A new frequency on Toronto's crowded FM radio dial is poised to make history, its backers say, by becoming the country's -- and perhaps the world's -- first mainstream commercial radio station aimed at gays and lesbians.
Proud FM is set to launch officially one week from today at 103.9 FM. Its website promises "an eclectic mix of sounds from current hits to anthems from the 70s, 80s and 90s" as well as a "splash of classical and dance music" and "unique and inclusive" talk programs.
"I really think that we are pioneers here," said John Kenyon, the station's retail-sales supervisor, in an interview yesterday.
He said Proud FM, headquartered at Wellesley and Church Streets in the heart of Toronto's gay village, hopes to attract as many as 455,000 local listeners a week with its low power 50-watt signal, which will cover most of the city and extend as far north as Highway 7. Listeners from across Canada are expected to tune in online, he added.
Mr. Kenyon predicts major advertisers will seek out his station as a way to get the attention of the affluent gay and lesbian market without having to advertise in edgier publications.
"IKEA, for example, doesn't want an ad in a local publication next to a racy bathhouse ad," he said, adding that CRTC rules mean his station will have broad appeal.
In fact, the station -- already broadcasting a loop of music and promotional clips -- has been the subject of a feud with the organization behind Xtra, an influential newspaper aimed at gays and lesbians that doesn't shy away from advertising and content some observers might consider racy.
Before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission gave the go-ahead last year, one of the station's original backers, the non-profit Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra, dropped out.
Ken Popert, president and executive director of Pink Triangle Press, said the station's co-owner, the Evanov Radio Group, wouldn't promise not to convert Proud FM to a conventional radio station once the licence was approved. Mr. Popert also complained that the new station wouldn't pledge to using Xtra for its news content.
"They didn't deliver on any of the things they had promised us. Not a single one, in fact," he said yesterday. "Our No. 1 requirement was that they undertake to ensure that this would be a gay and lesbian radio station for the indefinite future."
Mr. Kenyon said the station is committed to programming for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered and that its owners have been fighting to get the concept on air for a decade.
"Why would anyone work 10 years to get a licence to do this, just to flip it? " Mr. Kenyon asked.
Gay-rights organization Egale Canada and other local groups and politicians supported the station's bid. The CRTC says it expects the station's spoken-word content "will consistently incorporate material of direct and particular relevance to the gay and lesbian community, and reflect its perspective and its particular needs and interests."
Proud FM's morning show will be hosted by Ken Kostick and Mary Jo Eustace, reuniting the pair that hosted the popular What's For Dinner, a TV cooking show on the Life Network in the 1990s.
The station is to officially launch at 10:39 a.m. on April 16.
Awarding the right to broadcast at 103.9 FM was also controversial because the CRTC did not issue a call for competing applications.
The new frequency is close enough to the existing Z103.5 FM, a pop station owned by the Evanov Group and based in nearby Orangeville, Ont., that the firm would be able to veto any proposal for it under CRTC rules.
Radio giants CHUM Ltd. and Rogers Broadcasting Ltd., which own six Toronto stations between them, opposed the application, arguing that the lack of restrictions on the new station's music programming would render it too free to compete with existing stations on Toronto's dial.
Evanov Radio Group also owns or controls stations in Ottawa and Halifax, as well as multicultural 530 AM in Brampton.