Longrunning CKUW DJs reflect on the switch to FM in 1999

Station Manager Rob Schmidt & an old CKUW board
Station Manager Rob Schmidt & an old CKUW board

by Sheldon Birnie

It’s amazing to think that CKUW, our campus and community station broadcasting here from the University of Winnipeg, is celebrating its 50th year in existence this year. The station, which began as a radio club in 1963, broadcasting to a closed-circuit audience from the basement of UW, has seen a lot of changes over the years. The biggest change, perhaps, could be seen as the jump to the FM dial, and a city wide audience, in 1999.

Since CKUW hit the airwaves across Winnipeg, many shows and hosts have come and gone. Remarkably, a number of shows have remained since that launch into the ether in 1999, and many with the original host still behind the mic! Of CKUW’s dozens of shows, 15 have been broadcasting non-stop since the first FM broadcast, nine of which are still run by the original host!

“I think its amazing to have such committed hosts,” says Station Manager Rob Schmidt. Schmidt was first hired at CKUW in 1996. “I think the drive is the joy of sharing stories and discovering new music, it’s something that our best DJs take to heart.”

“The station has changed hugely over the years,” says Keith Black, who has hosted 700 episodes of Voyage, which broadcasts Wednesday mornings, “both in the scope of programming, the range and potential of the equipment and the professionalism of the product.”

“In the early days, we really pieced together the station with the few resources that we managed to pull together and that we could afford,” recalls Kemlin Nembhard, co-host of Friday evening’s Check Ca. “Over the years, I think the station has invested the resources we acquired wisely and I think that it shows in the quality and diversity of the programming that we have.”

“The diversity of grass roots and alternative programming is still a stable, core feature of the station,” says Adam Hannibal, host of Quadrafunk, which airs following Check Ca. Hannibal became involved with CKUW in 1999, just prior to the switch to FM. “Back then, underground music was not nearly as accessible as today. You couldn’t readily go online and listen to most tracks, certainly not in their entirety … The only way most music fans could hear the tracks quickly was to go to live shows or check out radio shows. So for me, hosting a radio show was a great chance to explore all the music I collected on a deeper level and share it with a wider audience.”

Anthony Augustine, host of Phase One Radio, the longest running house and techno DJ show in the province, got involved at CKUW as a first year student in 1994. He went on to host a variety of shows over the years, and became a regular contributor to Stylus along the way.

“When the station went FM in 1999, I was hosting and producing a show called Memetic with Alana Cleve that touched on indie, electronic, rock, punk and hip hop,” Augustine recalls fondly. “I wanted to focus more on Winnipeg’s burgeoning electronic scene and the DJs that were a part of it.” As a result, Phase One Radio was born.

“I have continued to do [Phase One] over the years because I feel community radio is still an important outlet for the local electronic scene and gives DJs a platform to break new music, build an audience and free themselves from the constraints of playing just for the dance floor.”

Dave Berthiume, who hosts Tawny, the Brave, first started hanging around CKUW in 1986. “Usually there were a handful of students studying or talking in groups and clearly not paying any attention to the music,” he recalls. In 1999, as the station was preparing to go FM, Berthiume was encouraged to pursue his own show. 14 years later, he’s still at it every Thursday evening.

“It’s probably the best hour and a half of my week,” says Berthiume. “Spa Day for the music geek.

Rockin’ Ronnie also got his start at the station in 1986. “Was lookin’ fer a place ta hang out and bein’ able ta play Blues ‘tween classes and rest on the couch seemed the best option,” recalls the Bluesday (Tuesdays starting at 7pm) host. “I started hangin’ out at more bars and jams and findin’ bands to play on Bluesday … I’ve always believed in what Spiderman said, “Action is its own reward,” so that remains me motivation fer Bluesday.”

“My favorite change was us going FM,” says Sunday night’s Island Vibes’ Vibesman, who has been with the station since just before the switch. “And broadcasting over the Internet with the audio archive setup at the station. If our listeners miss a show, they can get it on the Internet and save it. Fantastic!”

The joy of putting together a show and sharing it with the world, and connecting with the audience are cited by many who have caught the “radio bug” at CKUW. Year after year, Fundrive after Fundrive, there really is something special about the radio format that keeps keeps longrunning hosts coming back for more

“I can’t imagine not hosting the TwangTrust,” says host Stu Reid of his Wednesday evening mainstay, who started the show the week CKUW went FM in 1999. “Now I get to share my love of music and radio with my daughter Brittany, who co-hosts Mud Puddle Radio with me every 4th week [Saturdays at 9am].”

“There is nothing like finishing a show that you know was really good and tight, where things just fell into place,” admits Nembhard. “The only thing that surpasses that pleasure is getting calls from listeners that tell you they really dig what you’re playing.”

“There’s only a handful of us first-week-FMers left now,” reflects Reid, “but it’s exciting to see new blood getting involved with the station.”

Along with Bluesday, Check Ca, Tawny, the Brave, Phase One, Twang Trust, Quadrafunk, Voyage, Dance Hall Fever, and Island Vibes, who have all maintained their original host since 1999, The Tonic, Hit the Big Wide Strum, Off the Beaten Track, Black Mask, the Sex Files, and Inner City Voices have also remained on the air, with new hosts keeping the torches burning into 2013. To get involved with CKUW yourself, check out www.ckuw.ca, or make your way up to the yellow stairs by the Buffeteria (thats the yellow one) on the fourth floor.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *