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Independant Era

The budget cutbacks of the Conservative government led by Premier Ralph Klein, beginning in 1994, would have a far-ranging effect on how CKUA would operate.

The Klein government had come to power in 1993, its fiscal mandate to privatize many government departments and crown corporations. Among them was ACCESS, which operated both an Edmonton-based educational television station and CKUA.

After much public outcry over the possibility of killing or selling CKUA - and not for the first time, as this had been a consideration in 1987 - the provincial government appointed a foundation board to develop a business plan with an eye to privatizing CKUA. It also agreed to provide interim funding of $4.8 million for a three-year period. In early August 1994, CKUA was officially moved from ACCESS to the charitable CKUA Radio Foundation to function as a not-for-profit station. The foundation had purchased the assets and operations of CKUA for $10.

one of ckua's hardworking volunteer fundraisersBy 1997, the board had been unable to create a functioning and self-sustaining broadcast operation. Little of the transitional funding remained, and the station was shut down on March 20. Again, a public hue and cry would be raised, particularly from media, listeners, constituents, the Friends of CKUA (an Edmonton- and Calgary-based listeners' fundraising organization brought into being in 1994), and the Save Our Station coalition of employees, Friends, and members of the arts community, which became incorporated as the Save Alberta Public Radio Society.

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CKUA - Radio Worth Fighting For

Last Radio Show, which opens Walters' book, Radio Worth Fighting For.  It details the personal impact of the final night of broadcasting as the CKUA was shut down on the evening of March 20, 1997.  

The chapter entitled Shock and Aftershock from Walter's book discusses the immediate effects of the closure. 

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At CKUA, a new board of directors was put in place, and on April 25, five weeks after the shutdown, CKUA was back on the air.

The best description of CKUA's ongoing struggles of ownership and finances - from both a historical as well as personal point of view - is to be found in Marylu Walters' book, CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For, published in 2002 by University of Alberta Press.

With the station now revived, CKUA's new job was not just to broadcast, but also to secure an ongoing source of revenue to support the estimated $3 million annual budget. Listeners, the business community and corporations all did their bit, in keeping with the now 10-year tradition of donations and fundraising. "Subscription radio" would cement the station's relationship with its listeners, and in 2001, $1.1 million was generated in ongoing annual subscriptions, with a further $1.3 million going to CKUA coffers from donations.

As well, something new had been in the offing for the station since 1995: on-air commercials. The station that from the outset had celebrated its non-commercial status had had no choice but to engage in the practices of conventional broadcasters. While the early days of commercials on CKUA left something to be desired - this was, after all, not mainstream Top 40 radio - the station modified its approach so that the sponsors' messages were more in keeping with the ethos of the station.

After its spring 2002 fundraising campaign, the station was generating $1.8 million or 60 per cent of its revenue from 13,000 donations from its listeners. The remaining 40 per cent was derived from commercial sales ($400,000), media partnerships ($100,000) and fee-for-service revenue ($400,000).

There was even income generated from the station's website (www.ckua.com), which thanks to a grant from the Wild Rose Foundation, went online in April 2000. Not only was CKUA heard online in 60 countries, but the online partnerships with businesses such as Britannica.com, RollingStone.com and BBC online earned the station a commission on every sale made through the CKUA webpage link.

On Nov. 21, 2002, CKUA celebrated its 75th anniversary with plans for a full year of events throughout the province. On the day that it broadcast for just a few hours in 1927 - signing on with a hearty, "Good evening, friends of the radio audience!" - in 2002, CKUA moved to a 24-hour format.

At this ripe old age - with an attitude that belies its longevity - CKUA is but five years younger than North America's true granddads of broadcasting. It is truly a landmark that is rare in the industry.

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