Former mayor has big dreams for Igloolik’s small radio station

With little scheduled programming, anybody in hamlet can call in and find themselves live on air with no oversight

Celestino Urayak, 60, wants to form a radio committee that would oversee the operations and management of Igloolik’s community radio station, which is currently run by the hamlet council. Urayak, a former hamlet mayor, says a dedicated radio society will help update the station’s technology and provide better community programming for elders and children. (Photos courtesy of Celestino Urayak)

By Madalyn Howitt

Getting Igloolik’s radio station running at its full potential is something of a passion project for local resident Celestino Urayak. 

When he served as mayor from 2017 to 2019, Urayak dreamed of forming an official radio committee that would oversee the day-to-day management of the station, an important source of public information and original programming for the hamlet’s roughly 2,000 residents. 

A radio committee never came to be while he was in office, but Urayak, 60, still wants to give it a shot. 

“It ran really well before when I was a teenager up to my thirties,” he said of the radio station, which is housed in a small, brightly-painted shack with ageing equipment and an antenna fashioned from an oven rack. 

“We sort of want to get it back.” 

Urayak said he’s seen the station go through ups and downs over the years.

Back in 2011, it was rebooted by the hamlet council after not running at all for two years, and in 2014 it was taken over by IsumaTV Productions. 

Urayak said the station ran “pretty well” for a few years and was even streaming radio content online, but funding ran out in 2019 and the company returned it to the hamlet council.

Igloolik’s hamlet council has been running the station ever since with money from Nunavut’s Culture and Heritage department. This includes a one-time $15,000 grant earlier this year to help the station operate during the pandemic and to help the GN share information about public health measures related to COVID-19. 

Urayak’s plan would mark the first time the station would be run by a radio committee.

He said he feels a committee could do a better job of managing the station’s funds and accessing financial support that could help update the broadcasting equipment.

“We know there’s a lot of funds out there. Operated by the Hamlet of Igloolik, it’s going nowhere,” he said. 

A radio society that could focus its attention solely on the station’s objectives could also improve programming like running Inuit language weeks, alcohol awareness campaigns and children’s entertainment, and could get the station streaming online again to help reach a wider audience beyond traditional broadcasting, said Urayak. 

It could also help prevent the airways from being used inappropriately by callers, something he said happens often.  

In Igloolik, like many hamlets in Nunavut, anyone in the community can call into the radio station and speak on the air. There are two phone numbers listeners can call — one connects them with whoever is hosting the show at that time, and another phone line connects them directly to the broadcast, where they can say whatever they want. 

When the technology is working, it can be a great way for residents to connect and share information with one another, but Urayak said the setup has led to some uncomfortable situations for listeners and staff. 

On-air hosts are sometimes subjected to verbal abuse from angry or drunk callers, he said. Others have used the airways to share personal information about community members, their workplaces or even share misinformation about COVID-19. 

In February, while Igloolik was reporting the highest number of positive cases in the territory, local church pastor Peter Awa made waves in the community by using the radio to spread false information about vaccines.

Although he didn’t name names, Health Minister John Main took it upon himself at the time to publicly denounce behaviour like this.

Urayak said he’s not quite as concerned about people using the radio to spread misinformation as some residents are, but he understands their frustrations. 

“If the radio committee comes up with a great plan to run this radio, these kinds of statements or verbal abuse could go away,” he said. 

In an email to Nunatsiaq News, Culture and Heritage spokesperson Lucy Qavavauk said that while the department provides funding to community stations, neither the department nor the GN have the authority to regulate broadcasting content.

For his committee, Urayak is looking to Arctic Bay and Sanirajak for inspiration, two communities he said have done a good job revamping their local stations and making content streamable online. 

So far Urayak has recruited five people to join the committee, but needs three more to form a full team before April 1.

“Once these members are up, we’re going to be asking the hamlet council to approve [us] for society member status, and we’ll go from there,” he said. 

“And if it runs really well, hey, you never know, maybe we could connect to all Nunavummiut,” he laughed. “It’s just a dream.”

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by NORTHERN on

    We inuks sure love having commitees for everything.

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    • Posted by Uvanga on

      Because that’s the only way we can have decisions by committee . Can’t do it alone unless your municipal government has good leadership and enhance it on their own. Great leadership Celestino

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    • Posted by Aajiiqatigiingniq? on

      Isn’t the point of a committee to include multiple perspectives? To build consensus? Aajiiqatigiingniq!

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  2. Posted by Oven antenna on

    I hope that if we get a new antenna they leave the old oven rack antenna up. It makes me smile

    • Posted by Confused on

      Funny but smart, I like it.
      If a committee is formed they should call it oven rack committee 🙂

      • Posted by UNGAVA on

        I say Radio Shack committee , remember Radio Shack stores in the shopping malls in the 80 s ?

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