It all began when two University of Alberta engineering students parlayed a $700 grant – two windmill towers and iron poles into Canada’s first public broadcaster. The year? 1927! It was all about education – music of significance, community and connecting the vast open spaces.
Today CKUA is a sprawling network - Athabasca 98.3, Banff/Canmore 104.3, Calgary 93.7, Drumheller/Hanna 91.3, Edmonton 94.9, Edson 103.7, Fort McMurray 96.7, Grande Prairie 100.9, Hinton 102.5, Lethbridge 99.3,, Lloydminster 97.5, Medicine Hat 97.3, Peace River 96.9, Red Deer 107.7, Spirit River 99.5, Whitecourt 107.1 – other: SaskTel 855, Shaw Direct 828, Telus Optik 7046.
In 1996, CKUA was the first Canadian station to stream online, ckua.com.
Much attention is focused on glorifying and celebrating the top 1% of the music industry, nothing shabby about that, but keep in mind – it’s the other 99% that make a difference. They are bands and artists that actually live in all the surrounding communities, the ones people drive hundreds of miles to see on a Saturday night.
Top ten pop artists will continue to clean up – from there down it’s a dogfight for a good meal and long term security. The one challenge the next generation of artists will face is living up to the past, a past that is now catalogued on-line and forever within arm’s length and a quick tap. This is the power of public radio – well-informed hosts and shows that aren’t saddled with celebrity chatter or burdened with malnourished pop hits and hosts who actually pick the music. It’s all about discovery and the door is wide open!
CKUA is the best example of this – a class organisation from top to bottom and programming that rivals American powerhouse – NPR. I spoke to Carol Ann Murray about the station and her role as music coordinator.
Bill King: How long have you been at CKUA?
Carol Ann Murray: This is my second time here and it’s been a little over five years. My first time I was music librarian and that lasted from 1985 – 1990. I was lured away by one Gary McGowan to work at K-97 FM.
B.K: What paved the way for your return?
C.M: A few things. The conclusion of business with Maxxtraxs and parents needed some help – health issues - and I made the trek back from Calgary to Edmonton. I ran into one of my fellow co-workers and through that chance meeting was able to get back in here and very happy to do so. I started as music co-ordinator in March of 2010.
B.K: CKUA has a rich history as being Canada’s first public broadcaster?
C.M: I can’t say that it was the first but one of the pioneers. It started in the 1920s and we are eighty-eight now. We have a staff I would say in the ballpark at forty. On top of that we have others here on internships and a long list of extremely dedicated volunteers who assist year round, particularly during our twice yearly fundraisers, in fact we have a whole table of them sitting upstairs answering phones. This one is going very, very well – we are quite happy!
B.K: As a rule, how much can you raise during a campaign?
C.M: We meet our goal each time. We’ve been quite fortunate. Our goal is a little over a half a million right now, $525,000. We usually do a spring and fall campaign – April and October.
B.K: Any subsidies?
C.M: No, that ended quite some time ago. A portion comes from commercials but the lion’s share comes from donations. Outside of fundraising we will periodically get donations as well.
In 1997 and 1998 the station went off the air for a time. I was by the radio when it went down and listening and it was heartbreaking. I can’t even put into words the dedication and effort it took to bring things back up and start again – re-jig things to move forward and make sure it worked. That retooling effort has been extremely successful to the point where we’ve been able to build on our success and move into this beautiful building in 2012 and now with our move down to Calgary, which we are in the first stages of and will be complete in the fall of this year when we move into the National Music Centre.
Our main studios will still be in Edmonton and our auxiliary space will be in Calgary. I haven’t seen the actual space but apparently its very 22nd century. I’ve heard nothing but raves about the building. For the foreseeable future Edmonton will be our main broadcasting base. We will have a couple folks broadcasting from Calgary at certain points.
B.K: Is it mostly specialized programming?
C.M: Not all of it. It’s eclectic six to six Monday through Friday. We move into the specialty programming in the evenings and weekend. We have folks who are legends in the Canadian music industry like Holger Petersen (Natch’l Blues), Terry David Mulligan (Mulligan’s Stew) and Allison Brock (Wide Cut Country).
B.K: What is it about the programming that makes CKUA different?
C.M: We have a fantastic folk music program, a specialty Celtic music program, and specialty world music program. We have Lionel’s Rault with Lionel’s Vinyl’s where he draws on his vast storage of knowledge – it’s a killer Saturday night eclectic show. Allison, with her amazing Americana and roots show. We have Dead Ends and Detours with Peter North. He also does a specialty bluegrass show. We are touching on some amazing programming. We have a strong classical contingent as well with two very knowledgeable announcers who go way beyond Bach and Brahms and Beethoven to really drill down and present some very interesting music. Mark Antonelli (Classic Examples) amazes me all of the time. He comes up with composers I’ve never heard of.
B.K: How is your audience expanding through streaming?
C.M: We understand the importance of social media and are pushing hard in that direction in any way that we can through Instagram, Twitter – podcasting wherever we can to be viewed and listened through at our website.
B.K: When music arrives, what do you listen for you think most suits the station?
C.M: I’m sort of the neutral conduit more than anything else. In one sense I’m making sure we have everything we need. For example, the new Paul Simon album that’s coming soon, I will make sure we will have that as soon as we can get it and presented to our listeners right away. They will be thrilled to hear it.
In terms of the unsolicited music that comes our way - we are very accommodating. We are not going to play Norwegian death metal or street rap music full of F-bombs. Outside of that, if we can make it fit – it goes out. It also has to meet our production values – that would be to stand up in the mix next to the new Paul Simon album or a Bruce Springsteen.
B.K: Have you discovered an artist and supported and witnessed them move on to do exceptionally well?
C.M: In terms of local artists; k.d. lang. We certainly helped her get her start. Recently, we managed to land an interview with her in Calgary last Sunday and she was very effusive and gracious to give us her time -a win-win for us. In terms of more recent artists; Corb Lund. We certainly helped Corb along. On an international level we gave a pretty good push to a couple artists last year – Leon Bridges and Nathanial Rateliff.
Current Top Thirty
- Danny Michel – Matadora (Six Shooter)
- Steve Dawson – Solid States & Loose Ends (Black Hen Music)
- Matthew Barber & Jill Barber – The Family Album (Outside Music)
- The Sachal Ensemble – Song Of Lahore (Universal Music Classics)
- Christa Couture – Long Time Leaving (Black Hen)
- Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep (Redwing)
- Andrew Bird – Are You Serious (Loma Vista)
- Maria Dunn – Gathering (mariadunn.com)
- David Myles – Here Now (Little Tiny Records)
- The James Hunter Six – HOLD ON! (Daptone)
- Ray Lamontagne – Ouroboros (RCA)
- Lake Street Dive – Side Pony (Nonesuch)
- Basia Bulat – Good Advice (Secret City)
- Lucius – Good Grief (Dine Alone)
- Curtis Salgado – The Sweet Lowdown (Alligator)
- The Cactus Blossoms –You’re Dreaming (Red House)
- Roxanne Potvin – For Dreaming (roxannepotvin.com)
- Damien Jurado – Visions Of Us On the Land (Secretly Canadian)
- Lakou Mizik – Wa Di Yo (Cumbancha)
- Ken Whiteley – Freedom Blues (Borealis)
- Alma Afrobeat Ensemble – It’s Time (almaafrobeat.com)
- Mavis Staples – Livin’ On a High Note (ANTI-)
- Janiva Magness – Love Wins Again (Blue Elan)
- Jason Collett – Song and Dance Man (Arts & Crafts)
- Ben Harper – Call It What It Is (Stax)
- Royal Wood – Ghost Light (Cadence Music)
- Erin Costelo – Down Below the Status Quo (Venue Records)
- David Francey – Empty Train (Laker Music)
- Michael Bernard Fitzgerald – I Wanna Make It With You (Treasure Island)
- Anoushka Shankar – Land Of Gold (Deutsche Grammophon)