CHAY FM turns 40

The Welcome Sound from Huronia – CHAY-FM 93.1 TURNS 40

From the Barrie Banner Newspaper – May 19, 1977
It’s CHAY day tomorrow! Tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m., Huronia gets a new radio station. CHAY-FM is its name and its future looks bright. The Barrie Banner is going to be a part of the new sound in Huronia. Publisher Ron Tyler (second from right) is treasurer of CHAY and Banner reporters Mark Vincer (left) and Mark Fisher (second from left) will be contributing some of the news and sports. Here they chat with CHAY News Director Bob Bowland (centre) and announcer Martin Stewart. Official sign-on will be at 9:31 a.m. tomorrow.

“I entered the cabin of a captain of the village; the salutation they offered me was a chay in their language, – this is the usual greeting, and means ‘good day’
–Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents

Without any fanfare, radio station CHAY 93.1 FM quietly turned 40 years old on Saturday May 20, 2017.

What has changed since the long weekend of 1977? Well, everything!

Records and tape have been replaced with digital recordings and hard drives. Off air signals are now competing for audience with the internet. Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Anka have been replaced on the charts by Justin Bieber and the Weeknd, and the days of the independent broadcast operators are all but gone.

Forty years ago, visitors to Central Ontario on the long weekend were treated to the launch of the vision of Elmvale newspaper publisher Andy Markle and Toronto radio executive Vin Dittmer. At the time, AM radio still ruled the airwaves. CHAY-FM became the first “stand alone” FM radio station in Canada, meaning, it didn’t have an AM sister station to pay the bills. Many so called “experts” predicted the station would fail on its own. They were terribly wrong.

The call letters were created by Barrie business entrepreneur and station founding partner Arch Brown (Brown’s boat was called CHAY Aboard). CHAY is the traditional Huron word of welcome, meaning “hello” or “good day.” The Huron Indian greeting was first introduced by Jesuit missionaries in the “Huronia” region in 1638. The station tied in to the historical significance of the call letters by respecting and honouring the word “CHAY” with announcer read on-air liners throughout each broadcast day.

“The Huron Word of Welcome is CHAY. We say it with music every day.”

The station’s massive 100,000 watt signal reached out to a regional audience from the broadcast antenna situated at the 1,000 foot point of the CKVR television tower in Barrie. The broadcast coverage area extended west to Owen Sound, north to Parry Sound/Huntsville, east to Lindsay/Peterborough and soth to York Region/Toronto. The studios were located in a renovated gas station just north of Barrie in the village of Midhurst.

The music based station was also known for it’s outstanding regional news coverage, including three hour-long news programs called “Huronia Magazine” that were heard at noon, 6:00 p.m. and 11 p.m. This program featured a traditional newscast, sports update, and ten to twelve feature interviews with people in communities throughout the entire coverage area. Imagine how much work was involved in delivering that program every day!

The station signed on with 13 local shareholders and eighteen full time employees including Managing Director Vin Dittmer, Sales Manager John Henderson (he spent many years with CKBB 950 and CKVR Television) and Operations Manager/News Director Bob Bowland (from CKVR-TV News). CHAY also employed a long list of freelance news and feature reporters from around the region.

CHAY-FM quickly built a huge audience in excess of a quarter million listeners per week and was a major force in Canadian broadcasting for many years. Programming and sales philosophies stayed in place until the late 1990’s thanks to the dedication of many long time employees, allowing the station to continue to serve its large coverage area and maintain its audience of a quarter million listeners per week.

The station even financially survived following a devastating accident that saw an aircraft crash into the 1000 foot CKVR tower, taking it to the ground and silencing CHAY and the television station. It is a testament to the original CHAY ownership group that no layoffs occurred over the many months it took to get the station back on the air, first at low power (40,000 watts) and then at full power (100,000 watts) when the new CKVR tower was constructed.

Along with being the first stand-alone FM station to hit the airwaves in Canada, CHAY-FM later constructed a new broadcast facility and became the first all-digital radio station in Canada.

Many firsts and many great memories were celebrated from what was a very special one-of-a-kind radio station in its heyday.

So … Happy 40th birthday CHAY … good day, eh!

Long time CHAY-FM Program Manager Paul Richards shows off the new artwork for the station’s highway 400 billboard. Station co-founder Vin Dittmer and original Operations Manager/News Director Bob Bowland talk strategy prior to the station’s launch on the long weekend in 1977.

CHAY-FM Inaugural Staff – May 20, 1977

Administration: Vin Dittmer, Managing Director, Phyllis Moran, Jennifer Bishop

Marketing: John Henderson, Sales Manager, Ken Swirsky, Sherman Fysh, Ron Gilbert, Caron Wright

Programming: Bob Bowland, Operations Manager/News Director, John Crawley, Barry Kentner, Jim Park, Tony Pearce, Kathi Perras, Paul Richards, Chris Russell, Dawson Scotney, Martin Stewart

These are just a couple of examples of how CHAY-FM positioned itself as one of the leading FM stations in Canada

Comments from some original staffers

“Our appeal is to adults. One of the keys to our success in reaching this adult target audience is an on-air sound that appears casual and friendly, but springs from a carefully structured and disciplined presentation.”
–Vin Dittmer

“The best thing about being fired from CKVR-TV (now CTV Barrie) was landing the job at CHAY-FM. I learned more about FM radio from Vin Dittmer than any other experience. The first ten years of CHAY was a discipline that a discerning broadcaster could apply to any broadcast area and win the biggest audience. Unfortunately for broadcasting, even today, broadcasters are not discerning, but they think they’re cool.

I am proud of the staff gathered together in a short period of time and the highly professional job they did to take the vision of Andy Markle and Vin Dittmer and turn it into a huge audience. As Dittmer reminded us time and again, Selling Audience is Our Only Business!”
–Bob Bowland

“It was quite the history making event for Canada’s stand alone FM radio station. Over 1 million dollars in advertising sales were booked before the station went on the air on the long weekend in May much to the credit of the late John Henderson.”
–Ken Swirsky

” I was on the air the night prior to our launch as we flipped the switch for a few hours of test programming. I was receiving telephone calls from all over the province including a call from a listener on Manitoulin Island and another listener on the lake Huron shoreline. Our original antenna was a monster! The late Vin Dittmer taught me key lessons about the “business” of radio, both sales and audience building. Bob Bowland taught me how to get the job done! CHAY was a special radio station!”
–Paul Richards