When Dieter Gade worked for a big TV station in Germany, he had no inkling he would one day manage a radio station in a semi-remote corner of Canada’s Yukon.
Gade and his wife, Silke, were both engineers in their home country — she a computer engineer, he an electrical engineer who designed sound stages and post-production facilities for television.
After several visits to Canada, the couple immigrated to Alberta in 1990, knowing that “eventually we would end up in the North,” Gade says. “In 2003, we decided to quit our jobs and move up to Haines Junction and live a different life.”
A community that was “more laid-back, away from the hassles of the big city” offered a chance to indulge their shared passion for both the outdoors and the arts.
While his wife took up painting, Gade started doing woodwork before realizing it was not his forte. Instead, he emerged from being an “in-closet” blues guitarist, switched from acoustic to electric, and played for a couple of years with rocker Brenda Berezan. Getting involved with Junction Arts and Music (JAM) helped Gade discover “a deep passion in promoting the arts, particularly performing arts.”
As a JAM board member and technical director, he worked with long-time Haines Junction music maven, the late Richard Godson, to shepherd a three-year, $320,000 redesign of the sound system and acoustics at the St. Elias Convention Centre.
Building the convention centre took a “bold decision” by the village council of the day, Gade believes, “but I think it was the right decision. Many good things have evolved from that for Haines Junction.”
Alas, funds were lacking to “do the right thing” acoustically for the centre’s Grand Hall, and the limitations of the sound system became apparent when the centre started attracting large-scale events such as the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival. “For each performance, we had to borrow or rent equipment in order to put on a medium or larger-sized performance,” Gade says. “It also took a lot of volunteer time to transport all the equipment from the school to the convention centre and back, and to get special equipment from Whitehorse.”
The goal was a system that would be “permanently installed, flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of variations in the hall, and also portable enough to facilitate outdoor concerts.” With his non-technical hat on, Gade was also discussing with his fellow board how they could help put Haines Junction on the map, in Yukon and elsewhere. “The bluegrass society did a tremendous job getting those top U.S. bluegrass bands here to play,” he says. “The feedback we got from those musicians — they were just in awe of the place. And we thought, ‘OK, we have a facility where we can really host high quality events.’”
Which set the former sound engineer to thinking: why not record the concerts? Thus was born “JAM Live”. The board agreed to buy some recording equipment, and JAM recorded its first event in November 2012.
After a few more twists and turns, Gade’s road eventually led to radio station CJHJ 99.9 FM — affectionately known as “The Griz”. “I received an email from Rob Hopkins asking if anyone was interested in being involved with a local radio that he was setting up in Haines Junction,” Gade reports.
Hopkins is a community radio trailblazer who worked for years to set up radio station CFET-FM in the tiny hamlet of Tagish. Equipped with a commercial broadcasting licence, he was looking to expand to a Yukon community large enough to provide consistent content and a bigger audience.
Gade quickly jumped on board, becoming volunteer manager of the new station, which he operates from a small upstairs room at home, with a transmitter on Paint Mountain and a computer interface in a small building Hopkins owns nearby. CJHJ’s programming includes hefty doses of local content, including the weekly JAM Live! (http://junctionjam.ca/events/ jam-live/) and a show about the roots of blues, called Blues at the Junction.
Gade has just finished packaging Episode 34 of JAM Live!, which will also be heard in Newfoundland, Winnipeg, Victoria, and elsewhere, thanks to an af- fi liation with the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA). “Literally, the show is broadcast from coast to coast,” Gade chuckles. “We’re still working on the coast-to-coast-to-coast, but we’re very happy that the show is liked and that community and campus stations are picking it up.”
Haines Junction, it seems, is on the map.