Vancouver’s fledgling radio entrant

Roundhouse Radio readies for a September launch, presenting opportunities to reach Vancouverites through its on-air and online presence.

A local radio station with a lot of diverse voices – that’s the spoonful of sugar that will help Vancouver’s varied communities solve their loneliness problem.

At least that is the spirit of a young new entrant on the West Coast airwaves, Roundhouse Radio, which will serve a healthy mix of cultural, economic and political fare for its targeted urban listenership starting September this year. 

In the fast-changing world of media platforms, the traditional radio station is hell-bent on carving a space for itself.

The idea for the new FM station came out of informal coffee talk among broadcaster friends lamenting the loss of good radio programming just as the Vancouver Foundation released its 2012 report on the state of the city. The Connections and Engagement report revealed that there was a “growing sense of isolation and disconnection” in the city.

The station, which is positioning itself as a presenter of “intelligent conversations from a unique, hyper-local perspective” is hoping to alleviate this problem by curating and developing stories that will connect the city through diverse programming.

“I believe more than ever that there is so much great content and really interesting and engaging work being done in the city of Vancouver that people don’t know about, and we’ll be able to share more about that culturally, politically and any way shape or form that it will draw an audience,” says Don Shafer, CEO, Roundhouse Radio and one of four investors in the station.

Iconic Canadian broadcaster Terry David Mulligan is one of the seven new hosts the station recently announced. Mulligan will host the noon to 1 p.m. slot, for which the station is offering ad ops for founding sponsors. The station is also developing ad packages for other cultural and artistic programs that will showcase the best of the city’s artscape.

In addition to its regular radio programming, Roundhouse Radio will also curate and produce content for its online presence. This will include live-streaming and podcasts, some of which have already been produced or are currently in production. The station’s website will also host video programming that will present advertising ops as well. 

Roundhouse Radio, which received CRTC approval for a  broadcasting license to operate a specialty commercial FM radio station (98.3) on 6 August 2014, following a call for applications to service the communities in Vancouver and Surrey – only two of the 11 applicants that responded to the call were approved. The CRTC cited positive economic growth, reducing inflation, growing radio profitability in the city of 2.3 million population in explaining the city’s ability to absorb new radio stations. (There are currently 20 commercial AM and FM radio stations servicing the city, five of which target the South Asian and Chinese communities.)

The CRTC noted that Roundhouse Radio’s proposal to be a spoken word station (80% talk radio; 20% music) “will enhance the diversity of new voices in the market.”

The chance to be a part of something new that can contribute to Vancouver’s radio programming was really exciting, says Shafer. “It’s fun just sitting in the control room. I’d always wanted to build a radio station that was more about a city than about what was popular.”

Early signs of the station’s potential popularity can be seen on its twitter account. Despite still being in its gestational stages, the station’s twitter account already has over 4,500 followers.

Last week the company’s new host announcement included a diverse portfolio of names including journo, Kirk Lapointe (who also ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor of Vancouver last year), journalist and professor Minelle Mahtani, and radio journalist and producer, Janice Ungaro.

Collectively the team hopes to revive the spirit of Vancouver with its community-building focus that is built into its name. In Shafer’s words, “Our hope is that our roundhouse will become a place where the community comes together on air, online and on the street.”