57 years ago, the seeds of CJSW were sown. By 1967, the station had negotiated a space in the then-recently built MacEwan Hall. Five years later they’d graduated to cable radio. It took a protest and sleep-in to keep the station running through the late ‘70s, but by 1985, the station had gained their FM license. That year, the first-ever funding drive raised $15,000.
Fast forward to current day and every funding drive in the past 11 years has surpassed $150,000. Updating their music library despite floods, moving to new locations and increasing their wattage so the station can be heard further across Calgary have proved minor stumbling blocks. Through it all, the station has remained fiercely loyal to their mandate of supporting local and noncommercial music. So, for 2012, the goal is big and bold: raise $200,000 so the station can play loud and proud despite sharing the 90 number on the dial.
“It’s a big year for the station,” begins new station manager Myke Atkinson, who took over when former manager Chad Saunders moved to manager of operations and special projects at the National Music Centre. Atkinson hosts a feel-good dance music program called The Big Friday from 7 to 10 a.m. on Friday mornings.
“Over the last couple years, a lot of new radio stations have come onto the dial and they’ve caused a little bit of interference with our signal. So, we’re upping our wattage. We are currently sitting around 4,000 watts, which is actually quite high for a campus station in Canada, but we need to boost it up again. So we’re going up to 20,000 watts this year, hopefully!”
CJSW is remarkably renowned across North America and, as a result, many campus radio stations have modelled their own funding drives on CJSW’s format. Aside from large-scale changes, the funding drive is responsible for providing the station with their capital budget. In 2009, they hit the $200,000 mark and it helped the station move from the basement of MacEwan Hall to their new digs on the third floor in 2010. Once again, they are asking listeners to dig into their pockets to help out the station and, of course, get some of their highly collectible swag. This year, the theme is radio science, so expect some badass robots.
“It’s definitely been themed, that was the mentality and intention, no question, with the upgrade,” says Katie Mikalson, the CJSW funding drive coordinator. Mikalson hosts Her Royal Opinion on Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m., a mixed genre show. Artwork from Ray Biesinger, the singer and guitarist of Edmonton/Montreal garage rock duo the Famines, will adorn their merch.
“We have something really substantial that we need to achieve and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” says Mikalson, who mentions that the station has committed to upgrading the quality of their items. They are bringing back the hoodie, giving away embossed journals and changing the Friends token back to a card after last year’s cheaper key chain/badges had a tendency to fall apart.
Collectors’ items and an increased sound quality aside, people can be confident if they pledge that their money is going to the cultural institution that is CJSW.
“Of course, there are ongoing projects, such as the digitalization of our enormous record library, expanding our website with more features, podcasts and listening streams and outlets, and developing new programs to better serve the Calgary and online listening public – more live on-air music sessions, increased access to CJSW studios, improved volunteer training and mentorship development,” writes Mikalson in a later email correspondence.
For those who care little about the logistics, know this: CJSW has always worked hard to support local bands, play a myriad of music genres and run mixed language programming for diverse populations who have traditionally had no voice on Calgary’s airwaves. Impressively, several shows are swimming merrily past the 25-year mark; the station has been on the FM dial for 27 years now. Volunteers, including Grant Burns, who managed the station from 1982 to 1986 and ran the first ever drive, do nearly all of these shows.
“The funding drive started as a way for us to pay for our FM transmitter, which we had bought with a loan from the students’ union,” recalls the co-host of The Road Pops (a mixed genre program on Friday afternoons from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) via email. The show has been running since 1984. “We had [a] small operating budget and ran few advertisements, but the budget was very tight, so the drive really came out of the necessity to raise money for equipment.”
Given his lengthy tenure at CJSW, Burns has observed firsthand the impact that CJSW has had on the community and why he thinks people should reach into their wallets now.
“I think it’s important because of what we’ve done over the years: when we started, there were few outlets for the original bands to get a wider audience… It continues to be an outlet for such a great variety of musical expression, whether that’s dubstep, or local rap, or indie rock, or alt country,” he writes. Burns forgot heavy metal, but hosts Kevin Woron and J.P. Wood of the Saturday evening show, Megawatt Mayhem, which just celebrated its 26th anniversary, are holding the torch high.
“I think we are going to have fun with it,” says Woron, a freelance pyro technician, of the funding drive. “Obviously, a megawatt is a million watts and going up to 20,000 is a fraction, if you want to do the math… what the decibel points are is nowhere near a megawatt of power.” He laughs and continues more seriously, “We are basically the only station in the city which plays the newest of the metal, that isn’t stuck in some time warp of classic rock or things like that, and are introducing people to the bands they’ve become fans of as well as supporting the local scene. We’ve always had an open door policy.”
Kerry Clarke, the host of Alternative to What? and artistic director of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, believes its influence continues because of the stations reciprocal relationship with its listeners and its unyielding support for local musicians.
“I do think it’s a really special station. I think that it helps define Calgary and I think that, sometimes, people think of Calgary as not a really interesting place, somewhere without art or cutting edge things. But you look at the success at CJSW versus the success of other campus stations and I think we’ve always been the most organized and successful stations,” she observes. “It says something about the city. If you are in a city where you’ve got great festivals and a great radio station like CJSW, and interesting events, it becomes a really good city and it says something about the kinds of people living in the city that there is support for CJSW.”
You heard ‘em! Open up your wallets and hearts!
To pledge to the CJSW Funding Drive, you may call in, go online to http://www.cjsw.com, or go to the University of Calgary campus. To get involved, attend the many events and activities the station will host around Calgary in the two weeks leading up to the drive. This includes parties at the Local 510 on Thursday, October 11, a show at the Drum & Monkey on October 15, and an official kick off party at the Rothney Astrophysics Observatory on Thursday, October 18! The funding drive will be running on air from 9 a.m. on Friday, October 19 until 6 p.m. on Friday, October 26.
Words and photos by Sarah Kitteringham