CKWR-FM, Community, Kitchener-Waterloo

Wired World Inc.

CKWR-FM197398.5200Wired World Inc.


Where most radio ventures are built on a business dream, (or, in the early days, a hobby), CKWR is one of few built on an ideal.

Its founding group had been part of the University of Waterloo Broadcast Society. In the 60’s they created a regular program for a local commercial AM station. They went on to create Radio Waterloo, a closed-circuit radio service on campus, which was eventually fed to the community through a local cable company.

By the early 70’s, a group of former Radio Waterloo members proposed a more ambitious venture: a non-commercial, community broadcast service run entirely by volunteers. The concept was so new, the CRTC had no application process for such a venture. Originally the group envisioned a television service, but prohibitive costs scaled the dream down to radio.

A house was rented, and equipment secured. A series of grants fuelled research and paperwork during the proposal process. The principal asset was an energetic core of volunteers.


CKWR (the calls chosen for ‘Waterloo Region’ or ‘Kitchener Waterloo Radio’) signed on at 98.7 MHz at 200 watts from a house at 1342 King Street East in Kitchener, with programming limited to evenings and weekends. So was born Canada’s first English-language community radio station.

True to its mandate, CKWR offered an eclectic, non-commercial alternative to conventional private and public radio. Early programming mixed talk and ‘issues’ shows the drama and alternative music. A Monday night live-band broadcast at a local repertory theatre drew packed houses. Multicultural programs became a staple. (The CRTC had to take it on faith that some weren’t violating its rules by sneaking in the occasional multilingual ad.)

Funding was ad-libbed. Money was secured through underwriting, memberships and fundraising drives. In the late 70’s, CKWR came within a hair’s breadth of closing: the first in a series of management crises invariably linked to money.


In the summer of 1980, CKWR moved into a fire-damaged house it had recently purchased. The annual operating budget was estimated at $15,000. Some revenue was generated through $15 memberships and a patronage program. ‘Patrons’ could, for $10, receive an air mention limited to name, address and vital statistics, according to CRTC regulations.

By April 1981, using rebuilt equipment, CKWR began stereo broadcasting. 75 volunteers helped create 43 weekly programs ranging from community interest and alternative music to religious and multicultural. 

On January 11, 1984, the CRTC renewed CKWR-FM’s licence until September 30, 1985.

In 1985, new federal regulations permitted limited advertising on community stations, creating an irresistible revenue source to meet the station’s now-$25,000 annual budget. While remaining non-profit, CKWR opted to abandon its non-commercial roots. One insider predicted a rate of $15-$17 per 30-second ad.

In October of ’85, the station moved again, to a remodelled yellow-brick house at 56 Regina Street North, Waterloo, boasting a line-up of “news, human interest, religious and music shows in more than 10 languages”. A grand opening for the new facility took place on September 28.

By 1988, CKWR was broadcasting from 11am-midnight weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends, with power at 2000 watts. ‘Active’ members paid $35/year to create programming. ‘Affiliate’ members kicked in $10/year. The annual operating budget had blossomed to $35,000. 

Near the end of 1989, CKWR-FM was given permission to increase effective radiated power from 202 watts to 1,430 watts. 

By the end of the decade, CKWR had hired a staff of two: Station Manager Frank Fowlie, and News Director Cindy Duffy. Within months, a new crisis brewed: the station’s board opted to accept four American-produced Christian programs, and with them the $80,000/year their producers paid for airtime.

Opponents, including Duffy (who resigned in protest) feared that CKWR was compromising its programming in exchange for money. Others feared the station had become an instrument of right wing, Bible-based propaganda.


In 1990, CKWR announced it would be doubling its broadcast week (with CRTC approval) to 144 hours. Foreground programming would go from 40% to 30%.

By the mid-90’s, CKWR again flirted with financial disaster. Station staff, which had grown to eight full & part time positions, was cut back to one full time, and one part time. In 1996, CKWR was restructured, adopting a more commercial, MOR, personality-based sound. It hired popular local announcers who’d been cut adrift two years earlier when a local rival changed format. It phased in jingles and produced ID’s, and dropped most of its U.S.-based Bible programs.

In 1992, Canada’s first community radio station moved to a new home at 56 Regina Street North, in Waterloo.

October of 1997 saw CKWR shift frequency from 98.7 to 98.5 MHz and increase effective radiated power from 1,430 to 2,400 watts. The transmitter and antenna were relocated to the CBC tower at St. Agatha. These changes increased the coverage area to include communities such as Guelph, Stratford and Woodstock, and eliminated interference from the CBC’s Owen Sound station on 98.7 MHz.
By the end of the century, CKWR’s restructuring had created a modest, but stable, revenue stream unprecedented in the station’s 30-year history, allowing for a paid staff of 12. 


Paul Scott became CKWR’s morning host and sales coordinator. He was general sales manager and operations manager at CKXR Salmon Arm.


On September 8, CKWR became known as “98.5 Your FM,” featuring more community news, local interviews and a greater focus on community events.


Late in the year, “Your FM” came to an end and was replaced by the sounds of Christmas which aired until December 27.


In January, the “Soft Favorites” format returned along with the on-air use of the CKWR call sign.


In the spring, CKWR-FM switched back to an Adult Standards format during the daytime hours. The Variety/Multilingual format remained in place for evenings.


Morning announcer Bob Dearborn left CKWR.


Bernie Sadilek died at age 39. Sadilek was the morning show producer at CKWR plus had his own radio show at the Conestoga College station.


Long time Kitchener-Waterloo radio personality Dan Fisher (Dan Fish) passed away. He was 75.


After 50 years of broadcasting, Fred Merritt decided to retire. CKWR celebrated his retirement with an open house on January 21 from 2-6 p.m. 


On August 8, the CRTC administratively renewed the licence for CKWR-FM until August 31, 2013.

A former board member of non-profit CKWR FM 98.5 admitted that she misappropriated almost $60,000. Bozana Radisic-Valincic outlined details of the 2010-2011 fraud in Kitchener court. She was a volunteer Vice President on the eight-member board of directors and had signing authority. Most of the money was taken by writing cheques to herself and forging the signature of the community station’s president as the required second signing authority.

Bozana Radisic-Valincic, who was convicted of defrauding CKWR of almost $60,000, was sentenced to six-month’s of conditional restrictions. She wrote cheques to herself and forged the signature of the station president. She also stole cash while making bank deposits. Her father was one of the founding members of the station in 1974.


The Board of Directors, staff and volunteers of FM98.5 CKWR announced the 40th anniversary of Canada’s first community radio station. Beginning with the anniversary month of March, festivities would build throughout the year peaking June 15 when an open house, reception and outdoor activities would take place at the stations new premises at 1446 King Street East, Kitchener. Everyone associated with CKWR is proud of the station’s colorful history and achievements that began in 1973 as the nation’s first English speaking community radio station. And where today after overcoming many challenges, continued to provide a blend of multicultural programming along with specialty programming 24/7.


Bob McLean died at 81. He hosted shows for CBC-TV, CFRN-AM, CFRB, CKCO-TV and wrapped up his career at CKWR.


Canada’s oldest community radio station announced a plan to charge its volunteer hosts and programmers $10.00 an hour to keep their shows on the air. The not-for-profit station made the move after it learned it was losing its charitable status, which could affect its main revenue source, listener donations.


In the fall, CKWR had its licence renewed until 2020. With a history of noncompliance, CKWR was under scrutiny for late implementation of the National Public Alerting System; insufficient Canadian content; and failure to submit annual returns from 2013 to 2017.


In the spring, CKWR replaced its Adult Standards-Soft AC format in the daytime with Adult Alternative-Triple A. Evenings continued to offer a mixture of specialty programming.

The story continues elsewhere…
Effective September 1st 2019, we will only be adding new material to these station histories in exceptional circumstances. Our intent to chronicle the early days of these radio and television stations has been achieved, and many new sources and technologies, from the CRTC website to Wikipedia, and others, are now regularly providing new information in these areas.

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