The University of Calgary’s radio station, CJSW, is pushing for a referendum next year to increase their student levy by $1.00. We recently sat down with CJSW station manager Myke Atkinson to ask why they need the money.
The Gauntlet: CJSW broadcasts to all of Calgary, all day, everyday. That can’t be cheap.
Myke Atkinson: No, it’s not.
Operationally, for the broadcast side of it, it costs us around $120,000 just to be on the air and send out our signal to Calgary. That’s kind of the summary cost. That’s with no staff, no support or anything. That’s just your wattage, your microphones, headphones, whatever repairs need to take place.
G: Explain the proposed $1.00 levy increase. Why is it necessary?
MA: We have a funding drive every year. There’s usually some sort of goal that we want to try to get out of it. This year, when we did our funding drive, the proposed growth we would take as a station is to podcast every show. That requires a total rebuild of the CJSW website. We raised the money. We had the most successful funding drive that we’ve ever had. I think people really want podcasting.
There are going to be a lot of opportunities, but it’s also going to require a lot more maintenance because we’ve just got so much more happening. There will be more ways for people to interact with the station. But that requires people power too. You can only automate so much. We’ll need to have hands on deck so that we’re making the best use of the radio content that we’re creating. To do that we need a new position.
In terms of funding, we try to keep it basically 50/50. We want about 50 per cent of the funds to come from the community at large and 50 per cent from the students because we are based on campus. We’ve got a mandate to serve both the students of the University of Calgary and the community at large at the same time. The simplest way to do that is to keep it 50/50.
G: Students pay a lot of fees. Is the increase worth it?
MA: I guess they’ll decide that, but I think it is. We wouldn’t bring this forward if we didn’t think that it was a worthwhile endeavour for the students.
There are two sides of it that will benefit students. One, the volunteers who walk through the door want to get their music, their ideas and their culture out into the world.
The other is that they will be able to listen to the radio station in the way that they want to listen to it. I’ll bet you there’s a bunch of students on campus who don’t have cars and then don’t have radios. It’s just the truth of the current day. Radios are just not necessarily the way that people want to listen to music or to radio shows in general.
Whether a student is studying in the Taylor Family Digital Library, running on a treadmill in kinesiology or hanging out between classes, we want to make sure they can listen to the shows on CJSW that they want to listen to when they want to listen to them. Having the ability to listen to those shows outside of the time that they’re allotted within our weekly schedule is a great way for the university to collect on resources they’re already paying into.
G: CJSW’s recent fundraising drive pulled in over $200,000. Did you blow it on jewelry and fancy cars?
MA: We’re on a pretty tight budget. Realistically, the entire budget of CJSW is just over half a million dollars. Compared to the budgets of any commercial radio station, that is probably about the same as what they spend on bus ads in a year. We operate on a dime compared to what most commercial entities are running on. At the same time the radio that we produce, the quality of it and sound of it, is on par. We do that by nickel and diming everything. So, no. No cars.
G: Why is CJSW a good investment? How does it stack up against other community stations in Canada?
MA: We’re the best. Simply put. The radio that CJSW creates and the environment we’re able to offer people who want to volunteer and who want to make radio in Calgary is miles ahead of every other community radio station in Canada. That’s not to say that they’re not doing good things at those other stations. There are amazing things being done at all of those stations.
A way to maybe put it is, there is college radio, and I think a lot of people when they think of these kinds of stations they think of college radio. And [with] college radio, the idea is very much nonchalant. Come in, throw some records on, ‘hey we’re having a party in the booth.’ That’s not how we do things at CJSW. We love to have a good time on the radio — don’t get me wrong. But we want to do it in a way that’s polished, sounds good and doesn’t just sound like someone happens to have a microphone in front of their face.
Maybe that’s the same with other stations but one major difference is that we’re very involved in our local community, whereas a lot of other campus stations across Canada operate as radio clubs. [Radio clubs are] a place you can come. You can sit in front of a microphone. You can learn about editing and sound, spinning records, but you’re not really broadcasting to anyone. The listenership of those stations is quite small.
The listenership of CJSW within Calgary is large and is something that takes time to develop. We’ve been developing it over years and will continue to develop it. We do that by being very invested and very involved in the community outside of the university. I think that’s important because when someone comes here they don’t just get those skills, they actually get an audience. They get on that microphone for the very first time and there are already thousands of people on the other end waiting to here what they have to say.