In early 2004, following my short stint at Corus Radio in Cornwall, I got an email from an unnamed person who was in the process of applying to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), for a licence to open and operate an FM radio station in a small market in southern Ontario. I eventually did some digging via the Internet, and the CRTC’s website revealed all: the person who contacted me was one Jon Pole, who, with business partner Andrew Dickson, was applying to open a station in Renfrew, northwest of Ottawa. Pole later mentioned that he knew the general manager at Corus Cornwall and had heard about me – Pole was, with a separate company, handling some sales stuff for the three stations, CFLG-FM 104.5, CJSS-FM 101.9, and the now-defunct CJUL 1220. Fast forward to April of ’04, and Pole & Dickson got the green light to go on the air at 96.1 FM, sandwiched between a high-power CBC Radio One transmitter in North Bay (CBCN-FM) and a less powerful commercial outlet in Massena, New York (WVLF). They had originally applied for 98.7, a frequency last used in this area by a French-language CBC rebroadcaster, but another local organization had already claimed that frequency for a community radio licence application – that organization, Valley Heritage Radio, led by a former host on bilingual CHIP-FM in nearby Fort Coulonge, Quebec, would get the Commission’s approval to open CJHR-FM Renfrew, which signed on in late 2006. Later that month, Pole & Dickson invited me to Renfrew to meet them, so I grabbed a bus from Cornwall to Renfrew via Ottawa, and met the guys at Coco Jarry’s Restaurant in Downtown Renfrew, having a somewhat informal job interview over a big basket of wings.
By the end of April, they officially offered me a full-time job with the station, making me the company’s unofficial very first hire, and on a very rainy May 2nd of 2004, Pole picked me up in Cornwall, I stuffed my essentials, including my mountain bike, into the back of his Subaru station wagon, and we headed to Renfrew. Pole had already found me a place to live, a partly furnished two-bedroom apartment upstairs in a house a block west of downtown, and Dickson, a former radio & TV personality in Ottawa and the Valley and then owner of a printing company in town, would borrow a company van and help me move the rest of my belongings from my Cornwall bachelor pad the following weekend.
For my first month in town, I spent my workdays in the back office of the travel agency downtown, combing through radio music lists and song catalogues, ripping music from huge CD libraries and getting to know the hardware and software that the station would use to play recorded content (songs, commercials etc.) and automate some parts of the broadcast day, as well as keep the station on the air around the clock.
On June 1st, Pole & Dickson, who would form the company My Broadcasting Corporation, took possession of a 1937-vintage commercial building on the south edge of downtown, at 321 Raglan Street South. Turns out this building had some radio history prior to the launch of the new FM station. In the early 1970s, an AM station was launched in Renfrew, CKOB 1400. Its first studios were on the top floor of 321 Raglan South until a late ’70s fire destroyed the studio facilities, after which they relocated to 282 Raglan South, the building whose ground floor retail space was, over the years, occupied by BiWay and later The Bargain Shop. Pole’s father, Jamie Pole, owned CKOB for some years in the 1980s, before the station was once again sold and sold again. 1400, and its co-owned semi-satellite in Arnprior, CKOA 1490, eventually became rebroadcasters of Pembroke’s CHVR 1350. In the mid ’90s, all three AM signals combined into one big Pembroke-licensed FM signal, CHVR-FM 96.7, airing 100,000 watts of country music from the CBC-owned FM site at Rankin, on Highway 41.
Over the month of June, I continued to prep the studio computers and software, and near the end of the month, a technician from Pippin Technical, a broadcast equipment supplier based in Saskatoon, assembled the studio furniture and wired up all the non-computer components.
On Canada Day 2004, the Pippin tech went up with Pole and myself, to the soon-to-launch FM station’s transmitter site, the TimeMCI tower atop Pinnacle Hill, just over from Cogeco Cable’s Renfrew headend and a Bell-owned tower boasting several microwave and cell antennas. Among the tenants at the TimeMCI site were Environment Canada’s “Weatheradio” station, VEA549, transmitting at 162.425 MHz.
Inside the equipment shack, the tech hooked up the little but very heavy 1,000 watt Bext transmitter, and also showed us how to connect the transmitter’s exciter (a low-power transmitter of sorts, that generates the actual FM signal prior to being amplified) directly to the four-bay Dielectric antenna, mounted toward the top of the tower. If the bulk of the transmitter, the power amplifier (PA) section, ever failed for some reason, we could yank the antenna line from the back of the PA and put it into the exciter, using a special adapter.
I had my camcorder handy during the transmitter install, as well as the near-completion of the on-air studio downtown, and some of that footage is now online. Note: I have removed the audio portion of the studio scene, as a popular and copyrighted song was clearly audible with the monitor speakers in the studio cranked up a bit.
On-air testing of the new station, CHMY-FM, began on Monday, July 5th, when Industry Canada personnel were in the area to examine the 96.1 signal and make sure it wasn’t interfering with other stations or radiocommunication services, and on Friday, July 9th, at 12 noon, “96.1 myFM” was introduced, still officially in testing mode but now playing “5000 songs in a row” with a mostly adult contemporary music format – the very first song was Maroon 5’s “This Love”. The official launch of the station, and parent company My Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), was on Monday, August 2nd, 2004, at 6am. In the early days of 96.1 myFM, I was the station’s music director, technician, and afternoon host; in later years, I had eventually played many non-management and non-sales roles – positions including IT, webmaster, audio producer, board op (for junior hockey play-by-play and other on-location events) and news anchor.
17 years later, MBC, now my former employer, has become a province-wide group of FM stations stretching from the Ottawa Valley all the way to the Lake Huron shoreline. As of last year, MBC owned 19 stations and two rebroadcasters, but earlier this year, it was announced that the company would be selling four of its stations, plus the rebroadcasters, and would also acquire Perth’s “Lake 88” (CHLK-FM 88.1), in a new attempt to reach the bulk of Lanark County’s population. It was quite the ride during my time with MBC, and although traditional media (radio, television, print) have seen significant decreases in ad revenue since at least early 2020, I sincerely hope the company will recover financially after everything the world has been through over the past year and a half.
Next Throwback Thursday, we’re going back ten years, to revisit a big and memorable vacation… stay tuned!