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CHUO program’s fresh formula gets a hat-tip from the CBC

Photo by Remi Yuan

Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but for Travis Boisvenue, one of the hosts of CHUO’s program City Slang, it’s about focusing on what others don’t do. The show features a unique look at smaller music scenes and interviews bands in an unconventional way that has gained attention across the country in recent weeks.

Last week, the CBC featured the popular CHUO punk rock variety program in a list of best campus radio shows in Canada. Only 75 episodes in, Boisvenue and co-host Emmanuel Sayer, also CHUO’s program director, can proudly say their show is broadcast in three other cities across Canada: Victoria, B.C., Sackville, N.B., and Waterloo, Ont.

The Fulcrum spoke with CBC/Radio-Canada’s associate producer Judith Lynch to see why the program was chosen. Lynch put the question to her friends and colleagues: “What’s your favourite campus radio station?”

“City Slang came up more than once. I gave it a listen and liked what I heard. For me, a quality radio show has me invested in the programming or subject matter whether I have any interest in it or not. City Slang made me care,” she says.

“There’s very little that’s truly unique about radio, it’s more about how well you do it,” Lynch adds. “City Slang does what they do very well. It’s not just an open mike, a host and some tunes. They craft radio. And it shows.”

Sayer and Boisvenue do the show live, but also record it as a podcast. Sayer says their honourable mention from the National Campus and Community Radio Association may be why the CBC took notice.

The show features an in-depth interview every week. What sets their program apart is how different their style of interviewing is that of other programs.

“The goal of the interview is really to bring out the personality of the bands,” says Sayer. “We don’t usually ask the typical questions. We want to get their personalities across.”

“People just ask really boring questions,” Boisvenue says of other shows. “The last band we interviewed, we bonded over it.”

They make sure to avoid standard questions about when the artist’s new album drops, or what their favourite songs are. “Every band will have the same answer,” says Boisvenue.

“We’d rather just have a fun conversation with people. Usually, good bands are fun people. So, yeah, we shoot the shit or ask them funny questions, or dumb questions. If you ask a dumb question, you will always get a good answer. But if you ask a bad question, you’ll get a bad answer.”

Most interview subjects are happy with it and find it refreshing, he says. “They just lay back and have fun with it.”

But it doesn’t always work out. One well-known artist, who they wouldn’t name, was one of the few who fell short with City Slang’s style of conversation. “Any time I tried to ask him a weird question, it would fall so flat. He would barely answer, and move on to the next one,” recalls Boisvenue. “I was throwing him a bone to do a fun interview.”

City Slang features mostly Canadian music, especially local Ottawa bands, not just to showcase neighbourhood talent, but because it’s what the hosts truly enjoy.

“There’s a heavy focus on Ottawa, but it’s because it’s genuinely the stuff we love,” says Boisvenue.

Sayer is also one of the organizers of Ottawa Explosion, an annual celebration of Ottawa’s unique garage and punk rock scene. “It’s really connected,” he says of the local scene.

Boisvenue believes City Slang gained so much momentum because the garage rock scene is such a tight-knit community. “After a while, you start to get to know everyone,” he says. They interview and promote lesser-known artists from all over the world, and those artists promote the show as well. “You interview a smaller artist, not a super famous dude, and he’s like, ‘Hey, check it out Arizona, I got interviewed on a Canadian radio show, it must be a cool show,’” he says.

“If you interview those people, you get in the ground floor of those communities. We’re interested in what your small city or scene is doing. And people really respond to that.”

If you do that, Boisvenue says, “Over time it’s a lot more people who are fans of your show, rather than a particular episode.”

He also says community radio isn’t very used to change, so a show that’s new and fresh will get noticed a lot more easily than you might expect.

“People get used to how things are. You have people who do shows for decades—it’s an open format,” he says. “But the consequence of that is, if you don’t try to keep your station fresh, it kind of stagnates.”

He notes how Sayer and Flynn are always trying to bring new blood into the station and start up better shows. “It made such a huge difference,” says Boisvenue. “Having that attitude puts it ahead of other community radio stations.”

City Slang is broadcast every Monday at 9 p.m. on CHUO 89.1 FM.


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