An informal interview with John K. Muir, General Manager of Trent Radio and Jill StavelEy, production manager and Rock and Roll Fairy
Syed: How did Trent Radio come about?
Muir: It was , and I think Stephen (Stohn) may have told you, it started as a Trent University radio service community programming for the local commercial radio stations.
The CRTC came in 1968. It required both local input and feature programming on FM radio. There was an FM station here and Trent students made radio programs that were broadcast on the local FM station to fulfill their obligation for the CRTC to have their FM license. Trent Radio would need four or five hours of radio programs in the Bata Library in the Audio- Visual studio and play on the local FM stations.
Syed: So… it wasn’t always here?
Muir: It wasn’t anywhere. There might have been an office on campus at the library but there was a movement across other
campuses and across Canada interested in Trent specifically to start their own radio. We went to the students for a referendum for it to start in 1977. And the students unfortunately said yes.
I’m going to give you more of a symbolic than a chronological story. Realizing that Trent is a small university in a small town, that really the excitement, the part that makes both Peterborough and Trent better, is some kind of engagement between the Trent Community and the Peterborough Community. So we saw ourselves as one part of that.
You can quote me as saying that we rode on the coattails of what Tom Symons had created at Trent University, which was something absolutely stunningly stupendous and probably not replicable. Though it was not to be
replicated, at least we could surf on that.
StavelEy: That’s a long quote.
Muir: Well, he just did something totally amazing and totally inspiring and we wanted to be part of that.
We wanted to be part of what those men and women were inspired by Tom Symons in doing amazing things and Peterborough.
So I would say that if I have a point to make in all of this, something I’ve never said before is the success of Trent Radio or Sadleir House is to Tom and the people who wanted Tom to come to Peterborough to start a University.
Syed: Yeah, he’s so cool, I can’t even imagine how awesome it must have been to be around in that time at Trent.
Muir: Yeah! He’s very cool, he’s very consistent. He’ll give you criticism and you won’t even know he’s giving you criticism. You’ll say something and he’ll look at you and he’ll go like, “there are many that agree with you.”
Syed: When first and second years. We often ask, do you know about Trent Radio do you know about Sadleir House? Often enough, they don’t. They have no idea what anything downtown is anymore.
StavlEy: And they haven’t, for a very long time. When in 2003 I started at Trent-
Muir: They don’t know what anything is, that there’s a Fencing Club or a Philosophy Society. They don’t know this community.
StavelEy: Because you constantly have to re- promote every single bit.
Muir: Well that’s true too, but also Trent is so diffused it’s not good at promoting it’s own culture. I would say that there are people in the registrar’s office that are trying to promote Trent culture to people that haven’t even come to Trent yet… but it’s not entirely engaged.
StavelEy: There doesn’t seem to be the same type of meeting space or community because everything’s online, in your bedroom with your laptop or whatever and people don’t come downtown in the same way. What access do they have to this culture?
Muir: Well there used to be The Hangman, the Senior Common Room or even Champlain College in the Great Hall.
Syed: I find it interesting that you bring up spaces for conversation. Are you guys from an era of Trent where conversations actually did happen?
StavelEy: Sure! I’m the second last generation to graduate from PR (Peter Robinson College).
So the Trent that I knew was very PR- based and very much around here. I spent very little time on campus actually when I was going to school, most of my classes were down here. It feels like an entirely different vibe now, more cliquey almost.
Syed: Do you think the colleges being re- structured has anything to do with that?
Muir: They’re not colleges. They’re camps. Colleges used to be run by academics who chose who the president was, they had a great deal of power. They were actually academic institutions, not a bunch of tents with camp counselors telling you how to brush your teeth.
Syed: How do you feel about what has gone on with the Colleges, the replacement of part time faculty with full- time administration?
Muir: In my opinion, they are full time social workers, not academics.
StavelEy: To speak of Christine Diaz, however, she was an administrator who was inspiring because she was part of the college system, she was the college secretary.
Muir: There was a whole secretary infrastructure.
StavelEy: I ran into her at the folk festival last week and she still knows who I am.
Muir: You are trying to create a community of scholars, whatever that is, but if you’re 19 years old you can fuck whoever you want.
You can do whatever you want, you don’t need someone to hold your hand and say, “now dear, you have to be very careful.” It’s infantilizing, you’re adults! You’re going to take on difficult subjects of rementions.
StavelEy: And you’re not going to learn how to trust yourself.
Syed: When I came to Trent in 2009 the downtown seemed very disconnected from campus life.
StavelEy: There’s nothing to draw you in. I used to work at The Hangman my first year here. That was this really important thing because the growth that you go through at University is only partially about what you learn in class. It’s about everything else you do and being able to meet with people and being able to explore and trust yourself.
One of the important things that I feel we encourage here at Trent Radio is to fail early, and to fail often. We want people to own their mistakes and to do it here and to feel like you can do it here, because unless it’s something malicious, we want people to push their boundaries.
Muir: Bonnie Patterson said, we try to provide student success. I want people to throw themselves against the wall and
realize they fucked up, completely.
Syed: So is there a lack of engagement due to the way things are structured? Or have we just changed the way we educate ourselves?
Muir: Well that’s just it, to me if you have Colleges that are run by academics who are interested in their own research and in the scholarship, then you have much more a chance of becoming committed. I’m not putting anyone down but you’ve got a lot of kids coming in scared whose parents say you have to have a degree to succeed in the world.
StavelEy: Well that’s what the world is telling them.
Muir: You get drunk, you get laid, you get a degree and that’s it- see ya.
StavelEy: It’s because people don’t know what else to do right, it’s like the Canada Food Guide, they tell us that we need to eat this much meat and this much grain but it’s actually put together by all the different farmers that are trying to sell their stuff so it’s the Universities that are telling you, you need University. They need to sell tuition.
Syed: How else do you feel that Trent has changed since you attended school here?
StavelEy: Well Trent also made the mistake of trying to have too many courses. There are too many programs.
Muir: Oh yes, CSI is exciting, why don’t we do forensic science. That’s sexy!
StavelEy: You know, because they can’t put in enough energy and funding into any single one of them.
Whereas before when I went to Trent it was renowned for Cultural Studies which was really cool, which is what I did, and Comparative Development Studies.
Syed: Well funding is spread out to support all these programs, but the funding formula heavily relies on enrollment.
Muir: When you’re poor, and you don’t have a lot of money you sort of get around not having money. And Trent’s never had a lot of money.
When I was talking about the coat tails, what Symons did and what those guys and gals did was light a fire under people to become committed to learning about themselves and more about the world.
Our job here at Trent Radio is to set students and community members on fire for getting out there and finding out what it is rather than just being passive about it, rather than just waiting for other people to tell them what the truth is.
I’ve been with Trent Radio for forty years, and was lucky enough to be around in 1975. I didn’t know Tom Symons for many years, he was just this character.
I went to see him to talk about Trent Radio, and he told me what to do. He said, “stop talking and write it down.” Very practical right? All your ideas, write them down. That way you can send them to
people. It’s a lot more efficient that way.
So there’s that and how really what Trend Radio is here for is for people to exploit it, and to exploit their opportunities here. Both in the community and to do stuff and participate and engage in the world because then, you know, you die.
Are you going to be a banker? Are you going to be a mother, a father, a daughter? Are you going to go into the army and kill a bunch of people? And then you die, so what are you going to do? How do you want to engage? You’re a cultural force.
StavelEy: There’s also this joy, and one of the reasons why Peterborough itself is this amazing arts hub, is that nobody can make enough money to do anything. So no one can really become holier than the rest of everybody else.
Muir: You don’t actually have famous guitarists of Peterborough driving a Rolls Royce, you just don’t have that.
StavelEy: No, but you have them gigging four nights a week. People who are working radio, who are working their shitty telemarketing job, they’re taking all of their passion and it’s coming out in an outlet. In their art and in Trent Radio.
Trent Radio doesn’t make radio, we do a little bit now with some grants but it’s all local art. We don’t make radio, we simply provide the space for other people to make radio. It’s not our voice, it’s the voice of our community. And if no one wants to say anything, then we are silent.
So people come in and realize if they aren’t here it’s not going to happen.
People say, how come you don’t have this show? And we respond with, “well why don’t you do it?” And they say, “I can?” And then people come in with their passions.
Muir: Or they develop passions.
StavelEy: Sure. And caffeine addictions.
Syed: Well I hope you guys don’t mind being quoted on all this stuff.
Muir: Well, we’ll deny it all. And you can quote me on that.