CJSW celebrates 25 years worth of crazy stories

With its recent long-awaited move into a new location at the University of Calgary the future looks bright for campus radio station CJSW as it celebrates 25 years on the air. Current station manager Chad Saunders has been manning the ship since the year 2000 and has plenty of tales of wacky antics — both on- and off-broadcast — than listeners could shake a stick at.

Prior to the Saunders era Don McSwiney (now the University of Calgary’s communications director for kinesiology) was the second-longest-serving station manager from 1989 to ’97. As DJ Don he can also be credited with introducing Calgarians to bands like The Clash The Jam Talking Heads and Jazz Butcher first taking to the air while still a high school student in the early 1980s. For this article Saunders and McSwiney were equally excited to share and revisit some unforgettable CJSW memories.

WE SHALL OVERCOME (told by Chad Saunders)

In 1982 or 1983 station manager Alan Baekeland and several people involved with the Student Union (SU) were drinking at the Den and they told him “We think the SU is going to change the locks at CJSW tonight. It was decided we’re not going to put any more money into the station.” At that point CJSW wasn’t collecting a student levy. There was talk and probably a few soda pops down the hatch and Alan decided to stake out inside the station.

Sure enough in the wee hours someone came and changed the locks but Alan was still inside. So as he did every morning Alan flipped on the outdoor speakers and played Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome.” He then got on the horn called the media and told them ‘They changed the locks on us. If it wasn’t for me we’d be off the air.” When the SU arrived and heard CJSW still broadcasting shit hit the fan.

In the end from what I’ve been told the results were a referendum set up for a levy to be created and the station granted a bit of autonomy but that Alan had to go. Years later the Bownesians wrote a song for CJSW called “The Day Alan Saved the Radio Station.” Someone else who will remain nameless has joked it should have been called “The Day Alan Almost Cost Us the Radio Station” but hey that’s not coming from me.

CRASHING THE PARADE (told by McSwiney)

The summer after we went FM in 1987 someone had the idea that we were going to crash the Stampede Parade. If you’ve ever seen the parade you know it’s a celebration of rootin’ tootin’ ideals and all the rest. The Shriners were out in full force along with the 4H Club. It’s a really big deal! But for some reason I guess the exuberance of youth and having a new radio station made us think we could just butt in. Looking back I’m a little amazed that we did this and got away with it.

Somebody bought a bunch of white painter’s overalls and fluorescent spray paint and we took some trinkets and trash we had painted with our new logo — frisbees stickers that kind of thing — and brought along a bunch of ghetto blasters all broadcasting CJSW. We surreptitiously made our way along the route and sure enough we waited for a little gap in the parade and stuck ourselves in the middle of it. Then we started doing interpretive dance moves blasting “Surfin’ Bird (Bird is the Word)” by the Trashmen and “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads throwing stuff into the crowd and people loved us!

I get the feeling someone must have known who we were and what we were up to because there’s no other way we could have made it through the entire parade route. That just doesn’t happen in Calgary a.k.a. the land where protests come to die. I guess we were a little like Animal House but if you were going to write an HBO show and populate it with the people who actually worked at CJSW at that time no one would buy it because the characters would be too unbelievable.

THE COBRA (told by Saunders)

In 2005 we pulled an April Fool’s prank called “The Cobra.” Here’s the setup: The week before we made a fake website with a .gif of a rotating flaming guitar and metal guys thrashing. Our web dude Brian found some photos of these guys’ camping trip where they were wearing beer cozies as bracelets jumping through fire and getting hammered. Those were the pictures we used for our host characters Jett Thunders — double t because that’s how intense he is — Larry the Hack and Tracy Dick the traffic chick. Then we took out a half-page ad in Fast Forward Weekly with a huge cobra and the slogan “All metal all the time.” We sent an email to the membership on Thursday night and got ready to broadcast at 8 a.m. with “the new format.”

When we came to work there was a full inbox of messages. Some said “Ha ha April Fool’s.” But surprisingly for each of those there were serious ones saying “Why didn’t we know about this?” My bosses were completely fooled. My voice mail was full too! This was during [ Fast Forward publisher] Ian Chiclo’s slot so we had him pretend to phone in really hungover pretending he was broadcasting from a place called Steve’s Stereo Warehouse. Programming director Jane McCullough phoned in pretending how disappointed she was but that she realized CJSW quote “Needs the money.”

To keep a simple ratio out of every 10 listeners who phoned in for real five got the joke. Then there were the remaining five who didn’t get it and liked it! CJAY92 was the leading hose-rock station at that time and their April Fool’s trick was to switch the feed so that Vibe was on CJAY and CJAY was on Vibe. They did that right before 8 a.m. and construction dudes couldn’t turn on their radios or make noise before that time. Those guys got fired up and probably wanted to listen to CJAY92 so then they found The Cobra. They started phoning in asking how to get to Steve’s Stereo Warehouse the fake address for which was basically in the middle of McCall Lake golf course. People were going bananas.

ORANGE OOZE (told by Saunders)

In the mid-1990s an orange pop fountain machine at Taco Time exploded. That was on a Friday night and no one was around so that goo soaked around the crevices and made its way wherever. I came into the studio and said “Hello” to the engineer. He asked me “Can you go into my engineering room and turn on the light?” I go “Why?” He goes “Because something’s in there.” I stick my hand in and pull it out and it’s covered in orange ooze. Was there an alien in there? Someone hanging from the ceiling? We found a broom handle and flicked on the light and finally figured out it was orange pop.

Then in 2001 Taco Time again. They decided to move to the other side of the cafeteria and a plumber saw a pipe sticking out of the ground and basically whacked it with his wrench to see if it was alive. Of course it was! The water flooded into CJSW and cost us close to $10 000 in damages and we lost close to 500 CDs. That was a real bummer.

Finally in December 2008 nature won and a sprinkler head froze then burst. Many gallons per second were flying out of that pipe and it streamed into not only the record library but also our studios. Some of that orange goo was still stuck to the concrete and started flowing in again! We went on-air and said “If you’re driving around we need help.” People brought us vacuums towels and even beer. You hope you don’t need a disaster to get everyone rallying but thank goodness we had friends there to help.