Still crazy after all these years

After 25 years of hijacking airwaves, CJSW still knows how to throw a party 

Within Calgary’s current radio climate – where the chances of encountering the same song within one cross-city drive remains quite high, and the possibility of inane DJ banter is even higher – CJSW stands alone.

Not only home to the most widely diverse gamut of genres and styles one can find in a programming schedule, the station has also become a prominent and important fixture in the local music scene, providing radio play and exposure for countless Calgary artists and dedicating itself to uncovering emerging talent whenever possible.

In short, Calgary has been a better place since 25 years ago, when some bright young radicals got together on the University of Calgary campus and took over the FM frequency located at 90.9. Celebrating a silver anniversary is rare in the radio game, but as current station manager Chad Saunders sees it, CJSW has survived due to what it has given its listeners: namely, a fresh alternative.

“I think the main reason why we’re still here is because of how different we act compared to the other radio stations in town,” says Saunders, who has been involved with CJSW in one form or another for nearly 20 years.

“We support local music like no other station here…I mean, a couple do an okay job, but not nearly enough as they should. A lot of the others just don’t care, and they keep playing Lady Gaga over and over again. Not that there’s anything wrong with that music necessarily, but as soon as you hear the same stuff constantly, it loses some of its worth, I’d say. We always try to do something different and bring people something new all the time, and people respond to that much more than hearing the same Top 40 song again and again.”

In keeping with their connection to the city and its musical community, CJSW is holding the party to end all parties to mark their milestone birthday. On Jan. 23, the station is hosting a massive music showcase at MacEwan Hall. Over 25 bands will be performing throughout the night, including many legendary groups from years past who have reformed exclusively for the party (such as the Ripchords, Tinderbox, Wagbeard, and the Everymen), as well as current local favourites like Woodpigeon, Meisha and the Spanks, Dragon Fli Empire, and Dojo Workhorse.

The lineup, and especially the prospect of seeing several long-lost idols, reflects CJSW’s long-standing relationship with Calgary’s artistic community.

“We really wanted to have a snapshot of the past 25 years of radio,” says Saunders. “We had an idea of who we wanted to play, and especially who we wanted to see come back to Calgary to perform one more time…and the response we got was fantastic.”

For a roster this large, CJSW had to find enough space to house all the various sets, and fortunately the station’s home base stepped up to the plate in a big way. For the first time ever, the entire MacEwan Hall complex will be taken over by the event, tying in all the various performance spaces and even converting other rooms into small rock clubs.

“The whole building will be one open venue,” says Saunders, “so you can take your soda pop from the Den (the U of C’s student bar) to one of the meeting rooms that we’ve turned into a performance space, to the ballroom to the Black Lounge and back again, and just catch band after band after band with no lines to wait in or anything.”

The party is guaranteed to showcase CJSW’s importance to the city, and once the festivities die down, Saunders says the station is “committed” to continue growing in stature and scope. Having recently moved into a larger space on campus, the station will have more opportunities for features such as in-studio performances and events, as well as more room for staff and, of course, an always-growing music library.

However, Saunders has been thinking more about how CJSW, as both a brand and a presence, will fit into the shifting media landscape.

“The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) is going to be looking very closely at community radio in the next while, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out,” says Saunders. “Ultimately, though, I think there’s nothing but new heights for us to reach, and there’s always something great for us to discover around the corner.”

Tickets for the CJSW 25th Anniversary Party are available through Ticketmaster, Sloth Records and the CJSW offices (Room 312 of MacEwan Hall). For more info, check out www. cjsw.com.

Originally published January 14, 2010