Friday, 12 December 2014



CKUA: Alberta Public Radio


Radio and me, we’ve been together through life. A fusty reminder of old ways, like subscriptions to a magazine’s print edition or the ringing of a telephone landline, I never imagined falling in love again with an apparently exhausted medium in the digitized 21st century.


Our early days together were wonderful. I frolicked on a seashore awash with station breaking invisible waves. Les Canadiens skated left to right on the transistor dial. I boogied down with Eddie Kendricks or the Rolling Stones on AM Top Forty. Montreal Expos baseball broadcasts were even better during rain delays, colour man and Brooklyn Dodgers legend Duke Snider related stories about teammate Jackie Robinson: ‘I remember once in Japan, the Dodgers were on a tour, Jackie and me…’ Over on FM where there was no static at all: just a high deejay giggling underneath ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ or ‘No Woman No Cry.’ There was magic on the air.


Modern commercial radio suffers from the malady of all traditional media: corporate congestion and increasing generic content, the quality of which slides ever downhill. Seemingly overnight it became a strictly formatted wasteland of rabid talk and zany morning zoo crews. And c’mon, are Creed and Limp Bizkit the best you got? God help me if I ever hear another twee Vinyl Café story about Morley and Dave.


Soul salvation has come from a station that’s been on the air since November 21, 1927. The genesis of CKUA was the University of Alberta (note the call letters) attempting to utilize this new-fangled technology known as radio as an educational tool; early distance learning, if you will. The CKUA network now blankets the province and, as they are fond of telling listeners, may be heard around the world at (I urge you to tune in). In this house, provided we’re home and not asleep or not playing albums, CKUA is on.


The landline rang earlier this week. After some consternation and confusion we realized what the sound was. CKUA was on the line: a follow up call to say thanks again to Ann for contributing toward another year of programming. Touched, for a dollar a day and touched to be part of an incredibly interesting and special community that loves music as much as Ann and I do. At CKUA the hosts matter. They pick their own tracks. Each is fully immersed in hers or his genre. Enlightenment lives on the FM dial.


My favourite show is Dead Ends and Detours which comes on Saturday mornings at 10 (MT). Host Peter North’s jumping off point is the Grateful Dead. The ripples widen into the sounds of the various offshoot bands and into the catalogues of the hundreds of musicians who have swum within the circles of the Dead. It softens me up for the next program, Allison Brock’s Wide Cut Country and, well, we may get a gunfighter ballad or Steve Earle or Gram Parsons. The safe bet is a helping of Guy Clark and a scoop of everything else.


To me, Dead Ends and Detours should be on Fridays after dark, but there are only so many hours in the night. We would miss the wee Celtic Show; everything is wee to the host: the songs, albums, conversations with fiddlers. I said once to Ann, ‘He’s probably a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, I mean, can an Irish brogue really be that thick?’ The wee show is followed by the Friday Night Blues Party, essential listening. And if the Deadheads moved to Saturdays we’d lose Lionel’s Vinyls which is not acceptable.

CKUA drives us to the record store. We’ve been listening to rhythm and blues, rock, reggae, bluegrass, jazz, blues, classical, country, God knows what else and some admittedly very cacophonic hybrids. CKUA has opened my ears again. I’m reminded of myself, the teenager who gambled on albums on the strength of a review in CREEM or Trouser Press because he couldn’t hear a single song from them on the radio anyway. The other morning, Baba, the cosmically connected host of Mid-Morning Mojo, played a track from Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue. You didn’t hear it when it was released and you don’t hear stuff like that on the radio today. Except on CKUA.

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