By James Keller
The “C” in CHUM has always stood for cool. And if CHUM has its way, it may soon stand for Calgary as well.
The CHUM story is one of both innovation and smart business. In 1954, the company, then York Broadcasters Ltd., acquired CHUM AM in Toronto. Three years later, the station had a face lift and became Canada’s first 24-hour rock station.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Every few years, CHUM seemed to take hold of another radio station and it wasn’t long before the company quickly branched out into the world of television. It launched the fabled Citytv in 1978, MuchMusic in 1984, Bravo in 1995, the New VI in Victoria in 2001, and the list goes on.
After a history that includes unique programming, unparalleled local content for its local channels and a previously unseen relationship with the viewing audience–Citytv launched Speaker’s Corner 13 years ago–CHUM Ltd. now owns 29 radio stations, 17 specialty cable channels and eight local television stations.
The next stop in its seemingly non-corporate, non-uniform, holistic approach to broadcasting is right here in Alberta.
CHUM is currently applying to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Committee for licenses in Calgary and Edmonton. The new stations will take on a distinctly local feel, with a promised 27 hours per week of original regional programming, 20 hours of which will be produced in Calgary. Said programming, aside from news, will focus on all facets of culture, from art to youth to agriculture, and will include a sizable amount of multicultural programming as well.
What CHUM Calgary aims to be, and why the city desperately needs a station like this to bloom, is something no other station can claim to be–what no other station truly can be.
The closest competitor to this utopia of locally-grown content is A-Channel. The station came out with a fury half a decade ago, promising to be "very independent," local and, above all else, different from the corporate networks that dominated Calgarians’ television and still do.
More than five years later, A-Channel is simply "very bland." It features local news that screams immature and uninteresting, "Prime Ticket" movies that try to carry a sad prime time line-up, a slew of "exciting" syndicated sitcoms like Just Shoot Me and Friends, and the anything-but-unique Maury and Montel during the day.
That’s not to say the channel doesn’t have good points or good programming, but its promise as a refuge from the existing networks in the market (CTV, Global and a host of American stations) fell flat.
Perhaps the saddest part about the whole thing is that the one great attempt to move away from the mass-produced consistency of network television failed to rise above it’s media empire-owned counterparts.
CHUM, however, promises to be different. Instead of relying on existing programming, repeats or syndication from the American market, it will make its own–both locally and nationally–bringing Calgarians programming they simply cannot see anywhere else.
What the New VI did to expose Victoria’s arts scene in the last two years, or what CHUM AM did for radio almost 50 years ago, might be the push Calgary needs to realize out own culture. It may contribute and add to our culture, and help us connect with that culture once it’s exposed.
This week, CHUM is speaking at CRTC hearings and other stakeholders will be there as well. Among them will be local stations opposed to the license, and that’s no surprise. However, in a television market brimming with uniformity, maybe all Calgary needs is some healthy competition to spark a little creativity.