CKEC 94.1 East Coast FM
Michael Freeman comes from a radio family. His father, Douglas Freeman, who at 15 spent his summer reading Truro's on-air news, bought New Glasgow-based CKEC in 1964. Michael grew up in the halls of CKEC and took a keen interest in what happened behind the scenes. This led him to pursue electronics and at the age of 18, he became an apprentice to the station's broadcast engineer.
Michael Freeman has since worked his way up the ladder and today he is the station's Vice President and General Manager. Working closely together with his son, Douglas Freeman owns the company and hosts his own show on Sunday nights. "My dad has so much experience in the industry and that’s invaluable," says the younger Freeman. The duo is surrounded by many of the same faces who began work at CKEC up to 35 years ago. "We've enjoyed great employee loyalty and people seem happy, so we must be doing something right."
Indeed. The station has evolved from an AM station with a modest power output of only 250 watts to the current FM station with the strongest and clearest signal in the region, thanks to a state-of-the-art transmitter and a tower placed on top of Mount Thom. Now known as 94.1 East Coast FM, the station attracts listeners from Prince Edward Island, Truro, Amherst, and Parrsboro. Their 80,000 watt signal reaches upwards of 108,000 potential listeners, who tune in to hear the station's unique playlists, news, and community bulletins.
Freeman is proud that so much of East Coast FM's programming is about the surrounding community. He points to their new website (ecfm.ca) which houses over 1,000 photos of local events, people, and scenes, in addition to a long list of community events and announcements. "We serve the community as much as we possibly can and really function as a reflection of the community." The station also walks its talk, donating up to twenty-five per cent of the station's air-time to public service announcements and charitable causes. "We see that as a critically important component of what we do. There isn't one charity in Pictou County that we haven’t helped."
In December 2007, CKEC received the public support they needed to make the switch to FM. There were four other groups competing for an FM station in Pictou County and the application process was long and involved. "We had a tremendous amount of community support and a lot of interest from the public to help us make the change to FM," says Freeman who received over 1,500 signed letters of support. "It was a very humbling experience."
Over the last 55 years, a few other things have changed as well. In Freeman's mind, one of the most exciting has been the constant evolution of technology since the advent of computers. Even CDs are old news these days. Everything is distributed digitally now. "We got our first computer in 1989 and now we’re up to about thirty computers in the building," he says, adding that computers outnumber staff almost two to one. "Everything we do is on computers, including all of our audio editing and audio storage." In fact, Freeman and a co-worker designed and created an internal software program that helps them manage on-air content.
Technically an FM adult contemporary station, Freeman contends that East Coast FM isn't typical at all. One of the main differences is they are privately-owned and not part of a large conglomerate that mandates what they can play. "I'm not a huge fan of consolidation of the industry which is what's going on right now," he says, noting that half a dozen companies own 90 per cent of the Canadian radio stations. "I don’t believe radio programming has benefited from that."
Playing upwards of 275 songs a day, the station boasts an "east coast twist," playing a sizeable chunk of regional musicians. You'll hear a lot of Jill Barber, Matt Mays, Charlie A'Court, and Joel Plaskett, to name a few. Many east coast musicians got their start with CKEC, including George Canyon. "We were playing him before he was a household name," says Freeman. "We’ve seen a fair number of artists develop out of the area. A local music component has always been important to us."
In fact, Freeman's radio station is one place where local teenagers still have a hope of hearing their music played. "We have lots of local fledgling musicians walking into our offices, music in-hand. If it fits our format in any way, shape, or form, and if the quality is good enough, we’re going to play it."
The station even devotes a one hour music magazine program to music of the area. "East Coast Road Trip" plays musicians from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Pop, rock, country, folk, blues, hip-hop, and electronica are just a sampling of the diverse genres represented in the region. The show often features coverage of in-studio performances and musical events.
In addition to the fabulous music, the Maritime region, and Nova Scotia in particular, has a special allure for Freeman. "Living in rural Nova Scotia is the greatest thing. We've got Melmerby Beach within 15 minutes and it's got some of the warmest waters north of the Carolinas," he says. "We don't have to drive far to experience the beauty and awe of our area."
In fact, he can't imagine living anywhere but New Glasgow, doing exactly what he's been doing for the last quarter of a century. "Quality of life is the biggest thing for me in Nova Scotia. I find our province very comfortable. I don't have to worry about my kids' safety. It's a nice lifestyle here – you can keep busy and still enjoy the slower times too