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With a former station manager allegedly in a foreign country with misappropriated funding and dire financial obligations to the AMS, student-funded campus radio station CiTR 101.9 FM has had a rough few years. But after paying off their debt last April, CiTR is now making plans for modernization.
CiTR’s legal headache stems from their former station manager, Lydia Masemola. According to legal documents from British Columbia’s provincial court system, CiTR claims $21,750 of revenue was misappropriated by the former station manager. Masemola, who was the station manager from May 1, 2003, to October 26, 2007, did not inform CiTR’s board of directors about the $30,000 she borrowed from the AMS for regular equipment maintenance and upgrade costs, according to CiTR board member David Frank. Frank is the designated spokesperson for questions regarding Masemola’s employment at CiTR.
As station manager, Masemola was responsible for the radio’s day-to-day operations and financial accounting. She would, for example, oversee the sale of the $20 and $35 membership fee students and community members must pay, respectively, to volunteer with CiTR. She managed sales of CiTR t-shirts. CiTR can not confidently assert how much of its cash-based sales Masemola allegedly siphoned off.
Masemola also oversaw the cash boxes at the station’s annual fundraiser and battle of the bands, Shindig. Held each year at the downtown Railway Club, this event has been going on for the last 25 years.
Four years into her employment, Masemola began to raise suspicion with the radio’s board members, according to Frank.
“We were starting to sense something was not right in August, September ,” said Frank. “Board members weren’t getting financial statements that made sense… In late October, she came forward and actually admitted she had not deposited all the cash that was received from membership fees, Shindig, and also the sale of t-shirts and other promo items. The board immediately took her resignation.”
Frank said CiTR hired Allison Benjamin, its student president at the time, to investigate the depth of the alleged corruption. While investigating, Benjamin also served as the interim station manager. Benjamin found that Masemola had presented financial statements to CiTR’s board that hid over-spending on capital and operating expenses by approximately $30,000.
“The $30,000 were expenditures not recorded on the financial statements that were presented to the board,” Frank said. “The $30,000 was spent on capital equipment. The irony is that it was actually spent well, but the problem is that it really wasn’t ours to spend.
“Basically, we were borrowing money from the AMS to make those expenditures without being aware of it,” he continued.
Masemola’s financial statements to CiTR’s board said she deposited approximately $20,000 into the AMS’s capital reserve fund, Frank said, which wasn’t the case.
According to minutes from the February 2008 Annual General Meeting, CiTR’s capital reserve fund had a deficit of $53,662. $21,750 of the deficit was the cash Masemola allegedly did not deposit into CiTR’s bank account. Most of the remaining $31,912 was spent without the station’s knowledge on studio upgrades and equipment. The station came to realize that they were in a serious financial bind.
“The way that we alleged that she could take money and what we filed in court is that she did not deposit membership fees and other revenues coming into the station over an extended period of time. That, we are alleging, added up to $21,750. And then in addition, she was presenting incorrect financial statements to the board which basically hid $30,000 in expenditure that did not go into her pocket. That added up to $50,000. That’s basically how much money this radio station was in debt to the AMS,” Frank said.
Bad blood between friends
Masemola, Frank said, had initially promised to repay CiTR $21,750, but left the country shortly after.
“We did recover $3250 from her through cheques,” said Frank. “But before we could take the next steps, she left the country…I’m pretty comfortable in saying that she went to South Africa, and my understanding is that she is still there. We’ve lost all communication with her.”
Frank added that the station is not expecting to recover the remaining amount, which it now considers stolen.
When reached for comment regarding the Masemola affair, 2008-09 AMS VP Finance Chris Diplock declined to comment, offering no specific reason as to why. Saying he was too far removed from office to comment knowledgably, 2009-10 AMS VP Finance Tom Dvorak also declined to answer questions. Attempts have been made to get comment from Lydia Masemola, with no reply at this time.
To guard against future financial hardship, CiTR quickly put in place a few key reforms. They made the AMS VP Finance a permanent member of CiTR’s board so that they would, as Frank put it, “have someone who knows the systems of the AMS right there at the table.” The AMS’s financial statements with regard to CiTR and the station manager’s accounting are both sent to Frank and the other board members each month to ensure that the two separately written reports match.
“On an annual basis there’s an independent audit to make sure that the capital reserve balance and the annual income statement all jive and balance up,” Frank said.
The discovery was devastating, several CiTR devotees said.
“When we found out that Lydia had stolen the money, it was like being at a party and being served a delicious Dairy Queen brand ice cream cake. Except, instead of ice cream, Dairy Queen had filled it with dog shit,” longtime CiTR DJ Maxwell Maxwell said. “She was warm and caring. She was pretty feisty, but for the most part, she got along well with everyone. You know, the real motherfucker was that we were all pretty close friends with her.”
“It was a horrible victimizing situation,” Frank said. “It could have killed the station…it was a horrible, gut-wrenching experience, especially being on the board,” he added. “
“I’m so proud [of] the radio station…it’s a real story of triumph over adversity. It’s almost like you’re on a winning team and then out of the blue your quarterback is found out to have been using steroids the whole time and the whole team finds out and falls apart.”
Having fully paid off their debt to the AMS by April 30 this year, CiTR is looking to start fresh.
“We’re at the point I’d say where we’re not making lots of money,” said current station manager Brenda Grunua. “We’re just in a healthy financial position.”
CiTR is looking towards the future. With the new-found financial freedom, Grunua sees the need to update the station.
“Community and campus radio stations in the States have all gone digital,” she said. “I want to make sure we stay ahead of the curve, so that we’re not in a position where we can’t air the music we want. We’re not in that position yet, but I can see that happening in a year or two down the road.”
To that end, CiTR advertised a summer position to build a digital music library. St Regent’s master student Jared Penner, a Computer Science and English major from the University of Waterloo, was hired after submitting a proposal. The $10,000 to $15,000 project, he explained, is a way to ease the burden on DJs and ensures the long-term viability of the music the station holds.
“The server costs between $2,500 and $5,000. It depends how you configure it,” said Penner, who didn’t reveal the nine terabyte server’s true cost.
The server has many separate hard drives that expand its capacity and has some sophisticated backup technology.
“[The server] stores each song not-quite twice,” he said. “….We’re going to take our whole library and we’ll convert them to digital. That means they’ll be searchable. Track plays. And so on. And it prevents data loss: CDs scratch, CDs go missing, or they get broken. And it’s also faster to browse through the whole collection if you can search by year or genre.”
“We’re starting to get a lot more digital submissions from digital labels…we needed a central place to play. Once you do it for a few files, you may as well do it for your whole record library,” he said.
The project is to be paid for by a week-long fundraiser News Director Andrew Longhurst is organizing for the week of November 17-25. A DJ battle, hosted in the Pit, will kick off the week. The majority of the money will be raised through on-air requests, with volunteers staffing the phone lines in the members’ lounge day and night. Longhurst hopes the drive will garner $30,000. Half will pay for the digital music library initiative, while the remainder will go towards general operations, such as repairs or travel costs. Previous $30,000 week-long fundraisers, Longhurst said, were successful, falling short by only a thousand or two.
Penner said the project is expected to be time-consuming considering the size of CiTR’s library, but technology has made it more manageable.
“We have a little robotic loader that will burn a hundred CDs at a time,” said Penner. “We set that up to run overnight, and so over ten hours at night, it’ll rip a hundred CDs. And then we have two smaller computers ripping, like, four at a time during the day….we hope to do it in under a year. The difficult part is that we have a lot of obscure, local music that isn’t in iTunes, so the artist and album information isn’t recognized, so then you have to manually enter the information. We hope to have only 20 per cent where we have to manually enter the information. We need lots of volunteers to track all that.”
The new logo
Along with the upgrade to a digital library, CiTR has adopted a new logo, an Emu, which replaced their decades-old ‘tape-head’ logo. Some CiTR stalwarts also have doubts about the new logo, and find the emu disconcerting. They declined to discuss their discomfort about the new logo.
Others have overcome their initial objections. Sponsorship Coordinator Andrew Longhurst is pleased with the new look, partly because people will more easily see the station’s frequency.
“I think it’s fun. It’s independent. It’s crazy. It’s kind of CiTR…I was initially uncertain about it, but I think it’s really grown on me. It’ll prove to be something people recognize.”
Recognition was a problem with the previous logo.
“[Tape-head] has a number of problems. The main problem is that you can’t read the word CiTR on it… so partly it’s just the visual impression wasn’t there. You didn’t see it on a poster and say, ‘Oh, that CiTR 101.9,’ and get a sense of who we are from it,” Grunau said. “The tape-head was really old, probably about 20 years old.”
While no one knows for sure when tape-head was adopted, Bryce Dunn, the program coordinator, said it has been in place since 1993, when he started working for CiTR.
Rolling with the times
While the digital library has practical upsides, there are old-school holdouts. CiTR Music Director Luke Meat is one. He runs the hard-copy library and listens to the numerous CDs labels world wide send him to determine whether CiTR will retain and play the music. While his job won’t disappear if the switch to a digital library is successful, he’s a holdout because he’ll miss the tangible side of hard copies.
“I’m kinda on the fence about the digital library,” said Meat. “I’ve always prided CiTR and most radio stations on being not just a radio but also a record library. I’m a big fan of tangibility. I like the fact that in 20 years we’ll have a kid going through our records and going, ‘Holy cow! They have this.’
“There’s something about grabbing onto a record, looking at it, holding it and stuff like that, that’s completely removed when you flip through an iTunes folder. There’s something about seeing the cover, seeing the scratches.
“On some records, before I came here, you’d see battles between DJs arguing back and forth, ‘This record rules, this record sucks,’ all the way back to 1986-87. You’d see a really young Nardwuar putting in his two cents.”
Yet he acknowledges the benefits.
“This is how the labels are dealing with it now,” said Meat. “This is how they’re sending us music. It’s like an email with the music on it so I can just transfer it on to our digital library. I’ll let our DJs know that it’s out there…. and it’s not only a library but a player. Meaning, we can look up a song by artist, song title, genre. Find our artist. All we do is double click. And we can play straight from the library—which is pretty amazing.
“We’re living in a non-tangible age now, so we’re just rolling with the times.”