CKWR rebounds to celebrate 40 years

Dianne Wood – Record Staff

KITCHENER — It was just 18 months ago that officials at community radio station FM 98.5 CKWR uttered the words “wiped out.”

A board member and longtime volunteer had walked away with almost $60,000 of the station’s money — much of it donated by devoted and trusting listeners of the non-profit multicultural station.

“It was a knuckle punch,” stated Clarence Mascoll, president of the station’s board of directors. “This was the main setback in the history of this station.”

This weekend, as the station celebrates its 40th anniversary, things are looking up. And the station is still on the air.

“We are not down, but we’re still on the ropes,” Mascoll said from the smaller building the station was forced to move to on King Street East, across from Rockway Gardens. It could no longer afford the lease at its Waterloo office on University Avenue at Bridge Street.

“But we can recover. We believe we will recover,” Mascoll said.

That comeback will be part of the reason for celebrating on Saturday with a birthday barbecue at the new facilities on 1446 King St. E.

The station is distinguished for being Canada’s first community radio station.

“In 1973, The CRTC didn’t have a template for stations of this type,” said Claude McDonald, a producer and programmer who also assists with finances. “They gave us a licence on the basis of (our) uniqueness.”

The station is almost entirely volunteer-driven. There are only four paid staff — mainly the daytime hosts who bring in the desperately needed ad dollars.

“People who advertise with us want quality for their money,” Mascoll said.

But after 6 p.m. and on weekends, the volunteers take over.

The station offers a wide variety of shows in 11 languages: Serbian, Spanish, Polish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, German, Romanian, Greek, Punjabi and Irish. Listeners from these ethnic communities support their shows.

The average volunteer has been there for 25 years, and some as long as 39 years.

Constantin Burghelea, who has a Romanian show called Sounds of Praise on Saturday nights, has been an on-air volunteer for almost 38 years.

Mascoll has a Saturday night spot for his Caribbean show. He’s given 35 years of his time to the station.

“There’s a lot of things I’d like to do Saturday night but every Saturday night, I’m here,” he said.

Listeners can tune in to everything from talk shows on bullying to gospel shows, jazz, and even a rock show called The Pit. Classical music lovers can feast on shows four nights a week.

The station’s CD library has 10,000 to 15,000 titles, including oldies going back to the 1940s, from such names as Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra.

The station has definitely come a long way.

“We didn’t have the technology 40 years ago (that) we do today,” McDonald said.

“In the old days, we had a lot of eight-track players and records,” Mascoll said. “We graduated to cassette players, then CDs, and now USB sticks.”

The station used to broadcast on 202 watts on 98.7.

“I remember going into Cambridge. As soon as I’d passed the 401, it disappeared on you,” Mascoll said.

The signal today reaches as far east as Milton. The CBC has a more powerful antenna that overrides the station past Milton.

To the west, “We can be heard on a clear night in Windsor,” Mascoll said. “We get calls from Windsor for special requests.

“It costs big bucks to be heard throughout southwestern Ontario,” he said. “We’d have to change our antenna,” to reach the Toronto area.

Some of the money the station lost in the fraud was meant for a new antenna.

“We had to put that on the back burner,” he said.

But he boasts, “We’re second to none in radio stations in equipment.”

While there are many university stations, the only other official community station in Canada is in Victoria, B.C., Mascoll said.

CKWR has had many homes. Its current one, ironically, is three doors down from its very first location.

The anniversary barbecue and open house runs Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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