CKUA makes a homecoming to the University of Alberta

    CKUA radio turns 90 and celebrates with a live broadcast from the Faculty of Extension.

    By Rita Espeschit on December 1, 2017

    How do you reach the widest audience possible when bringing adult education to remote communities? Cutting-edge technology can be a way to go. In the early 20th century, that meant the radio, an invention saluted by UAlberta’s first president Henry Marshall Tory as the best “means of reaching people the human race [has] yet evolved.”

    With that goal in mind, the Faculty of Extension (then known as Department of Extension) created CKUA radio in 1927. Now an independent organization, CKUA came back home for a day to celebrate its 90th anniversary. On November 21, the radio hosted a broadcast from Enterprise Square that included two full shows, live music, and interviews with the Extension community.

    “This is CKUA radio back to its place of birth,” announced CKUA’s host Baba on his show Mid-Morning Mojo. “It’s like a pilgrimage to the holy land!” For Baba, the station’s origin as a university radio left a mark that’s still very much alive in its mandate. “We consider ourselves as a university of the air,” he said. “There’s always an educational element in what we broadcast. We don’t just fill time or bring fluff in to distract people.”

    Host Grant Stovel also greeted Extension on his Alberta Morning show. “On this date in 1927, the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension brought CKUA to Alberta’s airwaves,” he said. “In those days, the station delivered lectures, plays, and musical performances. It was a technology that changed the way Albertans shared stories and culture. Today the Faculty of Extension continues its role in helping communities in Alberta to share their knowledge and their stories.”

    Both Mid-Morning Mojo and Alberta Morning aired interviews with members of the faculty’s community. Former student Carla Prado, for example, talked about her trajectory from an ESL learner at Extension’s English Language School to her current role as CAIP Chair in Nutrition, Food and Health with the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences.

    Rob McMahon, a professor with the faculty’s Master of Arts in Communications and Technology, shared some news on a project that is taking youth camps on digital literacy to Indigenous communities in Alberta. And acting dean Fay Fletcher was interviewed about the faculty’s evolution from the early days to the present (see transcript of the interview below).

    CKUA’s homecoming activities include an exhibition at Extension Gallery that features photos of key moments in the station’s history. Shows at Extension Gallery are free and open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The gallery is located at Enterprise Square (10230 Jasper Avenue), and the exhibit runs through December 3.


    Extension on the air

    Faculty of Extension’s acting dean Fay Fletcher is interviewed by CKUA’s Grant Stovel (aired on November 21, 2017).


    In 1927, the University of Alberta’s Department of Extension—as it was then known—saw a great opportunity in this brand-new medium called “radio” and created CKUA to bring education to people in rural areas. Since then, of course, both organizations have evolved a lot. What's the emphasis now at the Faculty of Extension?

    The faculty has taken that role and expanded it; it has evolved. As you said, in those times it was about taking the knowledge of the university out to the communities. We still do that, but we're doing it more reciprocally. We're recognizing that the communities we work with have a lot of expertise, that they have the solutions. So what are the skills, what's the knowledge that we can bring to those solutions? We work in partnership, so it's  really a back-and-forth.


    And talking about broadening, give us a sense of how many students there are here in the faculty, how many programs you're running, how many courses, that sort of thing.

    We have a very large continuing education program, as well as the English Language School. We register approximately 7,000 students annually and have 40 programs: Occupational Health and Safety, Business, Management, Residential Interiors, and many others. Our programs are based on what the learning needs of our communities are, on what the professions, the industries, the nations are looking for in terms of education. Most recently, when we talk about being responsive to current events—for example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—we have created some Indigenous engagement programs that are driven by community and Indigenous scholars and leaders.


    Let's talk about the people you serve. How has the Faculty of Extension's relationship with those people changed? 

    The relationship, as you said, in the early years was strictly providing education out to the communities. Now we have a large research aspect to the faculty as well, and that research is based on engagement and excelling in engagement: understanding what it takes to engage, what it takes to be in relationship and be ethical, be respectful. We have a research relationship with the communities as well as an educational relationship.


    So what are they telling you that they want? Like, do you to go to them and say, “Hey what do you need?”

    Sometimes we go to them. Once those relationships are built, they're often coming to us. We're working with End Poverty Edmonton, we’re working with Métis settlements, we’re working with the City around public engagement and public involvement. There's a lot on young children through the community-university partnership for children and families. So it's really something that—as we've occupied this space in downtown, as we built those relationships with communities—they now come to us. It speaks to our reputation for doing the work in good ways.


    So much work, and such great work! What is it that you enjoy the most about your work at the Faculty of Extension?

    The fact that we are so relevant to the needs of our near and far communities. And that our first and foremost priority is for the work that we do to have meaning to the communities we engage with.


    Well, you were certainly on the cutting edge of what proved to be a winner, the medium of radio. And CKUA radio is here thanks to the vision of the people at Extension, a vision that just keeps broadening and deepening. Thank you so much for being here with us, Fay.

    Thank you. And congratulations on the anniversary.


    Keep up the good work, Fay. We'll catch you in 10 years or 100. What do you say?