Campus Station an Incubator of Ideas, Talent

CiTR 101.9 FM's Nardwuar the Human Serviette (L) and Alison Benjamin (R) are ready to rock MP3 players around the globe - photo by Martin Dee
CiTR 101.9 FM’s Nardwuar the Human Serviette (L) and Alison Benjamin (R) are ready to rock MP3 players around the globe – photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 12 | Dec. 7, 2006

By Basil Waugh

A campus radio station that has launched some of the brightest talents in independent music is ready to rock an iPod near you.

For 25 years, the University of British Columbia’s student-run CiTR 101.9 FM has nurtured local passions for music and radio — and in the process, helped to launch some of the biggest names in the Canadian independent music scene, including alt-country crooner Neko Case, MuchMusic “guerilla” interviewer Nardwuar The Human Serviette and CBC Radio 3 personality Grant Lawrence.

With the introduction of a new podcasting service, CiTR on Demand, music fans can now fill their portable MP3 players with CiTR’s eclectic mix of music, talk, sports and news, including such shows as Cute Band Alert (pop/rock), These are the Breaks (hip hop), Live from Thunderbird Hell (live bands), Juicebox (sex/relationships), Democracy Now (news), Queer FM (talk) and Let’s Get Baked (cooking).

The station’s expansion into podcasting comes at a time when digital technology has given music fans unprecedented control over how and when they consume music, says CiTR president Alison Benjamin.

“Up until recently, radio and record companies controlled access to music,” says Benjamin, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Arts. “But the digitization of music has really given that power back to individuals. More and more, people are finding their music online and listening to it when and where it is convenient for them.”

“We want to give UBC students and others better access to CiTR, and podcasting does that,” adds Benjamin, 22. “Now no one needs to miss class to catch to their favourite show — they can simply go to our website and subscribe to the podcast.”

CiTR’s podcasts join a series of initiatives that have made the station synonymous with independent music and art in Vancouver, including the award-winning Discorder magazine, for which music fans with a literary bent can write reviews and interview bands. (The CBC’s Grant Lawrence is a former Discorder feature writer). The station also promotes concerts by local and traveling artists, and has presented gigs by The Ramones, Nirvana, Public Enemy, DOA and Iggy Pop.

Another major community initiative is SHiNDiG, CiTR’s 13-week annual battle-of-the-bands competition, in which hundreds of Vancouver bands — including former winner Maow (featuring Neko Case on drums), The Organ, Three Inches of Blood and The Nasty On — have vied for recording, mastering and promotion prizes during the contest’s 20-year history. Twenty-seven bands duked it out this year, with the winner Victoria, Victoria! crowned Dec. 5 at the Railway Club.

In addition to receiving a portion of funding from UBC’s Alma Mater Society’s $4 student levy, CiTR operates on annual membership fees ($20 for students, $35 for others), which give members access to production and programming training, and CiTR’s two massive libraries of more than 40,000 CDs and records, which are topped up weekly with shipments from record labels and artists from around the world.

However, to upgrade and maintain equipment used by over 300 volunteers members — including 100 programmers — the station has introduced several so called “fun-draising” initiatives:
its first on-air funding drive, which raised over $10,000 between Nov. 10-24, and the introduction of a Friends of CiTR card ($5 for members, $15 for others) gets holders discounts at 20 local restaurants, clothing stores and music and book shops.

The community response to these two initiatives has been overwhelming, says Benjamin. “Although fundraising is standard in our sector, we really didn’t know what to expect because this was our first time,” she says. “We realize now that a lot of individuals and small merchants have been waiting for opportunities like these to thank the station for its support of the local music scene for all these years.”

CiTR supports student events with public service announcements and in-depth news and sports coverage, but Benjamin says the station is working to take advantage of its position as a campus radio station. Some recent successes include a new free legal advice show by UBC’s student Pro Bono Law Society; the student science show My Science Project; and last year, a partnership with UBC’s First Nations House of Learning, in which a group of 20 Aboriginal students learned production skills and created a radio project on media representation of indigenous peoples.

“CiTR is a great complement to student life,” says Benjamin. “It’s full of cool, intrepid journalist-types, great volunteers with big personalities, who are passionate about cutting-edge alternative and under-represented music and ideas. We are not all music snobs like Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity,” she says. “Okay, some of us are.”

Benjamin says student involvement is the key to CiTR’s unique sound and its success at launching careers in music and media. “Young minds — excited by new music and ideas, willing to try new things — make for great radio,” she says. “With new students joining CiTR every year and setting its direction, it keeps the station fresh.”

In honour of its 25th year on the FM dial, in June 2007 CiTR will host the National Campus and Community Radio Association conference, an annual national gathering of more than 40 community-oriented radio broadcasters.

For more information on CiTR, and to subscribe to podcasts, visit

Serviette, Please

One person who has seen CiTR’s impact on Vancouver’s music scene is MuchMusic’s Nardwuar the Human Serviette, whose variety show has been running on UBC’s campus radio station every Friday since 1987.

Nardwuar, a UBC alumnus, is best known for his energetic, hyper-researched interviews of celebrities, including Canadian politicians Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Jack Layton, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and pop culture stars Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Destiny’s Child, Marilyn Manson, and Michael Moore.

“CiTR is the best radio station in the world — and any so-called success that has come to me is 100 per cent thanks to CiTR,” says Nardwuar, who also fronts his band The Evaporators, as well as presenting local all-ages concerts, and running Nardwuar Records, which releases music and special projects like his 2007 Punk Rock Calendar.

“CiTR taught me how to put together a radio show, gave me the press pass that got me the interviews, and exposed me to all these great bands I would have never known about otherwise.”

Other former CiTR/UBC Radio Society members include: Terry McBride, former CiTR DJ and founder of Nettwerk Records, home of Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, and Barenaked Ladies; Bill Baker and Randy Iwata, founders of Mint Records, home of Juno-winning artists The New Pornographers; former prime minister John Turner; the late historian Pierre Berton; B.C. Entertainment Hall-of-Famer Dave McCormick; CTV’s Chris Olsen; The Vancouver Province’s Tom Harrison; and CBC radio personalities Wilson Wong, Lauren Burrows, and Sarah Effron.