A thing called FM

TRU university radio station more relevant today than ever before

John King, Contributor Ω

Kasahra Atkins and her garage sale find she shares with the world. John King/The Omega

Kasahra Atkins and her garage sale find she shares with the world. John King/The Omega

Kasahra Atkins found the 1978 musical retelling of H.G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds at a garage sale in Kamloops.

The 18-year-old Thompson Rivers University arts student now owns the record, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, and plays it on a late Feb. 11 evening for her radio show Shirley’s Temple, which she says focuses on Canadian artists. The show airs Tuesdays from the university radio station CFBX or 92.5 FM The X, which is located on campus.

Atkins says she didn’t have any albums to play for the record player she was given this past Christmas until she found the War of the Worlds record.

“I like to share my music,” the rookie disc jockey says. Later, she takes out a dry-cleaning record brush from its holster, which is similar to the kind that holds harmonicas, and slides the brush across a record next to her.

Atkins learned the trombone and trumpet growing up, which helped her gain an appreciation for music.

Eventually this appreciation brought her here, to CFBX, where she shares her latest find over the airwaves.

Losing the human element

While nobody at CFBX will go out on a limb and say radio is in the midst of a revival, campus radio stations remain relevant in today’s digital marketplace because, according to CFBX station manager Brant Zwicker, technology is great until, well, it isn’t.

“It’s a two-sided sword,” Zwicker says, explaining automation at radio stations takes away from the human element.

At one time, he explains, rookie DJs worked graveyard shifts to develop their shows. But today, he says most of radio’s night content is automated – including CFBX’s content.

But Zwicker is quick to point out only music from Kamloops artists gets played on CFBX airwaves through to dawn free of commercials.

He says campus radio stations are able to do things like this because they’re not under the same pressure as commercial radio stations.

Zwicker was hired in 1998 to help establish the radio station, and by 2000, CFBX was on closed-circuit television throughout the campus.

Zwicker says the radio station has gone through its fair share of digital improvements, with more on the way. The radio station streams its shows online, and now employees are figuring out how best to convert its music library, which consists of CDs and vinyl records, into digital format.

Everyone’s Gutenberg

Steve Marlow, who is the CFBX programming coordinator, worries the human element sometimes gets lost in the fast-paced world of evolving technologies, but says what makes the campus radio station relevant in today’s changing world is that it provides a bridge between the community and university.

“Campus radio tends to advance slowly; it’s a little more organic,” Marlow says, adding radio stations that are 100 per cent automated, those such as 96.9 Jack FM in Vancouver, actually lack the human quality driving campus radio stations.

“You don’t really feel any connection. There’s no human aspect,” Marlow adds.

In fact, Marlow likes to compare today’s environment, where people are able to use various social media and content management systems to publish online, with the western adoption of the printing press first used by Johannes Gutenberg.

“So basically everyone has the Gutenberg press now,” Marlow says.

Vinyl sounds better

Atkins slides the brush across the record a final time before she looks up and smiles.

She’s finished cleaning the record.

She likes records because of the way they sound. She explains digital music may provide convenience in a fast-paced world, but vinyl still sounds better.

“I’m always trying to find new music, especially for people my age who haven’t heard it,” she says.

It’s near the end of her show, and the clock on the wall is pushing 10 p.m. The control room is located on the second storey of the remodeled house CFBX calls home.

When you walk into the place, the walls are littered with autographed photographs of bands that stopped by over the years. In the basement, there are shelves stacked full of CDs and vinyl records.

Upstairs, there is a microphone, and instead of an Internet connection, there’s some rickety old space-opera looking stuff, and a thing called FM – whatever that means.