College radio: More than just funding drives?

Ryan, not being electrocuted.

College radio has always mystified me. I can never find the same show twice, there seems to be a lot of shows geared toward strange religious practices and the on-air talent rarely has any. 

But, those who like it like it a lot. Like my father-in-law, who tunes in on the weekend to listen to a bluegrass show. Or my friend Ryan, who has been hosting a show on CKCU  in Ottawa for 13 years. 

We don’t really know each other all that well, but we played in bands around the same time in Ottawa. He was a dude with a guitar, and we were loud power-popsters. 

But one time, we played a show at Carleton and we did an acoustic thing on the same bill. He destroyed us with his awesomeness, so we never did it again. 

But enough about that, let’s talk about college radio. 

What’s the point of college radio? I find it confusing and scattered.
Campus community radio is all about providing a true alternative. It’s not simply about saving your ears from repeated exposure to Nickelback or Celine Dion, it’s also about creating ties with communities.
CKCU broadcasts in 12 different languages. Imagine moving to a new country where everything is unfamiliar and being able to tune in once a week to a show where you can hear your native tongue and get acquainted with others with your cultural background. It’s such an incredible way to make the transition to a new life.
And then you have shows like mine that are completely culturally insignificant, but I play some damn fine music. 

Nickelback: Apparently not big on college radio.

Do you have to beg for money all the time? I send cheques to NPR all the time just hoping they’ll stop grovelling.
We still do an annual funding drive that accounts for about a third of our operating budget. It’s a couple of weeks out of the year, but that’s it. We don’t do any begging throughout the rest of the year.
I do an incentive every year where if someone makes a donation of $93.10 or more (we’re 93.1 on the FM dial) they can come in and host an episode of the show. They pick the music, I push the buttons. It’s a lot of fun and many do it again the following year. Two even liked it so much that they started volunteering so they could get their own shows.
However, back when I first started doing it, I had an aging hippie woman take me up on the offer. I explained to her how it would work and offered suggestion to help her out. I explained that if she was going to bring in any cassettes (we still played cassettes back then) that she should have them cued up.
I explained how to do so. When she showed up, she has a hemp bag filled with dubbed cassettes that were not labeled and not cued. I spent the first hour of the show furiously fast-forwarding and rewinding the tapes trying to find the songs she wanted.
When she got out of her seat and started dancing barefoot at the back of the studio, I decided I would just grab some records to play.
At this point, she tells me her friend is going to come in and talk about some issues that are important to him. Normally, this would make me wary, but anything seemed better than that bag of cassettes.
Her friend arrived and proceeded to talk for 45 minutes about how the government was involved in every conspiracy theory you can imagine. Every single one.
Thankfully, I didn’t stop having guest hosts because I’ve had great ones since who have exposed me to some new tunes. 

Bill and Marty have fart buttons on their mixing boards.

Do you listen to the station?
I listen to lots of shows on CKCU. Some of my favourites are the Special Blend morning shows, Dennis Molnar, the Peaceful Journey, the Guest List, the Drunken Master Review to name a few.
I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t like everything you hear on a campus/community station but unless you live and die with top-40 tunes, I promise you’ll find something you absolutely love.
You know what is great about community programming? The hosts don’t sound like they are jacked up on stimulants and we do not have a fart button on our mixing board. 

And when is it on, again? How do you plan your setlists?
Thursdays, 9:30-noon. I plan the show by looking at who is coming to town in the coming week. If I like them, I’ll play them. Then I have a long list of music blogs I check out for new tunes. I’ll add in cuts from my the latest albums I’ve picked up and throw in a few classics for good measure and voila – a show. 

What’s the stupidest thing you’ve done on air? I swore live on CFRA once.
We had two phones in the studio; one for requests and the other for interviews. The tech guy wanted to hook up the request line to a flashing light so we could turn the ringer off and still know who was calling. He was working on it during my show and was having problems. He kept getting shocked while working on the wiring. Because everyone could hear him muttering in the background, I started to poke fun of him on air.
Eventually he finished up and left. I was talking on air and the phone rang. I saw the light flash a split second before I felt it. A giant arc leapt from the microphone to my mouth while another one went through the headphones into my ears. I flung the headphones off, wheeled my chair back all the while swearing like a sailor. Then came the stunned silence as I realized I had just been electrocuted and had cursed with the mic on.
It hurt like hell, but people thought it was pretty funny. The tech guy came back pretty quickly to fix whatever wires were crossed.


One response to “College radio: More than just funding drives?

  1. Great article on my co-volunteer at CKCU! Nice read!! Cheers Ryan!


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