Vancouver’s feisty independent Roundhouse Radio is going silent unless an angel investor steps up before April 30, which is when the community FM is set to go off following the station’s board of directors baulking at investing more in cash in the money-losing station.
The community-centric alternative outlet is the inspiration of veteran broadcast executive Don Shafer whose original idea was to create a radio station that was local and inclusive, different than traditional talk radio stations and more akin to CBC, NPR and the BBC.
Sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s CBC,” Roundhouse hosts a bandwidth of shows that deal with inner-city issues and urban dilemmas and gives a voice to grassroots organizations and left-of-centre idealists who are often muted in mainstream media. These include gay activists, health care workers, end-to-poverty coalitions, and community associations rallying against urban developers. It is also a nexus for alternative and indigenous musicians and acoustic songwriters who frequently perform in the round live from the station’s Railtown studio set in the city’s (disappearing) industrial eastside-district.
Launched in October of 2015, control of the station has depleted from eight investors and is now exercised by (manufacturer) Pushor Family Holding Corp., National Hearing Services CEO Craig Cameron and his wife Candace, Don Shafer and his partner Yvonne Evans.
The board had been working with investment bank Capital Canada to find investors or a purchaser. The station says that, while there continues to be dialogue, the board has determined that, without a potential buyer, Roundhouse will go off the air at the end of this month.
“We have a limited budget, a limited amount of time and a finite date,” founder, chief executive and programming director–Shafer told The Globe and Mail in an interview. “We’ve been given a date where we either find a buyer, somebody steps up and saves us and buys the station, or we have no choice but to go off the air, which would be a tragedy.”
While popular radio hosts such as Gene Valaitis, Jody Vance, Janice Ungaro and Cory Ashworth, Kirk LaPointe, and weekender Terry David Mulligan have cultivated enthused audiences, the station’s often dark subject matter and eclectic programming mix make it a difficult sell in a hyper-competitive market.
All in there are 30 competing radio stations offering everything from sports, news/talk, ethnic and multicultural and mainstream programming. Layered over this are as many frequencies that can be picked up from the lower mainland and Washington state.
The announcement of Roundhouse's impending closure was delivered by Shafer in an emotionally charged closed-door staff meeting on Monday.
In an e-mail to FYI, the man who dared to dream of taking on the establishment said that “this has been the toughest week in my career." Continuing, Shafer wrote: "It has taken time to find the team that we have (and) they are being recognized daily for exceptional work. While we look for investment, I remain optimistic that we will be able to keep this little Indy station going. If not, well, I’m not sure what that looks like as it will be a damn shame.”
Listen to Roundhouse online here and below is a video posted to YouTube by Fraser Valley News broadcaster and news director Don Lehn who offers his own thoughts on what it means to lose the station that dared to challenge the norms.
And here’s Don Shafer and partner Yvonne Evans sharing his concept for Roundhouse Radio