The Eagle 103.5
Cape Bretoners living as far afield as Calgary and California have found plenty of reason to tune their Internet dial to The Eagle (CKCH 103.5 FM) – especially on Saturday nights.
“This is their connection to home – come Saturday night they go ‘click’ and they listen in,” says Program Director Jay Bedford, who also hosts The Saturday Night Kitchen Party each week from 9 p.m. to midnight. “It’s their chance to hear Cape Breton artists they aren’t going to hear otherwise.”
Listeners – both local and far-flung – have been finding their way to the Sydney-based station at all times of the day and night since it launched in June 2008, says News Director Jay McNeil.
“There’s been a great response from the community,” he says. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”
The motivation for launching the station was to fill an obvious void, says McNeil.
“The CRTC application in 2007 emphasized the importance of providing local content – not just through news, but in the idea that every aspect of the station should reflect the community,” he says. “It should be a spot where listeners know that if they want to know what’s happening in the community, if they want be involved in the community, the station plays a role in that.
“That defined Cape Breton radio for years, and that was sadly lacking for a while, but with The Eagle we’ve gone back to that,” says McNeil.
That application was successful, and before long, many of Cape Breton’s legendary radio voices – Bedford, Ian Smith, Dave Harley, and others – had found a new home with The Eagle.
The station’s format is Today’s Best Country but also incorporates everything from Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton to Dierks Bentley and Carrie Underwood – plus those many Cape Breton favourites.
One of those is Max MacDonald, a Sydney-based musician, singer and songwriter who's been in the music biz for three decades.
When he released his first solo CD, Songs of Home, last year, MacDonald says The Eagle welcomed the chance to play its tracks, a situation much different than his earlier experiences promoting music by local bands and musical-comedy troupes.
"Local radio just would not play local music," says MacDonald, whose day job at Marcato Digital involves developing web-based software for the music industry. "The Eagle was just tremendous – they really see the value of the arts here.
"We have the talent here; we have the facilities here. We're creating a lot of recorded music, and now we have the ability to get that music played at home, instead of just in other parts of the world."
He's been listening to The Eagle – along with a multitude of others, if car-window stickers are any indication – since its inception, and likes what he hears.
"If anything, they've exceeded my expectations," says MacDonald. "They clearly have a plan, and they're certainly well into the community."
Owned by majority shareholder and Sydney businessman Barry Martin, along with NewCap Radio, The Eagle is a seamless package of music, community info, local entertainment tidbits, charity announcements, and in-depth news coverage.
McNeil ran a community newspaper in Glace Bay and hosted a call-in show on EastLink prior to becoming News Director at The Eagle. Now, he hosts the station’s call-in show, Local Matters, which launched in May and airs weekdays from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
“We’re making a determined effort to have the show be a precise mix of news magazine and information, as well as open line, so there’s an element of public information and awareness, followed by discussion,” he says.
“Our goal is to put the newsmakers and decision-makers in the studio with us and make them available to the public, and we’ve had great success in doing that.”
In its first month, Local Matters featured the voices of 260 community members, plus callers. It shone a light on rumoured Service Canada job moves; introduced a program that helps former criminals hone their business skills; and tackled Eskasoni’s youth suicide problem.
“It’s one thing for us, in a 30-second news clip, to say that the community of Eskasoni faced a suicide problem this year – it’s very difficult to cover that in 30 seconds in a responsible way. It requires more thought, a larger conversation,” McNeil says.
The station’s news team is making a point of doing in-depth interviews – what doesn’t air on the newscast can be used during Local Matters or at other times throughout the day.
And it’s not all serious stuff: the call-in sometimes features light-hearted fare, or guests like Cape Breton singing ambassador Rita MacNeil. It’s caught on with listeners, the majority of whom are 35 and older.
“We reflect such a broad spectrum of the community, that everyone kind of finds a spot to be comfortable with us,” says McNeil.
The station reaches out to the community via its “knowledgeable and involved staff” as well as charitable pursuits – so far, The Eagle has helped Christmas Daddies, local food banks, the SPCA, and others.
And this summer it hosted The Eagle Talent Search, an online competition for un-recorded local musicians vying for $2,000 worth of recording time at Soundpark Studios.
“It’s a great way for us to support local artists, and test the waters of the Internet,” says McNeil.
There’s no shortage of listeners tuning in online (www.eagle1035.com) to the Saturday Night Kitchen Party program. Bedford gets plenty of e-mails from Cape Bretoners at home and away who love the show. They listen for the likes of Charlie Pride and Hank Williams, Sr. along with The Rankins and J.P. Cormier – and a bit of informed chitchat from Bedford.
“Cape Breton is famous for its kitchen parties,” he says. “We’re reflecting what people are accustomed to doing anyway – we’re just adding another element by supplying the music for them.”