It’s a story that begins shortly after 9 am on Saturday April 6, 1968. It was my sixth birthday, a big deal according to my parents as it meant I would be starting first year in the fall. Of the gifts I received, I only remember one: a Lloyds transistor radio from my grandmother. I hadn’t asked for a radio and my parents hadn’t told Grandma to buy me one. Yet there he was, with a 9-volt battery and a single earplug.
Until then, the only radio I knew was what mom and dad were listening to in the car or what the radio in the kitchen was ringing. To my amazement, there were other radio stations, many of which broadcast music 24 hours a day. I quickly learned the call letters and dialing positions not only of all the stations nearby. Winnipeg, but also those from afar. At night when the ionosphere cooled and thickened, it acted as a giant mirror for AM radio signals and I was soon using my little Lloyds to listen to shows from Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Sometimes frenzied Spanish could be heard, probably from a 250,000-watt border station in northern Mexico.
It was magical.
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I started pestering my dad to take me to some of the stations in Winnipeg so that I could watch the radio do it myself. What if we were driving around and hearing a station broadcasting remotely from, say, a furniture store, I would beg my parents to stop by the store so I could watch the DJ chatting about a lot of things on the suites.
By the time I got to high school I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to work on radio. I saw myself becoming a capital journalist, die-hard reporter, news anchor and foreign correspondent. As much as I loved their schtick, I certainly wasn’t going to end up like one of those long-haired, fast-talking, dope-smoking DJs on the music stations.
I first tried sitting behind a microphone in 1980, during my freshman year at the University of Winnipeg. At the time, CKUW was a tiny closed-circuit operation, broadcasting through a hallway and cafeteria. My shift was 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning, which ensured almost zero listening. And since there was no newsroom, I just played records and sometimes found the courage to talk about a song. Hey, that was a start.
More important was my part-time job in a grocery store. I learned from the local newspaper that a brand new FM radio station was going to open about 12 miles away in Selkirk. Also, the owner of the station was from my small town and made a stop for milk every Friday afternoon around 5:15 pm, just as I was filling the milk crate. Target acquired.
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I launched a full assault, begging him to engage me. After several weeks, I received a letter inviting all staff to a pre-registration meeting. I had been hired!
And so I made my commercial radio debut at 3:04:20 PM on November 13, 1981. The first thing I did was read sports scores and a weather report back to back. of the report broadcast by Broadcast News. from Toronto. I was a professional radio host!
Frankly, it wasn’t much. CFQX-FM was then a 5,000 watt family business in the middle of a wheat field playing elevator music. Under its license, each vocal composition had to be balanced by two instrumental selections. And because the advertisers could choose their own music, the sound of the station was extremely spotty. Few local traders cared about buying shopping time and if national brands knew we existed, they didn’t care. No wonder he finally went bankrupt. (CFQX-FM still exists but, under a new owner, switched to country in 1986 and went from 92.9 MHz to 104.1 MHz the following year. It now broadcasts very well from downtown Winnipeg. )
Things were extremely analog back then. Vinyl records, reel tapes, commercials on trolleys (an industrial version of the 8 tracks). When I was asked to replace an evening shift, I had to turn off the transmitter at 12:05 a.m. after one last newscast and the broadcast of God Save the Queen. It would be the morning man’s job to turn it back on around 5:57 a.m., then stop a recording of Canada so it ended just as the Broadcast News report began at precisely 6:00 a.m.
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I stayed at CFQX-FM the rest of my time at U of W, then moved to CJRL-AM in Kenora, Ontario, effective July 18, 1983. The GM made me a promise : the reporter was going to quit any second. Once out, I could take his place. Until then, however, I had to play records and talk about it.
Word got out just before Labor Day. The old journalist had finished. The work was mine. And there you have it, I realized my dream of being a professional journalist at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, September 6, 1983, at the age of 21.
I was not just a journalist. I was the whole writing. This meant that all of the news gathering, reporting and reading had to be done by me. First, the news at 6 a.m. First-hour TV news until 1 p.m. Home for a nap, then in the evening to cover city council, a union meeting for the Boise-Cascade stationery workers, or a few quickballs for men. championship match. In bed at 11 a.m. Rinse and repeat five days a week.
On day 20, I received a phone call from the program manager of a weirdly progressive rock station called KX-96 in Brandon, Man. I had applied unsuccessfully for a job in the spring and had forgotten about this particular refusal. But now he was on the phone offering me a full time job for the princely sum of $ 845 per month, a big step up from the $ 825 I was getting in Kenora.
I left town so quickly and with so little notice that my landlord sent the sheriff after me for non-payment of rent.
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My first day on the job at KX-96 was October 9, 1983. The ten months I spent there were among the most important of my life. I will never forget the people I have met. I am still in contact with some of them.
From there I moved to Q-94FM in Winnipeg for two years, first as the (brutal) night guy and finally as the music director. Then, after a disagreement over music policy with my program director, I started looking for a new position. By pure chance, I came across an ad in RPM magazine, once the bible of the Canadian radio and record industry. A station in Brampton, Ontario called CFNY-FM was searching for a person at night.
When I read the ad, I was in the process of applying for work at K-97 in Edmonton and CFOX in Vancouver. I had one more blank tape for my demo and just enough postage – 76 cents – to send things. I never heard from Edmonton or Vancouver, but got hired by CFNY five days later.
Packing everything in my old Honda Prelude, I made the trip to Brampton, arriving at the station at exactly noon on October 3, 1986. The station was playing reception with a reporter covering the news of the inauguration of this station. which would become the Skydome. When the first shovel hit the ground, I became a CFNY employee.
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And I’m still here. Apart from a three-year hiatus when the station and I saw other people (Long story; buy me a drink someday and I’ll tell you about it), I’ve been associated with CFNY / 102.1 the Edge of ‘somehow since that day in October 1986. If I’m honest I thought I’d stick around for three or four years before hopping off to another station – maybe for a lot of money. in the United States or something like that. Instead, I’ve spent over half of my life with just one broadcaster, which rarely happens today.
I still love radio too, even after all the changes and evolution. LPs gave way to CDs and CDs were dumped for hard disk drives. Carts? Faded away. Reel to reel tape? Are you kidding me? I’ve survived bad ratings, multiple ownership changes, studio moves, a parade of new bosses, weird consultants, changes in my work schedule (and therefore in my lifestyle), the introduction of satellite radio, the rise of streaming and a myriad of other things.
And for those who think radio is dead, you’d be wrong. It is still extremely popular, powerful and profitable. About 90 percent of the population listens to the radio every week. What would we do without the radio in the car? And if you’re an artist, the best way to spread the word about your new song is to air it on the radio.
It’s tricky, however. Radio must evolve with the times in this digital world, which is like changing the wings of an airplane while flying at 38,000 feet. The first big step was to build a station website in the late 90s and create a stream for people to listen to through their computers. Then came the addition of audio and video on demand through these websites. (Radio with pictures! Who would have guessed?)
We’re now immersed in podcasts, the best form of on-demand audio entertainment we’ve seen so far. Rather than fighting against streaming, we are finding ways to adapt and co-opt this technology. We defend our space in your car’s dashboard and offer things like the RadioPlayer Canada application. We are also very, very involved in social media. And some very intelligent people are studying other ways that radio can serve its audience.
I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 40 years now. It was a great ride and there is (luckily) no sign it will end anytime soon. It’s good because I don’t know how to do anything else. And I don’t want to.
Alain Croix is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.
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