Oct. 13, 2020
You Can’t Afford NOT to Pledge Your Allegiance to CJSW
For 35 years, UCalgary’s own CJSW 90.9 FM — that bastion of wonderful weirdness and experimental sound and a free-form platform for new music — has raised more money through its annual funding drive than any other university station in the country. But never in the station’s history has it offered alumni an incentive like this month’s offering.
“The cornerstone for CJSW’s fundraising drive is its $30 pledge card that features discounts at more than 150 local spots around Calgary,” explains station manager Adam Kamis, BA’06, Besides a 10-per cent discount at the new A1 Café & Bodega and $10 off at YYC Growers & Distributors, you’ll find discounts at umpteen coffee shops, bike and book stores, pizza and music joints, brewing companies, cinemas, and UCalgary campus groups such as the Outdoor Centre, the School of Creative and Performing Arts, and the Dinos.
Old and new, hip and traditional, pricey and cheap — the featured list of Calgary hot spots is massive, cool and eclectic. Granted, you may need reading glasses to decipher the tiny print on the card, but the list is handily displayed on a six-sided, wallet-sized piece of paper, so you don’t have to lug around a big catalogue in order to reap these savings.
Rather than pay $30 for the Friends Card (a great bargain at that!), Manulife (UCalgary Alumni’s life and extended health and dental insurance partner) is subsidizing the card even further, by covering 30 per cent of the cost. That means alumni pay only $20 for this card. The kicker is you must buy it by the end of October.
With CJSW listenership booming — it’s tripled since COVID-19 began — Kamis remains “cautiously optimistic” about meeting the station’s $200,000 fundraising goal, adding that, “in a typical year, about 2,000 donors buy a Friends Card, comprising somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of our overall number of donors.”
Of course, there’s nothing typical about this year but, if tradition is any bellwether, CJSW’s legendary fundraising efforts may still pay off. With CJSW long considered the jewel in the crown of campus radio stations in terms of listenership and the money it raises year after year (the top in the nation), Kamis says some of the most touching moments he’s experienced since he first began working there 2017 have occurred since March of this year.
“What happened in March and April was extraordinary,” he recalls from his topsy-turvy office in Mac Hall. “People were scared and uncertain, but they still came in to do their show or learned how to work with our production software to make their programs from home.” CJSW relies on about 300 volunteers to run its 24-hour programming schedule, so the co-ordination of those efforts was massive as the spring lockdown began and most of main campus was shut down. Kamis grins as he remembers, “running to a wholesale club for as much hand sanitizer I could buy, changing the kitchen protocols and then negotiating with the Students’ Union to keep one stairwell in Mac Hall open” to allow the radio crew access to its second-floor station.
For the station’s marketing and development director, Simon MacLeod, BMus’16, one of the biggest surprises has been that tripling of CJSW’s listenership, from about 10,000 a month to 30,000.
“Part of that, I think, is just the fact that everybody is stuck at home with nothing to do,” says the host of iNTaNGiBiLiTy (Tuesdays at noon). “My interpretation is that Netflix and Spotify can only keep you entertained for so long, and watching the news can only keep you engaged for so long, so CJSW is a bit of an alternative to that.
“I think radio can also provide a social element, too, as you can really get to know the voices on air. It’s been really quite cool to see that Calgary has stuck with us through this, and have turned to us as an alternative to their mainstream media.”
For Kamis, also the voice behind The Failed Pilot (Thursday, 2pm-4pm), one of his most seminal moments was also one of the toughest. The week George Floyd was murdered was “phenomenally powerful,” he says. “Without prompting, what our programmers did by sharing their stories and showing their solidarity . . . I was enormously proud. Since March, all of us have had to pause a bit and be more thoughtful, I suppose . . . We’re definitely putting in more time and energy into what we do because we are not just background music. People listen intently to us. And, maybe, never more so than now.”
When a familiar voice can become a comforting friend, you know you’ve built a community — which is precisely what CJSW has accomplished since it first began broadcasting before UCalgary even existed as an independent university. Whether you tune into the FM station’s longest-running show, Road Pops, co-hosted by two alumni, Kevin Brooker, BA ’79, and Grant Burns, BA’82, its wildly popular Sun Ramen (from 7-10 p.m. on Wednesdays), or The Doghouse on Saturday afternoons, also run by a current undergraduate, Curtis Wilson and recent alumni Richard Sparvier (BComm’19) — you’ll get a cultural fix and a sense of connection. CJSW also offers more than just music. For example, Bumping into Walls is about living with vision loss. And there is a whole schedule of spoken-word programs covering topics such as op-ed pieces, public affairs, arts updates, media bias discussion, Indigenous news and film chats. In total, CJSW’s roster has more than 110 programs.
As for where the funds raised this month will go, Kamis says they will help cover general operations, including paying for CJSW’s 18,000-watt radio signal and website (totalling about $12,000 a month), equipment upgrades (ranging from new headsets to new record needles), podcast production, and so forth.
Alumni who wish to support CJSW can buy a $30 Friends Card for $20, here.