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Nardwuar the Human Serviette celebrates 85th anniversary of UBC student radio | CBC News

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The University of British Columbia’s student radio station is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. 

CiTR is known for its variety of programming, including news, sports broadcasting, all kinds of music, and its own battle of the bands-style contest, SHiNDiG. 

The station, which became an official club on campus in 1938, has had some well known members over the years, including a few CBC journalists and Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the beloved Canadian broadcaster from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 

“CiTR is a radio station that basically anybody can join,” Nardwuar told CBC’s Belle Puri. 

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“We’re not like a regular radio station where you’re told what to do. At CiTR, you’re a writer, you’re a producer, you’re an operator, you can do whatever you want and it will even give you press credentials to get into the APEC conference 1997 to ask Jean Chrétien a question,” he said, giving a nod to the moment when he asked the then-prime minister about the RCMP’s use of pepper spray on student activists at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit at the University of British Columbia in 1997.

Nardwuar appeared on On The Coast to talk about his multi-decade tenure with the station. He started off at CiTR, in the 1980s, with his video interviews later featured on the TV channel MuchMusic. He currently has a popular YouTube channel where he interviews musicians and other celebrities.

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Watch | Nardwuar on getting his start in communtiy radio:

Nardwuar the Human Serviette has been broadcasting with UBC’s CiTR since 1987, and has since made a career of asking quirky questions.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Your own show started broadcasting back in 1987. What has CiTR done for you?

It’s amazing, all the people have passed through CiTR. Deborah Hope passed through CiTR as well as Tom Harrison. And there are also a lot of people that are still at CiTR, a lot of long running shows. I’ve been doing my show since October 1987, but also Steve Edge doing The Edge on Folk, Ben Lai doing Live from Thunderbird Radio Hell. I encourage everybody to join CiTR because you could do a radio show. You can be like me, or you can do news, you can do sports or just hang out.

A guy in a tartan hat with a microphone
Nardwuar the Human Serviette speaks onstage at ‘Nardwuar’s Video Vault’ during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 19, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (James Goulden Photography/Getty Images for SXSW)

For me personally, it’s been pretty exciting to do a show on CiTR radio. It’s got me to press conferences. It also got me a website. Believe it or not, Vancouver Film School was listening the CiTR radio and said we’ll build you a website. Who, me? Yes, Nardwuar the Human Serviette. So through CiTR I got a website built in 1996, nardwuar.com. It’s still there. 

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It’s the place I first heard N.W.A. It’s the first place that I really was exposed to rap music. I learned about different genres of music. 

 I met also Jay Mirus from MuchMusic who heard me on CiTR and it gave me a chance to freelance on MuchMusic.

In 1993, you famously told former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev “keep on rocking in the free world” in Russian. Then you asked him, of all the political figures he’s met, who has the largest pants. What do you try to get out of interviews?

I was there with my friends and one said, “Why don’t you tell him to keep on rocking in the free world?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know if he could understand me.” He told me how to say it in Russian, so I said it to him. I came up with that question at the pizza place at Science World. 

I remember other reporters being embarrassed that I was there. They made fun of me because I was wearing a toque. If you listen to the clip, it’s like, “Earlier today at Science World a reporter from UBC’s CiTR Radio who was wearing a toque.” They really were thrown off by the toque.

You also asked former premier Christy Clark about the first concert she ever saw. How surprising was it for you to hear her reminisce about going to old punk shows?

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It was amazing. And local punk shows. She mentioned The Pointed Sticks and she also mentioned The Replacements too. Her brother actually was friends with Rob [Frith] from Neptoon Records and her brother also worked at CJSF radio, kind of like the sister station to CiTR at Simon Fraser University, still going strong. 

You give obscure personalized gifts for your guests. How much time do you spend looking for these gifts?

Getting a gift is to get people to talk. I’m always on the lookout. The research never stops. I’m always looking for something to get somebody to talk. I’m always on the lookout for something that will tie in a Canadian connection.

Belle, keep on rocking in the free world, and doot doola doot doo.

Doot doo.

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