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CJSW Station Manager Chad Saunders really likes birthday candles.
Rachel Betts-Wilmott/the Gauntlet

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The past 20 years for CJSW have been full of social commentary, music of all kinds, and maybe even some Boy George. But most notably they've been jam packed with FM frequency.

"Beware of the silver fish," CJSW Station Manager Chad Saunders said slyly. "Very exciting times for the past 20 years on the FM dial."

CJSW has been on the air in one form or another since 1955, when it was merely a 15-minute segment on CFAC radio, called Varsity Vista. There were many attempts at getting them an FM license, starting in the 70s. But not until the early 80s was the push successful. On Jan. 15, 1985, CJSW was launched on 90.9 FM.

In the past 20 years there have been a lot of changes in staff, music and opinions, but it's this evolution that makes CJSW what it is.

"We went from the SAIT radio tower, to a dipstick transmitter, to now CBC. Our listenership has grown bigger and better than ever before," said Saunders. "More importantly we've become sort of this pseudo cultural-political-social institution in Calgary."

CJSW currently has a volunteer base of over 200 people. It's those individuals and others who, over the past 20 years, have been inclined to help out at the campus radio that have kept it in a constant state of flux.

"We're kind of like a pirate ship, but it's one of those pirate ships with Keith Richards as the pirate, and he has no idea of what's going on or where to go," said Saunders. "Anyone's driving the pirate ship at any time, we have no idea what flag to fly at any time--it's usually just bed sheets and underpants."

It is indeed the bed sheets and underpants flag that has made CJSW stand out from other Calgary radio stations.

"College-campus community radio has always been immortalized as being a bit amateurish, but I think it's honest," said Saunders. "We've never succumbed to advertising interests or corporate interests, we're just trying to do whatever--we don't know what we're doing."

CJSW has big plans to celebrate this milestone, starting with a couple of events this weekend at Broken City and the new Hi-Fi Club.

"It's just a nice time to reflect, and hopefully people who have been listening to CJSW, or never checked us out before will go 'Uh h-holy shit! They've been around for twenty years,'" concluded Saunders. "A lot of people have done some pretty amazing things here."

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