Growing up listening to the community CBC radio station with local programming, old-time country and western music in Inuvik, Dennis Allen seeks to explore the swiftly changing sound of local radio.

His poignant documentary on Fort McPherson’s radio station is CBQM.

“I grew up listening to CBC, with local programs and messages being passed over the wires,” says Allen. “We grew up with Hank Williams, and ‘so-and-so says to come over to her house for tea’ and ‘the water level is high, stay far from the river.'”.

Radio changed, and soon the local programming Allen and his community cherished was relegated to noon and early evening slots, with the bulk of the CBC programming coming from Vancouver or Toronto.

It no longer reflected the values of the community, and that good old country-western music and messaging between neighbours fell silent.

With CBQM, Allen explores a community holding tight to their traditional ways of life and the strong ties of a neighbourhood with its home-grown radio.

Allen learned of CBQM 10 years ago during a hunting trip with a friend, staying up in Allen’s cabin in the Mackenzie River Delta: “My friend suggested we listen to CBMQ, and I had no idea what he was talking about.

“We rigged up a bit of snare wire, to catch a very weak signal. There it was—that good oldtime country,” says Allen.

The radio station has been running for around 30 years and is still captivating listeners.

Allen listened to CBQM on and off for the next 10 years, tuning in every time he passed through Fort McPherson.

One day, fresh from a caribou hunting trip, he heard a plea from the on-air operator asking for someone to spell him off at 5 p.m. because he had to feed his sled dogs. The operator became more frantic when there were no calls, and threatened to turn the radio on to CBC if nobody volunteered.

“That was when I knew I had to do something for this radio station. That was the funniest thing I’d heard, and it is a great little station. Someone has to keep the flavour of the communities alive,” says Allen of his inspiration for the documentary.

The film took approximately 2.5 years to complete, and allowed Allen to stretch his directorial creativity, watching life unfold in front of the camera with the residents of Fort McPherson, rather than active narration.

CBQM is a refreshing, quirky documentary exploring the stories and lives of Fort McPherson residents connecting with local radio for support, friendship and entertainment. The content is all local, and musicians play live in the tiny studio.

Friends stop by to talk into the microphone, and messages are passed from radio to radio.

Through Allen’s documentary, we see CBQM not simply as a radio station. It is a lifeline in a place that lives with weeks of dawn, dusk and darkness, helping neighbours connect when they might otherwise remain isolated in the dark and cold.

CBQM screens at the Available Light Film Festival, Saturday, Feb. 13 at 4 p.m.