CJSW has a long and colourful history, and the following captures a couple of the most momentous occasions.
1955 – 1966
On October 17th, 1955, the Calgary branch of the University of Alberta ran a 15-minute program called Varsity Vista on CFAC radio. The show, directed by student Bruce Northam, aimed to give the community an inside view of campus life. The show would eventually grow into programs such as Meet the Professors and Hit Tunes DJ Series along with drama club presentations of radio plays like Sorry Wrong Number. With the new campus opening in 1960, the University of Alberta in Calgary radio club (UACR), headed by Doug MacDonald, built a radio studio in the small basement of the arts and administration building. Using home-built and donated equipment, they produced shows such as Varsity 62 and A Dimes Worth for broadcast on other stations. On-campus broadcasts began with a closed circuit PA system built under the direction of engineering student Wayne Harvey. Classical and easy listening music was piped into student lounges and common areas while the station itself became a popular gathering place, hosting several concerts. In February of 1963, UACR hosted the Western Association of Broadcasters convention. This era saw the beginning of the careers of several broadcasters such as CBC’s Bill Paul (Marketplace) and Colin McLeod (As It Happens).
1966 – 1973
When MacEwan Hall was built in 1967, the radio club negotiated space and financing from the Students’ Union to build a state of the art studio in the basement. The newly formed University of Calgary Radio (UCR) broadcasted a varied selection of music and notable interviews at 1580AM. A cable radio broadcast began in 1972 on 101.5FM as part of a government project. Employing ten students, the station ran 24 hours a day as Calgary Student Radio (CSR). The project coordinator at the time, Mark Sikstrom (who now does CTV News in Edmonton), called the station’s format “Progressive Middle of the Road,” which would eventually become the FM commercial radio standard. Calgary’s first female music disc jockey, Deborah Lamb, worked the 4:00 to 8:00pm slot in the summer of 1973. She would eventually go on to CBC Radio, and then join Venture.
1973 – 1980
In an attempt to alleviate financial difficulties, the station applied to the CRTC for a commercial FM license with the call letters “CJSW.” This was denied in 1974 because the commission felt that campus stations should not be commercial ventures. With the campus station being questioned as a viable expenditure by the Student’s Union, then Station Manager Keith Roman had phone lines installed in McMahon Stadium and the campus hockey rink in order to broadcast Calgary Dinos sports. Throughout the late 1970’s, the station held a varied format with punk played alongside jazz, blues and reggae. But after years of conflict with the Students’ Union over programming policy and budget, the SU voted to shut the station down. Allen Baekeland, the Station Manager at the time, slept overnight in the office and locked himself in the booth, to the dismay of campus officials and locksmiths sent to the station. That morning he got up and turned on the station as usual, making a point to turn the roof speakers atop MacEwan Hall to full blast while he blared the Pete Seeger song “We Shall Overcome.” After two days of peaceful protest with community and media support, the new SU executive re-examined the station and eventually increased the station’s budget.
1980 – Present
After the station reopened, a new CRTC application was put into the works and the station forged a course for financial independence from the Students’ Union. A levy of $2 per full-time student was implemented in December of 1982. After several failed attempts to gain an FM broadcasting license, CJSW became Calgary’s 13th FM station on January 15, 1985, broadcasting the Talking Heads song “Once In A Lifetime.” However, differing reports indicate that the station may have turned on their FM transmitter the week prior, and that one of the first songs was a jazz track. “Once In A Lifetime,” however, was the first official song. The new independent station earns its capital expenditures budget through a Funding Drive held every October. Raising $15,000 in its first run in 1985 and $21,000 the following year, totals have increased steadily since then. Since 2001, Funding Drive pledge totals have been consistently above $150,000. In 2006, the station surpassed its goal of $200,000.
In 2003, the CRTC agreed to allow the station to move its broadcast from the SAIT tower at 1,900 watts to a CBC tower at 4,000 watts. Where once those in south Calgary had difficulty receiving the station, the market now includes coverage of Okotoks, Airdrie and Cochrane. The station is currently run by a paid staff of four, and well over 200 campus and community volunteers. Besides the traditional FM broadcast, the station can be heard on 106.9 cable FM and streaming online.
In 2005, CJSW celebrated its 20th anniversary of FM broadcast with the release of a special issue of VOX magazine and a local compilation CD. The CDs have since become an annual production featuring bands recorded in CJSW’s studios during live broadcasts over the previous year, are pressed in limited editions, and given as pledge incentives to donors during the annual funding drives. The scope of the CDs has gradually broadened over the years, including not only local acts, but visiting bands from across Canada and abroad. For example, the 2009 edition included a track from Colin Newman’s band Githead, recorded during Newman’s tenure as curator of the Sled Island Festival.
After years of procedural, bureaucratic, and financial wrangling with the Students’ Union, University, and contractors, approval was given in late 2008 for the construction of new offices and studios on the third floor of the University of Calgary MacEwan Student Centre. The new broadcast booth in Room 312 came online on 2009-10-13, at approximately 2:15 PM MDT, during the show My Allergy to the Fans, hosted by station manager Chad Saunders (who had shepherded the negotiations, construction, and move).
CJSW, using funds generously donated by CJSW listeners, was able to upgrade its signal from 4,000 watts to 18,000 watts. This expanded the reach beyond the Calgary area and strengthened the signal within the borders of the city.