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Now you has CJAZ: Remembering Canada's first jazz radio station

CJAZ sign, likely from 1984. From the author's personal collection. (John Ackermann/NEWS 1130 photo)

On March 1, 1980, CJAZ, billed as Canada's first all-jazz radio station, signed on at 92.1 FM.

Poor stereo reception in its target listening would lead to a change in its transmitter location and frequency

By 1984, CJAZ had rebranded to FM97 on-air and then fully to the soft-rock KISS-FM in 1985

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver radio history was made 40 years ago this weekend.

On March 1, 1980, CJAZ, billed as Canada’s first all-jazz radio station, signed on at 92.1 FM. The concept came from Selkirk Communications, which in those days owned both CKWX 1130 (later NEWS 1130) and CJAZ. “It was [General Manager Tom Peacock]’s baby. It was his idea,” remembers Ted Farr, who was the program director of both CJAZ and ‘WX.

“It was quite a while in the planning,” remembers retired newsman Campbell McCubbin, who, along with Julie Markus, co-hosted the station’s first morning show, the appropriately-named AM on FM. “I think they looked at it and thought, ‘This would be a great idea.’ It certainly wasn’t being serviced in the market. It was pretty popular in Seattle. That basically wraps it up.”

“I remember the night we went on the air. Tom Peacock gathered the entire staff at a hotel two blocks down the road,” McCubbin recalls. CJAZ signed on at midnight with Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. “And so, when that came on, everybody toasted with champagne and then I had to get up and go to work that next morning,” he explains. “And we cranked out a ton of information, a ton of interviews. During the one year that I hosted the thing, we interviewed everyone, literally everyone, from the Dalai Lama to Marilyn Chambers.”

“It’s just unfortunate the transmitter site that they chose was less than adequate,” McCubbin adds. “For a format like soft jazz or smooth jazz or regular, ordinary jazz, you know, you at least want to get into the West End. And it never really got sufficient coverage.”

Indeed, while CJAZ did pump 100,000 watts from its transmitter on Salt Spring Island, poor stereo reception in its target listening area of Metro Vancouver would eventually lead to a change in its transmitter location and its frequency. “By the time they got around to actually moving it up to Mount Seymour, where it should have been in the first place, they were really behind in terms of listenership,” he admits.

McCubbin also remembers some pretty restrictive license requirements. “In order to get an FM license back then, the CRTC had an incredibly high, what they called, foreground programming content requirement, which was information programming, basically. And within that requirement, anything less than a 15 minute interview didn’t qualify as foreground programming, which meant, we were playing, maybe, if we were lucky, two pieces of music an hour.” The federal regulator also required any new radio station to keep its format for five years before it could try another.

One year in, Ted Farr was brought in at Program Director. He doesn’t remember the license requirements or signal strength being the issue so much as the station having a hard time defining itself. “There were so many camps of people who liked this version of jazz or that genre of jazz. You couldn’t get two people to agree. You’d play a song on the air, somebody would phone up and complain about it, saying ‘That’s rock ‘n’ roll, that’s not jazz,'” he says. “The issues that we faced in those days were primarily that nobody could agree on what constituted jazz, the format was so fractured. So, even the among the staff, we had people who were in different camps.”

By 1984, CJAZ had rebranded to FM97 on-air and then fully to the soft-rock KISS-FM in 1985. The “playing what we want” JACK branding came much later, in 2002. While CJAZ would go on to be much more successful in its later incarnations, its place in Canadian radio history shouldn’t be forgotten.

“You know, it was a great experience, and a great learning experience for just about everybody who initially were to tune in and learn all about the music we were playing,” says McCubbin. “So, I have very happy memories and I’m sure everybody else does too.”