Friday, April 13, 2012

Built right - from the ground up - great radio stations last a long time!

It's anniversary year in Edmonton radio. CISN FM turns thirty years old - followed a few months later by CKNG (Joe FM) which launched as CJAX FM - and then CFBR - The Bear turns a ripe twenty years old this September.

Former 630 CHED 'legend' Bob McCord (and a LOCAL ownership group) took two kicks at the CRTC cat in the late 70's and early 80's for a new FM licence in Edmonton and the second application worked as they launched CISN FM in the spring of 1982. Over the years the station has been a perennial 'winner' of many industry awards, both in music and media, and has been at the top or near the top of the Edmonton for much of the past three decades.

Many 'great' broadcasters came and went from the station in the past three decades and it has been sold a few times over but in 'all' cases the owners/managers/program directors realized the power of the station and the format and super served the listeners. Another benchmark for CISN is community service and there just isn't enough space in a blog like this to properly recognize the many innovative and creative ways that the station has helped in the Edmonton and Alberta rural communities. OK the tractor run to the American border a few years back deserves the Forbes Radiowise Inc. award for going over and above the call of duty!

About half a year after the CISN launch I was both fortunate and unfortunate enough to have launched CJAX FM, Edmonton's Rockin' country radio station.

Fortunate because there is 'nothing' more fun and enjoyable than launching a new radio station; hiring a great motivated staff; and trying something new and innovative on the radio.

Unfortunate because Bob McCord launched a 'machine' in the market; CFCW had and still has a firm grasp on the Alberta rural AM listeners; and Maclean-Hunter was planning to get out of radio all together leaving us with less than adequate tools to really give it a go in the market.

However - lots of good things happened with CJAX.

First off we had 'great' people who went on to very successful careers in both the radio and television industry.

He'll hate me for using his high school picture, but Bell Ottawa Program Director Brian Depoe's first gig was at CJAX FM. Actually he was serving steaks at The Keg but had family roots 'deep' into the business and the taste for radio was in his blood. Since 'graduating' from Edmonton Brian has gone on to run top notch properties in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. I call him one of my 'true' friends - meaning he'd be one of the first guys I'd call with the message "Bri - I need bail!"

Another almost raw rookie, Clay Hagel, (Clay St. Thomas) spent time at CJAX FM as well and has gone on to bigger and better things in Vancouver radio. I'd also like to salute some very good folks who also spent time at the station and they include PD Tom Tompkins, 630 CHED's Scott Johnson; the late Greg Sheratt; Megan Bishop; long time Edmonton broadcaster Steve Moore; and current Global Television Edmonton morning man Mike Sobel.

There were many more talented people in the building both when I was there and for several years after - but due to length I'm sorry I can't include them all.

Another good thing that came out of the CJAX lineage was the licence to flip CJAZ in Vancouver to CKKS (now CKLG/Jack) in Vancouver.

As mentioned Maclean-Hunter was not going to stay in radio and I had been working on a Soft Rock licence for almost a year when they notified me of their intent. With great fortune again, and thanks to TED FARR, off to the west coast I went with this new FM licence in hand.

Although the jazz community loved the station in Vancouver it was bleeding money and then owners Selkirk Broadcasting gave us the go ahead to 'modifiy' the licence I had developed to fit the Vancouver market and the late (great) Tom Peacock and our Programming support team also took two kicks at the CRTC cat (we were a tad out of compliance the first time around - til Analyist Peter Fleming helped guide us on to the second hearing) and "97 KISS FM" was launched.

Birth of The Bear:

Sitting in a room, twenty years ago, with the owner - GARY SLAIGHT - legendary US consultant RANDY MICHAELS - and perennial PD OF THE YEAR ERIC SAMUELS and 'building' a radio station like The Bear from the ground up was truly the highlight of my career.

Ideas were thrown up on the wall - kicked around or kicked out - and each of us put our two cents into building this new (pun intended) beast. The Station has won Canadian Music Weeks "Rock Station of the Year" a number of times and/or Program Directors Eric Samuels - Greg Diamond - or Ryan Zimmerman picked up "Rock Program Director of the Year" during the awards - and I've always viewed such recognition as acknowledgement that the entire radio station contributes to or a 'team award.'

My point of all this is the title of my blog:

"Built right - from the ground up - great radio stations last."

Twenty years later and thirty years later respectively both THE BEAR and CISN are still thriving while CJAX has turned over staff many many times - changed call letters a few times - changed formats several times - and it took several years before it landed as the now very stable JOE FM.

Compared to todays format flips where stations are often launched with 'no announcers' both CISN and The Bear launched with 'very well known' and 'high profile' staff, both on and off the air. I would love to go back now to add up the 'years of experience' we had in the building at the outset of those launches compared to today's radio stations debuts.

Both stations were also launched with not only substantial advertising budgets but highly creative promotional plans and over the top 'stunts.'

Both stations were launced with an 'immense' respect for community and to this day operate very successful internal public service projects like The Bear's Children's Fund - or the endless amount of work that CISN pours into a variety of public service needs. "Millions of dollars" of CASH go to places like the Stollery Children's Hospital and other very worthwhile organizations.

The staff of these stations all 'rowed in the same direction.'

Each of the guys/ladies on the air were so good at their various positions that they worked up to the highest level they possible could which rubbed off on the 'junior' staff, many of whom are the stars of todays "Edmonton Radio." Guys like Yukon Jack - Chris Scheetz...etc etc. who all worked their way up from the bottom to the top of their respective fields.

Great radio stations attract great talent to be part of the success of the operation and help sustain that success for many years to come.

In the same market some of the other operators have changed formats up to as many as five or six times often displacing the entire on air staff or 'starting over again' while the heritage stations always find ways to add a tweak here - make a minor change there - and bingo - continue to be market leaders in their respective formats.

You'll find similar success stories in places like Vancouver with CHQM - Toronto with CHFI and CHUM FM - and Calgary with CJAY - to name just a few.

So Happy Anniversary to CISN FM - great job Bob McCord and to all those that followed at CISN.

Ditto to my pals at The Bear both past and present.

We all shared something very special and often it takes a milestone achievement like 'time' to stop, take a breath, and realize we did something very special in the world of radio - for which many others will benefit from down the road.

**PS: the "Marty Forbes Way" picture is courtesy ex Op's Manager Ryan Zimmerman who named the 'hallway' in the Standard (now Astral and soon to be Bell building) as a parady of the streets allready named after my late father Jerry Forbes in Edmonton. A very fun and appreciated tribute.**


  1. Thanks for the mention Mart. You are right about great radio stations, they always have great people, legendary personalities and outstanding leaders.

  2. Great post Marty. The great stations were full of great people who had vision. These people were practising personal branding before the term was even invented.