‘Radio is romantic’

How CKUW links hosts and listeners across Winnipeg

CKUW has brought music and talk radio to Winnipeg since 1963. (Supplied photo)

Imagine: the year is 1998, and you’re at the University of Winnipeg campus, sitting in the student lounge and smoking a cigarette while listening to CKUW.

The campus radio station reflects local sounds and music often overlooked by mainstream media. It’s offered programming not found elsewhere in the Winnipeg community since 1963.

The station moved to FM waves in 2000 and began to focus on reaching a larger demographic. While its format has changed since the ’60s, CKUW’s attitudes remain the same, Rob Schmidt, the station manager, says.

“People want to share what they’re passionate about, (whether) they’re excited about new music, they’re getting into politics, or they’re learning stuff in (their) classes. The radio station gives them an opportunity to share that passion and share those ideas.”

Justin Fuhr, who has volunteered at the station since January, knew from the start that he wanted to be on air. After training and proposing his idea for a program, he selected a time slot and began broadcasting. His show On My Way Home explores the intersections between literature, lyrics and music.

“I pick a theme like friendship … and then I’ll (read) a passage from a poem or another written text … and then play music that relates to the theme,” he says.

In a world where podcasts can be accessed on demand, where streaming services cater to likes and dislikes, radio is often relegated to the outskirts of media consumption.

When Fuhr encouraged his friends and family to tune into the show, he was met with a problem. They didn’t own radios.

Often, when people think of radio, they think of a team controlling each individual aspect of production to provide listeners with a clean studio sound. The reality is quite different, Fuhr says.

“When you’re on air, if you’re the only person in the studio, you are (the one) having to do all that (while) having to host the show.”

Fuhr describes radio as romantic: a mixtape tailored completely to its listeners, a digital place where anything is possible. For a moment in time, the host and their listeners share the same experience.

“When you’re listening to a local volunteer making radio here, you’re listening to someone who woke up and survived the same temperatures that you’re surviving. They’re voting in the same election, and they have those same local concerns. They’re seeing the same bands. They’re going to the same sporting events,” Schmidt says.

Community is at the heart of CKUW. This includes students, who founded the station and continue to play an instrumental part in its programming.

“We’re here to help (students) make radio. I think sharing the stories of the campus, sharing the research of the campus and just campus life has always been an important part of the station,” Schmidt says. “It’s a reason why some people tune in, because they were students here and they want to still feel that connection.”

CKUW is not a commercial service. There is no paid promotion on air, and there is no advertising. When the station plays a song, it is chosen by a volunteer or requested by a listener.

Unlike a streaming platform where financial gain has the potential to influence song selection, CKUW has no hidden machinery. “It’s a more human expression,” Schmidt says.

Find CKUW on the air at 95.9 FM or on most radio apps. CKUW also publishes Stylus Magazine, one of Canada’s oldest independent music magazines. CKUW’s program guide is available at ckuw.ca/schedule and in issues of Stylus and The Uniter.

Published in Volume 77, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 27, 2022)

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