October 24, 2012

Erin Radio under new management

As published in The Erin Advocate

As a result of a bleak financial outlook and technical problems, Erin Community Radio Inc. has turned over control of its station to the operators of similar ventures in Fergus and Hanover.

Main Street Radio (formerly Erin Radio) will continue to broadcast at FM 88.1 from the village of Erin, with a focus on local affairs, but will be re-branded to provide better service to the community.

"Our music format will be changing slightly to better suit a wider audience," said Larry Peters, the new chairman. He a show host and Vice President at The Grand FM92.9, and Manager of COGECO Community Television, both in Fergus. "We also intend to move the studio to a larger wheelchair accessible facility with new furnishings, board room and some updated equipment."

The new proposed location is at 8 Thompson Cresent (near the medical centre) with more than $25,000 likely to be invested in a new studio, software and furniture. A rally/meeting will be held at that location tonight (Wednesday) at 7 pm.

Peters promised the new board will build on Erin Radio's past achievements with "open communication and dialogue". The station went on the air in 2006, powered by volunteers, and has had strong support from the community, town council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The broadcast area now extends from Guelph to Orangeville.

"While the radio station has been able to weather the financial storm over the years through grants, advertising and fundraising, the past few years have been particularly difficult," said Ray Young, the former chairman, describing the previous situation as "bleak".

He said the board worked "strenuously and creatively over the past several months" and sought help from other parties with "the financial means, technical expertise and management capability to ensure the future."

He has resigned from the board, along with Station Manager Jay Mowat, Dave Currie, Rob Dodds and Mike Handley.

Staying on the board are Sales Coordinator David MacDonald and Volunteer Coordinator/Sales Rep Ronia Michael, while the new members are Peters, Vice Chairman Jerry Kooiman (Promotion Director in Fergus), Treasurer Scott Jensen (President in Fergus), Vic Folliott (Morning Personality/Sales Manager in Fergus) and Andy McBride (Station Manager in Hanover).

"We acknowledge the support of many Erin Radio team members, Town of Erin and Trillium for financial support," said Peters. "We truly appreciate everything you have done as a team. We intend to build the station as a viable business that can eventually afford to have paid staff members and invest all profits back to your community."

Community radio stations are non-profit corporations, with no shares that can be bought and sold. Andy McBride took over Hanover's failing community station in 2002 and has expanded it into a successful venture, which owns its own building. He is also known as Andy Mack, host of the internationally syndicated "The Sounds of Scotland Show".

Jensen will be Erin's new Program Director. He is currently the Manager of Media Technology for Research in Motion (RIM). He helped found the Fergus station in 2009, and previously worked with community radio station CKWR FM in Kitchener – taking it from revenues of $150,000 per year, to $650,000 per year during his term as President of the board.

"The Grand 92.9 and Bluewater Radio 91.3 have had tremendous success in Centre Wellington and Hanover," said Peters, who was Production Manager for CIDC FM in Orangeville, and also worked for CJOY and CKLA FM (now Magic 106) in Guelph. "We believe that Erin Community Radio Inc. can benefit from our learned successes in programming, sales, technology expertise, promotion and coordinated volunteer base."

He said the Erin station will continue to be a focal point for local talent, news, sports, traffic and community events.

"There will be some specialty programs shared amongst stations, but we will be using Erin local volunteers and mentoring them," said Kooiman. "We are hoping to earn the support of all members, volunteers, show hosts, sponsors, town council and advertisers."

Station founder Jay Mowat is "very positive" about the new arrangement.

"I think we've got a strategic and creative alliance now," he said. "They are prepared to put in new money, new energy, new equipment. The gear that the station has been using, which is really antiquated, is going to be improved a thousand-fold, and you'll hear the difference on-air. What will change is the technical sophistication of the organization, the energy that people are putting into it.

"When I started this little venture six years ago, it was with the intention of using my broadcasting background (CBC) to do actual radio programs. But I got really tied up in the administration of the organization." He's now thinking of pitching his own political interview show.

He would not disclose how much the station owes, but said it is not a huge debt, with current bills paid and nothing owing to the bank. There's about $7,000 owing to the Town of Erin, related to their new 250-watt transmitter (which was also funded by a $29,000 Trillium grant), and money to be repaid to some directors.