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CFRU and Guelph Civic Museum celebrate 40+ years on the air

By Barbara Salsberg Mathews

CFRU has partnered with Guelph Civic Museum to celebrate the 40+ years since receiving its FM license. The display at Guelph Civic Museum will run from March 23 to October 31, 2021. CFRU reached out to our community to collect memories, recordings of old shows, posters and merchandise.

Bry Webb, operations coordinator for CFRU-FM, the community radio station at the University of Guelph, says:

“In addition to the physical display, we will also have a virtual offering that links to the rich history of CFRU.”

A radio club was started at University of Guelph in 1965. The station was mainly closed-circuit from ’65 to ’70. Around 1970, CFRU obtained an AM carrier current at 820AM, which continued until it went to FM in 1980. The original recording of that first show will be part of the display. CFRU has evolved to become an effective bridge between campus life and the Guelph community.

James Gordon, now a city councillor in Guelph, was one of the volunteers during CFRU’s early growth spurts. He hosted his own show in the 1980s.

“From 1986 to 1989 I had a show called The Hillside House. As a founding director of the Hillside Festival, it would showcase artists who played there, and eventually became an acoustic music show,” said Gordon. He remembers one of the challenges of that time being the switch from vinyl to digital formats.

Gordon adds:

“I feel I knew CFRU in its embryonic state and saw it become a true community radio station, exciting to see for both students and the whole city.”

Bonnie Durtnall was a CFRU volunteer in the 1970s and worked as a music programmer and librarian. She recalls CFRU’s early days:

“Later we moved, under new management with Ian MacDiarmid, to the new student centre (now the UC). We got a legitimate FM licence in 1980 — a heady experience. By then, I was music programmer/librarian. It was demanding, paid little, but I got to meet various musicians and groups, for example Bruce Cockburn, Lighthouse, FM, Billy Joel, [and] XTC. [I also got to] attend concerts and hear the latest music — when I could coerce record companies into sending it. It was my job and I enjoyed it, and cataloguing records. I also had my own late night show where talking was at an extreme minimum. Musically, we had people who played anything and everything. The music range was, to put it mildly, wide, embracing, and eclectic.”


Paul Ruta, a CFRU show host in the early 1980s tells us:

“Before the guys at CFRU let you do your own show, you had to train using the AM equipment, to learn what all the knobs and dials were for, during times of the day when it was “off the air” so to speak. What I didn’t fully realize during my training was that there was a switch for turning that speaker system off and on. You were supposed to leave it off while you practiced. Somehow I managed to turn it on, and continued casually swearing into the microphone as I tried to figure out which ‘*&%@!!’ knob did what, and why the ‘#(&$$@%’ sucking turntable wasn’t working, and so on and so forth until Ian MacDiarmid stormed into the room, flipped the switch to the off position, and stormed out again without a word. Amazingly, they still let me do a radio show after that.”

Dawn Owen, Curator, Guelph Museums, summarizes:

“For 40 years, CFRU has been a conduit for uniquely Guelph ideas and expression, holding space for this community to come together in conversation. Guelph Civic Museum is delighted to work with CFRU on a display marking four decades of local alternative radio, featuring an array of historical sound bites from the archives.”

CFRU documents our community. Years from now, if people want to learn what was happening in Guelph during the COVID pandemic, CFRU has recordings and programs. These archives are going to live on, hosted on CFRU’s website. This will be a place where people can learn and have a ‘blast from the past’.

For more information, contact:

Halley Roback email:

Dawn Owen email:


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