Ottawa’s Hungarian radio broadcast goes silent after 13 years

CHIN Radio’s weekly Hungarian-language program had its final broadcast on Sunday, June 4th, 2017. The radio show has been a staple of the multicultural radio station’s programming for more than 13 years and was among the first multilingual broadcasts after CHIN FM 97.9 received its license to operate in Ottawa in late 2001.

The weekly “Hungarian hour,” initially broadcast at 7:00 AM Sunday mornings and more recently at 7:00 PM Sunday evenings, first took to the air in December 2003. Éva Hadházy hosted the program during its first two to three years, with Károly Dombi assuming responsibility for the broadcast after 2006. In 2014, the Prime Minister’s Office of the Hungarian Orbán government delegated a recipient of the Kőrösi Csoma Sándor scholarship to Ottawa, Diana Simon, who hosted the weekly broadcast during a six month period. It was in June 2015 that Judit Petényi became the Hungarian broadcast’s new host and editor, and it was during this period that the program underwent significant changes.

Ms. Petényi aimed to ensure that voices not previously heard within the Hungarian Canadian diaspora were introduced and given an opportunity to present new ideas. Award-winning Hungarian author Ákos Kertész, who was forced to seek refugee status in Canada following antisemitic attacks in Hungary, offered regular poetry recitals on air, as well as presentations on some of Hungary’s most treasured literary icons. László Rajk Jr. the artistic director of the film Son of Saul was featured in a lengthy interview, as were a number of Hungarian artists and musicians, including most recently pianists Andrea Várnagy and Zsolt Farkas, as well as singer Réka Molnár and Israeli Hungarian author Pál Salamon. As a community broadcast, Ms. Petényi also made sure to showcase the cultural programs of the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre (OHCC) in nearly every broadcast.

Those involved in the world of broadcast media won’t be surprised to hear that a weekly one hour broadcast took an average of 10 hours per week to prepare: from recording and editing interviews and sound files, selecting music, writing and recording introductions or reporting from events.

Judit Petényi

Ms. Petényi would have been willing to continue with this volunteer commitment, but one can only continue with a community radio program if one has the support of the community’s leadership. On four occasions, Ms. Petényi wrote to the Board of Directors of the OHCC asking for cooperation and a partnership. One expectation on the part of CHIN Radio was to have at least one weekly advertisement in each broadcast. In the past, the program’s primary advertiser was the OHCC. These ads, however, ended in late 2015.

In a face-to-face meeting with the OHCC’s Board of Directors in February 2017, Ms. Petényi learned that in light of technological developments the OHCC no longer believes that a traditional radio broadcast is an effective form of communication, even though the weekly Hungarian broadcast was always uploaded as podcasts to the internet and was shared on social media. Moreover, it appeared that the OHCC also took issue with some of the program’s cultural content–some of which may have been more liberal in outlook than that which was previously broadcast in the program.

The relationship between the broadcast and the OHCC never improved, despite Ms. Petényi’s efforts. On March 30, 2017, the OHCC Board of Directors issued a statement formally distancing itself from the radio broadcast.

With stinging irony, the final broadcast aired on June 4th, 2017–a day that Hungary’s Orbán government has proclaimed as being the “Day of National Togetherness,” in commemoration of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, when Hungary lost 75% of its territory and some two thirds of its population to the successor states of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. The perpetual in-fighting and rancor within the Hungarian diaspora in general, as well as exclusionary politics, claimed one of only three Hungarian language radio broadcasts in Canada.

It is worth mentioning that not every East/Central European community has given up on its radio broadcast in Ottawa. For instance, CHIN Radio’s Romanian language broadcast, Deşteaptă-te, române, is produced by Ioadan Dubic and is a relative newcomer to the multilingual radio.

Many thanks to Judit Petényi for her two years of committed volunteer work and for producing over 100 radio broadcasts for the local community. For those who understand Hungarian, Ms. Petényi produced a farewell video and this is available here.

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