The resort's newest, fiercely local radio station, 101.5 Whistler FM, finally hit the airwaves Monday (Feb. 25), offering listeners a diverse community-based program of top 40 and adult contemporary music broadcast out of Function Junction.
The new station fulfills a longtime dream for general manager and co-owner Robert Wilson, but it almost never happened.
“If the weather in the last week had been bad and they weren't able to put the antennas up on the tower, then everything I had invested, which is everything I have, would have been gone,” said Wilson, who took over Whistler FM's broadcasting licence in May, and was given until March 2 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to have the station on the air.
“It has been the most difficult three weeks of my life,” he said. “I couldn't do it again, I'd probably perish. It's been difficult but … if it ain't hard, it's not worth having.”
Earlier delays date back to 2009, when the CRTC granted the ownership group at Four Senses Entertainment a broadcasting licence. At that time, the owners ran into some difficulties securing advertising in the post-recession economic climate, and asked the CRTC for two licence extensions, before Wilson and co-owner Barry Duggan took over in the spring.
Finally on the air, Wilson and on-air host and programming director Jason Jaski, who both left jobs at Vancouver's The Shore 104.3FM to come to the resort, can focus on creating programming that engages the community and offers a sound that is distinctly Whistler to listeners.
“We have a real opportunity and privilege here to be a centre point of culture for this town,” said Jaski. “Everything's out there, so we're just looking to showcase a lot of it back to the community it exists in.”
The Whistler FM team has set up their state-of-the-art studio so they can invite musicians, DJs and prominent figures in the community to come and perform or appear on-air. They also plan to broadcast live from Village nightclubs, so listeners can get a taste of the resort's infamous nightlife from home.
Wilson stressed the importance of giving a voice to locals and supporting community initiatives that matter the most to Whistlerites.
“It's an important role that we want to continue to play,” he said. “What we hope to do is attend events as a community (member), not just for a sales package or for advertising, and that builds our depth and our character and allows us to become immersed in the culture just by being there.”
That community focus will be evident in the coming weeks while Whistler FM wraps up its testing period and the team finalizes its programming schedule following feedback from local listeners.
Freed from the restrictions of corporate radio, the Whistler FM crew can continually evolve their programming because they have “the ability to make decisions instantaneously,” said Wilson. “We're going to be more agile and I think we're going to be more in touch with the community.”
Another way the station plans to give back to the community is through the installation of a Braille system that will allow for the visually impaired to operate the radio board. The new system is “a dream come true” for Whistler FM brand ambassador and legally blind Paralympic swimmer Donovan Tildesley.
“I don't get why there's only two visually impaired blind people working in radio in this country when you can make it so accessible,” said Tildesley, who added that he'd love to work on-air someday. “All you really need is a good mind, a good voice, an understanding of current affairs and knowing how to push the buttons.”
Housed on Millar Creek Road, Whistler FM has the potential to play a pivotal role in the developing cultural scene in Function Junction, one that director of promotions Kristen Robinson is happy to fill.
“It's really exciting for me … to be down here in Function and recognize that this is the cultural precinct,” she said. “We're another voice to be able to help tell that cultural story and it's a big responsibility, but I think we're up for it.”
Whistler FM's testing period ends in mid-March. At that time, the full programming schedule will be unveiled and will include a morning show hosted by Jaski and a weekend segment hosted by former Spud Valley Radio personality Gord Rutherford.
For more information, visit the station website at www.whistlerfm.ca, or Whistler FM's Facebook page, or turn to 101.5FM on your dial.