On the far and distant campus of Loyola, nestled in the recesses of the structure romantically known as the CC Building, there lies an unassuming hallway lined with doors. The walls are covered with stickers and, for the most part, the place is quiet. Then, with a flick of a switch, a sign proudly displaying the words ON AIR lights up, and suddenly the whole place comes alive with the sound of music.
This is CJLO, Concordia’s very own radio station. And on this windy Thursday night, local band Random Recipe have dropped by to play live on Grrls Groove, a late night show run by Concordia journalism student Emily Brass. The booth is made up of couches, a table and a few microphones, and framed by a large window that reveals a control room. Behind that lies another room where the band is set up. They sit on stools, separated by portable walls, cradling their instruments in the small space. Headphones allow them to hear one another as well as their host, Miss Brass, yet they can see nothing but the engineer in the control booth. Not exactly a “live” experience.
But this is the reality of radio and from the many awards that line walls of the main booth, CJLO seems to be doing it right.
Having returned from New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon with five out of 11 award nominations late in October, spirits are definitely running high. Especially for the members who have had the chance to see the station grow over the years. But they would be the first to admit that things did not always run so smoothly.
Begun in 1998, the station was initially broadcasted only over the campus speaker system. With the advent of the Internet, CJLO went online, but had yet to be heard on the regular airwaves.
“Back in those days, the station was essentially being built from the ground up,” explained music director Omar Hussain. “We would constantly hear that we’d be on air in six months and nothing would come out of it. You would come in and nobody would be here, nothing would be on air and all our mail would be stolen. Our cabinets would be broken into which meant a week’s worth of new releases would be gone — it’s what we like to call the dark ages of CJLO!”
But as the years passed, a group of innovative and ambitious people joined the team who, as Hussain put it, “saw the potential for the station to really get off the ground.”
After years of applying for bandwidth, the station was finally granted the domain of 1690 AM. They were finally ON AIR. But it didn’t happen without blood, sweat and tears. As station manager Katie Seline explained, “It was a really long and terrible process to get on AM. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Thankfully, in the meantime, we kept on building up the station so that when we finally got the license, the internal structure was already in place.”
As the station grew, so did networking opportunities. “We had always been told that CMJ [Music Marathon] was a great place to get your station known. But at the time there was no budget,” explained Hussain. “At one point, the board gave us a something ridiculous like $200 for two of us to go. There was no way we could have pulled it off. I remember Louis Rozza &- the co-music director at the time &- saying we should go and just camp out in bus stations and 24-hour coffee shops and take turns sleeping. In the end, we decided against it but in retrospect I kind of wish we had. That would be a great story to tell.” But the staff did not give up, and after much work, the station was granted a more reasonable budget.
“When we came back we just knew we had to go every year because it was such a great networking opportunity,” said Hussain.
And now five years down the line, the award wall has grown to include Music Director of the Year (Omar Hussain), Best Team Effort (2008, 2009, 2010) as well as their most recent wins for Station of the Year, Best Use of Limited Resources, and Best Newcomer (Adrian Warner).
Not to mention Hussain’s win for Most Love For the Game. “Yeah, I have no idea what that’s about.” he admits facetiously.
“But it’s still great. I like to say I don’t like radio, but really, I love it.”
For her part, Seline sees the awards as an acknowledgement of the station’s hard work and perseverance. “It’s just nice to be recognized for all the things we’ve been doing this year,” she said. These “things” are a laundry list of successes, honors and community work.
In September, CJLO represented Canada at the Radio Festival in Zurich, Switzerland. This was followed by a Superchunk show which CJLO produced along with local promoters Blue Skies Turn Black. They have been nominated in The Mirror’s yearly “Best of Montreal” list and also recently introduced a program for high school students looking for experience in radio.
But even with all this, the team is not ready to slow down. “People know who we are now which is great,” said Seline. “We don’t want to stop now that we’ve been acknowledged for everything we’ve been doing.”
But as Random Recipe strums the first chords to their newest single “Shipwreck” on this cold Thursday evening, the future is just a distant thought. Even though the group is definitely up and coming, they were picked for this show more for what they represent.
Grrls Groove features almost exclusively female artists who, as Brass puts it, “have the drive and energy to do music seriously.” A musician herself, Brass noticed the lack of female artists in the music scene. “I just want to encourage and promote female artists to get out there and do their thing.”
But philosophy and rhetoric aside, as beat-boxing tough girl Fab goes into her first verse, the only thing on everyone’s minds is the music. From the DJs, to the engineers, right up to the directors, the thing that drives all of them is their love of music. It’s never been about the fame or the notoriety. It’s about getting heard out in the world so that, for one moment, we can all be connected by that one universal language, music.
Catch Grrls Groove Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on 1690 AM or online at www.cjlo.com. Also watch for Random Recipe at this year’s M for Montreal on Nov. 19 at the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire.