How Fairchild media connects Chinese Canadians to their Heritage
The media company has something to offer both immigrants and born-and-raised Canadians like me
BY: JESSICA LAM
It’s 2005. I’m sitting at the kitchen table doing my third-grade math homework while my mom cooks dinner. The TV is on channel 36, Fairchild, where the Hong Kong news is playing. Although the news is on so my mom can listen while she cooks, I sneak peeks at the TV, which I can see through the kitchen doorway, because, well, finding out what’s happening in Hong Kong is way more interesting than figuring out math.
At eight o’clock that night, the news program will switch to a new episode of a drama series. My family will be watching it together while we eat dinner. During car rides, my dad turns on AM 1430, Fairchild Radio, so we can listen to the DJs' banter in Cantonese about the news of the day.
Founded in 1993 by Thomas Fung, the youngest son of Hong Kong real estate moguls, Fairchild is a Canadian, Cantonese-language media company with TV and radio stations in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. The company boasts large audiences across Canada- the company say they have approximately 200,000 TV subscribers across Canada.
For Chinese immigrants, Fairchild Radio brings a sense of home. The programs go on all day long. You can turn it on in the background at home, and it can be a sense of comfort, says River Lee, one of the program managers and radio hosts at Fairchild Radio.
“When you listen to [the radio], even if you are a newcomer, you’ll feel like you have friends speaking to you at the radio station. The Chinese community in Toronto is very dispersed, but when they listen to the radio, everyone can get connected,” she says.
Fairchild also helps new immigrants integrate into the wider community. On Sept. 27, Fairchild Radio held an event to raise money for SickKids Foundation. DJs and operators from Fairchild Radio set up in the atrium of SickKids Hospital, where a white board was put up to mark their progress towards their goal.
The associate director for Annual Giving for SickKids, Annie O’Leary, said this is the 11th year this event between Sick Kids and Fairchild Radio has been going on. This year, Fairchild Radio raised over $370,000 for the hospital. “It creates a lot of excitement and generates a lot of awareness of SickKids and what the needs are for SickKids within the Chinese Canadian community,” O’Leary said.
Tim Cheung and Patty Ko volunteered as operators for the event as part of the Lions Club in Markham, where they serve the community in a variety of ways. “I started volunteering at this event last year,” Cheung says. “I have some personal attachment to SickKids because my niece’s son was sick since six months after birth.”
“The Chinese community in Toronto is very dispersed, but when they listen to the radio, everyone can get connected.”
But its programming isn’t just for Chinese people who moved to Canada, like my parents. It also helps Chinese-Canadians who grew up here connect to their heritage. One of the programs they broadcast is TimeLine Magazine, where Canadian news and stories are broadcasted with a Chinese angle that appeals to both Canadian-born Chinese Canadians and immigrants. “That is still the most popular Canadian produced entertainment show that we do,” says Fairchild TV executive Connie Sephton.
Meanwhile, Fairchild TV news, which airs every weekday night, informs Chinese-Canadians about events happening in Hong Kong and incorporates Canadian news as well. In fact, that’s one of the things that differentiate Fairchild from other Chinese news organizations in Toronto- instead of just curating, they have their own team of researchers and reporters.
That representation is something Karen Cheung appreciates. Like me, she is a born-and-raised Canadian whose parents were born in Hong Kong. Growing up in Toronto, she also watched Fairchild TV and even volunteered with Fairchild Radio for a short time.
“I’ve never been to Hong Kong, so I don’t know much about it besides entertainment but through these various media companies, it gives me a sense of what’s happening and helps me to practice my language skills,” she says.
River Lee arrives at the studio in Markham bright and early to do a morning show. She is also involved in the Mandarin and Cantonese programs that air during the day.
Fairchild isn’t content to just broadcast in Cantonese and Mandarin, though Lee understands that the born-and-raised Canadians in the Chinese community can easily disconnect from their culture, which is why there are programs that encourage children to use these languages from a very young age.
One of the weekend morning programs involves children who are recruited to come participate in the radio show called ‘Little DJ’, where they are essentially little DJs in training and are encouraged to interact with each other in Cantonese or Mandarin.
Fairchild Radio also offers a DJ training course for youth who want experience in broadcasting. All the participants are encouraged to speak to each other in Cantonese or Mandarin here, too.
Dr. Christopher Rea is a Modern Chinese Literature professor at the University of British Columbia. He has heard of the Fairchild media as well, not only because of how popular it is in Vancouver, but also because of the large Chinese community there.
“[Fairchild media] gives me a sense of what's happening and helps me to practice my language skills.”
“I think it’s part of the broader spectrum of foreign language broadcasting media,” Rea said. He adds that having programs in Cantonese and Mandarin help engage the Chinese community, which is why it is so important that a media organization like Fairchild exists in Canada and help people connect to their heritage.
As a born-and-raised Canadian myself, I’m not the best at speaking Cantonese but I do understand it, and it’s because of watching Fairchild TV every night and listening to Fairchild Radio growing up that I can understand as much as I do and
speak as much as I can.
Photo courtesy from top down: Nika Zbasknik (Courtesy of Sick Kids Foundation), Florian Wehde (Unsplash), Jessica Lam, Nika Zbasknik (Courtesy of Sick Kids Foundation), Jessica Lam.