Mark Kilfoil, CHSR 97.9 FM’s Program Director, sat at a table in the middle of Studio D, located on the first floor of the Student Union Building.
Once upon a time, Studio D was half the size it is now. The room had terrible orange shag carpet from the 70s and a backdrop of records the radio never played because they were early 45s—hence, too small for the station’s record player.
“The room had no AC and would get super hot in the summertime. It was one of the sweatiest, smelliest rooms you can ever imagine,” Kilfoil said.
A few years ago, on an oddly hot winter day, ice that had built-up underneath the edges of the roof began to melt. Water started flowing into the room and soaked the carpet. When the drenched ceiling panels fell off and revealed mould, Studio D had to be torn down to its roots.
CHSR decided to capitalize on the situation and make a few changes.
The station incorporated the adjacent room—which had previously been used for storage—into the new studio, and adjusted the size of the other two rooms. They put brand new carpeting in and exposed the windows that had been covering over a previous transformation of the space. Extending the air conditioning and wiring up the area, Studio D became a multipurpose room where the station now hosts a show series called Sessions, featuring performances from both local and visiting bands.
“It was terrible and tragic, but we had the opportunity to turn that into something that’s become fantastic. We love this space,” Kilfoil said.
Since then, Sessions from Studio D has hosted over 50 bands.
“We often tell bands if you want to try a different version of a song, or if you’ve got something you’re working on and want to try it out, go for it,” Kilfoil said.
This approach has produced alternative takes of songs and extended jam versions, because bands just keep going, as they would do in their home practices. “We live in a very highly-produced world in most places, and there’s something really neat about being able to hear directly from a band in a little less managed or staged environment,” Kilfoil said.
But this creative atmosphere is not restricted to Studio D. Earlier this year, a band brought in an amplifier and placed it in the corner of the the much smaller main studio next door. As one of the band members played the drums on a single snare and another played the acoustic guitar, five others huddled around a mic to perform a song live on-air.
“It is such a wonderful intimate experience and to be able to share that with the audience at home who is also hearing this… there’s something amazing about that,” said Kilfoil.
Kilfoil first poked his nose in the CHSR radio station when he was an undergrad student in the 90s. Although intrigued, he wasn’t ready to actively participate in the radio then.
A couple years after graduating—and still being an avid listener of CHSR—he decided to pop his head into the studio again.
“I stopped in for a general meeting and fell in love at that point,” Kilfoil said. He began reading five-minute news updates, which later turned into his own hour-long show.
After being a volunteer for almost 20 years, an opportunity to be part of the staff opened up. “I stepped into that role seven years ago and haven’t looked back since,” he said. As program director, Kilfoil trains people to use the station’s equipment, manages the schedule and helps grow shows.
“For me personally, it’s the opportunity to have a space where I can grow my skills, express myself, and then be able to give that opportunity to other people and see how they transform,” he said.
The station hosts between 20 to 30 shows a week. The shows are broken down into two categories: spoken word and music. For spoken word, shows range from a group of four friends that chat about anime storylines and wrestling, discussing homelessness from a lived-experience perspective, to a daily noontime show called The Lunchbox—which focuses on local events.
“That show is intended to address the often heard comments of ‘there’s nothing to do in Fredericton,’ but as soon as you look, there’s all kind of things to do,” Kilfoil said.
On the music side, shows feature music that’s produced across the Maritimes. These include alternative jazz, opera, blues and a metal show with a 20-year history.
“If you’ve got an interesting idea and you’re committed to actually producing a show, we’ll give it a shot. And we’ve had great shows grow out of random things over time,” he said. “One of the cool things is barrier of entry is very low.” Year long membership costs $10 for students and $25 for non-students.
Contrary to public discourse, Mark believes the future of radio is very bright.
“Radio has been declared dead for the past 70 years, but it’s doing pretty good for a ‘dead’ thing. With the growth of podcasting and streaming—and media consumed around the world—radio’s actually more active than it ever has been,” Kilfoil said.
According to Kilfoil, the future is especially promising for local alternative radio stations like CHSR, because its uniqueness comes from sharing content that no one else is covering, such as local events, music, personalities and community affairs.
Additionally, Kilfoil thinks CHSR is exemplary in supporting the local music industry, as they feature band members in interviews and special live sessions, on top of promoting their music.
“We have the delight and pleasure, and a responsibility, and a drive to let people know that these bands are out there and to give them a bit of support. Oftentimes that support will then lead them to be able to be heard a little bit more, find more people at their performances, sell a few more albums, maybe make it to that next step.”
He said local bands like Kill Chicago, Sleepy Driver, and Art of the Possible are making great waves in the music scene—and he takes pride in the fact that CHSR played them first.
“We are willing to take a risk in a new band. We also play albums by bands that came and went, so in a certain sense we captured a moment that no one even heard of,” Kilfoil said.
Although radio broadcasting cannot quantify how many people are listening to the program—as you can’t know who turned the radio on and when—Kilfoil makes sure to remind those around him that “there’s always someone listening and appreciating what you’re doing. They might never talk to you, or you might never hear from them whatsoever. In some strange ways, radio can be a lonely medium in that way, but it’s also comforting to realize there’s always someone listening.”
Photos by Book Sadprasid.