Left of the Dial

WEB-Dave Swanson-Mark Burnham

The CJSF offices seem out of time. Amid shag carpeting, countless stickers and posters, and a couple of well lived-in couches, one has to imagine that the space hasn’t changed much since the radio station was first established. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought that I had stumbled straight into the late 1970s.

The secluded room in which I’m interviewing David Swanson, the station’s Program Coordinator, doubles as a recording studio, and boasts a large, upholstered single couch, as well as a mess of stray wires and spare CDs. I’m instantly at home. “In a commuter campus, there’s a lot of people that just come up, do their classes, and leave,” David tells me. “[CJSF] is a reason to stay, to make friends.”

But certainly making friends isn’t the only reason to stay — what about their storage room, which features tens of thousands of CDs, cassettes and vinyl records? This room, which is under lock and key at all times, functions as a time capsule as much as it does a music library. The records are in good condition, if a little worn from repeat plays, and the station takes advantage of their diverse collection. “Regarding music, we have everything from death metal to classical music to EDM to local indie rock,” says David. “It’s all different, all the time.”

The CJSF doesn’t just play music, either. They also feature talk shows and multimedia segments that combine spoken word with musical interludes. “Where commercial radio is music or talk, we’re music and talk,” says David. “We get very diverse. Anywhere from environmental rights issues, to LGBTQ rights issues, critical urban discussion, and lots of arts interviews with local artists, Canadian artists and international artists as well.”

Beginning as a music club in SFU’s early days before setting their sights on radio, the station’s first DJs would broadcast unlicensed shows via speakers covertly placed around campus. Eventually they earned a spot on cable FM, and their signal began to attract listeners from across the Lower Mainland. However, despite repeated pleas to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, they didn’t receive an FM frequency until 2002. Even then, the staff of the CJSF could never have prepared for the radical switch from cable to wireless.

“All of a sudden, it got a lot more real,” says Magnus Thyvold, the CJSF Station Manager. “If you’re only available in a limited and somewhat difficult to access way, that’s going to affect your listenership. But once you’re on FM, you can just tell your friends to tune in to CJSF on the radio, and then people listen. They’re calling you up, and you’re getting feedback.” Magnus, who has been the CJSF’s head honcho since 2000, says the move to FM was a necessity. “You’ve got to be easy to access. If people have to do a lot of special stuff to listen, they often won’t take the trouble to find the station.”

NEWS-quotation marksWe have everything from death metal to classical music to EDM to indie rock. It’s all different, all the time.”

– David Swanson, Program Coordinator of the CJSF

The station stands apart from the corporate stations they share a frequency with, as well as several of their on-campus competitors: They don’t run advertisements, and therefore have more control over the material they broadcast. “[Businesses] can dictate programming based on advertising dollars,” David says. “That doesn’t happen here.”

This freedom of expression gives SFU students a better chance to get involved in the CJSF than they might have at other university stations. “That’s the whole thing with media, is to be able to provide people with the opportunity to express their views on issues, share their interest in art — whatever,” Magnus says. David tells me about the station’s Jambalaya slot, which offers students a chance to test the waters of FM radio with only a week’s worth of experience. “It’s an open format new music show,” he says. “So, someone can figure out if they actually enjoy making radio very quickly.”

Despite controversies in the past, the CJSF is looking forward to a brighter future. “The future for radio — for us and anyone else — is about integrating things like the Internet and social media,” Magnus says. “Now that so much music is available on the web, you can’t just play songs and expect that it’s going to be enough. You’ve got to have more information, more things that create a unique experience.” The station is planning to revamp their web presence in order to foster interconnectivity between listeners and staff.

In honour of a decade on the dial, the CJSF is hosting a party to celebrate their achievement. It’ll be at the Astoria on Hastings Street on September 21. The price of admission? $10 bucks. “There’ll be seven musical acts, some pretty big names — Jay Arner, Bestie — two spoken word poets, and a live art creation project that we’re going to auction off at the end of the night. All the money from that will go to the Safe Amplification Society.” The SAS is a local non-profit dedicated to providing Vancouverites with an all-ages venue for performers, both local and international.

The CJSF’s first official broadcast on the FM is marked on their site as February 13, 2003, which makes their 10 year anniversary party a little late. David puts this in perspective for me. “It’s 10 years on FM, but we’ve been on campus for, like, 46 years,” he laughs. “So there’s a longer history than that.”

The CJSF offices are located in the Rotunda. You can listen to the station on 90.1 FM.