On air

Overhead close-up of a radio station dashboard.

Photograph by Johnny C. Y. Lam

For 100 years, thousands of students and Kingstonians have had their voices broadcast from the airwaves of CFRC for the first time. Some of them went on to big careers in broadcasting, including CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers and sportscaster Chris Cuthbert. Most of them didn’t. But as Rogers said recently at the National Campus and Community Radio Awards Gala in Kingston, that’s what’s so special about campus and community radio stations like CFRC: “All voices can be heard, all voices are welcome, all voices are in the spotlight.”

Here, we take a look back at some of those voices and some of the major developments over the past century at CFRC, which now has one of the longest radio histories in the world.


In the late summer or early fall, the first program airs on 9BT. It’s an experimental broadcast of electrical engineering student George Parsons, BSc’23, playing The Bluebells of Scotland on his cornet. On Oct. 7, 9BT makes its first official broadcast: a post-game summary of an exhibition football game between Queen’s and the Hamilton Rowing Club.


With its new call letters, CFRC broadcasts for the first time on Oct. 27. Classics Professor Richard Jolliffe does the play-by-play of a Queen’s–McGill football game from Richardson Stadium. Queen’s wins 19–3.


The transmitter logs talk about the power in the antenna for each broadcast and list the places where each broadcast was received.


In the early hours of June 6, a fire destroys the interior of Fleming Hall, including CFRC, located on the first floor. By 1934, the station is back on the air, broadcasting from a rebuilt Fleming Hall.


Queen’s enters into a business partnership with The Kingston Whig-Standard for CFRC to become a commercial station and the CBC affiliate. This increases programming and makes CFRC Kingston’s only voice connection with the rest of Canada, until the partnership ends in 1942.


CFRC is revived through the Summer Radio Institute, a joint venture with the CBC for training returned soldiers and others as broadcasters. That fall, the Queen’s Drama Guild Radio Workshop begins weekly broadcasts. Soon, electrical engineers put the station on the air for two to three nights a week.


“I think the highlight of one of our dramatic efforts among the engineers was the night we burned Grant Hall down… We were pretty proud of that. We got all kinds of phone calls from people in the city about that and all kinds of people drove down to Grant Hall to see [it] burn.”

- Queen’s alumnus and professor Sid Penstone, MEng’57, remembers a CFRC hoax inspired by War of the Worlds, in the early 1950s.


"Out here on the Ponderosa range, we’re a little out of range of CFRC, but in a half-century of service a radio station’s reputation sure gets around. Happy anniversary, CFRC.”

- Bonanza actor Lorne Greene, Arts’37, who had been part of the Drama Guild’s broadcasts, records a series of messages congratulating CFRC on its 50th anniversary.

CFRC relocates to the basement of Carruthers Hall. Expanding from 800 to 2,000 square feet, the station now has a master control, two studios, a technician’s room, and two libraries of more than 5,000 discs.


Growth continues as students approve an increase to the sports broadcasting levy and Kathleen Ryan donates $35,000 to start the “Go Stereo” fund. A year later, CFRC is broadcasting 70 hours per week.


Facing rising inflation, the project costs for bringing stereo broadcasting to CFRC balloon to almost $100,000 from $65,000. In response, a student referendum is held for a five-year “Go Stereo” student fee with 86 per cent of students voting in favour.


A new logo adopted in 1985 featured a slogan recognizing CFRC's history: “First in Kingston.”


With enough funds to go stereo, Queen’s reaches an agreement to co-locate CFRC’s transmitter on Cantel’s (now Rogers’) tower near highways 15 and 401. Months later, CFRC is assigned 101.9 MHz to avoid interference with other stations using 91.9 MHz that the station had been using.

On Feb. 3, CFRC shuts down 1490 AM and 91.9 FM to begin broadcasting exclusively on 101.9 FM in stereo. The stronger signal allows the station to broadcast seven days a week.


CFRC was once the only campus radio station in Canada owned and operated by a university rather than by its students. That changes in 2003, when ownership and management transfers to the Alma Mater Society (AMS).


CFRC launches its online streaming platform at cfrc.ca, and enters a new era of broadcasting history.


CFRC begins using their current logo designed by Kingston-based graphic artist Ben Nelson.

Ben Nelson's CFRC 90th anniversary logo mimics the tones and proportions of CFRC's vintage 1960s logo.


“I felt very lost at Queen’s. I couldn’t really develop friendships with people and I was really shy. And when I came to Carruthers Hall, I found my people. Almost everyone had a pocket protector, and they were my people. I just felt so at home and very grateful.”

- CFRC alumna and CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, Artsci’77, speaking at the 2022 National Campus and Community Radio Awards Gala in Kingston.

As the station celebrates 90 years of broadcasting at Queen’s, it begins the process of splitting from the AMS. By 2014, it will be an independent non-profit corporation under Radio Queen’s University.


Having ventured into podcasting a few years earlier, CFRC now has a podcast network distributed on Apple, Google Play, and Spotify. 


On June 3, CFRC hosts the National Campus and Community Radio Awards Gala at Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. 

CFRC and me

by Daniel Woolf

In the late winter of 2012, encouraged by my wife, Julie, I acted on a long-standing inclination (having regretfully never squeezed CFRC into my undergraduate activities in the ’70s) and inquired whether CFRC might have room on the schedule for a half-hour program hosted by the principal. To my delight, they did, and Dark Glasses went on the air for the first time in April or May 2012. The show started as rather a mixed bag of jazz, retro pop, and international and indie artists. I deliberately didn’t use my airtime to speak about university matters – there were other fora for that, including interviews by invitation on other people’s shows. Mainly, the program provided a channel for me to share my love of music with a wider audience, and it allowed anyone so inclined to “hear” from their principal on a weekly basis, and on a subject other than administration.

“Eventually, I requested and got a full hour slot, allowing me to push the show more firmly into a jazz emphasis and to play much longer tracks…”

Daniel Woolf

A series of students produced my shows at first as I am not especially tech-oriented. Eventually, I requested and got a full hour slot, allowing me to push the show more firmly into a jazz emphasis and to play much longer tracks (some of them 20 to 30 minutes) than had been possible in the half-hour format. As of now, it’s about 90 per cent jazz and 10 per cent “other.” Thanks to Executive Director Dinah Jansen’s patient instruction, I even learned how to do my own recordings, and I set up a small studio in my home office in Yarker. This proved fortuitous as – apart from my now living outside Kingston – COVID was lurking around the corner and with it the limited ability to come to campus for two years. So, aside from the live show I do once a year during pledge season, I mainly pre-record my shows at home a day or two before they air.

Something that has always struck me about CFRC, and of which as a faculty representative on its board for the past year or so I’ve become even more aware, is the degree to which it is both a campus and a community radio station. The station resides on Queen’s property, but its listenership includes people all over the Kingston-Frontenac broadcasting area. Apart from the news coverage and spoken-word programming found on the station and nowhere on commercial radio, CFRC has an impressive selection of specialty music programs you won’t hear elsewhere. RQU, our official name, is a voice for students and, unofficially, for the university. And many of our alumni go on to impressive broadcasting careers (think Lorne Greene and Shelagh Rogers). I’ve been really pleased to be part of the station’s programming and its community mandate for the past 10 of its 100 years on the air.


The future of CFRC

by Dinah Jansen, Executive Director, Radio Queen's University

CFRC 101.9 FM has reached an historic milestone upon the occasion of our centennial in 2022 and we are thrilled to have so many more exciting milestones to realize moving forward into our second century of broadcasting.

Thanks to the generous support of Queen’s students and alumni worldwide, we are renovating our studios and upgrading our equipment to keep up with new digital realities and expand our reach through globally accessible platforms.  

Here at home, we’re growing our local news desk and programming covering issues of campus and community import, providing opportunities for underrepresented voices to meaningfully participate in the conversations and giving chances to students and faculty to promote ground-breaking research and initiatives. Competing for audiences amidst digital realities, CFRC continues to adapt and thrive, driven as it is by diverse student and community members creating eclectic music and thought-provoking spoken-word programming that enriches, challenges, and inspires our still-growing listenership.

Proudly maintaining our tradition of bridging connections between Queen’s and the community and alumni to their Alma Mater, CFRC is running strong and here to stay for the long haul.

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