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CFUV celebrates 40 years of exploring Victoria's music scene

Nestled inside the University of Victoria’s student union building basement, CFUV has been a mainstay of Victoria’s music scene since 1984.
Troy Lemberg, left, Asia Rattigan and Rowan Grice at CFUV’s studio at the University of Victoria. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Greater Victoria’s community radio station is still a place where you can take the pulse of the region’s music scene.

Koby Andrews remembers working at the cafe upstairs from the CFUV radio station studio and chatting with the station volunteers who would stop by for coffee.

“They were always playing music, and always seemingly in the know of the most current and most fun things happening in the city,” he said.

Nestled inside the University of Victoria’s student union building basement, CFUV has been a mainstay of Victoria’s music scene since 1984.

The station is largely powered by its volunteers — some 130 people who help to assemble 60 to 70 hours of original programming every week.

CFUV station manager Rowan Grice said the station sees a huge variety of programming in a day.

“There’s really nowhere else where you can tune in and hear anything from podcasts on decolonization to old Joni Mitchell tracks to trap.”

“It’s an incredible variety because we’re made out of the community,” Grice said. “Everybody’s got their own niche.”

Volunteers have been a backbone of the station since it opened.

The late Peter Verin, who once ran a late-night show in the mid-1990s, kept CFUV radio waves going with an ecletic two-day set after he got snowed in during the 1996 blizzard.

After more than 35 years on air, Shaukat Husain and Demetrios Tsimon claim Straight No Chaser as the longest-running jazz radio program in the province.

Andrews has joined in as well. He volunteers on the CFUV board and runs a weekly radio show called Hot Local Singles in Your Playlist.

CFUV started broadcasting at 105.1 FM, at a mere 49.4 watts on Dec. 17, 1984. The station switched to 101.9 FM and increased its transmission power to 2,290 watts in 1989.

Music director Troy Lemberg recalls that in the late 1990s to early 2000s, CFUV’s radio signal would reach as far as a maximum security prison in Washington state before a commercial station in Port Angeles took over the airwaves.

Occasionally, CFUV received postcards from inmates writing in about the programming, he said.

Lemberg estimates that he helps to add 40 to 100 new albums into the station’s rotation on any given week, passed on to him through Canadian record labels and the U.S. college music distribution network.

Grice said there’s an emphasis on the local, pointing to CFUV’s Eventide concerts at Centennial Square as one example.

“We’re one of the only places in town that will play and amplify local music.”

The station is a place that will air programs that don’t show up often in commercial radio, such as a podcast on Victoria’s queer history and weekly accessibility-themed show, he said.

In 2021, the station won a string of national community radio awards for its in-house programming, which included a local news podcast and an audio documentary about witches at UVic.

That year, CFUV aired Dark Traveller, a radio play created by a prison theatre company based at the William Head Institution in Metchosin.

“Originally they were just going to stream it, which meant none of the inmates would be able to listen to their own work,” Grice said.

With only three full-time staff, the station stays afloat through a combination of donations, grants, federal funding and a UVic student levy.

Former long-time CFUV staff member Randy Gelling said the station survived by “sheer elbow grease” until the creation of the Community Radio Fund of Canada in 2007.

“It’s hard when you’re small to get organized enough to change things,” said Gelling, who started volunteering at the station during the 1990s and served as station manager for about a decade until 2016.

The station launched its new logo last week — a stylized map of the station’s coverage area designed by CFUV alumni Claire le Nobel — to kick off the radio station’s annual fundraiser.

CFUV is looking to raise $40,000 by March 22 to match its 40 years of broadcast radio.

To celebrate CFUV’s 40th birthday, Grice said the station will be getting some much-needed renovations, a new coat of paint and fresh carpets.

Some of the volunteers are skeptical that the upgrades are actually coming, he said.

“I think many managers, or at least the last three, have been saying that they’re coming for a long time,” he said, laughing.

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