Nevermind the Hipsters, Here Come the Real Punks: 30 Years of CJAM

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Founded in 1977 and moving to the FM dial in 1983, CJAM 99.1 FM is celebrating 30 years of grassroots, independent, volunteer-driven radio in Windsor/Detroit. The celebration is coinciding with the station’s yearly pledge drive, which begins right after Halloween. The station is run by three staff members, and over 100 volunteers who host shows that are diverse and specific to a niche audience.

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The genres of music represented at CJAM have no limits. There are electronic shows, rockabilly, folk, psychedelic and there was even a show once dedicated to surf music. Spoken-word programs highlight news and views in the area that cannot be found elsewhere. Shows focusing on labour issues, feminism, animal-rights, local politics, science and more can be heard on CJAM-FM on a weekly basis.

In the fall of 1983, CJAM began it’s journey on 91.5 FM powered by 50 watts until 1996.

When the station was able to have a power increase, it moved up to 500 watts, reaching further into Detroit and most (if not all) of Windsor. In 2009, the frequency of the station changed from 91.5 to 99.1 FM, thus acquiring protected status.

In a long, detailed and raw account of CJAM’s history, Mark Fedak, who was at the station from 1982 to 1994, bluntly writes “A challenge was to try to reduce some of the more blatant unprofessional behaviour by some of the volunteers, especially on-air drunkeness and obscenity.” In his nostalgic account of CJAM’s history, Fedak titles a chapter  the “Reign of Error and More Chaos (My Program Director Days/Daze)”. As he became program director in 1988, Fedak was faced with many tasks, as the station was struggling to find its identity and become a professional radio station. Moving into the 1990’s, and being hit with the reality that general tardiness and grunge ethics were not contributing to the wellness of the station, Mark Fedak was hired as station manager and forced to whip the station into shape. Many of the staff members at the time were not able to fulfill their roles for very long, thus resulting in many untrained positions being filled by people who were instilling a make-it-up-as-we-go ethic.

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After Fedak ended his period as station manager, he was happy to learn that the station was making progress by eliminating bad programming and moving into a power increase granted by the CRTC. Despite the huge changes the station has seen in three decades, Fedak writes “While CJAM’s programming has frequently changed throughout my 12 years there, it seems that there have always been three major categories: music (both mosaic/variety and special interest/one-genre), spoken word and current affairs, and ethno-cultural”. He also writes that campus/community stations have a responsibility towards their citizens, that in adhering to CRTC concerning libel, obscenity or advocating illegal activity. Fedak wraps up his historic account by saying that “campus/community radio may be the most sustainable forum for maximum free expression in the broadcast realm” and encouraging people to get involved.

Vern Smith, current Station Manager has some nostalgic memories of his own. “It was winter, cold, I hit the ignition, radio came on, and there was Benny Dreadful. Said he had some bad news. Waited a beat. Said there had been an explosion. I remember biting down, concerned, what the hell was this? Then Benny explained that there’d been a blues explosion.”

Marc Cazabon, who has been doing a show called “Cowboys and Indies” every Saturday night since 1989, found CJAM-FM to be a very exciting place. “Imagine turning on your radio and hearing Black Flag, Bad Brains, Jesus & Mary Chain, Husker Du, Afrika Bambaataa, The Replacements for the first time” he recalls. “It was exciting, cutting edge stuff.” Vern Smith, Station Manager would definitely agree. “Where else are you going to hear Arabic sounds, African funk, Parisian hip hop, Italian reggae, or Russian Rockabilly?” said Smith.  Just a few weeks back, the next great Serbian garage band, Repetitor, broke North American radio on CJAM, then charted at number 3 overall!”

Today, station has come a long way from its 80’s punk rock/marijuana smoke-filled studios and vomit-covered floors. “The station has benefited from years of technology improvements.” said Cazabon. “When we started we would have never guessed people from around the world could listen live, let alone download the show.”

2013 CJAM Jammy Winners
2013 CJAM Jammy Winners

Currently, CJAM-FM is busy preparing for their annual pledge drive, this year the slogan being ‘30 for 30’ in order to try and raise $30k for the organization’s major power increase. Program Director, Sarah Morris says that the anniversary is “a great opportunity for alumni CJAM programmers and staff to reconnect” while checking out the music at the events. “This also gives the public to see the CJAM community in action and look at our rich past” said Morris.

Murad Erzinclioglu, the station’s Music Director, believes that CJAM is a very important part of local culture because it goes against “the mainstream, derivative, manufactured music that has no heart and soul. This station is real people, with real opinions sharing real music. Erzinclioglu just celebrated his 12th year at the station and his music variety program, Productive Confusion. According to Erzinclioglu, his show actively defines any type of genre categorization. The future is bright at CJAM 99.1 FM according to Erzinclioglu. “I think CJAM is just going to be moving up and onwards to even greater things than we’ve already accomplished.”

Many of the dedicated volunteers simply love what they do. “I love turning people on to new bands. Older programmers/DJ’s back in the day at the station did it for me and I hope I am returning the favour.” said Cazabon.

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Since Zoran Kljajic became the station’s News Director last year, CJAM-FM has not only become the one with the breaking sound – but also the breaking news. The Windsor Chronicle is a local show dedicated to issues people most want to know about in the city and can be heard Fridays at noon.  This year the focus is to raise $ 30, 000 and one of the things the station wants to fund with that money is the news department.

For those who want to leave wishes, or reminisce about their favourite memories, there is a phone line available at 519-973-7078. The messages will be used to put together for an on-air anniversary special. There will be events throughout the month of October, check www.cjam.ca for details.

Although there had been many changes in the past three decades, Smith believes one thing will never change. “The spirit is much the same. There will always be the aspect of CJAM, a core part of our personality that is best illustrated by the record-store workers in the movie High Fidelity.” said Smith. “It is simply their calling.”

By: Clara Musca

 

 

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