If you tune your radio to 92.5fm in Whitehorse, there’s no telling what you may hear — an old radio drama, a 20-minute Frank Zappa track, or maybe even a live wedding proposal. CJUC, affectionately known to some as Random Radio or the Juice, has no strict format. The community station is run by volunteers who curate music and host live shows.
The Juice first hit the airwaves 20 years ago, in early 2003. The station was started by Yukoner Rob Hopkins. Hopkins had previously started a radio station in Tagish and had been involved in the communications and media industry.
Hopkins got the idea to start a station in Whitehorse after he heard some people in the city express interest in community radio. When he helped broadcast the Frostbite music festival, he realized a Whitehorse community radio station would be feasible.
“I just said, ‘OK, I’m going to go ahead and do it,’” Hopkins told the News.
“I saw a need for it.”
According to Hopkins, as per the license, the station had to be part of a non-profit. So, when he put together the application to the CRTC, he filed it under the Utilities Consumers’ Group. The group, which lobbies for things like fair internet prices and power rates, included Hopkins, Roger Rondeau, and Florence Roberts at the time.
“We would then present the case to the CRTC and say ‘the reason for our existence is to broadcast communications hearings and electric rate hearings,’” said Hopkins.
“Pirate radio Yukon”
CJUC’s original transmitter was located at Polarcom, a now defunct internet service provider that Hopkins was working for in downtown Whitehorse. The signal only covered a radius of about one city block. Nearby Polarcom was the Sears warehouse, where in 2004, Bill Polonsky was working. He had just moved from British Columbia, where he was involved with the University of Victoria’s campus station, CFUV for 13 years.
“I had my headphones on…trying to tune into the radio of Whitehorse and I found this little station. I didn’t know what it was. It had no advertising. It was playing all this music I was interested in,” said Polonsky.
“I looked up ‘pirate radio Yukon’ on Google and Rob Hopkins’ name came up. We’ve been friends ever since,” Polonsky added.
For the past 19 years, Polonsky has been the station manager. He oversees CJUC, making sure bills are paid and keeping the Juice on the air.
Since those early days, the station has upgraded their transmitter. CJUC can now be heard all over Whitehorse. The station has also since moved to the historic Chambers House in Shipyards Park.
Earlier this month in the little log cabin, the station held their “Third Annual Solstice Fundraiser,” raising about $3,500. CJUC mostly relies on donations to pay for things like new equipment, rent and utilities for the space.
Sad Girl Power Hour and Shine Your Light
The Juice features a number of weekly live shows hosted by Yukoners. Shows like Instant Fire Escape hosted by Peter Jickling and Fiona Solon, the Intersection of my Queer and Coloured Heart hosted by Jeszika Mae, and Lockdown Rockdown with Rick Sward and Roxx Hunter.
Meredith Pritchard hosts Sad Girl Power Hour alongside co-host Jordan Kaltenbruner. Aside from a Grade 8 radio class, this is Pritchard’s first broadcast experience. The show features femme, women, transfemme, gender non-conforming and non-binary artists and poets. Artists who Pritchard feels aren’t usually highlighted on commercial radio.
“For me being a queer person, it’s really important to find musicians who have maybe had a similar life experience or who I can look up to or relate to in an artistic way,” said Pritchard.
Pritchard loves community radio because they like to hear what others in Whitehorse have to say. They also enjoy recognizing friends on the air.
“I think it’s such a pillar of the community and it’s really important to support it,” said Pritchard.
Matthew Toothill, also known as Toots, hosts Shine Your Light, a showcase of local talent, as well as A History Show: Nothing But Beasts and Bollocks. Toothill decided to get involved after he played at the 2020 Arts in the Park festival, which was broadcast on CJUC because of the pandemic.
“I really enjoyed that experience of being on the musician’s side and playing a song and then talking about it,” said Toothill.
“I thought ‘why doesn’t this exist all the time?’ It only existed because of COVID,” Toothill continued.
As for what may be in store for the next 20 years, CJUC has obtained a larger transmitter and new antenna that would allow the station to be heard as far away as Carcross.
CJUC was previously denied a license for the larger transmitter because they needed to be able to produce more hours of spoken word and talk content. Polonsky is confident the station can now make that happen and they will re-apply for the license, though it can be a multi-year process.
Dylan MacNeil is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.