I was 13. A notice flashed across the screen of the community tv station, "CFUO FM needs volunteers."
I desperately wanted to be in radio and knew that many of the people I admired on air at local stations got their start in University radio. And I knew that CHEZ 106 began after a group from CKCU at Carleton University applied for a commercial FM license. I hadn't heard of CFUO though. They were a very low power AM station heard only on the campus at The University Of Ottawa. But, they could be heard across the city on CABLE FM! For those too young to remember, if you took the cable from your TV and connected it to an FM antenna, you'd get more stations! Here in Ottawa CHOM FM, MIX 96 and so many other Montreal stations could be heard clear as a bell! And, yes, Ottawa U's CFUO as well. I called the number. Bernard Fraser answered. He was the program director and invited me to pop in any afternoon. "I'm not available in the afternoons" I told him. "Would you have time to meet me on Saturday or Sunday?" My request probably didn't make much sense to him. After all, I had a pretty deep voice, even at 13. To him, I almost certainly did not sound like someone whose afternoon schedule included high school health class, typing, and learning how to dissect a frog. But, he agreed!
I begged my father for a ride across town for this meeting.
The look on Bernard's face when I walked through the door. My suspicions were right. I was not at all who he was expecting to meet. But, he shook my hand and was happy to have me help. He put me to work re-organizing the station's record library.
On my second weekend, after begging my father once again for a ride, I was back putting records away when Bernard asked me if I knew how to run the studio equipment. I owned a Radio Shack mixer, a turntable and a tape deck at home, so naturally I felt qualified. "Yes I do!" I told him! Whoever was supposed to be on the air at 2pm that day hadn't shown up. He needed someone on the air and I was that someone. Having just put away albums from Prince, Madonna, and others I quickly grabbed a pile of music I knew would knock 'em dead! I called home and directed my father how to disconnect the cable from the TV (I'm sure he was actually wanting to watch a football game at that time) so that they could listen! I was ON THE AIR!!!! After my first ever show, Bernard and the station's GM, Patrick Martin, shook my hand, told me I had done really well, but also informed me that they didn't play top 40 music on CFUO. Those albums had been donated, which is why they were in the library, but they played much lesser known artists. Bands like Black Flag, Skinny Puppy, Indochine, and The Butthole Surfers. I promise you, I was all in, if, for no other reason, just to find out more about who The Butthole Surfers were! I mean... Who can resist that name? My time on air was short lived. My weekends were, instead, spent producing station ID's and sponsorship IDs on reel to reel and then recording them to cart. Labeling and filing each as I went along. I loved it! I had already caught the radio bug long before that "volunteers needed" ad popped up. But now I was absolutely smitten with radio and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would make a career of it. Eventually CFUO became CHUO after being granted a license to operate on FM at 89.1. Today came the news that the students at Ottawa U have voted to de-fund CHUO FM, saving each student $4.00. Many broadcasters are posting today about how they too, got their start there. The station has not announced what its plans are for the future, but I will forever be grateful to it for being a huge part of my future (now present) in broadcasting.
- John Mielke / The Milkman