Broadcast veteran discusses community station

Gord Leighton looks to start community based radio station in Vernon

Gord Leighton isn’t anxious to be idle.

Former general manager of SUN-FM radio, Leighton – who has spent five decades in broadcasting – said he’s “not wired to hang around and do nothing.”

After negotiating his severance package in January from Bell Media (parent company of SUN), Leighton has started the not-for-profit Vernon Community Radio Society with the eventual goal of operating a community radio station.

“I have many good friends and broadcasting colleagues at both SUN and KISS (FM stations in Vernon) and I respect the good work done by both stations,” said Leighton, 72.

“This initiative is not a slam, a poke or a disparagement of current services. This is simply an opportunity to create new, refreshingly different content…”

Growing up in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, Leighton became a radio junkie, first building a crystal radio set and listening to Canadian broadcasting hall of fame disc jockey Red Robinson on Vancouver stations CJOR and CFUN before Billy Browne opened CFCP in Courtenay.

Attending UBC and studying electrical engineering, Leighton spent much of his time hanging out with the Radio Society – RADSOC – which operated the school’s closed circuit radio station from a basement studio at Brock Hall on the Kitsilano campus.

In his second year, and with his marks “not so great,” Leighton left school and eventually found his way north to Terrace and Kitimat, where he became the 6 p.m. to midnight announcer at CFTK radio for a salary of $290 a month.

He spent nine years in Terrace before returning to Vancouver to join the Q Broadcasting team which operated CHQM AM and FM stations. From there, Leighton went back north to Prince George where, at age 28 in 1973, he became general manager of CKPG radio and TV stations. He stayed for 30 years before finding his way to the Okanagan and Vernon in 2003 after the last of his three kids left home.

Leighton served two terms on the board of the B.C. Association of Broadcasters and was also on the board of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

“Broadcasting is in my blood,” said Leighton, who invited four people to join him as directors in the community radio station venture. The four – businessman Dave Weatherill, executive directors Garry Molitwenik and Vicki Proulx and realtor Charlie Veaudry – are well-known within the community.

Their goal is to launch “new content including music from genres not now heard, music by new and emerging local artists, in-depth spoken-word programming, a platform for volunteers to express their creativity and perhaps find a career in radio.”

“What would be on it? Well, a whole lot of people want to hear country music, old country music, maybe a couple of hours per week devoted to jazz, folk or new alternative music that a lot of young people would have to hear as it’s not played on either of the two stations,” said Leighton. “There would be news. Maybe an open line show. Gosh knows what the volunteer community might come up with.”

The station would be run mostly with volunteers, though Leighton envisions having several paid on-air and sales staff.

Step one, he said, is to create awareness of the society. Step two is to engage and enlist membership and the third step – as he told the directors – is fundraising.

“You can’t get started for nothing,” said Leighton, whose current estimate for start-up funds is “north of $100,000” to get the station on the air. And if the station is going to have any kind of impact, he added, it must be heard over the airwaves, not on the Internet.

“We’ll apply to the CRTC (Canadian licensing body) in the late spring of 2018 for a community-based radio station licence,” said Leighton. “If all goes well, and the CRTC gives us a licence to get on the air, it could allow us to be on maybe even a year from now, the fall of 2018. Could be sooner. It might be later.”

Leighton started a page on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/vernoncommunityradio/ – and has already received 200 likes. He wants to see that number grow. He’ll then convene a board meeting and follow that with a town-hall style meeting to introduce the public to his vision.

There are currently about 200 community-based and campus radio stations operating in Canada.

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