The good old days at CJUS

Since his time as a student at the University of Saskatchewan, Brian Russell (BSc'75) has gone on to a successful career in the geophysical profession in Calgary. In 1987 he founded Hampson-Russell Software with Dan Hampson, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of CGG. Brian was selected as one of the first group of Alumni of Influence by the College of Arts and Science.

Brian recently reached out to the Green & White editor about his time as a volunteer radio DJ at CJUS-FM. Below is his retelling of his late nights in the CJUS booth.

The article on the history of CJUS-FM in the fall 2016 issue of the Green & White brought back some nostalgic memories of my time as a volunteer DJ at the station back in the ‘70s and gave me an urge to share some of those memories. Unfortunately, I can find no photographic proof that I was actually at CJUS, so you will just have to take my word for it. Back then, photographs were reserved for birthdays, weddings or family vacations, and you will note that the pictures that accompany the article have the distinct look of being posed for an official photo shoot.

I entered the U of S as a physics undergraduate in 1969 and had no intention of ever getting involved as a DJ with a radio station. But at a party in 1970 I met someone who volunteered at CJUS and he said they were looking for someone to host a nightly jazz show. Since I was an aspiring jazz guitarist at the time, this sounded interesting, but I had zero experience in running a radio show. He said nobody had any experience when they joined the station, so I decided to give it a shot. After a very brief training session, which consisted of learning which buttons to push and which ones not to push and the order to push them in, I was then thrust upon an unsuspecting audience.

I suppose if I had been at the CBC, in addition to actually having had some training in the radio business, my show would have had a technician at the controls, a producer and maybe a director, and plenty of research assistants. I had none of that. I was on my own to develop and present the show. To make matters worse, I really didn't know much about jazz outside of Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz.

"While Brian didn't get his photo taken in the CJUS booth, Dudley Newell, announcer/librarian, is shown here in the control room in 1966. Read the original Green & White article to learn more about the history of CJUS."

Despite this, CJUS had a wonderful record library and I learned as I went along. I discovered all the greats like Miles Davis, Bill Evans and John Coltrane simply by listening to their records in the studio and reading the record liner notes. Liner notes have been the great casualty of this digital age.  The records were big enough to contain a lot of information on the back cover, and the notes were usually written by experts in the field of jazz criticism.  As my knowledge of the genre grew so did my confidence in putting together a jazz show.

The job was reasonably straightforward, but I had to make sure the sequence was correct. While the current song was playing, I'd "cued" up the next one, trying to find that sweet spot of silence in the vinyl grooves between tracks. When the song ended, I switched my microphone back on, gave my spiel and then started the next piece of music, hopefully remembering to turn the mike off.

A typical spiel might be: "You have just been listening to the Bill Evans trio playing Waltz for Debbie from the album Sunday at the Village Vanguard; with Evans on the piano, Scott LaFaro on the bass and Paul Motian on the drums.  Sadly, Scott died in a tragic car accident only ten days after that recording was made."  Little did the audience know that I had just read all that minutes before on the liner notes!  In those days, the liner notes were my Google.

And speaking of my audience, I was never sure who was out there late at night listening to my show. I know that my mother was a regular listener, as were some of my more eclectic friends.  But most people in those days were more into rock, which was why my show was on at night. The superstars at CJUS were my colleagues who hosted the rock shows during the day.

Occasionally I would get a surprise and someone would phone in to say how much they were enjoying the show and ask me if I would play a request. This was always tricky because I had to duck out of the studio, locate the record in the stacks and make it back before the current track ended. Also, if I was alone I might not notice that phone outside the studio was actually ringing. The phone inside the studio was a different matter. Only the station manager had the phone number and so if the phone rang it meant you were in deep doo-doo! Perhaps you had forgotten to turn off your mike and the listeners were hearing you sniffle or sing along to the tune. Or, and this was the worst offence, you still had everything muted and all the listeners were listening to was "dead air." Luckily, I can't remember any on-air calls (or if they happened, I have suppressed those painful memories).

My initial stint at the station lasted until 1972, when I joined CUSO to teach physics and math in Africa. But when I returned in 1974 to work on my honours degree in geophysics, my friends at the station were happy to give me my old late night jazz program back, probably because nobody else wanted to do it.  When I graduated in 1975 and joined the oil industry in Calgary my radio career came to an abrupt end and has not been resumed since.

But doing that radio show helped me in so many ways. It taught me not to be afraid to tackle new and different things. It gave me a lifelong love and appreciation of jazz. And, most of all, it taught me the art of public speaking, something that has been extremely useful throughout my career. It is unfortunate that CJUS has been off the air since 1985, as working in student radio is a great learning experience for any student. I would love to see the station revived, but perhaps this is just wishful thinking.

Written by Brian Russell
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