CKUA begins big move with $5 million Alberta Culture boost

John Worthington, left, moves CKUA’s first record to the new place as Tommy ‘the Senator’ Banks looks on

Not since Fort Edmonton picked up stakes has there been such a fuss over a simple change of address.

CKUA’s big move has begun!

Celebrating the station being transplanted six blocks East from the decrepit Alberta Block to the smashing new refurbished Alberta Hotel, a 1963 Lincoln convertible packed with dignitaries arrived with great fanfare at the new location on Saturday morning. Among them was former station manager and slow-talking old … disc … jockey John Worthington, who made the symbolic delivery of the first record – a 1927 jazz compilation – as assembled media and a who’s who of local arts people were told to greet the car as if they were seeing the Beatles. They did. All this for one record! At this rate the move will take decades in what could probably be handled on a long weekend with several hundred milk-crates and 50 friends with vans – with 50 cases of beer to follow – but it’s the symbolism that counts.

To those who might say “yeesh,” this is actually quite a big deal. CKUA has been in the 108-year-old Alberta Block since 1955 (after launching in 1927 from a Quonset hut at the U of A). They have a LOT of records to move, a lot of history, and the new place is a dream home. The rebuilt Alberta Hotel stands, brick by original brick, about 100 yards away from where it was before it was torn down to make way for Canada Place (long, dumb story). The outside of the building may also date from the early 1900s, but the interior is going to be modern, the broadcasting facilities state of the art. The new Alberta Hotel will also have a live performance space and a bar, which will be a reproduction of the original Alberta Hotel Bar. The grand opening is planned for the end of November.

This wasn’t all just publicity stunt. Saturday was also the official announcement of a $5 million Alberta Culture “facilities” grant, to help pay for the estimated cost of the $17 million building and interior renovations, with an additional $5 million coming from the City of Edmonton. It costs about $5 million a year to run the station.

Dignitaries pose with a big cheque

In the plethora of speeches that followed the photo ops – from the mayor, the culture minister and others – CKUA CEO Ken Regan joked about the choice of the first album to be moved, “I was just so grateful it wasn’t Minnie the Moocher.”

Hit a nerve there. In what was called a “leap of faith,” the station had bought the building from architect Gene Dub before they had any clue how they were going to afford it.

“We had to believe that we could do it,” says Regan, “otherwise our board wouldn’t have allowed us to buy it. When we signed to buy the building, we really didn’t have a whole lot of money. But we had to do the deal because Gene was putting up a hotel and he needed an answer, like yesterday, so we had to make the decision before we even began the process to raise the money. But we felt very strongly given CKUA’s place in the province and our own belief in the value of the institution – and we had to do something. We had to get out of the building we were in.”

Broadcasting from the new location will begin on Monday, Oct. 15 at 6 a.m. They’ll probably have all the records moved in by then. No word on the 50 cases of beer.