The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Unsung Heroes of the Airwaves

by Tricia Dower

What do you imagine radio announcers do when a song’s playing? Sip coffee with their feet up? Read a book?

Not at CFUV where my husband, Colin, does a weekly show called Concert Studies. Low-budget community radio, programmed by volunteers, located in the basement of UVic’s Student Union Building.

I got a first hand look at all he has to do on Boxing Day when I co-hosted a special holiday edition with him. Two hours rather than his usual one because Women on Air was taking a break. Broadway Show Tunes. A departure from his usual format of “classical” music and interviews with local composers and musicians. I set classical in quotes because he does quite a bit of what some call “new music” — discordant, experimental stuff that sometimes reminds me of when the kids were little, banging pots and pans with wooden spoons.

Anyway, five minutes before Jeb, the programmer before us, finished his bluegrass show, we slid into the studio with our CDs and LPs. Jeb said one of the turntables was screwed. “Get an LP that’s trash and I’ll rebalance it for you,” he said.

Colin ran to the library down the hall and brought back something that Jeb said was a vintage classic. So Jeb ran to the library and brought back a sacrificial LP. While Colin donned the earphones and cued up our first two CDs, Jeb (standing next to a hand-lettered sign saying this CD burner is broken) worked magic on the defective turntable. At 4:00 p.m., Colin brought up the mikes and said, “Good afternoon. Welcome to a special two-hour edition of Concert Studies.”

We had planned the show together and I had lots of words to say which I delivered with a virus-laden voice, sounding like a cross between Lauren Bacall and Mr. Ed. (Too much Sing-Along Messiah, I suspect.) However, my trials were nothing compared to the one-armed paper hanger routine Colin went through.

We played about 28 songs during the show, each of them having to come out of their CD cases or LP jackets, each of them having to be written down on a log — name of album, name of song, name of artist — so the artists get their royalties and the station meets CRTC requirements. Throughout the songs and our commentaries, Colin slipped in the required sponsor messages, CFUV show promos, PSAs and the weather — each needing to be logged with time played. Whenever a song was on, Colin had to remember to turn the mikes off, bring them back up and give me the signal to start speaking again. Watching him cue up the LPs had me shaking my head in awe. With his ear to the turntable he rotated the record by hand, listening to find the right groove — it sounded like mwa,mwa,mwa to me.

We ran through the program faster than anticipated and had to go to our ‘If we have time’ list. That’s when I got to hustle, pulling CDs out of cases, telling him what track to play and telling the audience what they were gonna hear.

About ten minutes before the end of the show the blue light came on in the studio. Ordinarily, this means someone’s at the studio door waiting to be let in. But since it was a holiday, the Student Union Building was locked and the guy hosting the next show was outside. Colin had to run out of the studio and down the hall, thunder up the back stairs to let him in and run back to the studio in time for the next track. I knew that because Jeb had done the same for us.

“You’re amazing,” I told him as he perfectly cued up the Bells Are Ringing LP with Judy Holliday singing The Party’s Over, our going-out song. And so are the other unsung heroes who sit in that booth and get through an hour or more without dead air. Operating the toaster is challenging enough for me.

Photo: Colin Dower at CFUV last summer. Tune in to “Concert Studies,” every Wednesday from 4 – 5 p.m. Pacific Time, 101.9 on the dial and on the Internet at


Blogger Anne C. said...

This reminds me that I still haven't read Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air. Have you and Colin?

Thu Jan 03, 10:07:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

No, we haven't, Anne. Since it's the Giller winner, we should put it on our list. It's based on Hay's real life experiences with CBC up north, I believe. Wonder if they were better equipped than CFUV.

Thu Jan 03, 11:58:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

What a great overview of the inside workings of a radio show. I figured these days they pre-program everything on a burned DVD and log everything in advance.

It's nice to know that records are still being queued up.

Thu Jan 03, 08:55:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Chumplet! I think some at higher budget stations, much is pre-programmed. Kind of takes the adventure out of it, though.

Thu Jan 03, 10:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Sounds like so much fun! Colin looks completely in his element there! I love 'new music' and show tunes so I wish I got your signal.

Fri Jan 04, 10:17:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Andrew. You can listen on the Internet. Check out the link. Colin has listeners in the States and other provinces.

Fri Jan 04, 12:00:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Hey, this is great. I remember this station well. I guess with the I'net there's none of the bandwidth problems they had back then. I'll definitely check it out. (And I happen to love the somewhat ritualistic element of pulling records from a bin, a sleeve, and then cueing them up.)

Fri Jan 04, 11:42:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I guess you would remember, Tamara, although there's indication that many students don't know it exists!

Sat Jan 05, 12:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Cool! I just tried the link and it worked. Now, I'll have to mark my calendar.

Tue Jan 08, 12:22:00 pm GMT-5  

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