Home News Canada After fifteen years, Montreal’s Radio Shalom goes off the air

After fifteen years, Montreal’s Radio Shalom goes off the air

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Radio Shalom president Charles Barchechath mans the microphone at the station.
Radio Shalom president Charles Barchechath mans the microphone at the station FILE PHOTO

With the long-struggling Radio Shalom 1650 AM signing off for good on April 1, there is talk of whether some Jewish content can continue under the station’s new managers, evangelical Christians.

Stanley Asher, who was responsible for much of Radio Shalom’s English content over its history, said he may be approached about the possibility of contributing a few hours a week, but he has reservations about doing so.

“I’m not religious, but I would be a little uncomfortable doing a program and then someone else coming on afterward talking about how wonderful Jesus is,” said Asher. “I’m not sure any other Jewish people would want to either.”

With the exception of one technical director, Radio Shalom was run entirely by volunteers. It is believed to have been the last Jewish radio station as such in North America.

Asher was hosting five or six hours of programming a week on Radio Shalom before it went off the air at 6 p.m. on April 1. As it had for years at this time, Radio Shalom shut down for Shabbat and handed over the spot on the band to station CKZW, whose self-descriptor is “le son gospel du Québec.”

But when Shabbat ended this week, CKZW continued on the air.

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Radio Shalom founder and president Robert Levy warned on Dec. 30 that the not-for-profit station would close permanently if it was not bailed out of its financial problems by Jan. 31. When that self-assigned deadline passed, Levy said it would be extended because talks were continuing with Federation CJA and other parties, including outside the Jewish community.

Radio Shalom president Robert Levy is seen with Charles Barchechath, who chaired the station’s board.
Radio Shalom president Robert Levy is seen with Charles Barchechath, who chaired the station’s board

Radio Shalom had been on the AM dial for a decade and could also be heard on the Internet. For five years before it received its licence from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and assumed the call letters CJRS, Radio Shalom broadcast via a subcarrier. As listeners had to have a special radio to pick that up, Radio Shalom’s audience was very limited.

The station’s roots are in the Sephardi community, and about 60 per cent of its broadcasting was in French. Patterned on Jewish-content radio stations in France, Radio Shalom was independent and received no regular funding from any Jewish organization.

CKZW is now on air around the clock, operating out of the facilities in the Town of Mount Royal industrial park that were Radio Shalom’s. The Christian station’s founder, André Joly, has made known his intention to acquire the station from Levy, pending CRTC approval.

In response to a request for comment, Levy emailed The CJN on April 5 that “I do not wish to make a comment.”

Asher said the new managers may be required by regulation to include programming other than its usual Christian content.

Under the licence granted it by the CRTC in 2006, Radio Shalom undertook to provide 30 per cent of its broadcasting in English, at least 90 hours a week of local programming, and, of greatest relevance, to devote 18 of its 100 weekly hours of religious content to “programs intended to ensure balanced programming.”

Fifteen per cent of the air time was to be turned over to “programs produced by other religious groups,” a clause Radio Shalom apparently honoured by letting the evangelical Christian group and, earlier, other religious groups have Friday night and Saturday.

The licence, which expires in August 2017, does not specify that CJRS be a “Jewish” station.

“Disappointed, but not surprised” was how Asher described his feelings on learning he would not be coming into the station anymore.

“At one time there was a Jewish radio station in New York, but that closed. If a city with a Jewish population of three million can’t support Jewish radio, it’s hard to imagine Montreal could – and we have the French and English issue, too,” he said.

Though he finds it hard to imagine working with an evangelical Christian station, given this community’s history of seeking the conversion of Jews, Asher admits he is tempted and has made no decision yet.

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A retired teacher who had broadcast experience with CBC radio, Asher, 81, said he put in many more hours each week in preparation above his on-air time. He was grateful because he loves the medium and it has kept him occupied during retirement.

How many people tuned into Radio Shalom was never documented reliably, but a survey of 469 Jewish community members completed by Federation CJA last July found that Sephardim and francophones were more likely to be listeners.

However, about two-thirds of Ashkenazi/anglophone respondents said that they, at least, were aware of Radio Shalom’s existence.