When it comes to radio, Calgary’s campus radio CJSW 90.9FM has been steering audiences away from commercial Top 40 to a focus on diversity and community.
Radio has been a medium for music and news for decades, but with commercial radio taking over the airwaves, there seems to be an increased interest in the diversity of local radio stations.
Calgary’s CJSW 90.9FM is one of these community stations that have been gaining in popularity. CJSW said, “There has been a 400% increase in visits to cjsw.com over the past year alone. We average about 44,000 visitors a day and over 16 million people annually.”
CJSW lists themselves as “Calgary’s only campus and community radio station.” Compared to commercial stations, Chad Saunders, station manager of CJSW said: “our mandate is to serve the Calgary community. It’s to make sure that everything is local, like local music, local arts, but also anything with public affairs locally happening; we try to address that and bring it to Calgary listeners.”
He said, commercial stations “exist to make money, and that’s not a good or a bad thing, but they certainly restrict their ability and their freedoms to actually promote culture to their community.
“I think most importantly when you look at our programming [it’s] far more diverse and ever-changing than somewhat of what commercial radio does,” said Saunders.
“Commercial radio needs to know what the hits are… our music is to share with people the wonderous and amazing talent that’s out there in the world, obviously based locally.”
As far as musical diversity Saunders said, “In a week or two, the amount of different songs, and different artists that are showcased on CJSW meets probably three months of commercial programming.”
Photo By Angela Wither
When it comes to marketing, Saunders said: “We don’t really rely on too many gimmicks or alienating contests to try to attract listeners. We don’t ask anyone to upgrade a loved one, we don’t ask anyone to alter or physically change their bodies through surgery; we don’t do that. We leave that to them.”
Gillian Storey, marketing and promotions director of 98-5 Virgin Radio said, “When you’re a non-for-profit entity, you have a lot more free range to try to have people be on there and listen to different things.”
While Virgin looks into catering for their 18-34 year-old female demographic, Storey said, “CJSW is a type of radio station that you can tune into and it’s totally different every time you tune into it; whereas with our radio stations they tend to be, if you’re listening to Top 40, you’re getting Top 40.”
In regards to promotions, Storey said, “We entertain the masses. That’s our goal in everything that we do. We want to entertain and give people a unique and fun experience and we do that in all different ways, whether it is our involvement in the community, our involvement in local events, our promotions, [or] our concerts, we are out there to entertain.”
In regards to some of Calgary’s radio stations “cheeky” and controversial promotional tactics, Storey said that at the end of the day they were great contests that actually affected Calgarians lives.
However, while Storey defends commercial stations, she also states the importance of local stations. She said, CJSW isn’t just important for the community, but “a great place for young people wanting to break out into radio; they can hone in their talent, and then break into more commercial radio.”
As a non-profit station CJSW is run by 200 volunteers, and only 5 paid employees; relying on donations to keep their station up-and-running.
In their Report to the Community, CJSW said their revenue is primarily made from 46% student fees, 14% government grants and concealed funds, 5% advertising, and 35% Funding Drive.
The CJSW Funding Drive originally started in 1984, as a way for the station to move into FM. Now, donations pay for all the big expenses needed every year including: tower rent and utilities, engineering costs to maintain the station and fix equipment, and a small amount of capital purchases to upgrade equipment. Everything needed to make sure their signal is heard.
While the Funding Drive happened in October and raised $188,000 for the station, Saunders said they will be accepting pledges all year round, noting that donations tend to wind down around winter simply because the Funding Drive is over.
BeatRoute Magazine backed up the community radio station by providing them with a “Wham-Bam Gorilla Glam! Wrap Up Party” hosted at the Broken City on Saturday October 29th.
Sebastian Buzzalino, music editor of BeatRoute Magazine said the magazine has always been involved with CJSW because they are devoted to the Calgary music scene by “[giving] a voice to anything outside the mainstream.”