Starting all over again at the age of 51, Ted Bird can't think of better people to start with than his new crew at K103.7FM broadcasting out of Kahnawake. Fed up with corporate pencil-pushers, Bird fled the CHOM coop Jan. 1 on the wings of a better offer.
Bird joins James 'Java' Jacobs and sportscaster Paul Graif in the latest challenge to Montreal's corporate radio wasteland.
"The money is not as important to me as the integrity of the product," Bird told me last Thursday. "I resigned from CHOM because it's not radio the way I think it should be done."
Over the past ten years CHOM and other radio stations across the country have been bought up by corporations. Bird says corporate meddling with the creative process has turned a craft into a science.
"When Terry [DiMonte] and I were having our greatest success they just let us do what we do, and the understanding was okay, guys do what you do, and if it works, great, if it doesn't you're fired," says Bird.
"When Geoff Sterling and later the Waters family (CHUM) and the Slaight family (Standard) owned CHOM, the radio station was in the hands of lifelong broadcasters who were passionate about radio," Bird writes on his blog. "When CHOM was in its heyday, the announcers used to play what they wanted to play and say what they wanted to say, within the boundaries of broadcast regulations. It was exciting, unpredictable and real. It was also hugely successful."
Bird fails to see the point in having broadcasters if corporate owners won't let them create. "We were told at CHOM that everything had to be filtered to the demographic. To me that is not real life.
"What the audience is force-fed today is formula radio... [catering] to specific demographics, with songs pre-selected by a computer programmed according to focus group studies and music tests and desk-bound borderline sociopaths telling experienced radio personalities how to connect with people."
As an announcer, Bird wants to be himself. "You don't have to filter what you are going to talk about to be relevant. I think you can be relevant by being a good communicator and a good broadcaster," says Bird.
Variety on Montreal radio is a thing of the past, a shift in trends that emerged when ownership of radio stations shifted from families to corporations. "You don't get variety of music because companies like Astral are allowed to own so many stations," says Bird.
Astral owns CHOM, Mix96 and CJAD and and targets different demographics so they can offer a combined advertising buy.
K103.7FM's announcers give the station an unscripted, spontaneous sound that some have likened to the pirate radio stations of the sixties and seventies. "Announcers do what they do for the love of the craft," Bird writes in his blog. "They have much more creative freedom than announcers are given at tightly-formatted, corporate-owned stations, where content is meticulously filtered to suit a target demographic... That turns broadcasting into narrowcasting.
That goes for music as well. "From current pop stuff to a great blues track, Java makes great picks in the morning," says Bird. "It's not a matter of genre; it's a matter of if the music is good or not."
Bird's wife, Danielle Cyr supports her husband's move. When Bird came home after resigning from CHOM announcing "Guess what I did today honey", Cyr knew it was the right decision for her husband. "I knew he wasn't happy and he is good at what he does," Cyr told me at the K103,7FM launch party.
"And then I went ahead and renewed my real-estate agent license thinking this might be a good time to go back to work," she laughed.
As for Ted, K103 passes the test of a broadcaster's ability: listening to someone you never met and feeling like you know them. "These guys are doing it right as a far as I'm concerned," says Ted of his morning crew compatriots. "That is what commercial radio has gotten away from."
Bird has signed a one-year contract with K103,7FM, a renewal weighing on the success of the morning show. "If we can make a go of it, making it a successful business model while still honoring its mandate as a community station that serves Kahnawake, we can put this place on the map."
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