Radio Head: Surfing the airwaves with CFUV’s Johnnie Regalado

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Photo by Myles Sauer

Photo by Myles Sauer

“Radio never dies,” Johnnie Regalado says.

He repositions himself atop his swivel chair, his cardigan fitted and buttoned high, his hair trimmed and parted to the right, and his voice monotone, confidently carrying his matter-of-fact-opinions. Regalado is the program director of Victoria’s campus and community radio station—CFUV 101.9 FM— a position he’s held for five years. Broadcasting out of the Student Union Building of the University of Victoria, he’s responsible for balancing 85 original programs on the 101.9 frequency, and is dedicated to making his radio station relevant and diverse.

As program director, he oversees the daily broadcast operations of the radio station. These duties include making sure that all broadcasts are appropriate, all programmers are trained, everyone’s aware of the policies and laws around broadcasting, and the day-to-day operations are completed. “I don’t consider myself the person that controls what goes on the radio,” he says. “I’m the person working with and directing those people that make those decisions, and empowering them to make better ones.”

He gives an example. Recently, CFUV received a record by a rediscovered Inuit musician, Willie Thrasher, a talent who toured with famous artists back in the ‘70s. As Regalado puts it, Thrasher “never got his claim to fame” because of the prejudices back in that time.

“We are so lucky to get this record,” Regalado told his programmers. “We need to play this. And I’m not saying you have to play it, but no other radio station is going to be in a position where they get their hands on a record of a forgotten folk legend who is from a marginalized community, and then has the opportunity to really hold that up to say ‘look at this, this is really important.’”

Local stuff is super important for us. I think it’s the most unique thing we can do, and the thing we can do that makes us different.

Regalado is ecstatic, his voice moving up a few octaves when he reports that the record charted number one on the radio station for a few weeks. “I guess I was proud of them . . . I told them that this is what we’re about, like . . . play all that other music, but when the opportunity comes to use the power that we have as a broadcaster, to say ‘look at this, this is something that you should all be thinking about,’ there’s a lot of responsibility with that.

Roughly nine years ago, Regalado was a freshman enrolled in UVic’s writing program. Laying down on his twin-sized bed, he shared a playlist over iTunes. With the home-share feature turned on and a library titled something like, ‘Regalado-Poole-Room-203,’ he connected to a music subculture hosted over campus Wi-Fi. Regalado made friends that way, one friend being Ryan, who lived directly above Regalado. Ryan was a regular volunteer at CFUV and urged Regalado to drop in. Three missed orientations and one final feat of bravery later, Regalado conquered his nerves and joined him.

When he was still immersing himself in radio culture, Regalado once broadcasted all through the night. He and four other programmers would not cease until their wits were lost, their show ending as they uttered the words ‘Panda boys’ repeatedly into the wireless transmission. “As program director now, I probably wouldn’t let any of my DJs do that, or at least, I wouldn’t want to know, and I think that was probably the case for the Program Director then,” he reflects. Even still, that night stays poignant in Regalado’s mind: a moment where community, music, and love for radio intertwined, a concoction of elements that would remain prevalent throughout the years to come.

Regalado volunteered at CFUV for one year, and held work study positions for two more, both as program assistant and promotion and outreach associate. In that time, he developed his own radio show, planned CFUV’s 25th anniversary party, and began to feel more at home in the tightly knit station that broadcasted from the depths of the SUB.

With a diploma came the post-graduate blues. Because he was no longer enrolled at UVic, Regalado was no longer able to maintain his work-study position either. However, Regalado continued volunteering at CFUV and with that, luckily, came opportunity. The music director took a leave of absence, and they asked Regalado to fill in. Coincidentally, the program director left soon after. Regalado had some of the most recent experience, and because he had worked so closely with the program director, he got the job. And thus, five years ago, Regalado the Program Director was born.

Regalado hunkers down in his seat and explains the transition from greenhorn trainee to hosting your own program. He explains that at CFUV there’s a process before you can host a program. First, you must fulfill 20 hours of volunteer work and training, a process any student or community member can start. Upon completion, you can develop your own radio program. This development process involves an application, one made up of both a write-up and a questionnaire. “This process helps manifest an idea into a solid concept,” he says; it’s a process that has, in recent years, made for more well-developed applications. When it’s complete, the application makes its way to the program committee. Here, the application, along with the radio program itself, is either approved, reworked, sent back for revision, or sentenced to death by democracy.

At CFUV, Regalado and his peers turn volunteers into legitimate radio programmers, and they’re passionate about that process. When I inquire as to what training CFUV offers, Regalado’s speech quickens. “They get basically free training on how to broadcast, podcast and video record — “ He takes a breath. “We offer live-performance-audio-recording training. Things that people spend a ton of money on at technical schools like BCIT or formerly Camosun College, they get as much of that here as they get there.”

The program committee and its meetings are all mediated by Regalado. Curious, I ask how an individual is selected to be on the program committee. “Generally, the group of people who make up the program committee are also programmers, and a lot of them have been involved in the station for longer than I have. This is helpful because they have a good institutional memory of the radio station. They’re really helpful to bounce ideas off of.” He breaks off for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Volunteers can sign up, and I also do targeted recruitment, because if we talk about balance and diversity on the program schedule, then we should try to aim to have that within the group as well. It’s not always the best, so working on that, we’re trying to get more students, we’re trying to get more women, and we’re trying to get more people of colour involved in that portion of the station. But luckily everyone involved in that group is aware of these issues and knows the importance of considering that.”

While scavenging the station’s site, I found a whole section dedicated to CFUV’s Women’s Radio Collective: a group within the radio station for any self-identified women and gender fluid or non-binary people. I ask Regalado about why it’s important to CFUV and what it means to him. “The radio station self-mandates that 50 per cent of their original programming be created by women,” Regalado says. “Traditionally in broadcast media it’s a male-dominated field and a very simple thing we can do, as a radio station, is try to create ways for people who don’t normally have access to the airwaves to get that [access].”

Regalado informs me that the collective was ratified before his time as program director. He gives the credit where it’s due, to the woman who run the collective; but still, it’s evident he supports the endeavour fully. He goes so far as to say that, “if we got six program proposals, and we have only one timeslot, the priority for us would be students and women. So if there’s a proposal from a woman who’s a student, then that takes precedent regardless of the content.” What’s refreshing is it’s not all talk: Regalado doesn’t just talk about equality for equality’s sake; his station talks about it and then actively makes it happen. I’ve seen it.

Two days before this interview, I sat amongst the program committee during one of their monthly meetings. At first, the committee came across like the small council on Game of Thrones minus the keeper of coins. There were many colourful personas, but one was primary to the discussion, a voice that was definitely in control: Regalado. There were no cumbersome politics, just talk about what makes good radio. The committee acted more like a workshop than anything: moving slots around, adjusting proposals, brainstorming and advocating diversity among music and programmers. In an hour’s time, six program proposals were presented and six were passed. Regalado promised a more taxing meeting for the next time: he let the committee know that the broadcasting schedule was filled, meaning some difficult decisions to come.

At one point during the interview, fluctuating away from his matter-of-fact cadence, Regalado takes on a hint of sorrow in his voice. He informs me that a person who was involved since the station started recently passed away last September: Eric Leblanc of the acclaimed blues program Let the Good Times Roll. “He’d been on the air for over 30 years, and that just rocked the station and the community. It was really upsetting to a lot of people. And like, how do you navigate that, and what do I do about it? And what do we do with the fact that that person had been on the radio for 30 years, and now they’re not there, and what do I do with that time slot? Like who do I put on into that time now? What do I tell that person? What do I tell the people that are on before and after him, and have seen him every day for 30 years?” He trails off.

I ask Regalado if he’s ever had to make a decision people didn’t agree with. “There’s people that have been here for 30 years, there’s programmers that have been on the air for longer than I’ve been alive, so when I have to tell them to do something, it’s not always the easiest. And we have had to cut people,” he says with a stern concentration, regarding his already full program schedule. “And you can go the easy route and ask the people that you know will take a break from their show, or you can bite the bullet and [take a harder route].” It’s a tough spot to be in, and it’s obvious there’s a lot of pressure that comes with his passion.

Probably one of the biggest things that keeps me wanting to continue to work here are the people.

Despite all the shifts and changes in programming, one choice remains easy: for Regalado, the station must always remain community-oriented. Including web traffic and on-demand programming, Regalado tells me the radio station now ranges anywhere between 2 000–6 000 listeners a day. He isn’t worried about numbers, though, emphasizing the creation of a real alternative radio station, one that is truly local. “I don’t have any problems with local radio,” Regalado says in regards to the competition, “but I think they talk about being local for the sake of trying to generate revenue.” Regalado, on the other hand, prides his station on unique programming, honest local reporting and a highlight on local talent. “We’ve represented a community voice and a constant, promoting local artists and local issues. And I know from the listener perspective people really enjoy how much we’re able to support our local community.”

With Regalado’s involvement, CFUV has been awarded College Music Journal’s “Most Supportive of the Local Scene Award” and the National Community Radio’s “Local Talent Development Award.” “Local stuff is super important for us,” he says. “I think it’s the most unique thing we can do, and the thing we can do that makes us different.”

I ask Regalado what he envisions for CFUV’s future. “I think what’s necessary for our station is that it become a community arts organization that also broadcasts, which is what we’re moving towards.” He continues, exhorting the need for a radio station that unifies individuals: a community of people who come from all walks of life, and as Regalado puts it, a place where people “blow each other’s minds.” Regalado’s got a fire in his heart, a desire that a person gets when they care deeply about something, and they want to do right by it.

I ask Regalado, having been at CFUV for nearly a decade if he has considered leaving the station and trying something new. “I feel like I’m probably ready to move on pretty soon, but then, at the same time, I feel so lucky to have this job that I have that it scares me to think about going somewhere else. Probably one of the biggest things that keeps me wanting to continue to work here are the people. The people I work with, the volunteers and the staff. Just being able to meet and talk with all these interesting people. So yeah, I don’t know what I would do somewhere else, but I do think about that. It’s a hard place to leave.”

It begins to make sense to me: his grand ideas, his stubborn ideals, and a brass-boldness, that honestly, looking at him you wouldn’t expect. He fights for radio like he’s fighting for his home. He champions it because it championed him. And so, he’ll give it all he’s got.

One last transmission: “People say radio’s dead,” he says, laughing at the thought. “That’s my new favourite because it always transforms and adapts.”

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