Heading to the cottage this summer? Make sure you tune into small-town radio.

[This was my column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]

After months of lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and working from home, it’s time for a much-needed change of scenery. So begins the annual migration to the campgrounds, lodges, and cottages of the Canadian wilderness.

Most such places aren’t as isolated as they once were as WiFi, satellite TV, and cellular service are widely available. But there are places off the grid enough so that the only connection to the outside world are the radio stations that serve the towns and villages of cottage country. These outlets, often independently owned and operated, offer a special type of broadcasting: small market radio with all its quirks and eccentricities.

I speak from experience, too, because my first full-time radio gig was at one such station: the now-defunct 1220 CJRL in Kenora, Ont.

For nine months of the year, CJRL was a 1,000-watt full-service AM station serving the 10,000 or so souls of Kenora and anyone within about a 50-kilometre radius. Not that there was much outside of town: some Indigenous communities, maybe a few prospectors, fishermen who overwintered on one of the dozens of islands on Lake of the Woods (like my Aunt Jenny), some bears, and a couple of Unibomber-type hermits.

But from June to Labour Day, the population of the immediate area swelled to more than twice its usual size with cottagers from Winnipeg, plus loads of American campers and fishermen. And in those days, unless you stayed in a hotel or lodge, TV reception was terribly spotty — few visitors had access to cable, so it was all rabbit ear reception — and you were lucky to even have a landline telephone in your cottage. A radio was not only essential for keeping up with the rest of the world. It was a piece of survival gear.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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