BY RACHEL WELDON
ILLUSTRATION BY DREW SHANNON
When I was in my second year at Carleton University, a musician friend who was touring through Ottawa asked me for a recommendation for a local band that he could play a show with. I had none to offer.
I didn’t know any local bands. In what I guess was an effort to save face, I told him there wasn’t much of a local music scene happening in Ottawa.
To all of the great local artists, labels, organizers, and show-goers: I’m sorry. I didn’t know.
When I was in my third year, a friend invited me to visit the campus radio station where his brother was recording a radio show pilot. After climbing the previously unnoticed flight of stairs beside the entrance to Roosters Café, and heading down a long hallway plastered with show flyers and funding drive adverts, we entered the CKCU-FM closed-circuit studio. A few thousand vinyl records were shelved on our left, next to a set of DJ-quality turntables. A 16-channel mixing board, 2 microphones, and a computer was on our right. In the middle, a grinning DJ Matt Tamblyn, before he was known as DJ Matt Tamblyn.
This was my first whiff of the vinyl-dusted CKCU atmosphere. Back when I was still a firm non-believer that a gal like me, with my zero understanding of how to record or amplify a sound, could learn to operate a board that big and button-y. Back when I believed there “wasn’t much of a local music scene happening in Ottawa.”
But I loved indie and alternative music, and aspired to be a music journalist back then (a dream that has long since faded). So when Tamblyn eventually asked me to guest host, and then co-host, his show Midnight Mass, which aired every other Monday night from midnight to 2 a.m., I was super keen to indulge my tastes and share the music that excited me with late-night listeners.
Knowing someone on the air is certainly not a prerequisite of getting involved at your campus and community station. In fact, they are usually hurting for students to take an interest in volunteering. Campus radio is mandated to serve and represent student life, and there are less students than you might think wandering up to Carleton’s fifth floor, or down to the University of Ottawa’s library sub-basement, to sign themselves up. Walk through that door. Make their day!
When I was in my fourth year, I applied to CKCU to do my own radio show, and was approved. My slot was Tuesday afternoons from 2 to 3 p.m. I couldn’t think of a cool name for the show, so I named it after a cool song that I liked by the Pixies.
Some things I wish I knew from day one: Don’t bother with the indie darlings who are already being played on CBC. Dig deeper. Dig into the local offerings, and the DIY scenes in other cities. It means so much more to these artists to get some airtime than it does to the indie darlings. Go to shows. Tune in to your music community, and your community will tune in to you. Invite local artists to come and chat and play their favourite tunes on air. If you do this well, a loyal local listenership will develop.
Listen to community radio. And not just your own show (though you should listen to your own show). Listen to other shows and other stations. Take advantage of all of the free training offered to you as a station volunteer and gain some valuable audio recording and editing skills. Use those skills to record your band, or a friend’s band. Experiment with the capabilities and limitations afforded to you. Work inside and outside the box. Create sound art. Make music. Record. Then submit it to your local radio station.
Rachel Weldon is the founder and co-director of Debaser, an Ottawa-based show production and creative collective, which started as a radio show (now on hiatus). She is also the chief administrator for the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, production manager for MEGAPHONO, and helps program for Ottawa Explosion and Arboretum Festival. She owes it all to community radio. •