All Ears on CFRU

Campus radio station hosts open house

Margie Taylor and Peter Bradley

He walked into the campus radio station more than three decades ago as a student named Nick Taylor. As a volunteer program host called Nicky Dread, he’s been there ever since.

However you recognize him, Taylor helms one of the longest-running shows on CFRU called The Crooked Beat. Begun in the early 1980s – around the time the station received its FM broadcast licence – his reggae-themed program occupies the Thursday evening slot, between Hidden Gems (rarely heard archives from the CFRU library) and the extreme metal thrashing of Forever Deaf.

Drawing new listeners and volunteers to that eclectic program mix is the purpose of an open house this weekend. The event will take place March 17 from noon to 5 p.m. at the station, located on the second floor of the University Centre.

Visitors can tour the station including its library – lined floor to ceiling with a total of about 60,000 CDs and vinyl albums – try their hand and voice in the training studio, and maybe even go on-air with a volunteer host. Regular station volunteers will chat with visitors live and interview local organizations around the afternoon’s music mix.

As with a first-ever broadcast last month from a University residence, the goal is to introduce more listeners to what Margie Taylor calls an alternative to public and private broadcasters airing in Guelph. “What you’ll hear on here you won’t hear anywhere else,” says Taylor, a Guelph resident who spent decades in Canadian broadcasting, notably with the CBC.

As CFRU’s interim community outreach co-ordinator, she hopes to attract more listeners, including recent immigrants, seniors and women. Even on campus, the station is among U of G’s “best-kept secrets,” says Taylor, who tunes in to both CFRU and CBC.

She learned about the station while creating a radio documentary for her U of G master’s degree on rural communities. Since then, she has served on the CFRU board of directors.

The station airs a range of music programs – rock, metal, punk, blues, jazz, classical – as well as documentary-style and talk radio programs. Among its “Guelph-centric” programs are Beyond the Ballot Box on local politics, Campus/Community Lectures and even Cycology, a new show about bike culture.

On a global scale, Migrant Matters covers cross-border issues; the same evening slot a day earlier features Klangteppich, about German classical composers. Says program manager Peter Bradley: “Tune in to the radio station at any given time and it could be anything.”

Thursday mornings find Bradley co-hosting Books for Breakfast along with Dan Evans from The Bookshelf in Guelph.

The station airs across Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo, although online it goes anywhere in the world. He hopes to lure more listeners. “There’s not much alternative media in Guelph.”

He’s been program manager for about 18 months. He started with the station as a student volunteer – filling a midnight slot with classic rock – and stayed after completing a history degree in 2008. “This was one of my first stops on campus,” says Bradley, who grew up near Ottawa listening to Carleton University’s campus station.

Nick Taylor started with the station in 1979, halfway through his wildlife management degree. He began by co-hosting a show with a friend. That was before the FM licence. “Radio Gryphon was the calling name,” says Taylor, who grew up in Guyana and attended school in England before arriving in Guelph.

In 1981, he launched The Crooked Beat on CFRU. By day, he is systems database manager with the Wellington Catholic District School Board.

“It very much is an eclectic mix of music. It varies according to whether I have a batch of new stuff,” says Taylor. He usually connects the show’s music with current events; recently he discussed the Joseph Kony viral video, justice and freedoms. “I carry around 16 crates of vinyl and the same in CDs.”

Besides local listeners, he hears from fans abroad, including listeners in Argentina, Cyprus and Japan.

To mark his 24th anniversary in 2004, he did a round-the-clock broadcast. Next year marks another odd year but a significant one for anyone attuned to vinyl. “I’m not sure but I’m thinking the number is 33 and a third. I’ve got to do something that fits that bill.”

He’s among some 350 station volunteers; about half of them are on-air. Volunteers are split half-and-half between U of G students and community members.

The station trains volunteers to go on-air. Most are ready to broadcast in about three weeks.

Bradley, one of six station staffers, says, “When you tune in to CFRU, it’s a volunteer from Guelph representing what’s important to them.

“Even if you don’t like what you hear when you tune in, there’s something on the schedule. If you can’t find something you can identify with, you should come in and propose a show. I would love to see more faculty members here.”

The station airs at 93.3 FM from 7 a.m. to midnight.