Turn your dial to 95.9 FM this week and you’ll be greeted by a plea: support CKUW with a donation to keep the community station alive.
The on-campus broadcaster based at the University of Winnipeg is in the midst of its annual Fundrive, a 20-year tradition that directly supports more than 100 volunteer-produced programs, the station’s staff, equipment, training and more, while keeping its airwaves 100 per cent advertisement-free.
"We know people are out there listening," says station manager Rob Schmidt, who’s been with CKUW since 1996. "And if they’re listening, every dollar counts."
He means it: one-quarter of the station’s yearly budget comes from the annual fundraiser. With COVID-19 adding unforeseen costs, those dollars go a long way, he says. Donations can be made online, at fundrive.ckuw.ca, over the phone between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at 204-774-6877, or through e-transfer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year, the goal is to raise $60,000 by Feb. 19. As of Tuesday, the station had rustled up about two-thirds of that total, with program hosts such as Marie Christian of System Kidz calling on listeners to open their wallets and give a tax-deductible pledge.
System Kidz is a prime example of a show that would likely never find a home on commercial radio: for one hour every Tuesday, the program delves into issues facing Manitoban youths in care, with discussions surrounding children’s rights, and segments celebrating the youth and their accomplishments in spheres such as arts, politics, sports and advocacy. The program is produced by VOICES: Manitoba’s Youth in Care Network, and co-hosted by Christian, Jayna Cabral and Dustin Rogers.
During the pandemic, the program has been produced over Zoom, because the university station has been closed to volunteers since last March. That’s come with challenges, but it’s also made participating in the show more accessible, Christian says.
"For one thing, it’s easier to share stories of people who live outside of Winnipeg who’d otherwise have trouble getting down to the station," she says.
Schmidt says not having volunteers in the station has been a strange reality: normally, the CKUW headquarters are buzzing with a constant flow of people coming in to make radio happen. The station has been a campus mainstay since 1963, when it began as CJUC, operating as a closed-circuit station. The call letters became CKUW in 1968, and in 1998 the station’s licence application was approved by the CRTC. FM test broadcasts began in April 1999, with a speech by Schmidt. The first song was That’s Entertainment by the Jam.
When the university closed for the pandemic, Schmidt says the station had to adapt programming accordingly, and while many shows have continued remotely, some shows haven’t, and are temporarily on hiatus. Also, new volunteers haven’t been able to come in for training and new programming hasn’t been developed as usual.
That might be the reality for the foreseeable future, and Schmidt says the funds raised will help with elements such as remote training and a possible satellite studio.
"Ultimately, the Fundrive is about the survival of the station," he says, as well as continuity of its eclectic and wide-ranging programming, such exploratory storytelling show MonkeySparrow, the spoken-word broadcast No Fixed Address about homelessness, hip-hop show The Come Up, and dozens more. Some, like Bluesday, which started airing in 1986 with host "Rockin’" Ronnie Lindsay, have been around for decades.
All those shows are made by volunteers, Schmidt says. To put together 40 episodes of System Kidz each year, Christian estimates she gives at least 200 hours of her own time, a huge effort.
Donations at different levels come with incentives, such as a CKUW Friends Card offering discounts at local business ($35), a T-shirt designed by local artist Sadie Phoenix-Lavoie, and other swag. But even without those gifts, Schmidt says a donation is a great value, as it keeps the music and conversation going, making the station better each year.
"Let’s keep community radio on the air," said Darryl Reilly, co-host of Peg City Playlist, another CKUW program, asking for listener support during its most recent broadcast. "Let’s keep community radio in our hearts."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.