On the air:

🕔Jan 30, 2007

A veteran broadcaster and self-described entertainment junkie is working around the clock to bring his vision of community radio to life in Prince George.

“It’s terrifying,” laughs Reg Feyer, the brains behind what will be, come spring 2007, 93.1 CFIS-FM. “No, I’m not really organized. But I work well under panic.”

Panic, loosely defined, means months of research and planning, bureaucratic hoop-jumping to launch the Prince George Community Radio Society, attracting members, and securing buy-in from future advertisers, show hosts and volunteers—all necessary to get the station on the air.

He describes how the station will run: during its first months of h4. operation, CFIS-FM will offer 24-hour music programming, interspersed with radio ads. Feyer predicts that, with just five advertising minutes per hour, CFIS will sound “less cluttered” than its commercial counterparts.

With a developmental (low-power) license from the CRTC to start, the station will be limited to 5 watts of power—producing a signal that only reaches the bowl area of Prince George.

Courting the ‘forgotten demographic’

Feyer plans to leave country music to The Wolf 97 FM, post-1980s rock to stations like CIRX and CKDV, and cutting-edge music to UNBC’s non-profit radio station CFUR. Instead, CFIS will focus on a demographic that Feyer’s research suggests is currently underserved: the 45-and-over crowd, which represents close to a third of the city’s population. They’ll enjoy pre-1980 hits from the likes of Neil Diamond, Anne Murray and Elvis Presley.

“A lot of people like that older, softer sound,” says Feyer. “But it’s no longer being played in Prince George.”

Once equipped with a broadcast studio, Feyer expects to include live programming. The music programming aimed at the 45-plus crowd will end at 6 p.m —after which the station will truly distinguish itself. The stars of Prince George civil society will come out, offering 100 percent locally produced content.

Expect to hear a diverse range of shows. Feyer excitedly enumerates the possibilities: call-in talk shows, local sporting events, concerts, current affairs, a money show, a seniors’ show, an entertainment roundup, a faith-oriented show, open-stage jams from local music venues, francophone and aboriginal programs, the Prince George Symphony, commentary from the popular Opinion 250, locally produced radio drama, story hours and more.

When CFIS-FM is rolling, it will have a full community broadcast license—allowing it to increase its wattage by up to 200 times.

Two-fold advantage

Many people have already expressed interest in being volunteer radio hosts.

In addition to having new access to the airwaves, non-profit program hosts will be allowed to raise money for their association of choice by selling ads to air during their programs. The ads need not even relate to the program content.

Feyer explains: A volunteer DJ/blues music enthusiast could assemble a show that would appeal to a blues-loving audience. Revenue from advertising aired during that show could benefit, for example, the Canadian Cancer Society.

It’s clear that CFIS-FM can offer a new means by which people can actually build community.

“The advantage for non-profits is two-fold,” says Feyer. “It helps them make money, and helps them to get their product out to Prince George—and to say, ‘Look, you don’t have to sit at home watching TV and whatever junk the US is feeding us. You can come out and enjoy live theatre, music… There’s lots here to look at.’”

Making ends meet

In at least one way, the station will operate and sound like commercial radio. Money from ad sales will pay the station’s bills, including wages for a handful of paid staff.

During the first months of operation, this will likely just be Feyer, who brings 20 years of commercial broadcasting experience. He expects CFIS staff will include other local, former broadcasters, too. “At least three people who used to work in commercial radio” have expressed interest, he says.

Feyer anticipates the station will ultimately have no more than 10 employees, and will offer opportunities for interns and possibly freelance broadcasters.

No one knows better than Feyer that this ambitious venture will be driven by different dynamics than commercial radio—for example, staff motivated by reasons other than paycheques. This can present its own challenges.

“We expect there will be a lot of people up front, caught up in the glamour of broadcasting. It’s quite another thing to follow through, week after week, year after year.”

Non-profit advantage

But Feyer notes that non-profit radio can do some things its corporate counterparts can’t. For example, CFIS volunteer reporters could cover local events that would cost too much for corporate stations to dispatch reporters to.

Freed from the need to generate profits for distant shareholders, the station can afford, in its after-6 p.m. programming, to serve the specialized tastes of select audiences.

And non-profit radio takes a different view of technology that allows commercial radio to automate and do more with fewer staff. “Automation is often used to run music and commercials without any local input,” he explains. “You end up losing local content.”

By contrast, automation in a non-profit setting serves not to eliminate staff, but to free them up to get out in the community to record, produce and broadcast.

Feyer reflects on the explosion of satellite and internet-based radio, which offers a wider range of listening choices than ever. “There’s so much out there,” he says. “As time goes on, more and more programmers are realizing that local content is king. It differentiates you from the others.”

Feyer says his plan, which will cost at least $20,000 to get off the ground, has been warmly received by future advertisers, radio hosts and people who’ve bought supporting memberships in the fledgling Prince George Community Radio Society to support the station and have a say in its operations.

“Everyone I talked to about this thought it was good idea,” he relates. “The more people I talk to, the more excited I get.”

Feyer welcomes inquiries, and new members to the Prince George Community Radio Society. For information about how to become a voting member of the Society, email cfis-fm@yahoo.com

© Larissa Ardis 2007