CKLN 88.1 FM is the radio station of Ryerson University in Toronto. Around 1983, while trying to figure out how to support myself with a production and music career I worked part-time in a restaurant called Chaplin’s. Another waiter there was Gary Flexgold. At the time Gary was attending Ryerson as a Film student. In my early twenties this was intriguing to me, so I asked if I could come down and watch a shoot he was doing and see the facilities at Ryerson. All I remember was being taken through a room that had a large amount of autumn leaves on the floor and special lighting, and Gary asking me to produce a blues song for use in the soundtrack.
The wonderful Indian spiritual master Neem Karoli Baba has said “sometimes you go for one thing, and find another”. This was so true here. I think we did record the blues song and perhaps it was used in his movie but the other thing I happened on was in the basement level of the Ryerson building. Here dwelt the radio broadcast facility for CKLN, where they played vinyl records and did it all live on the air. Where the show hosts were also the creators and producers of the show and where they played whatever music they wanted to, had whatever guests they wanted, and almost never was it established stars, or arranged through someone’s record label or management.. Even back in the 1980’s this was rare - most stations were syndicated, pre-recorded and the content was largely controlled by corporate interest of one kind or another, as far as I could tell.
CKLN was run by over 200 volunteers (including all the show hosts, engineers, etc) and two paid staff members, one of which was Dave Berard (or Barnard?) who was the program director -a very laid back guy who had community and art-supporting inclinations, and the discipline, along with the station manager, to keep these realized.
Some Interesting Features of CKLN
· In their library had vinyl records of William Shatner singing “McArthurs Park”, vanity records by Leonard Nimoy, Telly Savalas and many unlikely others. This was yet another reminder to me that sooooo many records are released, even by well-known people, that really don’t go far (an important point for me to tune in to in my early twenties). I think I also read somewhere that one in 10,000 records actually make it to airplay. There I was, planning my own BIG RECORD for years on end, thinking that once released a lot of things were going to happen -the truth for anyone is - big things may happen but that is very rare, and doesn’t just “happen” by itself, even when various odds are in your favour. It seems to take a high quality and special record, much well-financed, organized, inventive, informed over-the-top effort , and crazy good luck or weirdly good timing. This learning alone was worth the experience
· CKLN’s mandate is to serve the community at large, not just the radio arts program at Ryerson. You don’t need to be a student of Ryerson to work at CKLN- in fact, relatively few of those who run the station -including on-air personalities -are Ryerson students. And why is this? Aren’t those in the radio arts program interested? Are there better qualified community members who are willing to work without pay? As I understood it many people submit concepts for CKLN radio shows - it was competitive getting selected even though they were all unpaid positions. I suspect this is the case to this day.
· The on-air show hosts don’t sound slick, as on mainstream radio. Sometimes they sound untrained and really young. You might hear announcers running on for ten minutes straight, sometimes in a rather tangential or dreamy fashion, often with “um”’s and “uh”’s and “or, uh I mean” etc. This is rather endearing and can be relaxing to listen to - a truly unpressured, homey environment.
· The public could actually dial a telephone number and the on-air person would pick up the phone and talk to you. With a signal that covered a territory of over 5 million people, that was kind of cool (and/or shows how few were actually listening, or motivated to call!).
· There were no product commercials on CKLN, only local cultural and community event notices. Once a year they had a marathon on-air donations drive.
· With such a large volunteer base, CKLN had a very organized methodical intake, which involved showing up at the production meeting on a Tuesday, at which they would list their needs for the week, and you just say “I’ll take on that one”, briefly demonstrate your ability and off you go.
How I “Got In”
So I attended one of these meetings and found that they needed “Station ID’s”, which seemed more or less self-explanatory to me. You could book their production facilities to create these. I visited this facility and it looked a little rough to me -kind of wonky gear not all in good working order (this might have been just an impression) but the other thing was, with only bits of time available here and there, and not knowing their gear, it sounded difficult to work this way.
At that time I was already producing music in various ways -bringing a cassette recorder to my band rehearsals and having the band play things, visiting friends who had small recording setups or renting pro studios on my credit cards.
So I determined the easiest way to produce my first station ID would be at a friend’s house who had a sampling keyboard - something a bit rare and expensive at the time. I think I owned a 4 track cassette recorder and a mic and my friend knew how to run his sampler keyboard (probably an EMU). With this we could create a few instrumental tracks that would come out in stereo from the keyboard - record these onto two tracks of the 4 track cassette, then add the voice, some echo, and mix it down to another stereo cassette machine, which CKLN would later transfer to a “cart” for use on the air (if they liked it).
So that was pretty inspiring to me and a worthwhile endeavor to spend perhaps 20 hours on - finding my friend, getting machines in one place, writing the idea, etc. It seemed totally natural to be doing this sort of thing, and I ponder now what it was that motivated me. Being more mature now, and having met people from entirely different orientations than mine, I might wonder: why would I spend that kind of time, and in fact, continue to spend such time for decades after, chasing various artistic / production notions? It is clear now that these sorts of projects have always been time consuming for me,at a different level I still do it today (except I have a nice recording studio and sometimes people give us money) -but overall, it never really added up to any tangible positive income or significant career opportunity or much recognition to speak of (Or so it feels at times).
Why do people put so much effort into production work that is really time consuming and unlikely to "pay off", such as I was with this little station I.D.?
- Having listened to CKLN for some years as a regular listener, it felt like an adventure to go over to the other side and make something that would be heard by others.
- The mystery of whether I could do this to any level of appeal that it would be accepted and used on-air.
- To find out if all that I had learned in music making and recording would readily transfer over to an “industrial” production assignment.
-The possibility of opening doors for another (more profitable?) career aspect.
- Vanity of doing something kind of professional and cool.
- A chance to wrestle down the creative and technical issues in a guerilla situation, resulting in a few more tools I could use (writing an effective and brief spoken text, using this new “sampler” technology, appealing to a college culture I knew little about (having never been to college myself).
- A chance to hang out in a college and see what college people do and make some new friends.
- Any musical or creative work one can do in groups or alone brings one in touch with
consciousness, in touch with dreaming, expanding, exploring, in touch with the nature of things. This develops self confidence, self knowledge and skills and insights that well transfer to any situation.
How It Went
So, With little thinking, we set up the gear - my friend operating the sampler keyboard instrument, me directing the ideas. We chose some “tech-y’ sounds that seemed fresh, I played some dreamy musical motifs, which we then bent around a bit, added some unlikely, disorganized sounding percussion hits, and put up the mic. Oh yeah, we need a voice person - oh well, I’ll do it - and started improvising some one liners that might be good to use. In the end we came up with “You’re listening to CKLN FM, the station farthest left on your dial”. This seemed really great to me, since, indeed CKLN was probably the least conservative station in all of Toronto, and was in fact the first station you hit when turning the dial from left to right (in today’s terms low numbers to high). I was very pleased with that.
Our little cassette mix was physically accepted but I learned nobody gets back to you to say “yes we like it” or “we’ll be using it daily” or anything. Later I found that even at higher levels of the production world it’s a bit like that. Scoring the music for a major film, you might slave over a particular difficult scene for days with little sleep or try to adapt another change in the video edit, then rush it in to meet a “serious deadline” - and never really hear back about that particular cue, and at the end of the contract perhaps never even receive a copy of the film, so that you’d need to go and rent it too watch the whole thing and see if your work was used. Funny eh? Anyway, in the case of this little station ID, I did hear it quiet often on the air, and in fact years later heard several on air people using the phrase “the station farthest left on your dial”. I really didn’t listen too often at that point, so I am deducing, it became a station “motto” or whatever they call that.
Later I went on to create musical or ‘soundscape” themes for various shows on CKLN including “Title Waves” (a book review show), “Exposure” (a show introducing new music talent) and “Critical Culture”. (a community affairs journalism program).
I guess this built up my confidence to be able to take on various sorts of things for years to follow, and in general to feel freer about taking on things I may not have done before.
I keep a lot of archived work from over the years and will soon dig around to find some samples of the CKLN station ID’s and show themes to post here.
So, what’s the moral of this story? - “stay tuned” to potential opportunities and do things because you have passion for them. OR -don’t waste time on glamorous pursuits you’ll go broke and end up writing stories about it all!
Hwe's the station I.D. "Farthest Left.
pic: DJ MIsty Rock n' Roll, CKLN