Today is a sad one for CJSW and the broader Calgary music community. This morning, we all lost our friend and mentor, Allen Baekeland. Allen, a former CJSW Station Manager and programmer passed away after a battle with cancer.
Allen first walked into CJSW in 1976 and soon began programming a show focusing on the emerging punk and new wave scene that was taking the world by storm. To give further context, this was when CJSW was an on-campus-only phenomena and Calgary was a long way away from the cosmopolitan epicentres of this new musical and cultural movement.
Fast forward to 1980 where Allen, who was CJSW’s Station Manager, locked himself inside CJSW’s studios to prevent the nascent University of Calgary Student Radio Society from being forced out of their space by the student government of the day. This event was a watershed moment for what would eventually become CJSW 90.9FM. Had Allen not been around to defy the rules, albeit, at the expense of his job, it is highly doubtful that CJSW would have ever gained an FM license in 1985 or become the beacon for independent music and culture in Calgary that it has grown into since that fateful April day forty years ago. Calgary band, The Bownesians immortalized Allen’s defiant, modern-day folk heroism in song in 2009.
In 1984, Allen moved to Ontario where he volunteered at CJSW’s sister stations, CKLN and CIUT. Allen met his wife, Jennifer Norfolk while they were both volunteering at CIUT. Allen moved back to Calgary in 1995 and promptly began volunteering at CJSW again. It was not before too long that Allen began hosting The Boot Heel Drag, a show focusing on the best in country music. This show aired Tuesday nights from 1996-2002 on 90.9FM. Allen could still be heard from time to time over the past 18 years sharing his enormous knowledge and love of music on the campus and community radio station that he loved dearly. He was an active and valued volunteer at CJSW to the end, most notably by sitting on the 2019/2020 CJSW Programming Committee.
Simply put, Allen loved music. He was so knowledgeable in so many different genres and styles and had a gift in communicating that to listeners and his fellow CJSW volunteers. Anyone who had the opportunity to hear him host a radio show can attest to how deep his passion for music was. The same can be said for any shavetail CJSW DJ who was afforded the opportunity to learn about such hitherto unknown subjects like Studio One reggae, b-list UK glam or western swing from Allen. We are all so lucky that Allen shared his musical leanings so openly and in so many ways.
Additionally, it must be said that Allen was a very accomplished musician in his own right. He played with The Rembetika Hipsters, The Now Feeling, Lost & Profound, Tom Phillips and many more projects over the course of his remarkable life. Allen was such an adept and versatile player that he was equally at home on stage as a solo act or as a part of a band. He could play everything from honky-tonk to psychedelic Greek music and all things imaginable in between. If that wasn’t enough, Allen was a deft songwriter who could just as easily do masterful interpretations of other artists’ songs.
Perhaps the most memorable concert I witnessed Allen play was at last summer’s Coalminer’s Retreat, which is an annual CJSW volunteer event. Allen had sent his regrets that he wasn’t going to be able to attend a few days in advance but ended up surprising us campers and all the patrons of the Last Chance Saloon with an enchanting concert in the badlands of Wayne, Alberta. That night, Allen did what he did best in life – he was sharing his love and talent for music with the world that is now a sorrier place with his passing.
To his wife, Jennifer, brothers Greg, Steve and everyone else who knew and loved Allen, we grieve this loss together. You all have our deepest condolences.
To Allen, thank you for everything you shared with us all during your time here. So long, friend…
Adam Kamis, Station Manager