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CKUA Radio hopes spring fundraiser will prevent closure

The Edmonton-based donor supported, public radio station hopes to raise $3 million by September to pay loans and build a stable reserve fund
Ben Sures, a folk-roots artist who has performed on several occasions at the Arden Theatre, notes that 75 per cent of the awareness of his music is due CKUA Radio.

Up until this week, there were fears that CKUA Radio might fade out the mics and close studio doors unless it received an injection of funds - $3 million to be exact — by Sept. 30. 

The independent donor-supported public radio station began its annual spring fundraiser on Friday, April 19 and listeners rallied to support it. The goal was $775,000. Listeners rallied and at the writing of this article, $1,074,343 was donated. 

“Thank you so much to all who have donated. It’s hard for us to describe our gratitude and joy at this moment,” stated CEO Marc Carnes on CKUA’s website. The fundraiser continues this week and Carnes has set a new goal of $1.25 million. 

So how did this financial hole develop? In a post-pandemic inflationary era where even advertising-based commercial radio stations are struggling, CKUA was bucking the trend up until 18 months ago. 

As the owner of Alberta Hotel, the station’s broadcast centre, it was receiving income from renting additional square footage it wasn’t using. But 18 months ago, their main tenant became insolvent and rental income disappeared.   

In addition, borrowing rates doubled, utility rates spiked, and maintenance of CKUA’s 16 technically complex repeater stations across the province increased in expense. There was no choice left but to crowd source. 

The 96-year-old station aired in 1927 as Canada’s first public broadcaster and has played a vital role in providing a province-wide platform for artists and storytellers such as Jann Arden and k.d. lang. It has filled a hole in the music, arts and culture sector left empty by commercial stations. 

It has fulfilled its mission by broadcasting releases from folk, roots, blues, Latin, Celtic and world recording artists. It promoted festivals, concert and newly created events. It introduced new recording artists to listeners and assisted artists such as folk-roots singer-songwriter Ben Sures get a foothold in an insanely competitive industry. 

“A good 75 per cent of the awareness of my music is directly related to the airplay on CKUA,” said Sures, who released 10 albums and is also one of the Arden Theatre’s professional programming presenters. 

Sures grew up in Winnipeg and lived in Toronto before settling in Edmonton in 2007. 

“CKUA has been huge for the roots community and for blues. We have a strong roots and blues community here in Alberta and the appetite for them is directly connected to the amount of support it gets on air,” said Sures. 

He also explains that artists develop a personal relationship with hosts that would be impossible with commercial radio hosts. 

“As artists, we rely on the station to help promote events, so if tickets are still to be sold, I can call the station, and they’ll promote the event.” 

Caitlin North, the Arden Theatre’s former professional programming presenter, who now lives on Vancouver Island, added the radio station has a symbiotic relationship with theatres whereby they often support each other. 

On numerous occasions artists touring a newly released album would perform at both the Arden and be interviewed by station hosts. These gestures assisted theatres book sellout concerts and stay in the black.  

“When Skerryvore first came out they weren’t well known. They had gotten some airplay at CKUA. There was already some awareness of them because Andy Donnelly had played their music. They already had an audience and when they played at the Arden, we had a sellout,” said North. 

Folk roots artist Royal Wood, Latin duo OKAN, and alternative country-roots The Bros. Landreth are a tiny fraction of the many artists that have toured the Arden and grew their audience due to CKUA. Even St. Albert’s own Altameda, whose album Born Losers was nominated for a 2022 Juno Award, was heavily promoted at the station. 

North added, “The depth of music and the variety is unmatched by any other station, especially since it only broadcasts provincially. It is so vital and important to our cultural ecosystem in the way they support local and regional music. They’re such a huge part of our community – even artists like Corb Lund were first played there and received strong support.” 

She closes by saying, “If we want to keep the institution alive, we need to support it in whatever and whichever way we can.” 

Donations are accepted online at 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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