By Andréa Rojas
Chad Saunders will be ending his 11-year run as CJSW’s station manager by the middle of February.
Since his hire in November 2000, Saunders has overseen such major station projects as the move from the basement of MacHall to its third-floor location and the commissioning of a higher-wattage radio tower, along with controlling day-to-day station business. Before becoming station manager, Saunders served as program director, but his history with CJSW reaches even further back.
In September 1990, Chad Saunders was a 17-year-old U of C geography major. After a few of his friends dropped out of university and he found his social life lacking, he joined CJSW as a volunteer with the intention of learning how to produce radio advertisements.
“[The spoken word director at the time] said, ‘If you type up this public service announcement, I’ll give you this movie pass to go see Goodfellas,’” says Saunders as he reminisces about one of his first assignments. With that, just as fast as you can say “admit one,” an eternal love story between Saunders and community radio had begun to be written.
Eventually, Saunders ditched the topographical arts for a career in community radio. “He was the kid who liked stuff that was different than [what] everyone else [did], and he came here, got a beer, and was pretty happy so he stuck around,” laughs Kat Dornian, CJSW’s music director.
Fast-forward to 2012, and Saunders will be moving on to work with the National Music Centre. The centre, an offspring of community music space Cantos Music Foundation, will eventually be housed in the rehabilitated King Edward Hotel in Calgary’s East Village. Saunders will be an office manager for the centre.
“Eleven years is a long time to be at any job, let alone something that can be as demanding as community radio,” says program director Joe Burima. The decision, made by Saunders over Christmas break and communicated to staff in early January, signals his amicable break with upper-level community radio management — but not community radio itself.
Saunders will continue hosting his popular Friday afternoon radio show “My Allergy to the Fans:” “If I was giving everything up cold turkey, I don’t think I would be as calm about leaving right now as I am,” he says.
“CJSW [is a] lucky organization because people wear a lot of different hats,” says Burima. “It’s kind of like the Russian dolls — the first hat that you see could sometimes be a staff member hat, but then you pull that hat off and then there’s a programmer hat underneath, then you pull that hat off, and there’s a station member hat underneath. So at its foundation everyone’s just a part of the station, and Chad’s just removing that really big station manager hat.
“He’s still going to be a force to be reckoned with at CJSW and in Calgary’s music scene.”
Saunders himself welcomes the transition from station manager to contributor and, in a sense, to alumni — a CJSW reunion in October was attended by volunteers and staff from as far back as the 1960s. What gives him peace about leaving, however, is his belief in the power and resilience of community radio.
“CJSW has always prided itself in not espousing to know everything — we don’t go, ‘Oh, this is how it is,’” explains Saunders. “We go, ‘Look, this is the information, this is what the speaker is saying . . . you might agree to some parts but . . . think of your own opinion about it. Talk radio in this city is so full of hate and anger and misinformation and editorializing that I think it creates a situation where people know less about the subject.
“There’s a lot out there to question and learn.”
People like Saunders, however, aren’t the only reason CJSW continues to charge the FM dial with thought-conscious radio.
“You don’t have to be a communications student to be here. Fourteen to 82 years old is our [age] range of volunteers at the station. We’ve got people from all walks of life, different languages, different backgrounds . . . Why I’ve stuck around as long [as I did] is because I basically had a work family here.”
When it comes down to it, though, radio’s day hasn’t yet culminated in a sunset — which is why Saunders is comfortable handing over control to the CJSW team, and eventually to another station manager.
“There are a lot of people here who love radio, and it’s a good time to go when you know that everyone’s diggin’ it still.”