Traditional media companies have had to make rapid— oft-times drastic— changes to stay afloat in an even more rapidly changing technological landscape.
Increasing capabilities of the internet and digital platforms to provide consumers with cheap, ad-free content to be consumed at their leisure— as opposed to, say, sitting down at six o’clock to tune in to the evening news— has led to an exodus of audiences from traditional forms.
Despite continued layoffs in the for-profit media sector, non-profit organizations like CJSW have continued their steady growth.
“It goes back to who we are and who we serve,” says Station Manager Adam Kamis. “We have, in our volunteer programmers, people that are the prime movers behind arts organizations, cultural happenings, music festivals… If we just continue building upon that which we are strongest in— representing this community… I think we’ll do okay.”
Technological advancement in the industry isn’t all bad, however. “It’s getting more mobile,” argues Spoken Word Director Braden Alexander. “People are getting field recorders and taking their art into the field. Maybe they’re gathering sound effects or interviews for a podcast.”
“On the other side of it— as a listener— there’s more podcast apps, there’s more shows, there’s more things going on, on your phone. It’s the mobilization of these technologies and their byproducts— the things that come out at the end.”
Music Director Whitney Ota studied recording arts in Vancouver. “I think about the way we used to create radio and how things were done a few years before I got started at CJSW, which was cutting up reel-to-reel or recording onto DAT tapes— Ways of creating content that predated computer editing just made things so much more complicated and time consuming. You really had to be somebody that understood what was going on from a technical standpoint. I think that really excluded large populations of the world.”
“Developments in software and computers have really made the whole radio broadcasting thing a whole lot easier to create, which I think is super cool because it lowers the barrier to entry which is really important when it comes to the kind of work we do here,” says Ota. “I think the benefits of bringing everybody into the process of creating radio is that we get to experience everybody’s personal lives. We get to include everybody. If there was a higher barrier of entry to becoming involved in CJSW or any other media organization, I think what you’re doing is limiting the voices that will get heard. What we want to do here is open up as wide as we can and make it as easy for people to come in and, if they have something they’re interested in or a topic that’s important to them, then there’s a way that they can become involved and have a platform for all of that stuff they want to share.”
“Every host in their own particular discipline— their own particular musical interest— can dive in as deep as they want into what their area of expertise is. And that is what will always set us apart” says Programming Director Marta Ligocki. However, she muses on industry as a whole. “I think a really interesting question for us— and this is a big meta question— is radio even relevant any more?”
“The next five to ten years are going to be really interesting for radio. I see a lot of commercial stations dying out,” says Kamis. Citing music downloads, streaming platforms, and podcasts, he wonders why folks would stay tuned in while ad-free, specifically curated audio experiences are available at the touch of a fingertip.
“The thing that I don’t know if a lot of people realize is the hosts at CJ92 or even X92.9— they’re not picking their own music. This is being generated from the mothership in Toronto… These are pre-selected playlists and they’re selected based on demographics,” says Ligocki.
“That very personal, highly curated playlist and content— I think that is the defining feature of the station. That’s what Programming Directors before me have always had an ear towards and what the general environment sustains, which is building up the skills of people in the community and giving them the tools to share what’s important to them.”
“What we do really well will be our guaranteed survival,” says Kamis. “The infrastructure may change but if we keep our spiritual sense of ourselves, I think we’ll have a place in the media galaxy that is ever expanding.”
CJSW 90.9FM broadcasts out of the University of Calgary. With seven staff members and over three hundred volunteers, the station is a hub for voices not traditionally heard in mainstream media. CJSW works to showcase local, independent arts and organizations, and reflect the cultural tapestry that is Mohkinstsis (Calgary, AB) and the Treaty Seven Territory.