Out of time and money, Vancouver radio station Roundhouse Radio is scheduled to stop broadcasting April 30, following a decision by its board of directors to discontinue financial support. The news was delivered to employees on Monday by a devastated Don Shafer, the station’s founder, chief executive and director of programming.
“We have a limited budget and limited amount of time and a finite date,” Mr. 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.”
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.
Billing itself as hyperlocal, Roundhouse Radio – CIRH-FM – was launched in October, 2015, broadcasting from Railtown; a commercial radio station with an interview-heavy, news and talk format. At 98.3 FM, the signal is low power so as not to interfere with other stations on the same frequency. Its reach is limited to the city of Vancouver and the North Shore.
That was a big part of the problem, Mr. Shafer explains. Because of its limited reach, the station found itself on an uneven playing field when it came to the ratings used to sell advertising. He says streaming and social-media numbers are increasing and more than 300,000 people visited the station’s online archives last year, but that hasn’t translated into a workable business model.
“It takes three to five years to build a radio station; we’re at the 2½ year mark. But it’s a costly format, unlike a music station, and the ability to continue with the losses is just too much. So the decision was initially to sell it, and then the decision on the weekend was to sell it or close it,” Mr. Shafer said.
There were growing pains; the station launched with 40 people and it’s now down to 27. Current hosts include former Toronto radio personality Gene Valaitis, former Sportsnet host Jody Vance and former mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe, who hosted the morning show when the station launched.
“It has been a great privilege to be a day-one host at the station. I didn’t particularly love getting up at 4 to be the morning person, but I did love what I could discuss. My evening show permitted me to stretch some discussions a bit, and the hour-long Business in Vancouver show I now co-host with Tyler Orton and Hayley Woodin is the only local show with a focus on business,” Mr. LaPointe wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.
According to the post, the station has featured more than 10,000 guests. “It’s a daily master class in the expert fields of those who talk to us,” he wrote.
Mr. LaPointe wrote that the business model is “highly challenging” for a for-profit station with a very limited broadcast reach.
“I remain hopeful that a solution can be found in the next two weeks to extend the station’s run, but efforts to date haven’t unfurled a new investor or a solution to the shortfall.” He called on investors to step forward “to grab the bargain” and make a significant impact by doing so.
Mr. Shafer said that, following media reports of the imminent closing on Tuesday, he received “no less than a dozen phone calls from people curious about what it costs to run a radio station.” He also says he has been touched by the response of listeners and other media outlets.
A broadcasting veteran, Mr. Shafter says he’s now in a very strange place that he has never experienced in his long career.
“I have to maintain forward momentum and I have to make sure that we do the best programming that we can do. And at the same time I have to help ready the station to sell or take apart ... how much is the office furniture worth? How much is the equipment worth? How to take apart what we built?”