Historic radio waves resonate on campus

CFRC 101.9 FM is the longest running continuous broadcast in Canada

Left to right: CFRC staff Joanne Williams, Scott Stevens, Sirena Liladrie and Sayyida Jaffer stand in the CD stacks of the CFRC music library in the basement of Carruthers Hall.
Left to right: CFRC staff Joanne Williams, Scott Stevens, Sirena Liladrie and Sayyida Jaffer stand in the CD stacks of the CFRC music library in the basement of Carruthers Hall.

Students walking by the unassuming grey side door of Carruthers Hall may not realize it, but the door with the crackling loudspeaker beside it is home to over eighty years of tradition at Queen’s.

Radio broadcasting at CFRC 101.9FM, located in the basement of Carruthers Hall, has a long history behind it.

“We take pride in the tradition of the station,” said Sayyida Jaffer, CFRC’s operations officer and Comm ’05. “We’re the longest continuous broadcast in Canada.”

CFRC boasts a long list of alumni who have gone on to careers in radio and television, notably CBC’s Shelagh Rogers, CBC Sports’ Chris Cuthbert, CKLC’s Rick Choma, Global News and CBC’s Jeffrey Kaufman, and the Globe and Mail and CBC’s Jeffrey Simpson, among many others.

Arthur Zimmerman, a former physiology professor at Queen’s, wrote a book called In the Shadow of the Shield, which outlines the history of the university’s radio station and was published in 1991.

In 1902, radio enthusiast James Lester Willis Gill, an Engineering professor at Queen’s, gave the first demonstration of wireless telegraphy at a spring convocation lecture.

Gill also founded the Wireless Club at Queen’s in 1919.

The first transmitter at Queen’s was built in 1922 by a group of young professors, and on October 27, 1923, CFRC’s first broadcast went on air from Flemming Hall.

Zimmerman said the first broadcast was a football game between Queen’s and McGill.

“The idea was to be able to broadcast football games to the whole province,” he said. “From there on they broadcast convocations, football games, hockey games, that kind of thing.

“In those days there were very few radio signals around. They were picked up in California and Alberta with only 100 watts.”

The station lost its broadcasting equipment in a fire in Flemming Hall in 1933, he said, however they rebuilt the transmitter and became affiliated with both the CRBC (now known as CBC), and .

“They were in business cooperation with and mostly took feeds from the CBC like news, features, and concerts,” he said. “The whole prelude to the Second World War, conferences and statements, were all received from CBC and broadcast on CFRC.”

CFRC was the first station to broadcast President Roosevelt’s public statement at convocation in 1938 that the United States would not stand by idly if Canada was threatened, Zimmerman said.

“That was broadcast over CFRC and distributed to every radio station in North America,” he said.

From 1942 to 1948, Queen’s and the CBC ran a Summer Radio Institute at CFRC to train broadcasters.

In 1957, Professor Arthur Lower released a report advising the university to make better use of CFRC.

“Professor Arthur Lower got together with a bunch of other staff and faculty, and put out a report that said Queen’s radio was wasted,” he said. “He thought CFRC should be broadcasting intellectual stuff to reflect the university.”

That same year, Margaret Angus, an experienced writer for the CBC, was appointed Director of Radio and students formed the CFRC Student Radio Club.

The following year, in 1958, CFRC was moved from Flemming Hall into the basement of Carruthers Hall, where it still broadcasts from today.

In 1977, Kathleen Ryan, Arts ’26, donated money to Queen’s to allow the station to broadcast in stereo quality every day.

“Kathleen Ryan went down to the radio station [during her time at Queen’s], and they told her she couldn’t be on the radio because women’s voices were too high,” Zimmerman said.

“Her husband founded CFRA [in Ottawa], and in memory of her husband, she gave Queen’s the money to go stereo. The volunteers at the station raised the rest.”

Community members have always been an important part of the station, Zimmerman said.

“CFRC was an outreach from the university to the community. It showed the community what the university was about,” he said. “It broadcasted local talent. Back in the 30s, people used to say that CFRC was a ‘listening post’ for the country, in Kingston.”

He said that community members thought of the radio station as a way of tapping into the university.

“The point is that we thought that the station, in a lot of ways, represented the intellectual what-nots going on at Queen’s,” he said.

“CFRC was the way the community could tap into it. There were local talent live broadcasts on CFRC in those days. There was wonderful musical talent in Kingston,” he said.

In 2003, the AMS overtook ownership of the radio station from the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs. The AMS took over the station because it wanted a student-run radio station, as reported in the Journal on Sept. 5, 2003.

Zimmerman said that the focus of the station seemed to change with the ownership transfer of the station in 2003.

“It was an outreach from the university to the community. It showed the community what the university was about,” he said. “It’s now for entertainment of students. That’s what it seemed to be going towards [with the takeover of the AMS]. This is the model for many campus radio stations, to play music that students like and that’s it.”

Scott Stevens, CFRC’s Music Coordinator for the past eight years, said that the station relies on student and community involvement.

“We aren’t purely a student organization; it is campus and community radio,” he said.

Jaffer added that volunteers from the community help to keep the station running.

“We have close to 150 volunteers, over 60 per cent of which are students. We like to keep that balanced because community members are the backbone of the station and keep it functioning throughout the summer,” she said. “They provide another element of continuity.”

She also said that CFRC’s programming schedule continues through the summer, and that two of the station’s volunteers, Jim Birtch, the host of Strictly ’70s and ’80s, and Wayne Vermette, the host of The Blues Project, have been volunteering at the station for more than 25 years.

CFRC is also involved with many organizations on the Kingston art scene, such as the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, the Kingston Jazz Festival, and Kingston Punk Productions.

Joanne Williams, ArtSci ’06 and CFRC’s business manager, said this year is unique for CFRC because it is their first year without university funding. The university began phasing out CFRC’s grant in 2003.

“In the last couple years now we’ve had to start worrying about advertising and things like that, whereas in previous years we didn’t really have to worry about it,” she said. “Last year we had our first-ever funding drive. Other campus stations have been doing that for years.”

CFRC’s funding drive last year raised almost $10,650 for the station.

Williams said the station’s employees are always looking for new ways to generate funding and increase exposure for the station.

“We are having another funding drive, around the same time of year [as last year’s drive], at the end of January,” she said. “We also hope to have more open houses. We had a couple last year.”

CFRC has a mandatory AMS undergraduate and SGPS graduate mandatory student fee that is another source of revenue for the station, Jaffer said.

“We receive $3.75 from undergraduate and graduate student fees,” she said. “This year we want to go to referendum for an increase to $4.50.”

CFRC will be moving in upcoming years to a more prominent location.

“We will be moving to the Queen’s Centre in the last phase,” Jaffer said.

A Brief history of CFRC

•1922 - CFRC’s transmitter was built.

•October 27, 1923 - CFRC’s first broadcast; a football game between Queen’s and McGill.

•1933 - Fleming hall burned down and the radio equipment was lost. The transmitter was rebuilt this same year.

•1936 - Full affiliation began between CFRC, CBC (at the time called CRBC), and The Kingston Whig-Standard.

•1942 - The Kingston Whig-Standard ends their agreement with CFRC due
to an advertising disagreement. Queen’s and CBC set up a Summer radio Institute to train broadcasters.

•1958 - CFRC moves into the basement of Carruthers hall and the CFRC Student radio Club is formed.

•1977 - Thanks to an alumni donation, CFRC is able to broadcast in stereo quality.

•2003 - AMS obtains ownership of CFRC from the university.

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