On-Air…at Home

Funding from ECF helps CJSR volunteers safely record at home

If you’re one of the many Edmontonians who tune into CJSR (88.5 FM), you’re probably used to hearing the independent radio station’s unique voice, perspective, stories and music. The station has continued to provide diverse programming throughout the pandemic, only now with a more independent twist: by recording from home.

“A couple days before the Alberta government started restricting spaces [in the spring], we just sent everybody home,” says Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, the Podcasting Coordinator for CJSR. “So, people very quickly adapted to making radio programming for the very first time, from closets and home offices, using whatever equipment they had around.”

CJSR has always been known for challenging the status quo. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced business and office closures during the first wave, the station looked for even more ways to push their creative thinking and alternative production.

Volunteers Trevor Mann, Belinda Ongaro, and Jasinta Rweyongeza answering phones during CJSR’s annual FunDrive.

“The next stage was like, okay, [we have] to figure out how we’re going to do training for new volunteers and how we’re going to teach people how to edit using … the tools that they’ve got at home,” explains Chang-Yen Phillips. “And pre-record stuff, because usually all of our programming is live. So we’ve spent a couple months sort of adapting to that and picking up some equipment for people to be able to record from home.”

However, proper recording equipment comes with a hefty price tag, and reintroducing in-studio production requires additional health and safety measures to be put in place: another cost for the “listener-supported, volunteer-powered” station.

Searching for creative ways to keep the airways alive, CJSR applied for the Edmonton Community Foundation’s Rapid Response Fund.

Volunteer Sooraj Bhatt.

“CJSR has been an important part of Edmonton’s media community for decades,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “They serve many niche communities with their eclectic programming and it was important to ECF to help them continue to serve their listeners through the pandemic.”

“We are hoping to use that funding to invest in some of the equipment to allow people to safely record interviews and produce stories from home,” says Chang-Yen Phillips. 

He also adds that purchasing more distance-friendly interviewing equipment (such as pin-on lapel microphones), safer in-studio equipment (such as microphone covers), and proper cleaning supplies is also in the funding plan.

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips.

“It’s essential to our operation as an organization,” he shares, regarding the grant. “…we’re hoping to be able to use it to bring back some of the volunteers who have not been able to make programming at all.”

Chang-Yen Phillips adds that despite the hardship of the pandemic, he is proud of the volunteers at CJSR for continuing to preserve and create unique and meaningful programming for their listeners.

“I can’t believe how hard our volunteers have worked to make for writing that matters to their community, even when faced with like 100 challenges,” he says. “I’m just really proud of our volunteers, and their perseverance and resilience through all this is a real shining light of hope.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.