In our first show of our CKUT residency, Alain Dufour, president of the SQCRA, leads us in learning about the technological discoveries that created the invention of radio broadcasting more than 100 years ago. He also offers an introduction to the beginnings of radio in Canada and the great success that the new medium had in the first decades since its inception. MOEB director Anja Borck, and Centennial Program Coordinator Mariana Mejía Ahrens, join Alain in the studio to kick start this celebration of radio history, live on the CKUT frequency.
THE CENTENNIAL AT CKUT: HOW THE RESIDENCY BECAME A REALITY
When the museum announced its participation in celebrating the centennial of radio broadcasting, Mariam Saleymeh, a McGill student and MOEB volunteer, asked if the museum would be interested in a month-long residency at the CKUT station. The radio station approved the idea. The team at the museum excitedly agreed to the residency, not quite grasping the real magnitude of the project. We have many radios and related objects all over the museum, but we had never ‘made’ radio.
At the end of 2019 we agreed to produce 4 live shows of one hour each that would broadcast during the month of March, a date that was fast approaching. Luckily, Alain Dufour, President of the Quebec Society of Vintage Radio Collectors and Mariana Mejia Ahrens, sound engineer and centennial Project Coordinator, took over the project. Anja Borck, the director of the museum, completed the production team as the official voice of the museum.
The first task in the early production stages of the residency was defining the main themes that each show would explore. The four themes selected by Alain and Mariana included the historic background of radio development, women in radio, radio entertainment content, and Canadian radio pioneers. The next task was writing the script and timetable for each show. The content of the shows heavily relied on the extensive research that Alain had done over the past two years in preparation for the centennial of radio broadcasting in Montreal. Naturally, Alain led the weekly script writing process, aided by Mariana, who offered feedback, comments and helped choose the music and sonic samples that would complete each broadcast.
The basic structure for the shows was decided during the completion of the first script: the three production team members would be live in the studio, Anja would lead the main conversation with Alain through the different segments, while Mariana would oversee the timing of the show and playback of the prepared sound samples. This structure saw us through our first broadcast successfully, encouraging us to follow the same format for the rest of the shows. Little did we know that content variants and external circumstances would prevent us from repeating the same structure.
For the second show, which broadcasted a day after the International Women’s Day, we saw it fitting to include a round table discussion with women active in the radio world. The most logical choice was to invite Mariam and her fellow CKUT colleagues. The basic show structure was therefore modified to include a list of possible questions that would let Anja lead the discussion, but without knowing exactly what we or our guests would say.
For show number three, Mariana had the idea of including an interview with an expert that could give us deeper insight into the field of radio entertainment. She recorded and produced an interview with Andy Stuhl, Ph.D. student in Communication Studies at McGill University, who’s main advisor happens to be professor Jonathan Stern, an old time friend of the museum. The structure challenge this time was blending the pre-recorded interview with the rest of the scripted in conversation that occured live the studio.
The last show would have been just like the first show, a live production with Alain, Mariana and Anja. However, the Covid-19 pandemic response escalated quickly and the station closed right after our third broadcast. We had the choice to cancel, to postpone or to pre-record our last hour. So far, each show had offered a new challenge. Keeping with that concept, we decided to take on the challenge of pre-recording the entire last show. To accomplish this, each team member recorded their spoken collaboration from home following Alain’s script, which had been written with this challenge in mind. Having a clear script was quite helpful since we each recorded without having the other person’s recordings. Mariana then edited the hour-long show, following the script to piece together the different discussion segments with the music and other sound samples of the discussion. There was some uncertainty to be conquered during the production process of our last show, but we were pretty happy with the final result.
While we know that our broadcasts were far from perfect, we greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to write and produce our own radio shows. Plus the experience of being live on air was thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time. This residency allowed us to experiment and break the ice, since creating content for this medium was new to the whole team. It also led us to realize what makes radio special beyond being a common staple of daily life and reaffirm the importance of having access to community radio stations like CKUT. We are happy that we agreed to do this project. Our sincere appreciation to the CKUT team, and to Mariam for her initiative.
BEHIND THE SCENES: PREPARING FOR THE TEAM’S FIRST LIVE RADIO SHOW
The first step in preparation for the residency was to meet at CKUT a week before the first show. We were introduced to the studio, learned about how to work with the microphones, saw the equipment and received instructions on how often to announce the radio station and how many ads would be included in the show. All seemed straightforward. A technician would be there to work the board and turn the mics on and off. We were also asked to fill out a log for all the music played after each show so that the station could pay royalties. Overall, the place was great, not too neat, not too organized but warm and friendly.
What was not quite clear was how to create a program. How to make sure we would not run out of content in an hour, but also not running past our allotted show time. Talking on live radio is scary and being well prepared seemed the way to go. Alain created a spreadsheet with a military style time schedule by the second. You can find some scans of the schedule with our last minute additions as PDF on this page. He added the text for each person leaving some room for free talk, and timed the music, sound samples and all the other details in the same sheet.
Then, there was the challenge of language. Alain is French Canadian, while Mariana and Anja are immigrants from Mexico and Germany respectively, both more comfortable in English than in French. To not add additional stress, we decided to have the show in both French and English depending on our language preferences. Thanks to the prepared text, we knew what was said because with all the nerves on edge, listening or speaking in any second language can become a minefield for embarrassment much more so than a conversation in your mother tongue.
When the first show was over, we were all happy yet super tired. In older times, the experience would have ended here, since the radio show would have become ephemeral content, only available during the show. But today, each show is recorded and archived online, so we were able to listen back to our first ever attempt at making a radio show from scratch. Overall, we found that our first show on live radio was not too bad. However, doing professional radio is an art that needs to be mastered. Off we went to the next broadcast!