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CJHR volunteer Mary Alice Enright with Dai Bassett and Bill Parker
CJHR volunteer Mary Alice Enright with Dai Bassett and Bill Parker

"The People's voice" CJHR celebrates Ottawa Valley Heritage

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All sorts of radio stations these days are busy blending old content with modern technology. Staying relevant, while reaching out to new listeners.

Take CJHR, a non-profit station in Renfrew, Ontario. "Valley Heritage Radio" serves up an eclectic mix for a mostly-rural audience. The format is at least half Canadian content, and about 20% of that is local. The station saves space for something called Ottawa Valley music, a country style influenced by Celtic and French roots, refined in lumber camps that once spanned the region.

Lucy Martin dropped by the CJHR booth at the Ottawa Valley Farm Show in March to hear how they're making community radio happen.

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Dai Bassett: My name is Dai Bassett. My name is David. But, if you're from Wales, all your friends end up calling you 'Dai' D-a-i. I'm privileged to be one of the staff at Valley Heritage Radio and we are 'The People's Voice of the Ottawa Valley.'

Well, it began, actually with a requirement of thirty-thousand dollars, to get a survey done, for our governing authority, the CRTC. And members of the public, who believed in this project, donated a hundred dollars each to get that done. That was back about seven or eight years ago. We finally got on the air March the fifteenth, 2007. We have our radio-thon, and that's a big part of our fund raising, and last year we raised over seventy thousand dollars. And, of course, we are a very rural community. We do have some advertising on this station, as well. It's advertising for local businesses and it's affordable advertising and they get a wonderful response from it, because the station is extremely popular. It is almost completely run by volunteers. It is a huge amount of work behind the scenes – and some people, they treat the station as their family. Most of them are retired. And they say they are busier now, with Valley Heritage Radio, than they've ever been, but they just love it!

Operations Director Bill Parker spent over twenty years as a top-rated radio host and news anchor in Ottawa. He said this new role feels good.

Bill Parker: We have eight employees and a hundred volunteers, who run it. Eighteen-hundred members. So when you're asking about, you know, how the place operates? It operates on heart. The people who like this kind of classic country music support it and carry on the tradition of it.

Lucy Martin: Is it very unique, what you're doing here?

Bill Parker: There are a great number of community radio stations, all across Canada. The size of this one is unique. We're quite large. We're much bigger than most – most of them end up on university campuses. And they end up being fairly limited clientele, in limited area. And ours is very large, and that makes it unique. And it's about roots music. My father was a fiddler, my mum played the piano – they played country dances, in Alberta, when I was young. And so I love this kind of music and I love these kind of people.

Lucy Martin: Is it all going well, or is there more – something missing or something else that needs to happen? Or is it all fine? Right now?

Bill Parker: Have you got a lot of money? (general laughter) Just hand over a bag of money and, yeah! Everything would be solved! But yes, it's a continual development. That's the way I put it. We're always trying to expand. And certainly people ask us to expand the signal. Get even bigger than we are, and that's tough for us, right now.

Dai Bassett: A large portion proportion of our listeners love the traditional country music, and the fiddle music, of the Ottawa Valley. And it really is a rich heritage of music. And, you know, we've got fiddlers like Brian Hebert, Louis Schryer and April Verch, who perform all over the world. And where ever they go, they make sure that they play the Ottawa Valley fiddle, which is a different – it's got it's own personality, it's own character. But very, very popular. We've got some of the best fiddlers in the world living in Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Dai Bassett: It's a great, great place to live. And the music's great, the scenery's wonderful, but it's the people that really make it. As – I'm sure where you're from – it's the people that make life worth the living, isn't it?

Bill Parker: Predominately, we're still over-the-air radio. Because our audience is fairly old. And they're not into computers.

Lucy Martin: Do you see any growth, in the on-line audience?

Bill Parker: Definitely! That's the big future. There's no question in my mind that radio stations will become world-wide radio stations. And they'll judge themselves based on how many listeners they have around the world, instead of how many in the Ottawa Valley. I think it's kind of exciting because it's endless. You know? It's this big, untapped resource out there that are just waiting to hear, what each has to offer. It's going to be an exciting time for radio!

Dai Bassett: What I've heard from so many people, since the station started on the air, is that people are now listening to the radio. Because we're playing music that people grew up with. And we play modern music as well! It's not a fuddy-duddy thing at all! It's lively, it's energetic. And it's completely live for most of the shows. We have no seven-second delay! I'm afraid if we say it, we have to live with it! So, we enjoy the response we get from the public. And it's grown tremendously, since we've been on the air for, now, five years. And it's going to be on the air for a very long time. I'm sure that most of our listeners listen on a daily basis, on at 98.7 FM. But where they can't get us a lot of people take comfort listening in Western Canada, many in the United States, and over in Europe and in Australia, they listen because they're interested in what's going on, maybe where they came from. Or to find out what their family is doing, and how things are going in the lovely Ottawa Valley.

Lucy Martin: Yeah, it's a really wonderful thing. Radio just connects people.

Dai Bassett: It does connect us, indeed! And walking around the farm show, you know, people coming by our booth, they say that radio is alive and well in the community radio station that we have here in Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Lucy Martin: Well, Dai. Thanks so much!

Dai Bassett: It was my pleasure! Nice having a chat, thank you!

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