Six years old, I’m fidgeting, cross-legged on the floor, when my teacher asks who knows the song “Bingo.” (“There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o…”) The evil twin who lives as my subconscious assesses the number of hands going up and, next thing I know, up goes my hand too.
In other words, I lied. I faked my way through the song until I knew the words and suddenly, I sounded just like the other first-graders, instead of being the kid who hadn’t learned English until kindergarten. In that moment, I discovered a way to fit in – not so much the lying part, of course. (Ahem.) Ethical conundrums aside, it’s a fond memory of the first time I felt a part of something through music.
Sure, the best way to experience community and music together is at a live performance. But ticket costs add up quickly; plus, concerts don’t happen in the mornings or midday. (Hey, my kids are great, but Sloan, they are not.) So I’m a big fan of radio – specifically CKUA Radio.
I grew up listening to everything from ABBA to Strauss waltzes to the Beatles (Dad’s eight-tracks and vinyl), from the Eagles to the Cult to Duran Duran (it was the ’80s; don’t judge). I found common ground with unlikely people, talking about bands and songs. Even now, my tastes are always expanding. So it’s no surprise that I’m not interested in a corporate, commercial agenda setting my musical menu, especially when that menu is so narrowly drawn. And the only station I’ve ever found that meets my weirdly wonderful preferences is CKUA.
It was new to me in 2004, but by then, CKUA was already 77 years old. Because of a random bumper sticker, I stumbled onto a semi-annual fundraising drive, made a small donation, requested a song, and heard myself thanked on-air. I was hooked.
I’ve volunteered. I’ve toured CKUA’s stylish new digs within the historic Alberta Hotel on Jasper Avenue. I was front row when Blackie and the Rodeo Kings “christened” the sound-engineered performance space. I’ve even attended a literary event there. And I know I’m not the only one who has seen that distinctive bright yellow tent at music festivals and concerts all around Alberta.
CKUA is radio that grows community. I don’t even have to pretend to know the songs. I just listen and learn.
Ironically, SG Wong can’t listen to music when she writes. The second in her Lola Starke series of detective novels, In For a Pound, was released in August.