The Big Idea: Making authentically local airwaves

It’s been two-and-a-half years since Rob Wilson added 101.5 Whistler FM to the local airwaves and since day one he has been striving to run a station that is a reflection of the community it serves.

Coming from Vancouver, starting The Beat 94.5 FM (now Virgin Radio) and The Shore 104.3 FM, this was the first time Wilson had launched a station in a small market. Wilson challenged himself to replicate the same quality of a big city product within a unique resort like Whistler.

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To do this, Wilson tunes into an “intensely local” perspective with his programming. Whether he’s coming up with unique ways for small businesses to showcase their services on air, hosting creative live theme shows, or giving local musicians profile, Wilson is always committed to running a station that is completely community-inspired.

“Coming and building a radio station in Whistler was a little bit like jumping off a cliff without a parachute, but I quickly came to know that if we didn’t become fiercely community-centric there was no chance of survival,” he said. “So that’s what we always try to do and we always try to advocate in the most positive way.”

A new twist on the job board

Wilson knows that Whistler’s local businesses need to thrive in order for his business to survive and he needs to be responsive to sell what fits the immediate needs of the community.

After seeing numerous clients struggle with a shortage of labour, Wilson believed he could use his airwaves to help businesses attract people to job vacancies and potentially attract workers from out of town by reaching a large regional audience that tunes in via their web stream.

“I’d heard of radio stations running ads for employment in their station, but I’d never heard of anything like a job board on the radio and it was just like, that’s it! Now we’re doing something for radio that hasn’t really been done,” explained Wilson.

The new job board feature showcases job postings through on-air commercial spots that run five times a day as well as on Whistler FM’s website. Wilson believes it’s an easy and engaging mechanism to get the word out for businesses with consistent recruiting demand. It’s an ongoing resource that they can update immediately and often, as their hiring needs change.

Being a good neighbour

Broadcasting from the heart of Function Junction, Wilson is inspired by the soul and character of his neighbourhood.  

“Function is just a really neat eclectic little area. It’s a bunch of the core people who have been here forever, so this is a community. It’s kind of like the heart and soul of our community,” he said.
Wilson’s enthusiasm for his neighbouring businesses prompted him to pull together a community block party this past Saturday with live local bands performing, a free barbecue and refreshments and live broadcasts all day with cut-ins from businesses on their block.

“We have a lot of advertisers who are here in Function Junction and they are trying to pull people in the community down here. We just thought, ‘Let’s get people walking down the sides of the street and get people going in all the great stores that we have,’” he said.

Making airtime accessible to all

From day one, Wilson wanted to run programming to profile locals. In the early days he opened his doors to introduce people to the station and get locals into the studio to create content that was very relevant for this specific community.

As the station evolved, the local tone influenced the way Wilson staffs, the music they play and the live on-air shows they produce on-location around Whistler. It’s not uncommon for the station to train up a local who is interested in on-air hosting and Wilson gives local musicians plenty of profile, including them in programming and events like their Thursday “Jam Sessions” and “Road Show Live.”

Whistler character has inspired creative programming like “Tuesday Takeover,” where anyone can come in to play any three songs on the radio and the new “Karaoke Live” where winners sing live on the radio.

“The last ‘Karaoke Live’ was the funnest night of radio I’ve ever had!” he said. “It was incredible, but that’s our thing, doing stuff that will fit this community and knowing that it’s slightly different.”

Make business easy — tune in to The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in their sector. 

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