When you are dealing with more than a million and a half songs – stored on everything from acetate disks to reel-to-reel tapes to MP3s – and a shoestring budget, it requires a bit of creativity.
CKUA lived in the Alberta Block building for 57 years. During that time, music flowed out over the airwaves every day. It also flowed in the door, in physical form. Bands sent their albums, hoping for air time. Thoughtful listeners donated their record collections. The music library grew and grew.
CKUA staff thus had to muster their ingenuity to wrangle homes for each piece of the ever-expanding collection. Records lined the walls of meeting rooms. Shelves of all shapes and sizes – including some cinderblock and plywood versions – were put against every possible wall. One bathroom was even commandeered for music storage, its pink tile peeking out amid the thousands of CDs. Staffers and announcers got their exercise going up and down stairs and across hallways each day, seeking out songs.
Often called the heart of the CKUA Radio Network, the music library holds 140 years of sound recordings. It is now housed in one massive, tidy room in CKUA’s headquarters in the Alberta Hotel (and the shelves all match). From 1955 to 2012, however, it resided in Alberta Block in glorious, over-crowded fashion.
The library’s main mission is to serve as a vast, specialized storehouse of recorded sound for CKUA announcers. CKUA prides itself on thought-provoking, surprising shows with the power to delight and inspire. It can’t be done with a paltry collection of pop music. Instead, announcers can draw from a deep well including everything from incredibly obscure works (Folk Music of Kashmir, anyone?) to as-of-yet unreleased albums from the biggest acts of the minute.
The library also serves as an important historical vault of recorded sound. The collection contains many recordings that are no longer commercially available and indeed, some that likely don’t exist anywhere else. It holds little side notes of history, too, like the Beatles albums that have certain songs scratched out (too risqué to be played on air,) or records stipulating they were not to be played on the radio (from old regulations protecting the pre-record musicians who made their living playing live on air.)
CKUA moved down the street to the historical Alberta Hotel in 2012. It took six months to pack and relocate the library. It continues to grow. With every year, the heart of CKUA expands a little bit more. Hopefully the shelves will be able to keep up.