A Conversation with... Ken Stowar – CIUT 89.5 FM – Your Toronto!

Ken Stowar began volunteering with CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto in 1988 as host and producer of the long running world music show, "Global Rhythms." In 1994, he was hired as the first PD for the new dance radio station CIDC-FM, better known as Hot 103.5 at the time. From there, Stowar transitioned from Hot to Hits 103.5 when the FM evolved to a Top 40 format in 1996. After that, he moved to the Z103.5 identification in 2000, which the station retains to this day.  "I left of my own accord in 2001," he says, and returned to the home that gave him his start in radio.

B.K:  When did you become station manager and did you have a mandate?

K.S: As noted above my volunteer stint with CIUT began in 1988; however I was hired as the PD for CIUT in October 2002. In October 2010 I was promoted to Station Manager, retaining Program Director role as well. My main mandate was to serve the listeners to the fullest. Without them, we don't exist.     

B.K:  What changes have you made that have impacted the station?

K.S: Changes are an ongoing affair at CIUT-FM.  Initially, in 2002-3 I turned over 80% or more of the program schedule to improve the overall content of the station and never having to resort to that kind of drastic turnover since, I do ensure that somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10-15% of programming turns over each year.  This keeps things fresh, in part by introducing new and fresh programming ideas, and more.    

B.K: Where do you draw from for your pool of on-air talent?

K.S: I draw upon the undergraduate and graduate student body of the U of T along with members of the community-at-large.  There is a 50/50 split at play most of the time.  

B.K: How does one intern?

K.S: The first step to become a volunteer is to submit a volunteer application form found online at www.ciut.fm. The next step is to attend an information session. It is here where people learn about the many different opportunities potentially available to them when they become full-fledged volunteers. We take on interns from Humber, Seneca, York and so on. CIUT-FM always has opportunities for high school co-ops as well.

B.K:   What impact has the station made?

K.S: The station has always and continues to introduce its audience to wide, diverse and ever-changing sounds in music and to varied perspectives not offered in the mainstream.  As a whole, the station is a significant influence. CIUT has always had a significant impact on its listeners. The primary reason is due to the intelligent, compelling, powerful and unique music and spoken word programming we offer. Listeners get it and appreciate the effort put into each show. I'd like to think that every show host (all 80) takes the approach that every show they present is an event, nothing less.      

B.K:  What are your current needs – that wish list?

K.S: More staff to help expedite the multitude of initiatives yet to be addressed sitting on my desk.

B.K:   What is transmission radius – how many potential listeners are within reach?

K.S: Our terrestrial range is from Kitchener to Cobourg, Barrie to Buffalo. That represents a population base of 8,000,000 to draw our listeners from.  

B.K:  Greatest disappointment?

K.S: Disappointments, yes. There have been some, but nothing so significant that I could cite one as a great disappointment.  

B.K:  How does CIUT differ from other campus stations?

K.S: We're in the most populated city in Canada. We compete with more radio stations than any other campus station in this country has to. We are also one of the very few campus radio stations that possess registered charitable status.    

B.K:  Have there been artists the station has thrown support behind that have crossed-over to commercial radio?

K.S: Indeed, too many to mention over the course of the past 30 years.  Historically, I can go back to the late 80's when we had a weekly busker show. Guests of that show that went on to major mainstream acceptance included the Barenaked Ladies and Loreena McKennitt. More recently, The Sheepdogs did a live studio performance for us before most knew who they were. And the list goes on and on.

B.K:   Where do you see the station going in the coming months and years?

K.S: I have tremendous faith that radio at large will survive. Radio has an amazing history of adapting and reinventing itself. Considering this and recognizing that CIUT-FM possesses the most creative broadcast licence you can obtain from the CRTC, the potential for the radio station is mind boggling. A significant podcasting initiative is underway, but I have that under wraps right now, but when launched it will help increase awareness of the radio station in new ways. Wait and see.   

B.K:  Greatest accomplishment?

K.S: There are a few that are equally important. One, seeing through a five year business plan to stabilize the overall operation so that it could confidently move forward without looking back. Two, the acquisition last year of a brand new transmitter system, and three, developing one of the best listening audiences any radio station could have and we're building on that.  

B.K:  Your music - your shows?

K.S: I still host the long running and influential (28 years) world music program "Global Rhythms". My passion for this show has never diminished since day one.  I also host "Across the Universe" each week. Simply put - a wide open music program that the late Reiner Schwarz initially hosted. I do my best to keep the fires burning for that style of presentation.


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