So, what’s up with CHRY? If you tuned into CHRY 105.5 FM today, you would have noticed the absence of radio hosts. Since Friday, May 01, 2015, all regularly scheduled programmes have been cut and have been replaced with a computer generated ‘urban’ music stream that will play continuously (24/7) until a new station – Vibe 1055 FM emerges mid-June.
I admit, I was completely caught off guard by all of this. I had not heard anything through the grapevine, nor had I read anything in print, so, I decided to launch my own investigation as to the goings-on of this vibrant campus/community radio station that is nestled inside the York University Campus. I later found out via a Press Release, that the CHRY 105.5 FM that we all knew and loved, had been dismantled and disintegrated. In one fell swoop, more than 200 volunteers (radio hosts/programmers and tech.) were let go – just like that! All that history, gone! It appears as though many were left in the dark in regards to the re-branding of the station.
I know what some of you are thinking…and then there was one! It’s not that long ago that Toronto’s own, CKLN 88.1 FM was stripped of its license by the CRTC and taken off the air after servicing the communities at large for more than 25 years. leaving only CIUT (89.5 FM) and CHRY 105.5 standing alone as Toronto’s only remaining community radio stations. But worry not – in this case, it appears that Toronto may not be losing an essential campus/community radio station, but, gaining a new radio station that promises an improved radio listening/interactive experience.
I had a conversation with Danae Peart (former Station Manager of CHRY), now CEO of Vibe 1055 FM to find out the real deal.
Q: Congratulations on the new Vibe 1055 FM, now defined as an ‘Urban Alternative’ station. I must say, this entire CHRY make-over has been one of the city’s best kept secrets and it even caught me by surprise! How long has this move been in the making?
A: The individuals who contributed to the process were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement just so we wouldn’t spoil the brand. It’s been a long lasting conversation, specifically about change – the need for change, the need for (financial) sustainability, about the need to reconnect with audiences and new media. That conversation has been going on in the organization for about five years now, and what we were doing was gradually working our way through it until we got to this point.
Q: Can you tell me more about this restructured/restyled format for Vibe 1055 FM? There is speculation that CHRY is being changed into a ‘commercial’ radio station and that there will be a signal increase.
A: We’re not going commercial and we are not increasing our signal at this moment. Those are just rumours. There’s a lot of speculation and misinformation out there, because, what we’re doing is unique, people don’t know how to place it. As our Press Release said, there will be more focus on new genres that we’re hoping to represent.
See Attached May 1st Vibe 105 Press Release
Q: Is the switch to Vibe 1055 FM CRTC approved?
A: The change doesn’t contravene any rules and expectations of our (CRTC) license class. We are not a commercial station, we have not changed our license, we are still doing the best we can with the license we have. The only difference right now is, we’re making those percentages to playlists that are on air right now. There are different features that we are introducing and reintroducing. As voices come back on-air, the percentages for spoken word expectations will be evident. As we reach out and recruit individuals, then expectations around language and different forms as per our license will be evident.
Q: What’s your timeline for launching the new Vibe 1055 FM?
A: Some voices that will be a part of Team VIBE will be heard in the first week of June.
Q: So what’s the new Vibe 1055 FM going to sound like as an Urban Alternative station?
A: Until we’ve created and recruited the voices, you won’t know until you hear it – you won’t believe until you hear it, but, rest assured, we’re waiting to prove it. We were known as strongly Afro-Caribbean and going forward we will represent multiple communities strongly. Right now, it’s a building stage, we’re in training and retraining as I speak, so all of it won’t be extremely obvious until we are able to occupy the airwaves once again.
Q: So what is it? What do you call what is happening or what has happened if you were to put it elegantly?
A: It’s a re-presentation of what we do. We are re-presenting ‘community’ to Toronto. Now that we are assigning a new name and a new approach internally and externally, we hope that Toronto and the World comes along and grows with us.
Q: How is Vibe 1055 FM dealing with the shock and internal wounding of the dismissed and upset programmers surprised by this move?
A: How we broke it down for programmers was in a multi-stage setting. There were meetings and those who did not attend were the ones who tended not to attend meetings anyways, many of those programmers found out the news through whatever filters. Those who took the time to attend those meetings had the opportunity to ask questions to prepare for all the stages of grief that they were going to be going through and how to face up to them.
All programmers were given the same instructions over and over and were made aware of the steps necessary for them to apply to and be a part of the new structure and standard. Mind you, this new standard would emphasize a more professionally guided on-air experience – where when you go on-air, you are more mindful of the privilege of being able to turn on a microphone and being able to talk to hundreds if not thousands of people.
Changing mindsets and changing standards is what this was all about, so if they listened, they responded. This week alone marked eight days of training and those who did listen have come through the process. We offer meetings – one on one meetings, if programmers need help to get their heads around what’s happening. Again, individuals who were engaged get it. The community will benefit from an improved listening experience offering more room for engagement. It’s not a majority, it’s a minority that don’t have it.
We are actively and continuously engaged in training. Knowing that this is a fresh start, we’re hoping to break a mold that has been around us and that has set boundaries on us, on how high or how far we can try to reach with community access media. For us, it’s always been about a fresh approach. Don’t come into this space with fear, or expectation that you are owed something, come in with respect. It’s a fresh start, know that in us giving back, that we also are giving you a fair exchange.
Q: What has the response from the community been like so far?
A: I have answered all e-mails, people want to know what happened. They ask for an explanation and get one, then they’re okay, usually wishing us the best. We answer all calls from the public and staff. Usually these are short conversations, once it’s explained to them what is happening, it makes sense, and we move on. Those out there are urged to reach out and get answers directly from us, or wait and see who goes through the process and returns, or who is new in the city that you didn’t even know about that goes through the process and presents to you what we’re hoping is a very good experience in radio.
Q: Thank you Danae. What is the contact info. for people who want to find out more about the new Vibe 1055 FM?
A: I can be reached at email@example.com or folks can talk to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, that was it – a short, sweet and to the point conversation with Danae Peart, CEO of the new Vibe 1055 FM. My next call would be to programmers on the outside of the new Vibe 1055 FM. One former urban programmer who did not say whether or not he will be part of the new Vibe 1055 FM and who wished to remain anonymous, stated that he is in support of the change because CHRY, as a station, was “not making a profit”. He also stated that out of the 90-plus shows programmed on CHRY, “less than five” of them brought in any sponsorship or advertising revenue.
It was also ironic that minutes after writing this article, I received a call from a brethren who informed me that two of his favourite and most admired CHRY programmers – DJ D.O.C (host of Island Explosion alongside Presto and Neddy Nice) and Dr. Jay (Soca Therapy), had posted announcements on their social networks requesting that the public show their support and vote via social media to have them return to the airwaves on Vibe 1055 FM.
My friend was perhaps justifiably confused by this, as both these programmers in his opinion, were icon broadcasters who hosted or partially hosted some of the better (revenue generating) Urban programs on CHRY. Were these and possibly other former CHRY DJ’s and personalities essentially being ‘humiliated’ or made an ‘example of’ due to absenteeism from the previously mentioned (Vibe 1055) meetings? Things that make you go hmm. Here’s how the messages read on their (May 9th)Instagram and Facebook pages;
“I’m Going To Be A VIBE105 Ambassador… but only with your help! Post @vibe105 and let them know // “I want to hear #SocaTherapy on #VIBE105” or “Let’s make Dr. Jay @socaprince part of TeamVIBE” (please post and push on all social media!!)”
After getting this news, I decided to put a call in to a few other ex-CHRY programmers to get their take on the situation. I wont name those who I called, but I will the most of those people still have not called me back. Finally, I found a former CHRY programmer who didn’t mind speaking, but, also wished to remain anonymous (let’s call him Joe).
According to Joe, none of the former CHRY programmers were aware of the master plan of dismantling the old CHRY and creating a new one. In his opinion, this was a ‘best kept secret’ strictly amongst those who managed the station – on-air DJs and hosts not included. According to Joe, last Thursday at 6:00 PM, there was a general meeting where programmers were first informed of the new masterplan. The following Monday, orientation started and things were explained once again to those who sought more answers to their questions.
At this meeting, it was made clear that all ex-CHRY programmers and staff who wanted to be part of the new Vibe 1055 FM were now ‘invited’ to re-apply. At this point, this list has not been made available to the public and as stated earlier by Vibe 1055 FM CEO Danae Peart, we will just have to ‘wait to hear’ what the new station sounds like.
Joe explained that the new format will be featuring less daily programs, a ‘set’ sound and a more professional feel. From what he was told, most old shows were thrown out the door, while others are to be remodeled for their reappearance. As for D.O.C and Dr. Jay (and other programmers) ‘outside the box’ rallying troops with their social networks, Joe suspected that there had been some kind of permission given for these people to use their social networks to get back into the new system.
Also, arriving with the new urban system will be new equipment and technology. Joe also made a footnote that some of this revamping, in his opinion, may have been inspired by G98 changing the landscape of radio in Toronto. Since their appearance, they have made it more difficult for CHRY’s urban style of community radio to financially thrive. Once tweaked and fully oiled, the new system, in his opinion, will qualify Vibe 1055 FM with a better model able to compete with G98 for vital advertising dollars.