A moment in history: Feb. 28, 1959

A moment in history: Feb. 28, 1959

· The Pulse

On this day in 1959, volunteers at the University of Alberta's Radio Society were spinning records for their fellow students.

At that time, the Varsity Radio Society was made up of 23 student volunteers. But the group served as an important part of the history of university radio that stretches back almost a century.

The U of A first hit the airwaves back in 1927, when CKUA sent its first broadcast from the basement of the Powerplant building on campus. The station was an experiment in using radio as an educational tool, and its programming was a mix of academic lectures, music, and radio drama.

When ownership of CKUA moved to the provincial government in 1945, much of the station's equipment and infrastructure was left behind. Rather than let it go to waste, volunteers formed the Radio Society. They moved the operation to the second floor of the Student Union Building (SUB) on campus. Despite calling itself a "radio society," the group didn't actually broadcast at first. Instead, they piped music, news, and talk shows through the public address system in SUB, all run from a homemade control board.

But their work wasn't confined to the walls of SUB. The society produced around 400 minutes of programming daily, including a weekly show that aired on CKUA, as well as other shows and event recordings that were broadcast from other stations across Alberta. Eventually, the society's extended its reach — first to the PA system in other buildings on campus, then to the actual airwaves. In the 1970s, the society installed an AM antenna, which allowed it to broadcast across most of the university grounds. The new station was first given the call letters CKSR. But in 1978, they were switched to CJSR.

In 1983, CJSR gained the licence and the equipment to broadcast on the FM radio frequency. This allowed the station to reach beyond the U of A (although with only a 44-watt transmitter, not too far.) Joni Mitchell's You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio became the first song to mark this stage of the university's broadcast history.

The volunteer-run CJSR fully embraced the idea of alternative radio, playing a mix of eclectic and emerging music, alternative news shows, and coverage of campus issues. That ethos continues to this day, with the station offering a listening experience that's often eclectic, sometimes challenging, but always unique from other Edmonton stations. It has continued to grow from its humble history as a small student group. CJSR now has hundreds of volunteers and produces dozens of shows, some of which are broadcast nationally. In 1992, a 900-watt transmitter upgrade meant the station could be heard across Edmonton, as well as worldwide on the internet.

In addition to its continued focus on alternative music and programming, the station has served as a training ground for people in music and broadcasting (including, a very long time ago, the writer of this piece).

Today, in a time of increased consolidation in broadcasting, CJSR continues as an independent non-profit run from the basement of SUB. But the station's funding is less than certain. It is partially paid for by fees collected from U of A students. That fee is currently up for renewal and will be decided by a plebiscite during the Students' Union elections next month.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.