When Dennis Walker found himself out of work after the new owners of Giant FM laid off all the on-air staff, it didn’t take long for the veteran radio personality to be back on his feet and back in business.
“I felt sorry for myself for about three minutes,” said Walker, who has been broadcasting for nearly four decades. Within three weeks of his termination in April, Walker had built a studio in his kitchen and had a new business, broadcasting online at socountry.ca.
“For people that heard me on Giant FM, I do the same thing here, just talking local,” said Walker, pointing out that with more than 200 satellite stations available, you’re still not going to hear what’s going on in Penticton on any of them.
“The local conversation is as big a part of it, maybe more than the music is,” said Walker.
“At Giant FM, we learned that people who didn’t like country music were listening to get local information. That was always a compliment to us.”
Walker brushes aside a recent report that suggested Pentictonites have lost their taste for talk radio.
“I think it’s what they are being offered. What all the big corporations are doing is they are chasing the 18 to 30 year old crowd. I will take all the rest if they don’t want them,” said Walker.
“People that don’t have computers are going to great lengths to listen. I have been to two houses now, just to help people turn it on.”
And Walker is already finding Pentictonites are tuning in all over the world to keep tabs on what is happening at home. He has listeners in Victoria and France, even Pentictonites on vacation floating down the Rhine on a houseboat tuning in.
“One big segment of my listening audience right now are snowbirds,” said Walker. “I’ve got people listening in Apache Junction, Palm Desert, Yuma and Mexico.”
While technology has made it possible for an owner/operator to run an Internet radio station, Walker said he didn’t do it without a lot of help. Getting started in his kitchen wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Harry Shaw, also a former Giant FM employee, who dropped by to lend a hand after he was also terminated. Then, after interviewing Manuel Borba about local soccer, he received an invitation from the soccer club to build a studio at the Adidas Sportsplex.
From there, business support rolled in for the popular Penticton voice to help him put the studio together, which he moved into last week.
“All the work that you see is donated time and donated material,” said Walker.
For now, Walker is the sole on air personality at SO Country, but he hopes to be able to expand as the listenership grows and advertising revenue starts to flow in.
That part of the business is just getting started, now that he has a public location. Even with ads, though, he likes the personal touch.
“I am not doing taped commercials, I am doing live script,” he said. “That’s another thing we often did at Giant FM. People like it, it’s personal.”
One key to the dedication of his listeners, according to Walker, is the loyalty of the traditional country audience. But it’s more than just that, he continued, it’s also community. Groups like the Downtown Penticton Association, council, school board all felt they could come in and get on the air.
“It’s business as usual. There is no one that I phoned that didn’t want to come do the interview and to my surprise, they took it very seriously, coming into my kitchen,” he said. “The listenership really spiked after Gary Fjellgaard and Valdy played live in my kitchen. I will always be grateful for that and they didn’t think anything of it.”
SO Country broadcasts on a four-hour loop, repeated throughout the day.