Radio, Radio: My Days at CHRY, York University radio

Until yesterday, Radio York– CHRY– was the campus frequency at one of Canada’s largest universities. As of today, however, it appears as if the volunteers have been told to unvolunteer, the staff has been dismantled, and CHRY will become an “urban alternative” (the new propreitors’ term) commericial radio station. No one’s quite sure if this is legal– CHRY being a non-profit station funded by students and funding drives– and it’s unclear about how this all came to pass, or why an educational institution that’s supposed to provide students with opportunity has, effectively, denied them any chance to learn broadcasting or make radio art. Hopefully, these answers will shake out over the next few days.

I remember the last time the station attempted to barricade workers from the premises. I was among the barricadees. After joining the station in 1983– I ended up becoming music director for three years– I found it operated and run by a single figure: a slick, long-haired young guy named Scotty (not his real name) who lived in the surrounding community. That he wasn’t a student didn’t matter because Radio York only broadcast internally to whomever was sitting in the Bear Pit drinking coffee and trying to stay awake between classes. It was smaller than small time, and one of the questions I asked, upon arriving, was why this was so. York was well-attended, well-respected, generally wealthy and thriving, so it made no sense that other Toronto schools– Ryserson, U of T– had great campus stations while York, practically, had none. As it turned out, Scotty was the answer to this question. The station was his plaything– he was on air six, seven hours a day– and he used it, occasionally, to romance ladies. In the morning, candles, wine bottles and dope would be left over in the on-air booth. Once, I found a bottle of cologne. It was time for Scotty to go.

I joined the station’s executive and attended regular meetings where Scotty told everyone what to do, or not to do. One of his favourite ways of fund-raising was to sell records from the station’s library and his day’s were, more or less, filled with calling wouldbe advertizers and telling them that CHRY served the 1 million people in the area, even though the Bear Pit held fifty people tops. This is not to suggest that, after becoming music director, I didn’t occasionally also stretch the truth in order to win favours from prospective sponsors. One time, I convinced Molsons to give us free beer in exchange for “air time,’ and for five glorious months, they delivered 48 Old Stocks to the station, which we hid inside the Coke machine. One afternoon, a familiar dude– the local Molsons beer rep– came by to see how things were going. It was former Buffalo Sabre Rene Robert, who, a few years earlier, had retired from the NHL. He told hockey stories and I revealed to him the magic of our Coke machine. He asked for one and I was happy to accomodate. He didn’t give a shit.

During an executive meeting, it was proposed to Scotty that CHRY make some changes; opening our doors to new wouldbe broadcasters and, more or less, limiting his power and influence. The next day, a few people showed up to find that Scotty had barricaded himself in the on-air booth, a joist positioned between the glass of the booth and the door. He refused to come out, telling people that our proposed changes went against the station’s constitution, which consisted of a single sheet of paper with Scotty’s face drawn in cartoon form at the top. I was sick that day, but it was reported to me that they waited Scotty out until he was forced to use the washroom at midday. Security was called in, and he was reported to whomever dealt with these kinds of complications. Eventually, we all got the radio shows we wanted– I must have set a record for most hours on a radio station broadcasting to no one– and our friends got them, too, including the Globe’s John Doyle and Fundamental turntablist David Watts, among many others. We got the station on its haunches, eventually– and long after my time– it was granted a broadcast frequency, became an important part of the student body and local community, and now, it’s back to where we started; no longer ours and no longer yours. Time to pull out that constitution.

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