CKUA logoIt started in 1927 with little more than a radio transmitter in a small room on the University of Alberta campus. 75 years, 17 transmitters, 2 frequencies, and a 105,000-item library later, CKUA continues to entertain and educate listeners throughout the province and around the world. CKUA has evolved from that little university station, through a long adolescence as a government funded entity, into a mature, listener supported public radio station. Today, CKUA obtains over half of its operating budget during semi-annual phone in campaigns, raising over 1.5 million dollars a year from listeners. The other half comes in through a combination of corporate sponsorship agreements with the business community and media partnerships with the arts and culture community.

Tommy Banks, PJ Perry, Jann Arden, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn and kd lang are just a few of the artists who found early support from CKUA. Theatres, festivals and other special events across Alberta credit CKUA with helping them find success. Tommy Banks sums this up in the 2002 book by Marylu Walters: CKUA Radio Worth Fighting For.

Just ask any reasonably successful Alberta recording artist where their record first got played, and the answer is CKUA, always, just always. Most of them would lay down in front of a train for CKUA. It was the first place that many, many Alberta artists got their first substantive airplay to a discerning audience that understands what’s going on and who will either like it or not with some reason to their opinion.

Indeed, it is the support for emerging Alberta artists and media partnership opportunities that make CKUA a unique broadcaster in this province. A variety of sponsorships with theatres, concert halls, and festivals provide affordable messaging, while underlining CKUAs commitment to the arts in Alberta. The Arden, Festival Place, and the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts in Calgary, Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Winspear Centre all credit CKUA with providing valuable support.

With a knowledgeable, dedicated and passionate announce staff (who serve more as talented curators of musical and cultural information) and a dedicated listenership, CKUA is the ideal media broadcaster for arts related projects of all kinds.  Not only does CKUA make a point of promoting major arts events in Alberta, it pays special attention to the smaller venues and independent artists. A lack of promotional money and marketing expertise has been the make or break point for many new artists and endeavours. Through a media partnership with CKUA and, potential fans from around the world become aware of new artists.

Through the decades, CKUA has been known as an artist friendly station, interested not only in supporting original music and arts events by known names, but in giving a leg up to those worthy and in need.,” notes Brian Dunsmore, CKUAs former Program Director now special events coordinator. “This odd philosophical notion, of providing support simply because of inherent value instead of for strictly commercial reason, remains at the heart of the CKUA.

CKUA on-air personalities are unique in their extensive knowledge of eclectic types of music. The station offers music that is simply not heard on any other radio station. Through its creative programming, CKUA reaches an audience that values and supports made in Alberta arts and culture.

CKUA cheque presentation

Presentation of $5,000,000 cheque fronm the province of Alberta for CKUA’s capital campaign on October 6, 2012

On October 8, 2012, a new and even more exciting stage of their development unfolds as they begin their move into new location in the historic Alberta Hotel. The exterior of the hotel was remantled brick by brick by Gene Dub (architect of Edmonton’s City Hall) and the interior was pared back to the brick walls was totally redesigned especially for CKUA from the ground up. CKUA purchased the land and the building from Dub  by swapping their present property on Jasper Avenue and 105 Street for the new building which Dub owned. Dub is now recreating the original tavern at the Alberta Hotel but that’s another story for another day.

The new facility will make possible:

  • Proper environmental protection and security for CKUA’s priceless and grown music and spoken word collections
  • Accessible and expanded on-air studio space enabling larger and longer in-studio performances
  • Development of community based performances and educational programs around music, the arts and Alberta’s cultural scene
  • Access to parks and other venues for live and on-air performances
  • A museum component to showcase CKUA’s and radio’s place in the history of broadcasting in Alberta, as well as selections from their world-class music library

The total budget for CKUA’s capital campaign is $25 million. According to Todd Crawshaw, CKUA’s energetic and imaginative director of marketing and sales, with the province’s and the city’s commitment and other promises made by individuals not yet announced, CKUA is almost at  the half way mark. They plan to announce the public part of the capital campaign in early spring 2013 at a street party outside their location sometime in May with headliners soon to be announced but rumours are that it might include kd lang and a stellar lineup of home grown Alberta artists.

CKUA’s Collection of Sound Recordings Are Priceless

CKUA’s move to a new location in Edmonton was not just a matter of creating a safe, suitable and healthy workplace for their employees and 450 volunteers, it was a matter of protecting and preserving their extensive and priceless record collection, like no other collection in the world. The library will be housed in a light and humidity-controlled room with a bank of expansion shelves that will hold their entire collection, for the one time, in one place.

At the media event on October 6, 2012, along with the cheque for $5,000,000, and some VIPs in a 1963 Cadillac, the first record was delivered to CKUA’s new location. The record, suitably titled 1927 – the year that CKUA went on the air – was produced by RCA Records and delivered in person by John Worthington, who was invited to select the first archive to be delivered to their new location. John has served as CKUA’s “Old Disc Jockey” since 1949 along with positions as announcer, chief announcer, program director, manager, general manager and executive officer. The record was produced by RCA International the same year John was born.

John Worthington CKUA's Old Disc Jockey

John Worthington, CKUA’s Old Disc Jockey, delivering the first ceremonial record to the new building on October 6, 2012

Playlist from the “Classic Recordings from 1927” album:

Side One:

The Varsity Drag – George Olsen
Sam, The Old Accordion Man – Williams Sisters
Crazy Words – Crazy Tune (Vo-Do-De-O) – Irving Aaronson and his Commanders
At Sundown – Jesse Crawford
Do-Do-Do – Gertrude Lawrence
Sunny Disposish – Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra
Flapperette – Nat Shilkret & the Victor Orchestra
I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me – Roger Wolfe Kahn & his orchestra


Side Two:

Hello! Swanee, Hello! – Waring’s Pennsylvania
That’s My Hap-Hap-Happiness – The Happiness Boys
Ain’t She Sweet? – Gene Austin
Moonbeam! Kiss Her For Me – B.F. Goodrich Silvertown Cord Orchestra
Hallelujah! – The Revelers
Red Lips, Kiss My Blues Away – Charles Dornberger and his Orchestra
Mississippi Mud and I Left My Sugar Standing in the Rain – Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys
When Day is Done – Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra
(my thanks to Karen Howell, CKUA’s webmaster for tracking down the playlist for this article)

CKUA’s sound library includes 60,000 CDs, 75,000 LPs, 18,400 78s, and hundreds of other sound recordings including one of only two copies of the speech by King George VI featured in the 2012 movie of the same name starring Colin Firth.

Arianne Smith, CKUA’s library technician in charge of the collection and the digitization program now underway is a self professed life-long music nerd with a penchant for cataloguing. She started volunteering at CKUA in October 2010, then was hired on part time in December. In April she completed her practicum as part of Grant MacEwan University’s Information Management Training & Library Technology program, and in May was hired full time. Arianne is passionately involved in the Alberta music scene and appreciates the exposure CKUA has given her to music she would have never otherwise heard.

When asked about her favourites from the collection, Arianne points to five including the Folkways collection, the largest single collection they own. Folkways Records was founded by Moses Asch and Marian Distler in 1948 in New York City. Asch, she points out, was the first to record and document world music. From 1948 until Asch’s death in 1986, Folkways Records released 2,168 albums that include traditional and contemporary music from around the world; spoken word, poetry, and multi-lingual instructional recordings; and field recordings of communities, individuals, and natural sounds. It was also an early proponent of the singers and songwriters, such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Leadbelly, who formed the center of the American folk music revival.

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. acquired Asch’s Folkways recordings and business files after his death in 1986. This acquisition was completed by the Asch Family to ensure the sounds and artists would be preserved for future generations. As a result, it was agreed to continue Asch’s policy that all of the 2,168 titles would stay in print indefinitely regardless of market sales. The Smithsonian Folkways website  uses the internet to make the recordings available as streaming samples, DRM-free digital downloads in MP3 and lossless FLAC format, and on CDs via mail order.

A complete set of the Folkways recordings was also donated to the University of Alberta where Michael Asch, Moe Asch’s son, was an anthropology professor. FolkwaysAlive, a joint initiative between the University of Alberta and the Smithsonian, is involved in digitization and archiving of the collection as well as maintaining a research center and sponsoring student research scholarships and an annual concert series. Not surprisingly, given its similar focus on folk and world music and its close relationship with the university, CKUA has grown and listeners have benefitted from CKUA owning, preserving and sharing one of the largest collection of Folkway records in Canada.

The CKUA archives also include priceless sound recordings they produced in their own studios. Some of these recordings were digitized by the Alberta Online Encyclopedia project. The catalogue they recorded includes fascinating interviews with W O Mitchell, Conrad Black, David Suzuki, and Steve Allen to name a few. The recording of Elsie Park Gowan was one that particularly caught my attention.

Elise Park Gowan

Elise Park Gowan

Elsie Park Gowan was a groundbreaking playwright, actress, author, and teacher who — some say almost single handedly —  helped build theatre in the West.

“What was her contribution to theatre and writing in the West? Just name it,” says Moira Day, associate professor of drama at the University of Saskatchewan. “She was one of an important group of women pioneers… who helped build the stages on which the professional and educational theatre in Western Canada now performs.”

In the early days of Edmonton radio, Gowan worked with writing partner Gwen Pharis Ringwood to produce numerous plays that would be broadcast on CKUA and the CBC. By the end of her playwriting career, Gowan had produced more than 200 dramatic pieces for radio, broadcast nationally and internationally, reaching countries as varied as the United States, Great Britain, Australia, the Caribbean and South America.

Arts Alberta #100
In this episode of #100 for Arts Alberta, broadcast on April 9, 1987, Gowan speaks with Brian Dunsmore, CKUA’s program director, about her creative writing program at Strathcona Seniors Centre in Edmonton, where she then lived, and some of the people she has met, including Peggy Holmes, a fellow resident who was an author and radio broadcaster both locally and nationally for CBC Radio. At the time, Holmes was best known as Canada’s oldest radio broadcaster. Gowan also talks about her childhood and writing.

Although CKUA can boast about many firsts: first eduational radio station in Canada, first live budget broadcast in Canada, first live broadcast of daily Question Period in Canada, first station with FM technology in Canada and the first radio station to stream on the internet in Canada, just to name a few, they are still making history. Reports are that they are currently beta testing a sound board in their new location that promises to become industry standard throughout radio in North America. The manufacturer, Wheatstone (North Carolina), recently sent one of their reps up from San Francisco to set up the sound boards and orient CKUA’s DJs. The boards are in each of their new studios, and CKUA will be keeping an evaluation log over the next several months to help Wheatstone fine tune their technology.

CKUA 1931

CKUA studio controls, 1931
photo: University of Alberta Archives

wheatstone sound board

CKUA studio controls. 2012



How Can You Help CKUA Continue to Make Music, Arts & Culture Live in Alberta?

  1. Purchase something from their selection of merchandise from hoodies to mouse pads and display it proudly.
  2. Support their fall campaign set to launch on October 25, 2012. The early bird period of the campaign is now underway. You can read about the Polar Bear Safari early bird prize.
  3. Make a one-time or monthly donation. Options include one-time gifts, monthly donations, celebration gifts (birthday, anniversary, graduation, Christmas, retirement) or memorial gifts. Ask if your company offers a matching gift program and lead the way. Call Joan Paton, Director of Fund Development at 780-428-2012 for more information on donations.
  4. Purchase a media sponsorship or buy some advertising. Call Todd Crawshaw, Director of Marketing and Sales at 780-428-7595 for more information on media sponsorships or advertising.
  5. Volunteer for any number of activities. You’ll work with a bunch of committed volunteers passionate about music and CKUA. Call Susan Campbell, Volunteer Coordinator at 780-for more information.

See more about CKUA on their website.

See more photos of their old and new locations on Flickr.