Jazzed Up For A Good Cause
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Jazzed Up For A Good Cause

Answering the call and keeping Jazz.FM91 on the air.

If Jazz.FM91’s morning host Heather Bambrick has complaints about the early start to her shift—while the rest of us are rolling over and hitting the snooze button, the congenial Bambrick is already behind the mic—she wouldn’t have titled her show, Wakeup! …with Heather Bambrick in the first place.

But the gaggle of volunteers rubbing sleep from their eyes as they schlep into the Liberty Village radio station at this ungodly hour aren’t necessarily as enthusiastic. They show up anyway because they’re just, well, jazzed about keeping the music they love on the radio.

It’s difficult to get your head around the idea of a not-for-profit radio station. Basically, this broadcaster is a charity.

That explains its bank of telephones, its cadre of 200-plus volunteers, and its semi-annual fundraising drives, one of which is happening right now.

CJRT (the station’s official call sign) began transmitting in 1949. Originally, it was part of the Ryerson Institute of Technology’s communications curricula. The on-campus studio was established for teaching purposes. Back then, most students were returning World War Two veterans pursuing careers in journalism, radio, and television.

In cause you’re wondering, the JRT portion of the call sign stands for journalism, radio, and television.

Who knew!

Even though its broadcast signal wasn’t as strong as it is today, listenership was high. In 1974, when Ryerson surrendered its broadcast license as a cost-saving measure, public outcry was deafening. In response, the provincial government agreed to fund 60% of the station’s operating costs.

Ponying up the rest was the station’s problem. To aid in the seemingly herculean task, non-profit status was bestowed upon CJRT FM Inc.

Listeners and corporations were tapped for donations.

Again in 1996, transmission was threatened when the Mike Harris government terminated funding completely. Cuts this deep meant listeners and corporate donors would have to foot the entire bill, or else.

Needless to say, the odds of survival didn’t seem good.

In response, budgets were slashed, shows terminated, and in 2001, the station’s format changed entirely. In its new incarnation, 91.1 became Canada’s only dedicated jazz station on the dial.

A huge gamble, for sure.

In the end, the audience put their money where their mouth is. The station not only survived, it thrived, gaining a niche following.

For an organization dependent on the largesse of others, the joint is pretty cheery.

The station is in the midst of its two-week spring telethon. The objective is to raise $570,000. Michael Booth, fundraising manager at Jazz.FM is confident this amount will be realized.

His faith in listeners is admirable.

Booth won’t be disappointed this morning. Even before seven, listeners make calls to the donation line. Volunteer Lauren McCabe completes a pledge form. Other volunteers playfully chide her for her Pavlovian response whenever a phone rings.

As she is defending herself, a phone rings. Snapping the receiver up, she recites a well-versed spiel, “Thank you for calling the Jazz.FM donation line…”

Spirits are high among the volunteers. Between calls they discuss family matters and their various plans for the weekend. Most began volunteering out of love for the station. Most are jazz fans.

Radio host Jaymz Bee joins Bambrick on-air. Bee’s personality is sort of like a combination of Jerry Lewis in his comedic prime, with a dash of Bobby Darin hipness, and a generous helping of Paul Shaffer’s musical knowledge. Place all three in blender, mix at a gazillion rpms and voila, Jaymz Bee.

This man’s energy is contagious.

Bambrick and Bee banter back and forth on-air, encouraging listeners to donate. Each time a new donor comes on board, Bambrick rings a bell.

Donors are rewarded with prizes and incentives. Midmorning, a cheer goes up when a caller makes a pledge large enough to earn a trip to a jazz festival in Monterey, California.

Not every caller makes a donation. One person just phones to say, “Jazz.FM, you guys rock!”

Right attitude; wrong musical genre.

Another person who calls frequently is an elderly woman residing in a Northern Ontario nursing home. The volunteers know her by name. Connecting through the toll-free number, she talks a few moments about whatever’s on her mind.

Volunteers make time for her.

Today, songstress Sophia Perlman takes to the airwaves to help in the campaign. At one point, when calls begin pouring in, she waits until the on-air light darkens, and without prompting, begins manning the phones.

This kind of dedication by jazz people and station sponsors alike is common around here. Perlman notes that Jazz.FM has been important in promoting not only her career, but those of other musicians as well.

She explains, “Jazz.FM has done a lot for me. This is one way I can give back to the station that does so much for…”

Before she completes the thought, a line rings. Answering it, she pleasantly discusses donation options with the caller.

With dedication like this, how could the station fail?

Jazz.FM’s donation drive continues until May 13. Donations are always accepted online.