophone communities in Toronto,” Vlad says, shaking a Player’s Light out of the packet at his elbow. “African, Haitian, Métis, Eastern European, Acadian, Quebecois – these communities are invisible. There is no Little Paris, no little francophone area. Our radio will make a community.”

To do this, Le Cooperative is consulting with each of the francophone communities in the Greater Toronto Area, gauging their programming needs and interest in the new station. “If the community is not interested or not organized, it’s not a problem,” Vlad says. Each community will have specific programming hours each week in which news and music will be broadcast in its specific version of French – Creole to Parisian – and the broadcasters will be members of those communities themselves. “The people from the communities give their time and their passion,” Vlad says. “They are the people who will get shows.” These news segments will contain information about global francophone communities, reflecting the international interests and backgrounds of Le Cooperative’s members. Vlad is Romanian and Patrick Bizindavyi, the production manager, moved to Canada from Burundi in 2001.

The new station also hopes to appeal to a younger audience than that catered to by the SRC. The popular music and local news will help, but there’s a second plan in the works. Vlad finishes his second cigarette and leans across the table grinning. “Our program, it’s also to develop school radios,” he says. Le Cooperative plans to help elementary students in the GTA start and operate their own school radio stations. “Children like to do radio and don’t have the funding or the knowledge. Of course, we’re also thinking of our future. These children will listen to our radio and maybe volunteer with us in later life.”

Le Cooperative is a member of L’Alliance des Radios Communautaires (ARC) of Canada, an umbrella organization for 28 community radios across Canada. Le Cooperative received a license to broadcast from the CRTC on April 17, 2003. The license is for a Type A community radio station, which means at least 15 per cent of its programming will be spoken word. The station will also broadcast programming from other francophone radio stations across Canada. The station has two years to start broadcasting on 105.1 FM.

Andre Campeau, a senior policy analyst with the CRTC, says there is a “definite lack” in local news for the GTA’s francophones. In addition to serving a wide and under-represented audience, it will also have to devote $15,000 a year to furthering Canadian talent. This is an unusual add-on for a community radio station. “Our policy calls for stations to define what they intend to do, but not necessarily to attach a dollar amount to it.”

Le Cooperative made two previous bids for a license – one in 1994 and one in 2000. After undertaking two studies in 2001 on the various French-speaking communities of the GTA to measure interest in their new station, they decided to add the dollar amount to their mandate. “The French-speaking community in Toronto is an invisible community,” says Christian Martel, the former president of Le Cooperative. “We have an agreement with Canadian Multicultural Radio and other francophone radio stations to try and promote Franco-Canadian talent in the GTA.”
Vlad is struggling with the wind to light his third cigarette. “There are many things we still have to do,” he says. “Maybe in March we will start the radio.” Le Cooperative might have a license, but it still has to find a building to house its operations and a place for its antenna, prepare studies for the CRTC and the organizations helping with funding, buy equipment, and set up studio space. Right now, 105.1 FM is as invisible as its audience.