The particular comfort of radios in the country of chalets – National

After months of closures, stay-at-home orders, and work-from-home orders, it’s time for a much-needed change of scenery. So begins the annual migration to campgrounds, lodges and cabins in the Canadian wilderness.

Most of these places are not as isolated as they once were, as WiFi, satellite TV, and cell service are widely available. But there are enough places outside the network that the only connection to the outside world is the radio stations that serve towns and villages in cottage country. These outlets, often independently owned and operated, offer a special kind of broadcast: small market radio with all its quirks and eccentricities.

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I also speak from experience, as my first full-time radio gig was at one of these stations: the late 1220 CJRL in Kenora, Ontario.

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For nine months of the year, CJRL was a full-service 1,000-watt AM station serving Kenora’s 10,000-plus souls and anyone within a radius of approximately 50 kilometers. There wasn’t much outside town: a few native communities, maybe a few prospectors, fishermen who wintered on one of the dozens of islands in Lake of the Woods (like my aunt Jenny), bears and a hermit Unibomber couple.

But from June to Labor Day, the immediate area’s population grew to more than double its usual size with Winnipeg cabins, along with loads of American campers and fishermen. And at that time, unless you were staying in a hotel or lodge, TV reception was woefully spotty – few visitors had access to cable, so it was only rabbit ear reception – and you you even had the chance to have a landline in your chalet. A radio was not only essential to stay in touch with the rest of the world. It was survival gear.

I arrived at CJRL in mid-July, arriving at the studio just above a shoe store on Main Street. My first assignment was a long weekday evening shift, starting at 5 p.m. and ending at 12:07 a.m. when the station took cable feed from CHMM (now Power 97), an FM station in Winnipeg overnight. (I’m sure we had permission for this. At least I’m attractive of course.) When the morning guy arrived at 6 a.m. he turned on the transmitter, played a recording of Canada and the day began again.

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CJRL was part of a group of four outlets that also served Dryden, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Fort Frances. And because we were the only radio station you could get in the Kenora area, business was going well. All the publicity was shared between us and the local newspaper, The miner and the news. The demand for airtime was so high that everything – and I mean all – was sponsored.

Before I arrived, the last person to go out each night had to play a short advertisement before turning off the transmitter. This advertisement was for the local funeral home: “The next six hours of restful silence are brought to you by …” I am not joking.

The trade charge was unreal. I had the bad luck of working on a Labor Day Monday morning, a time when everyone wanted to have one last sale, one last promotion, and all of their back-to-school advertising on the air. Back then, the ads ran on sealed tape cartridges called carts, and the advertiser would prepare for each hour by making a stack of all the shopping carts that were to run over the next 60 minutes.

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For the 8am time, which started with a newsletter (sponsored), sports (sponsored), weather (sponsored), and a community PSA feature (sponsored), my cart stack was over four feet high. No matter how efficiently I made my way through the hour, I couldn’t seem to breach that pile. It wasn’t until I got to around 8:50 a.m. that I totaled the number of commercial minutes planned for that hour. He came to 62 minutes. And that was before the news, the weather, sports, music, anything.

I called the person in charge of the hourly advertisements. “How am I supposed to squeeze 62 minutes of ads into an hour that only has 60?” She was angry that I called her on vacation. ” I do not care ! She lost her mind. “They paid to have their ads run between 8 and 9 am! Do it!”

We also had a series of original features which I later learned were common to small market radio stations around the world. Almost all had a program like Swap’n’Shop, which was essentially the audio equivalent of Kijiji’s or Craig’s list. Several times a day we opened the phone lines for people who had something to sell. And because Swap’n’Shop worked for decades, everyone knew the script.

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Me: Hello, you are on Swap’n’Shop.

Caller: I have four snow tires for a 1969 Fargo pickup on the rims. They are a little rusty but a little squeaky and they will look as good as new. I ask for $ 100. Call (807) -468-XXXX. It is (807) 468-XXXX. [Click]

And so on for 15 minutes. Also, at least once per segment, someone would call to offer to sell a bag of weed. All. Alone. Time.

The worst Swap’n’ShopIt was when no one called. I mean, we were doing this three times a day, so there were bound to be segments where no one wanted to trade or buy anything. The boss didn’t let us cut it short, so we had to hover around with ad-libs for 15 minutes. When the phone rang during one of these horrible times, I desperately jumped on the phone.

Me: Hello, you are on Swap’n’Shop.

Caller: Yes, there is a dead dog on Highway 17 East. Someone really should go scratch the poor feller before he gets lodged in the grate of a semi-truck carrying a load of logs. That would make him overheat and that would be bad. A guy has to get his load to its destination, you know? [Click]

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Another important part of the day was Contact, presented as “Communication for people without normal means of communication”. With so many people without basic phone service on their boats, islands and cabins, it was truly vital communication. Messages were telephoned or dropped off at reception during office hours, then placed in a filing cabinet in the control room. During my long evening shift, I knew that one of my biggest audiences was coming at 5:37 p.m. with the last one. Contact press release of the day.

Sound effect: Deet-de-deet-deet-de-de.

Recorded voice over: Contact! Communication for people without normal means of communication!

Background sound effect: Deet-de-deet-deet-de-deet…

Me: A message to Douglas S. on Fox lsland: You left your boots on the dock. It’s at Douglas S. on Fox Island: you won’t find your boots because you left them on the dock.

And so on.

These stations were also ideal for people who also love the fire and brimstone preachers. Ministries will always pay a lot of money to run their programs like some kind of infomercial for God. Back then, in Kenora, Sundays were dedicated to God’s non-stop programs. Even weekday evenings were available. I ran the 30 minutes Back to the bible broadcast starting at 7 p.m., during which I would run to my car and run to the drive-thru at McDonald’s, coming back in time to switch to World Missionary Evangelism with Dr John Douglas Senior and Daughter Yvonne at 7:30 p.m.

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But nothing could beat the daily obituary around 12:45 p.m. Sponsored by the local funeral home (who else?), An announcer read an ornate obituary to funeral organ music.

It has become a tradition to try to make the new guy laugh by reading this very serious copy. One day while I was going through this very sad obituary, Ted, another announcer, walked in wearing an Alien t-shirt that said “In space, no one can hear you fart” and carrying a plunger. He then conducted me as a conductor would with an orchestra. It did not end well.

I need to write a book about some of these experiences.

Small town radio has changed dramatically over the decades. The advent of cell phones, satellite technology and WiFi led to the extinction of many old features. But while some shows are filled with voice tracking – this is when an announcer from a larger market provides prerecorded conversation pieces in a bid to get the small town station to ring. higher (and to keep costs down) – there’s still plenty of content featuring live and local advertisers, leaving plenty of room for quirks you won’t hear elsewhere.

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A friend with a cabin recently noticed a stray dog ​​on his way. She phoned the local radio station which broadcast a lost dog message within 15 minutes. And because these stations are often the breeding ground for new radio announcers, this is where you can hear newbies learn their trade live and on air. It can also be fun.

CJRL no longer exists in the form I knew; a long time ago he switched to FM where he is now known as Lake. But it’s still an incredibly important part of the community. Once I’m completely exhausted and have the chance to visit my parents in Winnipeg, I can take the road east on the Trans-Canada Highway and visit them. For the love of the good old days, you know?

If you are going camping, glamping, or cabin camping this summer, bring a radio and tune in to a local station. It will add a lot to the color of a glorious Canadian summer.

Alain Croix is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s podcast on the history of new music now on Apple Podcast Where google play

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