VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s a story we’ve told many times before, but some stories get a little sharper with time and telling. At this point, we’ve told it about 25 times.
The melancholy country music song fades off into the proverbial sunset, and from the silence – at 8 o’clock, as we were about to learn – a percussive beginning to Vancouver’s only all-news radio station. And the top story was none other than NEWS 1130.
But today isn’t just about us, and the now hundreds of broadcasters who have called Ash Street home. It’s true that we wouldn’t still be working to keep Vancouver informed all these years later, be it radio, television, or one of the thousands of internet-capable devices in our lives, without an audience to share it with.
— Red Robinson (@deejayred) February 8, 2021
This year, we put it to you, our listeners and readers, who have spent so much time with us on the other side of the equation – through moments of shared pain, triumph, and hilarity.
Many people wrote us with traffic on their mind. It’s hard to understate how often we’ve shared your frustration at a sea of brake lights on Highway 1.
“I have listened to your station in my car for traffic since it started,” B. May in Surrey says. McKenzie too, talked about the constancy of traffic reports.
It kept them company for years of travel from the coast to the Valley, where they surely joined an impressive roster of anchors, reporters, and producers.
“(Almost) all of your people were very enjoyable,” May says, remembering fondly anchors who did more than read words printed in a script.
NEWS 1130 at 25: When CKWX went from country to all-news
While we at NEWS 1130 are celebrating a quarter of a century as your Breaking News, Traffic, and Weather station, our story goes far beyond the last 25 years. For nearly as long, CKWX was best known for the high lonesome sounds of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, among others.
Yes, from 1973 to 1996, the 1130 frequency served up country music, with generous helpings of news and information programming on the side.
“I remember it being a 32 person news department,” explains former CKWX Program Director Ted Farr. “It was quite a large department, especially since it was basically five minutes at the top and the bottom of the hour in a country format.”
But by the time Farr and the station parted ways in early 90s, the party was pretty much over for music, country or otherwise, on the AM dial.
“I think it was coming and, you know, it was kind of the way of things, but it was still sad,” admits Brian DePoe, who succeeded Farr as program director.
“I knew a lot of people that were let go as a result because it was such a complete change and that was too bad. It was kind of like a death in the family, I guess.”
DePoe says change was in the air for Country 1130 once it was purchased by Rogers Communications.
“They’d already flipped their Toronto radio station, 680 NEWS, using the same sort of philosophy and product design, so I think it was coming,” he explains.
“We did our best to carry on a music station. You know, there was a lot of heritage on CKWX and on the 1130 frequency. It was a heritage country station with a huge signal footprint. We used to get calls from Alaska and Greenland and all sorts of weird places, just because our signal travels so far.”
— John Ackermann (@jackermann) February 1, 2021
WX was losing ground to an FM competitor and cutting back staff. DePoe could see the end in sight.
“It was clear, despite [the fact] the ratings weren’t bad, we had mostly, quite an old audience that was hard to monetize. Even back then the writing was on the wall,” he explains.
“Everybody knew it was coming because it was starting to happen in lots of places where AM stations just couldn’t earn a living anymore playing music. The human toll is always the worst, of course,” adds DePoe.
— NEWS 1130 (@NEWS1130) February 5, 2016
Former CKWX Music Director Darren Robson was the last morning host under the old format. He still remembers when word came down Rogers would flip the station to all-news.
“I was working with CKWX with a division called the Satellite Radio Network,” he recalls. “I had just moved from Toronto to Vancouver. About six weeks later, the CEO flies in, walks down the hallway, and announces that CKWX will no longer be a music station.
“It wasn’t too long before the workstations got new equipment and there was bodies starting to appear and you could start hearing them rehearsing,” adds Robson.
“The last record we played would be Ray Price ‘For the Good Times,'” recalls Chuck McCoy, who was the general manager of both CKWX and its sister station 97 KISS FM at the time. “That signed off the country station and then immediately we went into the new production for the new news station.”
Robson also remembers the morning country gave way to all-news.
“I was working down the hallway. I popped my head out and the room went silent just before. The red lights went on saying ‘Live on the Air, and you could feel this nervous energy,” he recalls.
— John Ackermann (@jackermann) February 5, 2021
“The sound that came out of the radio, it was big, it was bold, and, within the first 10 seconds you could almost feel everybody taking that big sigh, ‘We did it, we put this on the air.’ It was a really exciting time.”
Much of the work of getting the format off the ground fell to original News Director Tom Mark, who also read the first newscast at 8 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 8,1996.
“I remember people saying, ‘This isn’t going to last. We’ll give it maybe a year, maybe two years. No-one is going to want to listen to all-news radio 24 hours a day, seven days a week.’ We proved them wrong.”
And, 25 years later, we remain Vancouver’s only 24-hour, all-news radio station.
Things sound a little different now, and our particular shade of green may have shifted over the years, but our mission and passion remains the same on many platforms: celebrate a lot more birthdays as Vancouver’s Breaking News, Traffic, and Weather choice.