Red Deer's CHCA signing off


The loss of a television station is a loss for the whole community, former employees of station CHCA-TV and a city official say.
by GREGORY SAWISKY/Advocate staff - file photo

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The loss of a television station is a loss for the whole community, former employees of station CHCA- TV and a city official say.

The award-winning station, which received its first licence to operate 52 years ago, goes off the air Aug. 31.

The victim of cost cutting measures by Canwest Global Communications Corp., leaves Alberta’s third largest market without a television station.

Former station manager Merv Phillips said the news is disheartening because the large market won’t have a television voice.

One of its best known alumni Ron MacLean was saddened by the news but admits “it’s a sign of the times.”

Phillips said it hard to believe that a station which once had a potential viewing audience of 250,000 people in Central Alberta will be silent.

“It was a wonderfully effective little media vehicle in the community for a number of years,” said former sales manager and station general manager Ray McBeth.

“It’s a real disservice that our community won’t have a television station they could call their own anymore,” McBeth added.

Canwest announced in late July that the deeply in debt company was pulling the plug on CHCA-TV and a Victoria station.

The foundering company said it had “no viable options” for the station.

CHCA was part of Canwest’s E! network, which also includes CHBC-TV in Kelowna, CHCH-TV in Hamilton and CJNT-TV in Montreal.

In June Canwest struck a conditional deal to sell the Hamilton and Montreal broadcasters to a Toronto company, and it said July 22 that the Kelowna station would be rebranded into its Global network.

Canwest officials wouldn’t say how many jobs were eliminated at CHCH but the Victoria station had twice as many employees and the two combined for 80 total people.

MacLean, the host of Hockey Night in Canada, started his broadcasting career in 1978 at CKRD Radio.

He soon became a producer and was noticed by a producer at a Calgary station while doing ad-lib on the weather segment of the nightly news for CKRD TV.

He then joined the CBC in 1986.

“You know advertising dollars are kind of scarce and we went through it in 1990 at the CBC,” MacLean said.

“What was most analogous then was when they shut down the Windsor station.”

MacLean did offer a bit of optimism.

“You know it’s hard to sell the equipment in the station and the building itself.

“It wouldn’t surprise me somewhere down the road if it starts up again.

“The CBC experience was it realized it needed the regions and the stations.”

MacLean remembers it was “a real big deal” when the station relocated from downtown Red Deer to Bremner.

“We even had to wear a jacket and tie on the radio,” he laughed.

A Calgary television producer noticed MacLean one night doing an ad-lib on his TV weather gig so asked him to help work Calgary Flames games on CFAC TV.

“It was just a coincidence that John Shannon plucked me out of there.

“If not for that I’d still be there and happy to be. It was a great place to work.”

MacLean said commitments at the Canadian Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament in Calgary next week will prevent him from attending a farewell at the station.

Red Deer archivist Michael Dawe said the loss of a news voice hurts the community.

“There’s been lots of talk with people saying there won’t be that news voice in terms of a dedicated local station,” Dawe said.

“There’s some sincere regret,” he added.

He said the several owner changes in the last few years has seen the local news content gradually taper off.

“There’s been a lot of people who have worked there that I’ve enjoyed working with over the years.

“It’s a gap that’s not going to be filled.”

Dawe questioned how the Canadian Radio and Television Commission which regulates Canadian content will deal with the loss.

He also pointed out that local organizations will suffer.

He said in the mid 1970s the station held a three-day telethon which raised more than $100,000 to help build the Golden Circle senior’s drop-in centre.

Diane Finstad, who worked for the station for 25 years as an award winning agricultural reporter and host of the much watched This Business of Farming, said she had shows on both the TV station and am and fm stations.

“It’s hard to believe we won’t have local television coverage.

“It’s disturbing because in our heyday the station was a real part of the community. We did live Westerner (Days) coverage, the Farmer’s Bonspiel, numerous phone in shows and telethons.

“That was our secret. We did a lot of local programming,” said Finstad who now works for a local radio station.

She acknowledged that losing a voice like television hurts because some stories are a better fit for that medium.

Finstad also paid tribute to the behind the scenes people who often didn’t get the credit they deserved for putting out a good product.

McBeth recalls the many “talented people that worked at the station.”

“Many went to bigger markets all over the country,” he added.

He said the station was nationally recognized for its community coverage.

“Around the turn of this century the station won 23 awards (for stations of its market size).

“In fact we won station of the year three years running so the broadcaster association changed the rules,” McBeth said.

He said the community not only loses a voice but a vehicle for charities to raise money since the station was involved in so many fundraising ventures.

Phillips, who was with the company for 17 years starting in 1971, said one of his highlights was being there when the station made the conversion from black and white to colour in 1972.

“We were a CBC affiliate and all their programming was in colour, but then it would come to local shows and we’d still be black and white.”

Another major transition was the construction of the present building on Bremner Avenue in the late 1970s.

jwilson@reddeeradvocate.com

Shakeup in local channel listings

Shaw Cable subscribers will see a minor juggling of their television channels when CHCA-TV goes off the air on Monday.

Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Communications Inc., confirmed on Thursday that Fox Spokane (KAYU) will move to Channel 11 to fill the void left by the departure of CHCA. Taking Fox Spokane’s spot at Channel 21 will be Much Music, which moves from Channel 50.

Canwest announced in July that it is closing the 52-year-old Red Deer station.

Founded in 1957, CHCA also broadcast under the call letters CKRD-TV for a number of years and since 2007 has been part of Canwest’s E! Network.

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