Lake 88.1 — A Voice for the Valley - theHumm April 2021

Lake 88.1 — A Voice for the Valley - theHumm April 2021

Back in 2009, theHumm interviewed Brian Perkin about his then two-year-old radio station, Lake 88.1 . Based in downtown Perth, the station has spent the intervening years covering local events, promoting area businesses and initiatives, interviewing interesting folks, and generally providing an independent on-air voice for this part of the Valley. Recently, we discovered that Brian has made the difficult decision to sell Lake 88.1 to Renfrew-based “My Broadcasting Corporation” (MBC). We contacted him to find out the details, and to ask about his decades-long relationship with radio.

theHumm: Let’s start with the good stuff. What have been some of the highlights of running an independent radio station for the past 14 years?

Brian Perkin: As an independent, we’ve had the freedom to make our programming truly local to reflect what’s happening in the smaller towns and communities in our coverage area. Few news stories or events are too small for us to talk about. We’re not covering the Middle East, we’re covering the middle of town in Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, Westport, Almonte, Lanark, etc. And people appreciate information that’s relevant to their lives.When my original partner Norm Wright and I were creating the station back in 2007, we really wanted the local communities to “use” the station — literally — by coming in to do interviewers, calling in on-air, doing their own commercials and having their voices heard. Norm retired from the station seven years ago, and unfortunately passed away earlier this month, but I know he would be proud of the way our listeners have accessed the station over the years and made it their own.Another highlight for me in running this station is that it’s been so much fun to work with an amazing staff. Many of us have had radio experience in larger markets and worked with the big chains. But these pros have gravitated to working in a small market and are loving it. Everyone here gets to influence the programming, contribute ideas and then get them on the air.I also love the fact we are have four stations packed into one. We run a heavy news schedule, with interviews; a Saturday home renovation talk show; and my “fave” — Lacey’s Trading Post — with everything from bargains to blackfly reports. Our main music format is adult contemporary, but we rock it up with the oldies on the “Classic Cruise” on Saturdays, and then lay back with softer music Sunday mornings. On top of that, we cover the local Junior hockey beat and then feature world-class hockey with the Senators broadcasts. It’s not a juke box. For a small staff, we do a lot on the air.

Lake 88.1 has provided such stalwart support for area businesses, organizations and initiatives over the past years. Why is it important to have truly local media outlets like yours?

Even though there are thousands of audio services available now, listeners still crave local news, sports, weather and information about local schools, government, events — everything. Although we’re surrounded by 29 stations from Ottawa and dozens of others from Kingston and the U.S., no other station is reporting on our particular communities. We continue to hire news people to cover Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place and Lanark County councils, as well as our broader region. People still want stories on their local government, the business scene, area hospitals and schools, etc. But not all small markets are being served with an emphasis on local news. Local newspapers and radio are having a tough time as advertising revenue migrates to the web, and that in turns affects staffing. The federal government is working to force Facebook and Google to share ad revenue they get from content created by local print and broadcast. I feel we need to support local journalism and local radio. And for the national chains, it can’t all be about shareholder return. If you’re going to hold a broadcast licence in a market, you should have to keep staff in that community to serve it adequately.

Your press release mentions that there will be no immediate changes to programming and staffing, and that you will stay on as station manager for the next two years before retiring. Was retirement part of the reason that you decided to sell the station at this time, and can you tell us a bit about MBC?

In reference to the earlier question, one of the reasons we’re joining MBC is their commitment to have “boots on the ground” — local studios and staff in the towns where they operate, unlike some major radio chains that are running some smaller stations solely from other centres. MBC is currently re-organizing their properties, and will soon have 16 stations in Ontario, specializing in smaller markets. I think Lake 88 will be a nice fit with the eastern Ontario stations in Pembroke, Renfrew and Arnprior. We’ll have a lot in common as smaller towns circling Ottawa.It’s been a tough decision for myself and my wife Jennifer, who co-owns the station. I still love radio, but at some point you have to make plans for retirement. It’s the best of both worlds, as we get all the paperwork done now, along with approval from the CRTC, but I still get to continue running the station for the next couple of years with all our staff in place.

Having spent over 40 years in radio, what do you think the future holds for the medium?Naysayers thought radio would die because of television, but it became local and stronger. Then along came satellite radio, and traditional radio remained. Now it’s streaming services and online music, but local radio remains. If owners properly staff their stations and let those people produce good, local programming, radio will always have a unique service to provide audiences and advertisers. It’s immediate, it’s local and it works.

I’m sure you have an interesting perspective on how Covid has affected local businesses, and particularly performing artists, events and venues. In your opinion, how can people best “support local” to help our area rebound from the pandemic?Of course we’re big advocates of supporting local business. Businesses buy advertising, and in turn, that allows us to provide our service, cover local news, programming — everything we do. And it’s the same for other local businesses, providing jobs, livelihoods and services for the community. We’ve encouraged folks to order-in from our area restaurants during the pandemic. Our “shop local” campaigns, along with the area Chambers of Commerce and BIAs, ask residents to give our local retailers a shot. Call them, safely visit them and hear what they can offer instead of instantly deferring to the online giants. For our local performing artists, most have CDs and merchandise we can buy, even though we’re missing their concerts right now. And if you’re able, a simple donation would go a long way to help out our local non-profit groups who run our annual music festivals, art shows, sport events and bingos. We want them all back and running when this pandemic ends.


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