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The following report appeared in the October 11th edition of The Halifax Sunday Herald...
Making waves CJLS radio's new owners, all former employees, are remaining firmly rooted in the community and aiming to reflect its values and pride By Brian Medel / Yarmouth Bureau Of The Sunday Herald
THE NEW OWNERS of local radio station CJLS call it a mom-and-pop operation.
It's rare these days to find the owners of a station involved in its daily operation, say Gerry Boudreau, Chris Perry and Ray Zinck. The trio has a combined 80 years' experience in programming, advertising sales, production, news and current events.
Much of that experience has been gained at CJLS, which has been on the air since 1934 and is one of Canada's oldest stations.
When CJLS was recently put on the market, the three longtime associates became partners. "I think timing and opportunity is everything in life and when the opportunity came along to guide your own fate ... in an industry that we're very familiar with, it would be a natural progression of anyone's career," Mr. Zinck said. "We don't see this as unusual at all.
"The station, which began broadcasting from atop the original Grand Hotel in Yarmouth, was the brainchild of Laurie Smith. He had heard signals from the United States on a crystal radio set he'd built and wanted to put his own station on the air.
The station was later purchased by the late Leland Trask, a Yarmouth businessman. CJLS remained in the Trask family until this year.
"What may be different is the fact that with so many broadcasting undertakings ... being taken over by conglomerates, we indeed are bucking the national trend," Mr. Perry said. "It's important that you be there in the community, to touch the community, to reflect back its values, it qualities, its pride. ... I don't see that happening with these large ownership and large management takeover procedures."Large media corporations with a multistation operation streamline management when they can, Mr. Boudreau said."They save on accounting, they save on administration. ... Basically the philosophy is to save ... until the bottom line looks good."
But it's different when the managers are the owners. They see firsthand, every day, how they're doing financially and where they may have to cut back or should perhaps forge ahead where some potential revenue might be.
"It's very difficult to keep a close eye on any business if you're running it from a distance. ... The mom-and-pop operation is hands on," Mr. Boudreau said. "You do a business plan based on assumptions and you forecast, hopefully, the expenses and revenues to be reasonably near accuracy," he said."We've been in the business long enough, we believed when we decided to buy it , to be able to forecast all those things." "I think clients and the people we deal with prefer to deal with people who actually own the radio station," said Mr. Zinck, who continues as head of the news department. "They know the buck stops with us. "A lot of people ... feel about the radio station as if it is a community resource," he said.
At least one large media group expressed interest in buying CJLS. "Whenever they think something may be available they almost automatically make an offer," said Mr. Boudreau of the ever-expanding conglomerates wanting to augment their family of stations. The new owners of CJLS describe their venture as a million-dollar company in terms of fixed assets and revenue-generating abilities. They wouldn't comment on what they paid for it - or on revenue projections - but they said a growth in sales is definitely needed."This company has to grow in order to meet our expectations and to meet the results of our business plans as well," Mr. Zinck said. "That's our challenge, to drive sales, the revenues up, obviously to cut costs."
The station employs 15 people, including the owners, and there are no plans in the works for any layoffs. "We are completely digital. There are no turntables, there are no CDs in our control room," Mr. Perry said. "Everything comes out of a computer. "Granted, there are a few CDs and a couple of players to use in the event of a system failure, but few stations are completely digital."They all seem to be on the way," Mr. Boudreau said.
The owners have already added a couple of specialty programs to the weekly fare of adult contemporary music with a little crossover country thrown in. A live dance party Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight is aimed at those listeners with a taste for today's dance-club music. Our Music, which airs Saturdays at 4 p.m., features an hour of traditional music by local artists.
"ON THE AIR" has special permission to post the following article, that first appeared in Halifax's COAST WEEKLY (Vol 6, No. 18). Written by ALISON GOODWIN.
The day is not far off when most people will be able to compile their own mix of tunes on CDs so that they have a quality recording of exactly the songs they want to hear at the smooth press of an Alpine key. People with ten-disc CD players in their trunks are already there. And with the concentrated ownership of most of Halifax's commercial stations, not to mention digital DJs, rather than real live people selecting the music that goes out over the airwaves, why bother with radio?
Radio is not just about playing songs. Radio is a form of entertainment but also a medium for information, says Terry Williams, Director of programming for the Metro Radio Group. People want to know the temperature and where they can get a good deal on a car. Some people look at advertising as junk mail but really itís information,says Williams. He also points to what he describes as the remarkable success of CJCHís all talk radio, which shows listeners are keen to connect with each other and with issues.
The Metro Radio group was created in March of this year when Chum formed a partnership with the Newfoundland Capital Corporation and Sun Radio Ltd. causing Q104, C100, Sun FM, CFDR, CJCH to be all under the same management. Although each has maintained its own programming department, their play lists must be approved by Williams. There is a master plan of how this will all unfold. I am more of an internal consultant than a dictator of play lists. Each station has itís own mandate.
The radio indusrty competes with television, newspapers and magazines for advertising dollars and ends up with "roughly ten percent of the advertising pie. When asked why radio takes up so little, Williams says, people have ignored the viability of radio in the constant quest for the next buzz. Although itís not seen as being cutting edge, its efficiency canít be denied. He comments that Now that thestations have formed the partnership they no longer have to be beating each other up over advertising. He says the individual stations all have definitive listeners and are now serving them better.
Does the health of the local music scene have an impact on local radio culture? To a degree. But if a radio station went on and played nothing," says Williams. " But if a radio station went on and played nothing but local and Maritime artists it would die on the vine. There just isnít enough people who only want to listen to this music to make it a viable option. We are not in the business of selling records. He adds though, that in the years he worked as a programmer for C100, the local music scene did influence the station. We have a moral responsibility to promote local talent, says Williams. He qualifies this with the the bottom line: Radio is a business. "We donít have the luxury to rely on tax dollars to survive...We have to appeal to a mainstream swath in our chosen niche.
CHNS and CHFX offer the cityís only oldies and contemporary country stations respectively. Songs played on Oldies 96 are tested over time, says Operations Manager Troy Michaels. Approximately fifteen-hundred songs have been tested in markets in the US and Canada. To compile playlists for the country show Micheals says CHNS consults Billboard and other industry magazines and that the hook of the vocal, hook of the song are key to choosing whether or not it gets played.As for supporting local talent Michaels says that, the Maritime Broadcasting System (owner and operator of CHNS and CHFX) has spent millions of dollars on Star Track, an initiative to promote local talent and to give new artists a chance to record. He describes involvement in Star Track as being part of fulfilling its committment to the CRTC which requires all stations to include Canadian content material in 30 percent of daytime programming. It makes good business sense; if stations have to sell advertisements it is not in their interests to have listeners switch stations whenever a Canadian performer comes on, CHNS has been noted as broadcasting news with a high percentage of regional content. Still the source of much the music played on these stations is playlists decided upon through sources outside of Metro.
So what about hip hop, jazz, classical, Celtic and Ladakhi tunes, local sounds and the music formerly known as alternative? Gone are the days when Q104 had the Blues Related Incident on Sunday nights. Weíve moved away from block programming because weíve found that it doesnít really work, says Terry Williams, Again itís a question of minorities versus majorities. A one-hour blues program may turn off as many people as it turns on. Apparently Sun FMís Sunday evening rogram of Christian music works in the minorities versus majorities game.
It is left up to Metroís three publicly-funded stations - CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two and CKDU - to pick up where the comercial stations leave off. One of the unique things about CBC Radio is that we support, develop and encourage local artists, says Susan Mitton, Director of CBC radio. Mitton says that the CBC local programming favours Maritime music and plays material that would otherwise have a hard time fitting into a particular genre of playlist. She uses the example of Laura Smith whose smooth guitar and vocals crosses traditional format lines.
Mitton points to content on performance shows as containing roughly eighty percent maritime content and that the CBC often records local classical concerts, Our mandate is to inform and to entertain. To reflect this region to itself and to the rest of the country. The caveat, is that there is no grunge played on Mainstreet.
Where the other stations rely on automated programming CKDU is the only station in Metro that has real live people playing music here in Halifax for listeners twenty-four hours per day. CKDU offers the community an alternative to whatís being put out by commercial radio stations, says CKDUís Program Director, Shane MacKinnon. We try to provide news and music not provided by other outlets --to keep more of a community aspect to whatís going on. Itís an alternative to what everyone else is doing,Ē Unlike some university and college radio stations, CKDU FM can be heard off campus and serves also as a community access station. It is funded by student union levees and membership fees which are sold to members of the community interested in volunteering with the station. The station hosts ninety-three shows per week which range in programming from ethnic music to childrenís shows.
I put new releases out and itís up to the individual programmers to decide what their going to play,Ē says MacKinnon who describes his job at this campus/community station as being a bit different from what it might be at a public station. It can go from sounding like a country station to a jazz station to a hip hop station, to a rock station, depending on the mood of the DJ.Ē Although CKDU must conform to CRTC regulations, MacKinnon says that, (The music) doesnít have that same programmed feeling-- that same twenty-five songs played over and over again. The music is a bit more fresh.
MacKinnon describes Metroís commercial stations as singles driven entities, and says that, they stick to the stuff thatís tried and true. For the most part the formats are very comfortable and they donít have to take a lot of risk -- thatís already been done for them. He says stations rely on the labels to take risks in choosing who they sign. MacKinnon acknowledges that these stations rely on advertising to pay the bills. (The stations) know the number of people who are listening, and what the peak times are. They say to the advertisers Ďthis is our formatí and sell this to them. While Metroís commercial stations remain with formats that are deemed safe, MacKinnon suggests that not all commercial radio stations take this route. He points to K-ROCK, the American station that first broke music from bands including No Doubt and Green Day.
The fact that radio accounts for only ten percent of the advertising pie, begs the question might it be worth taking some risks? Currently the ice cream shop of metro commercial radio offers three flavours of rock -classic, light, and soft- two flavours of country -current and classic-, and a mixed bowl of oldies. The selection amounts to what sometimes seems like an ad-infested swamp of past and present, top-forty, lullabies. In addition to promoting radio as a source of infomation, it might be worth it to capitalize on the shortcomings of individualsí CD collections. Commercial stations might consider providing more concerts, music which listeners normally have to order away for and tracks from groups that have yet to record full length discs.
Publicly funded, CBC and CKDU are sheltered from the prevailing forces of the almighty advertising buck. This freedom allows them to take risks by playing lesser-known artists and presenting fewer popular music forms. However, the development of local music scenes could also be crucial in strengthening commercial radio as a truly viable advertising option.
If people hear (a band) on the radio, they are more likely to go and check it out, says Shane MacKinnon. Checking it out means dropping by a Metro venue which benefits artists and other parts of the community. If listeners remain an active part of the process they may be more likely to tune into local stations that support this.
Written by ALISON GOODWIN OF HALIFAX'S "COAST WEEKLY"