Our third show at CKUT focuses on the entertainment content that defined radio programming since its beginnings. At the top of the show we take a historic look into the first radio programs. We then focus on specific content in the fields of music, sports and radiodramas. This show features an interview with Andy Stuhl, PhD student in Communication Studies at McGill, about hit music radio formats. Anja Borck (MOEB director) and Mariana Mejía Ahrens (Centennial Program Coordinator) lead the discussion in the studio based on research done by Alain Dufour (SQCRA president).
TOP 40 RADIO: AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDY STUHL
Interviews are one of the common features on radio and television. The skill is to create a narrative through questions and answers that showcase an expert’s knowledge. Questions are an instrument to make a complex subject more approachable.
Since the team had selected the theme of radio entertainment for the third show, there was great interest in finding experts whose research, knowledge or experience related to music, sports, radio dramas, or other related topics.
Through her network at McGill University, Mariana met PhD student Andy Stuhl. Andy’s background in communication and media studies research, and his interest in the historical development in music programming technology, including radio content programming, made him a great fit for the show.
The interview planning process started when Andy visited the MOEB, about a month before the scheduled broadcast day for the show that would feature it. After exploring the exhibits at the museum, Mariana and Andy chatted about the Centennial, the residency at CKUT, and the content planned thus far for the third show. Andy shared that he had previously researched the development of top 40 music formats and programming, and that he would like to use the interview for the Centennial show to explore the subject in a Canadian context. After the topic to be featured in the interview was clear, the production process could begin.
The steps that followed happened in a concurrent and fast paced way. While Andy worked on collecting information and shaping a historical narrative, Mariana scheduled the use of one of CKUT’s studios to meet and record the interview. She also attended a training session to learn the set up she’d be using to record. After setting a date to meet in the studio, Mariana reviewed Andy’s research in order to prepare questions for the interview.
Once in the studio, after setting up the recording software and the microphone levels, Mariana interviewed Andy for about an hour, while simultaneously recording the conversation. The goal of the recording session was to touch on all the key facts that Andy had researched, allowing him ample time to share his knowledge.
The next challenge was editing the interview to a length that fit the segments and duration of the show. Mariana managed to produce a 12 minute piece which fit well in the segment about music and its entertainment value over the radio. Alain added the time length of the interview to the show’s spreadsheet and planned the timing of the rest of the segments around it.
In the playlist above, you can listen to Andy’s interview about the beginnings of top 40 programming and transcription discs as it was broadcasted on March 16.
BEHIND THE SCENES: THE BEGINNING OF THE COVID RESPONSE
The third broadcast in our residency occurred on March 16. By this time, some guidelines in response to the Covid 19 crisis were already in place. The Centennial team changed the location of their usual pre-show meeting from a nearby cafe to the CKUT broadcasting studio. Precautions to avoid exposure to the virus had begun circulating among public transit users, which led to Alain’s decision to avoid the metro ride into the city that day. Even the studio was different that day, as washing one’s hands was now mandatory before entering and all the microphones were covered with Lysol wipes. Nonetheless, the show had to go on!
Luckily, during the planning process Alain had produced a detailed timesheet specifying the length of all the content and show segments. This sheet guided Anja and Mariana to create the show that you can listen to in the playlist above. Kicking off with an excerpt from the War of the Worlds, the show featured Alain’s research about the development of radio entertainment content, his recreation of the popular radio-drama “Rue Principale”, an interview with Andy Stuhl about radio shaping the top 40 music charts, an excerpt from an NHL Stanley cup final, all sprinkled with a curated selection of songs that relate to the spoken word content.
It is important to note that in the recreation of “Rue Principale,” Alain is the only person reading the script. But what about the female character that can be heard in it? Well, that is Alain using a pitch shifter to accentuate the higher frequencies in his voice as he read the lines that a woman would have been originally cast to perform. He also added sound effects that are pre-recorded and available online. These sound effects would have been performed live in the studio by a noisemaker while the voice actors delivered their lines, which we know from rare footage that deliver the atmosphere of the radio studio during early broadcasts.
One curious feature in this broadcast comes in the form of technical difficulties while live on the air. This part of the broadcast was definitely not planned. Feeling more confident about being in the studio and operating the equipment, we decided to go without the support of a CKUT technician. But when Mariana tried to playback the first piece of pre-recorded content, no signal was going through the board bringing the show to a silent halt. What to do with silence on the radio?
If radio is the wireless transmission of waves, there is no radio when no waves are transmitted. You need sound for radio, so we rushed to continue with some slightly awkward casual talk, to cure the crisis somewhat, until a CKUT technician rushed into the studio and under the board to find two cables that were disconnected. She quickly reconnected them and, like magic, everything started working as it should! We could play our planned pre-recorded content and the show went on without any more hiccups. Live radio does not know a dull moment, at least not for those who are producing it.