London Free Press blog on Free-FM

First, full disclosure – the writer, Dan, his lovely and talented wife Amanda and Derek and I are friends.  He does say that in the piece but, it’s just so complimentary that I feel the need to say it again!  I copied and pasted this from

As you may have heard, Tuesday marked the official launch of London’s newest radio station, 98.1 Free FM.

On behalf of . . . well, me . . . I’d like to officially welcome the Free folks to the ranks of London’s media outlets.

I feel an affinity for the station for a few reasons.

For starters, Free’s staff includes a good friend of mine, newscaster Lisa Brandt, who’s in charge of Free’s morning-news updates.

It’s been so great to hear Lisa back in action this week. In her most recent gig, as a host on 103.9 Greatest Hits, she did the occasional news report for sister station AM 980.

She’s had more gigs on the air than I’m able to mention here, but prior to moving back to London she was a host on 680 News in the Big Smoke. Her roots in London radio are deep, extending back to when CKSL was a Top 40 station.

Remember those days? That was when I first became a radio listener.

I hope Lisa will forgive me for making a big deal out of her return to the news biz, so let’s just say this gal has radio news in her blood.

Free’s music format is adult album alternative. That said, the station has made a commitment not to give local news short shrift. I know Free is in good hands with Lisa on deck.

I also feel as though my employer and Free are connected in some sort of metaphysical or spiritual way, due to a sharing of media DNA. Free is a creation of Blackburn Radio, the same family that owned and ran this paper for several generations. I realize it makes no sense to feel this way, yet I can’t help it.

In fact, I’m going to start a rumour right now (based on nothing but my own wishful thinking) that part of the reason Free is named Free is as a nod to The Free Press and Blackburn history in London. Please pass that one on.

In our current world of giant media corporations, the Free Press and Free are related as much as two competing companies can be. I consider us cousins, if only distant ones.

As a fan of local radio going back to my boyhood, I also feel a hopeful affection for Free.

You can probably tell I’m excited the Forest City has another choice on the radio dial. And it’s not just because I believe competition raises everyone’s game.

I have many fond memories of the Forest City’s past radio days. Growing up, my classmates and I fell into two camps: those who listened to CKSL and those who were CJBK fans. I remember many of the crazy stunts and promos, like the non-existent Heinie Winery in Arva and Steve’s Bank.

As my tastes matured, my listening habits took a detour when I found 6X, as Radio Fanshawe was then called. For those of us who couldn’t get WRIF out of Detroit, it was the only hard-rock alternative in the area. Where else could you hear Blue Oyster Cult’s Veteran of the Psychic Wars? Where else could you hear commercials for the 6X discount card, made by monks who toiled “deep in the bogs of Byron”? I felt so depressed when the CRTC shut it down.

Entering high school, my friends and I graduated to FM96. I swear somebody at that station was getting kickbacks from the band Yes, they seemed to play Roundabout every night. Maybe it was Greg Simpson? Or maybe Derek “Rock” Botten?

Working the night shift at the A&P in Strathroy, we switched off the Muzak and listened to Heather Hiscox hosting the FM96 overnight shift. My fellow service clerks and I all had a crush on her — or, more accurately, we had a crush on her husky voice (when I worked at the CBC in Toronto, I never had the guts to tell Hiscox about that to her face!).

I recall being baffled by CKO. A station that broadcasts only news? No music? “It’s all talk, no rock,” my wiser, older brother told me. How could a station air nothing but news? If memory serves, the building was on Talbot close to the courthouse. Little did I know the concept of all-news networks was about to bust out on television with the likes of CNN.

As regular readers of this column and my blog know, I now play a part — albeit a very small one — in the life of London radio.

Every Friday morning, I’m proud to be part of the Friday roundtable, a weekly discussion of the headlines hosted by AM 980’s Jeff McArthur.

I like to think I have learned a lot from Jeff. I admire him for his work ethic and ability to stir up discussion. He is a smart guy and this city is lucky to have him. Even better, I look forward to when he shuts off the microphone and my fellow panelists and I can say what we really think — it gets a little blue.

So welcome to London, Free folks. You are now part of a long and storied broadcasting history. I’m looking forward to hearing the next chapter in London radio because I know it’s going to be a fun and exciting one!

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