Whistler’s first FM radio station is set to go on air on Sept. 1, 2007 with programming produced specifically for resort visitors.
Whistler FM picks up where Russ Wagg’s Visitor Radio left off after the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the transfer of 88.7 to a group of Vancouver investors in the radio industry. According to operations manager Robert Wilson, Whistler FM will be launched with a full stereo signal, boosted range, and professionally-voiced features geared towards tourists.
The initial launch will feature short loops on 10 different aspects of the resort — including accommodations, sightseeing, restaurants, outdoor adventures, extreme adventures, shopping, family activities, visitor information, and professional services — that will be professionally voiced and updated working with businesses and organizations within the resort. As well, Wilson says up to 12 minutes of every hour will be open for community listings, allowing groups to call in and talk about their upcoming events. The entire broadcast will be repeated every hour on a 24-hour cycle.
Commercials will also be played between community events and tourism segments at a frequency that will be determined by what kind of package advertisers purchase.
And what will it sound like?
“We’re tourism information focused, but we will sound something like CHR (The Beat 94.5) in Vancouver, with professional voicing talent,” said Wilson. “We think Whistler is worthy of having a real radio station, it’s actually ridiculous that there isn’t one already.
“I think that the previous owner abused the right to have this signal in the past, it was just a four minute info loop in mono that wasn’t updated very frequently. Given that Whistler is a world class destination with the Olympics coming, I find that unbelievable.”
Whistler FM is only licensed for spoken word information, and a recent application to expand the license to allow for music and “entertaining spoken word” programming was rejected by the CRTC after they determined it would alter the conditions of the existing license. However, Wilson says they will apply to expand their license again once the station is better established and they can make their case for a conventional broadcasting license.
Music will be played in the bed tracks, in and around spoken word features, and Wilson says the tone will be upbeat — similar to The Beat 94.5.
Wilson is also planning to include regular weather and traffic updates, possibly in the next few months once the station is underway and starts to generate revenue.
The main challenge, Wilson says, is to let tourists know that 88.7 exists.
“As you know it’s hard to get billboards on the highway, which is actually something I’m glad to see, but that means we’re going to have to work closely with the accommodation sector to make them aware of our station,” he said.
The goal is to make sure that all radios in hotel rooms are pre-tuned to 88.7 when guests arrive, and Wilson says there will most likely be a contest in the near future where a housekeeper can win a cash prize at random for tuning radios to Whistler FM.
Wilson also plans to put cards into rooms letting visitors know about the station, a program that started with the station’s previous owner. Other resort stakeholders like Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler can also help to spread the word.
According to Wilson, there will be a website launched in the next few months, as well as a phone number were locals can leave messages about upcoming community events. If their events are approved for broadcast, they will be contacted.
Whistler FM is owned by Four Senses, a company with three partners. Barry Duggan owns 50 per cent, and Donovan Tidesley and Hugh Tidesley own 25 per cent each. The owners and Wilson are all currently employed in the radio industry in Vancouver.
Four Senses is not just in the radio business. Using Whistler FM as their model, the partners are also working to develop software that will allow visually impaired individuals to produce and edit radio programming. Donovan Tidesley is himself visually impaired, and will be overseeing that project.
“We are using our frequency to deliver some local FM to Whistler, but it also potentially gives us an opportunity to build something that can change the world,” said Wilson. “Audio editing programs are just not designed for people that are visually impaired — you need to see the wave profiles on the screen to edit. We’re developing our own smart technologies to help people, and we will have visually impaired people producing a portion of our commercials and programming.”
Whistler FM may be the first full stereo station to go live in Whistler, but it won’t be the last. In November, the CRTC approved a license for the Mountain Culture Collective Radio Society that is expected to go to air this year. A Pemberton FM station also won approval.