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Vancouver: Roundhouse Radio Dials Itself Into The City’s Heart
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Michael White — Westender

When radio mainstay Martin Strong – whose more than 20 years on air include long-term spells at CBC and Rock 101 – was approached by none-more-veteran broadcasting visionary Don Shafer in 2015 about joining a new, independent, hyper-local talk station, his trepidation about the concept was overruled by his faith in Shafer. “‘If Don Shafer thinks this can work,’” he remembers thinking, “‘then I’m onboard.’”

Strong’s confidence appears to have been well placed. Roundhouse Radio, whose only appearance in last year’s Best of the City poll was an impressive but isolated Silver for Best Local Radio Station, this year took Gold in the newly launched Best Local Talk Radio category and made a clean sweep of Best Local Radio Personality: Martin Strong (Mornings, Gold), Cory Price (Live from Railtown, Silver) and Emelia Symington Fedy (Trying to Be Good, Bronze). Little more than a year after its launch, the station has established itself as a still-evolving but crucial outlier among the city’s terrestrial and online radio options.

“This is probably the only city in the world where I’ve ever felt at home,” says Shafer, Roundhouse’s CEO and general manager, whose 50-plus years in the industry have taken him around the country, including stops at Toronto powerhouses CHUM FM and Q107. When Canada’s licencing body, the CRTC, made a new spot available on the FM dial, he says, “I thought I had the perfect idea, which is a station that’s all about the city.”

The catalyst was a report from the Vancouver Foundation that said, he recalls, “that the city was disconnected and people weren’t talking to each other.” His solution was a station that devotes itself largely to facilitating communication between the diverse people and goings-on that are otherwise being overlooked by local radio, if not all media.

“The idea of being local is not new,” Shafer admits. “I’d love to take credit for the idea, but it’s really an old-fashioned idea of what radio did [when it was new] – or even television. The city of Vancouver is almost one million people – bigger than a lot of Canadian cities – and yet all radio stations in town, except maybe Co-op, are less than 30 per cent local. Over 70 per cent of Roundhouse’s content is local. It’s all about community, it’s all about art, politics, what’s going on in the street.”

“Roundhouse is more like stations in the old days,” Strong concurs. “It’s a family-owned company, as opposed to these media giants that own four radio stations and two TV stations in one town. It’s a lot more organic and it’s a lot more fun. There’s so much interesting stuff that goes on here – the little microcosms of the city – and we get to explore them in all the different parts of town.”

This means a programming roster that includes the likes of Price’s Live from Railtown, an in-performance showcase of local music; Terry David Mulligan’s food-and-drink-focused Tasting Room; and Kirk LaPointe’s Evenings, which, like Strong’s Mornings counterpart, spans the gamut of arts, politics, sports and everything else under the sun, usually including interviews with known and unknown Vancouverites seeking to make their mark. “We want to be Vancouver’s voice, not just us talking,” says Strong. “There are so many people who have come through our doors as guests and to contribute in some way. I’ve met so many interesting people – I’ve met more interesting people in the past year than I did in the previous 10.”

“Our team has worked so far to find our place in the city, to find our sound, to reach out. It’s overwhelming to see the results,” adds Shafer. “We’re still in the process of proving ourselves. The Best of the City results are, frankly, inspirational. It says the patient is alive!”

Roundhouse Radio 98.3 FM
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