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This Saturday will mark another great party in the series of CFMU fundraisers over the many years they’ve been a part of our community. The show this weekend has a line up that represents the best and the brightest of our exciting music community, in Hamilton.  McMaster’s CFMU (93.3FM) is currently in the middle of their fundraising drive, there are a lot of ways to show your support, from donating online to attending the show on Saturday. You can find all of the show details, here.

CFMU is an integral part of our community, in Hamilton. They are the only station in town that not only allows, but embraces a DIY approach to music. Did you record a really good EP at your friends house? Send it in, there is a good chance it will get played. Do you have an idea for a unique show you would like to host? Fill out an application and there is a good chance that your show will get approved.  The list of reasons we here, at Cut From Steel, support CFMU is long, but it can be summed up by saying ‘they play what we want to hear’. If you want to listen to commercial pop music and hear the same wire news pieces regurgitated to you every hour, on the hour – you can literally close your eyes and turn the radio dial and you will find one of those stations. Bloated and cynical radio hosts pulling pranks and arguing with callers? The list of those radio stations is endless.

However, if you want to hear local news delivered by local people, tune in the CFMU. If you want to hear the, frankly underrated, music coming out of our town, tune in to CFMU. If you want to listen to the music and news of your birth country – listen to CFMU. Where else can I find Serbian content in Hamilton on a weekly basis? Nowhere.

Our Parry Allen caught up with CFMU programming director, James Tennant, to talk about the history of CFMU and community radio. We’ve also gathered a sample of quotes from local musicians, regarding the importance of CFMU.

Q – Can you give us a brief history of CFMU?
The concept was created in the late ’60s and in the early ’70s the McMaster Radio Club started doing a closed circuit type thing at the old Wentworth house. It was in the basement. I believe it was done through something called Carrier Current – they had to put the radio up against the wall and the electrical wires would carry the signal. Wild technology, eh?

These pioneers of CFMU applied for a licence from the CRTC – and on January 13th 1978 CFMU came on the air to FM radio.  The radio station moved to Hamilton Hall, where it was until 2002. Since then we’ve carried on doing the same thing those guys started back in the Wentworth house; local music, local events, and local takes on international music and international events.

In an age where there are literally an infinite amount of places you could listen to music, CFMU, and college radio generally, is one of the few places where real discovery still happens. I could drone on and on about the need for “direction” and “structure” in music programming and consumption, but I’ll just say this: Your next door neighbor makes amazing music in her bedroom and CFMU plays it; The guy you work with has his own late night free jazz show on CFMU and it’s really good; And indeed, there are many more passionate dedicated people who volunteer at the station and pour that passion onto the airwaves. The radio is packed with top 40, classic rock, and commercialized stations, where you know what you’re going to get, and that’s fine—they’ll always be there. But a community centered, artistically motivated radio station such as CFMU is an incredibly precious thing, and one that’s definitely worth supporting in our community
Cam Malcolm (Huron)

Q – Can you tell us a bit about community radio in Canada, and where CFMU fits in?
Well, we were the third campus / community station in Canada. Community radio is a passionate sector of radio, that’s for sure. It is comprised of students, mostly volunteers, and the generally modest salaries for staff. The thing that fuels community radio is passion and the drive to contribute to the community. From playing local bands, to organizing revolutions overseas – community radio has always been for the people, by the people.

CFMU is a lifestyle choice. It’s a reality shaker. The range of music is so varied that collectively must hit every genre in 7 days. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had to call in, or wait in my now parked car until a song finished to find out what/who was playing.
I love the support of the local music scene CFMU has always been. Hamilton is lucky to have this station.
Long live 93.3.
Dylan Hudecki (Cowlick/High Kites)

Q – How are licences for community radio stations given out?
It is certainly tougher to get a licence these days just because of the number of existing radio stations in densely populated areas like Southern Ontario. It is basically impossible to get a new licence where we are because all of the frequencies have been taken.

With our FM dials cluttered by mainstream commercial interests, CFMU offers a much needed voice to local music, community and politics.  A sort of podium for the city’s rich cultural diversity.. and a true champion of independent local music.  We are blessed to have such a committed and clued in community radio station here in Hamilton.
Lee Reed

Q – What is the CRTC Mandate for community radio?
It is definitely different than the mandate for regular radio stations, it is an entirely different licence. We are not supposed to play hit music, because we are not supposed to compete with commercial radio. We can’t get bigger and sell bigger ads than the ‘big guys’. Our hit music is capped at 10% – and we rarely come anywhere near that. Rihanna is great, but all of the other stations play that, we don’t need to.
We also need to include 25% spoken word into our programming and we make that up with stuff like our news shows.

CFMU was definitely instrumental in helping Canadian Winter get our music heard when we first started. When we were rolling the dice on our new sound, they supported us to the hilt and played us alongside alot of the great music that was coming out of Hamilton at the time. My most enduring CFMU memory was the day we had ‘back to the bricks’ premiered and we sent Scotty P’s brother to deliver the CD to the IN THE KUT show dressed as a lumberjacks. Ah, good times.
Kobi Annobil (Canadian Winter)

Q – Can you us about your tag-line ‘Redefining radio in your community’?
Community radio isn’t like the regular commercial radio that people think of when they imagine turning the dial and listening to ‘mad dawg and crazy Lee in the morning‘. We aren’t that kind of radio. Community radio is really local. It is local people, like you, playing local music. It could be your brother’s band, or you could be promoting your neighbors business. We like to remind people that we are truly about community. Aside from CHML, which is mostly talk and is fairly conservative. Who else, aside from CFMU, will have someone on to talk about their charity in the morning without angry callers arguing with them.

Our challenge is to preach beyond the choir, and to get people living up on Rymal and Upper Ottawa to tune in and hear something they care about.

CFMU is great because it gives people a chance to hear things that might not be played on mainstream/corporate radio,  and offers diverse programming to cater to all walks of life.  I have listened to the station for 15 years and believe it to be an integral part of Hamilton’s music and cultural landscape.
Brad Germain (The Dinner Belles)

Q – How long have you been with CFMU?
I’ve been on the job for 14 years, but I’ve been involved with CFMU for closer to twenty something years. I started volunteering as a 19 year old undergrad music nerd. I wanted a show, and I was really into ‘Cow Punk’, what is now Alt Country or ‘Americana’. Through volunteering at odd hours I eventually got a show with my friend Ken, it was called ‘Breakfast Cereal Killers’

Q – What is the biggest difference in the radio station since you started 20 year ago?
The biggest and most obvious change has been getting a proper studio built in the student center.  But aside from that, the biggest change hasn’t just been one change, it has been constant changes with technology. Radio isn’t dead like the naysayers will tell you – it is still very much alive and people are listening.  A lot of people are listening.  The technology may change and adapt but people are still definitely listening.

A big change has also been our website and the constant streaming and downloadable archives that we offer. We are currently working on a mobile ap that will bring our content to our listeners in a way that is new to us.

Another example of the way we’ve changed with technology is our slow switch to a digital library. It costs a lot of money for artists to record and press CDs, we can now accept digital submissions and play them easily from our library. This has made things easier and much cheaper for the artists looking to submit, and it is also easier for our volunteers to access the music they want to play.

CFMU is important to me, and I hope I speak on behalf of the band, because it gives a voice to musicians in the area who otherwise may not have one at all. they provide up and coming musicians with the change to get their music out to the community  on a station that has a diverse audience. CFMU is an excellent source of everything one wants to hear on the radio (whether it be local, Canadian, or other fantastic artists), and it helps bring together the musicians who help keep the scene running. CFMU gave us our first interview ever, and its opportunities like this that keep bands sights on bigger and brighter things.
Pat O’Brien (New Hands)

Q – How does someone get a show on CFMU?
We accept applications all year with the exception of our fundraising period. Because of the way the school year works we get most of our applications in April and September. Our programming committee usually meets in May and October and selects a few new shows.

The trick is to offer us something we don’t already have – or a fresh and unique take on something we may have. For example, we currently have five hip hop shows on CFMU. If you are going to pitch another rap show it will have to be somehow different from the ones we already have. The point is that anyone can get a show if they have a good pitch. Find the information on our website and apply.

CFMU is important to me because out of all the radio stations in Southern Ontario, it is one of a handful that exist outside the influence of payola, big advertising firms, and meddlesome vested interests. DJs play the music they want to play. Talk shows talk about the subjects they wish to. News shows are uncensored. These are valuable and very rare qualities in the increasingly consolidated world of Canadian broadcasting.
Matt Baker, aka “Smoky”
Continuing the Media Assault
Tuesdays at 8:30pm. CFMU

Q – What are some of the longest running shows on CFMU?
We have two rap shows that have both been on for over 15 years each. Live and Direct, and In The Kut.  Rick Taylor’s show has been on for over 20 years and we have a Lithuanian show that’s been on for 35 years.

I love CFMU because they plug our shows and give people something to listen to aside from their ipods. They are great because they play all our shitty bands and they do it for free.
Jim Fitzgerald (The Pre-Nods)

Q – Tell us about your fundraising effort, how can people donate?
People can donate on our website, under promotions. We accept donations on our website through PayPal. People can also mail a cheque to us (c/o CFMU Radio Inc). We set a goal of $21,000 and we hope to get as close to that as possible.

We have an excellent show at This Ain’t Hollywood on Saturday, a lot of musicians have been kind enough to agree to play that for us. It is a fantastic bill, and everyone should come down and celebrate with us!

Thanks, Jamie!