CFUV history lesson (Offbeat magazine)

CFUV history lesson

Offbeat magazine, January 1989

“Sure. I’ll write an article for Offbeat. Any topic you want. You’ll get back to me? Fine.”

For the next three days I would sit and daydream (in the evening I would lie and nightdream) about the assignment I would get. Maybe a political piece. An interview with the prime minister. Perhaps an investigative piece. I’ll find out who really shot JFK. Why, even a review of a concert or play would be fun. Free shows in exchange for publicity. I could live with that. I was beginning to come to the conclusion that I would be pleased as punch with just about any assignment I was given.

Yes, I was beginning to, when the phone rang and interrupted all that. The editors, in their infinite wisdom, wanted an article on the history of CFUV. When you want an article on history you go to someone who appreciates history, enjoys reading history, perhaps even studied history in school. That’s why I was dumbfounded when they asked me to write about history. I hate reading about history, I took one history course during my illustrious university career (I passed with a ‘D’. Needless to say I passed on other history courses offered). Hell, I don’t even like period pieces on TV or the movies.

But I wasn’t about to pass up my first writing assignment. I’d be thrilled to stay back at the office and rummage through files while the other writers are off at free concerts or interviewing the rich and famous. No problem.

Perhaps why I, and countless others, detested history class was the subject matter. It was always boring. High school teachers and university professors couldn’t (or didn’t) spice it up even the tiniest bit to make it more palatable to their students. Maybe it was just me. Maybe I couldn’t relate to Jacques Cartier or Capt. George Vancouver. (Although I did pay attention when the name of Sebastian Cabot came up. I respected him greatly. Not only was he a top notch explorer, but a fine actor, to boot.)

After reading through the files, I found that history is history. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1665 or 1965, history is boring. But please keep reading. I’ll make this as full of fun and frivolity as I possibly can. (My apologies to Jack Showers.) I just hope I can remember the dates. That aspect of History class ensured that I would be taking Sociology 100 next semester to boost my GPA.

When you think of CFUV today, you think of one thing – a station you turn to for variety. But it wasn’t always like that. When CFUV started way back in 1965 – and I know that’s the correct year because the files are right here beside me (I would have done much better in History had I been permitted to use my texts during the exams) – you couldn’t tune it in at all. Shocking, n’est pas? And it wasn’t even called CFUV. No, the station broadcasting out of the basement of the Student Union Building was then known as CKVC. Even though the young station could not be found on the radio dial, it was being heard by many students – whether they wanted to listen or not. Not only was CKVC being broadcast closed-circuit in the SUB, but also into each student’s room on residence. Every room was equipped with a volume control – but no on/off switch. Don’t you just love it?

CKVC stuck around for a few years. In 1967 they transferred their studios across the street to the “V” Hut at Finnerty and Arbutus. There the student operators continued to bring their brand of radio utopia to everyone else on campus. Everything was going along honky-dorry until 1970 when a group of thugs (you know who you are) broke into the studios and stole all the equipment, smashing what was left. CKVC could not afford to continue. The club folded. So ends chapter one.

The 1970s were a decade of deadening disco, mundane movies, and funky fashion. Nothing happened culturally in the ’70s anywhere. So it is not surprising that the students of UVic were without an intellectually/musically-stimulating radio station to call their own. It wasn’t until 1980 that the idea of resurrecting CKVC was bandied about by a number of students who had worked at other campus radio stations. They presented their ideas to the Alma Mater Society. The AMS was interested. The UVic radio club was formed in the fall of 1981. Chapter two begins.

Am I losing any of you? I’m trying my best, man, but look what I have to work with. Stick it out, though. There’s a great ending.

A chap named Robert Osbourne (… Jacques Cartier… George Vancouver… same idea. They’re just names before my time) was hired to get CKVC going again. Only it wasn’t called CKVC anymore. It changed to CKLR. In 1982 the oft-maligned but truly visionary student population of aforementioned university voted in a referendum. Approximately 90 percent of those voting marked their ballots “Oui.” What it amounted to was CKLR would enter confederation and each student would buck up three dollars for it.

So CKLR was virtually the same as CKVC, only with a smaller listening audience… Wait, run that back. Smaller? That’s right, junior, the newer version of UVic radio played only to the SUB. No speakers in the dorms this time around. Unless you happened to be waiting for a bus inside or showing off your penmanship on the bathroom walls, you couldn’t hear the station.

By 1983 CKLR was “on the air” (Read: in the bathrooms) 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. In October of that year Steve Lebitschnig was hired as the first full-time station manager. And hey, how about another name change? You got it. From CKLR to CFUV. From here on out, kids, it’s no longer history. I lived this. This is part of me. I signed up for the radio club during UVic’s club day as a sportscaster, but had to fill out a generic info sheet which included, among others, questions on musical preferences. Lebitschnig called and asked me to come up to the station. He was one of those guys who smoked an evil-smelling cigar and wore his rug on sideways. I’ll never forget what he told me: “Kid,” he said, “maybe you’re good, maybe you’re not so good, but take my advice: get out of sportscasting and do a jazz show.” “Gee,” said I, “you really think so, Mr. L?” (I couldn’t pronounce his name.) “You’re on next week.” Bang. Just like that.

O.K. I took a bit of dramatic licence there but you get the idea. I walked in off the street and did my first jazz show a week later – and have continued to do one to this day. (Monday, 5 – 6:30 p.m…. Yeah, and if I had a film clip I’d show it, too.)

In contrast, today’s rookie goes through weeks of training and months of hanging around before she/he/it – we’re not always sure up at CFUV – is even permitted to listen to the station. And then there’s the painful and degrading hazing ceremony for each newcomer. (That’s just a joke, Dr. Petch. Lighten up.) The greenhorn’s training in my day consisted of not talking for the first program.

But I digress. Let’s move on to Chapter three. CFUV went “on the air” (Read: really on the air) December 17, 1984. First CFUV deejay on the public airwaves? Uh… Cathy Cavin? I can’t give that to you. Uh… Who is Cathy Cavin? That’s right. Always remember to put it in the form of a question. The first newscast was read by future, and now ex-Station Manager Brian Webster.

After guiding the little station that could up and over the proverbial hill, Lebitschnig left. He simply got too frustrated at people’s mispronunciations of his name. In a move heralded by one and all (except, ironically, Harold), the hiring committee chose a successor whose name everyone could pronounce, Brian Webster. Under Webster, the studios expanded, and Offbeat began publishing. The first one hit the newsstands in May 1986 and has been churning out Pulitzer prize-winning articles ever since.

When Webster left last summer, Tim Chan took over the reigns. (Boy, this Dictionary of Clichés is really coming in handy. What a worthy investment.) And here we are. Present day. Right now. At this juncture. Today. For the nonce. (Not to mention this thesaurus.) Chan will be here for the big increase in wattage. It’s set to happen any day now, as of this writing. And what would a new chapter in the life of UVic radio be without a name change? (Don’t answer that, dummy, it’s rhetorical.) Oh sure, we’ll still be CFUV, but our friends will call us FM102.

Well, class, that’s history for today. Sorry about the ending, but when I promised a great one the night was much younger and the possibilities seemed endless. So sue me.