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CKUA’s Interns Adapt to Strange Times

Producing audio pieces from home is a unique challenge, says Scott Zielsdorf, especially when his pets decide they’d like to chime in.

Life for a CKUA intern is never dull. A reggae band might drop by the studio for an impromptu session. A host might fall sick so a last-minute interviewer is needed to chat with a renowned bass player! Today that excitement aspect holds true even if things look rather different.

Scott Zielsdorf, 25, started as a CKUA volunteer in the fall of 2019. He joined the team as a production intern this January. It’s been an adventure interning during a pandemic, he says.

“I do all of my production from home,” says Zielsdorf, who lives in Edmonton. “It can be hard to record because we have quite the menagerie of pets. The number of times I’ve had a bird scream right at the end of a perfect take!” he laughs.

One downside, he concedes, is giving up the chance to work with CKUA’s in-house equipment.

“CKUA has some amazing studios, I was really excited to get to work in those,” he says.

The pandemic has brought its lessons, though, he says. “One good thing to come out of it is that I’ve learned to adapt to and overcome all kinds of interesting challenges and disruptions.”

Scott, presumably editing out a whole bunch of bird noises.

Zielsdorf wasn’t a CKUA listener before he started volunteering. He’s now a convert.

“I love it, the eclectic variety you’ll hear in some of the shows,” he says. “A folk song followed by a punk song and then, hey, let’s change it up with some Ukrainian hip-hop!”

“It’s been an amazing experience of discovery for me,” he adds, “coming out of the world I normally know and discovering this other one.”

Kate Stevens says she’s found her people, working (virtually) alongside the whole CKUA team.

Kate Stevens
, 21, is Zielsdorf’s counterpart in Calgary – the city where she was born and raised. She had originally planned to be working in Ontario but decided staying closer to home would be pandemic-prudent.

“It’s been a strange journey,” she says, of her unexpected pivot to intern at CKUA, “but I’m so, so thrilled to have found my people.”

An R&B musician in her own right, she’s also been a CKUA listener for a long time. “Forever?” she laughs. “I probably started paying attention when I was 10.”

She released her first EP at 15 and to her delight, it was played on CKUA.

“It was insane,” she says, of hearing it on air. “I had been writing songs in my basement on my garage-sale ukulele for the last three years. To hear it on the radio, it was just so cool.”

Stevens has been hooked on public radio ever since. “I thought, ‘if this is how good I feel, having my music played, imagine how other people would feel as well.’ I wanted to make it happen for others.”

Zielsdorf and Stevens have been kept hopping their first weeks on the job, interviewing guests, writing scripts, researching, helping with the CKUA library and pitching ideas.

Interns and CKUA make for a good partnership, says Elliott Garnier, CKUA’s Senior Producer. Interns tend to bring impressive amounts of youthful energy and zest to work each day.

Interning during a pandemic can look slightly different than usual.

“There’s this sense of adventure when it comes to taking on new responsibilities,” says Garnier, “just an up-for-anything kind of mentality that you get with an intern.”

CKUA works with the broadcasting programs at NAIT, SAIT and MacEwan University. “There’s a lot of talent out there and fostering these connections really reveals that,” says Garnier.

And for the interns, it’s priceless experience. Many have moved on to good jobs within the industry, some even at CKUA.

“Our interns have gotten a lot of practical, hands-on experience that they can take into the job market,” says Garnier. “Broadcasting is a very competitive field, so I think the fact that they’ve been able to take those experiences and spin them into jobs in their industry is pretty exciting.”

Perhaps the ultimate CKUA student success story is Holger Petersen. Now the host of CKUA’s longest-running blues program Natch’l Blues, he started at CKUA as an 18-year-old NAIT student in 1968. Natch’l Blues launched a year later and Petersen is still hosting today. He and the program celebrated their 50th anniversary last year. – Erika Dart