Dennis Walker shows off a Christmas ornament sent to him by a listener of his new Internet radio site in Penticton.
Keeping with his routine, he went to the gym and when he shared the news with real estate agent Ernie Sheridon, it was suggested he start an Internet radio station. Later that day, as the word spread, he received a phone call of support again suggesting Internet radio was the way to go.
Following a model from Southern California where several unemployed DJs started successful Internet stations, Walker launched www.socountry.ca within weeks. After months of tweaking, he's moved into his own studio at the Adidas Sportsplex in Penticton.
"I'm not the only person who has ever lost a job," said Walker at the conclusion of his four-hour shift, Friday.
"I'm no different than the folks who lost their jobs at Weyerhaeuser or anywhere else. I know this is the reality of radio, but to me it was more in the way it was handled."
Other stations offered him hours, but he decided to take advice and move forward by keeping the format that he believes was successful throughout his career.
He began doing only two hours of broadcasting per day from his kitchen. Former Canadian Olympic basketball player Spencer McKay of Oliver was his first guest, and the ex-Olympian suggested the name socountry.
As word finally spread of his new Internet site, the system crashed.
"I'm not the most technical guy," he said.
His godsend was Harry Shaw, a technician who worked with him at Giant FM for 11 years and who became his techie. Walker's show has now expanded to four hours, and it has a continuous loop for the hours he's not on-air. Listenership spiked when he was joined in the kitchen by Juno Award winners Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard, who were in town for a concert.
This week, Walker moved out of the kitchen and into the Sportsplex. Using some of the money from his corporate buyout, he has a visible presence in the lobby of the soccer facility. Much of the legwork was done by volunteers.
"Mauicio Cepeda and David Borsheim constructed the studio," he said. "Steve Karnish of Avante Furniture constructed the broadcast table, Mychele Rondeau of Penticton Web Design and Hosting created the website," he said. "Gary McDougall put considerable time in helping with the sound. George Elliot of Princeton did most of my monitoring through crash and burns, and my wife, Jeab, and Gaye Jiratanarat handled the book-work."
He describes the community support as being "more than overwhelming." Ever since leaving the airwaves of FM radio, he's still invited to emcee major events, recently signing on with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce gala. When it was announced that he and three fellow announcers were being let go by Giant FM, letters to the editor began flooding in within minutes (only two of the 47 sent to the Penticton Herald welcomed the overhaul) and an overflow crowd attended a gala at the Elks Lodge organized by musician Hal Whitford, who hails from Walker's hometown of Creston. Among those in attendance was Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton, who described Walker's dismissal as "a mistake."
"I'd receive letters and emails, and people always asked what they could do to help. The entire Borba family has contributed to this venture, and I'm so grateful to the Pinnacles FC, South Okanagan Youth Soccer Association and the Penticton Soccer Club's board of directors for setting me up."
In return, he does some promotional work for the club.
Walker now has a business licence and, like every business, his goal is to become profitable. At the moment, he has four advertisers, but a salesman begins Monday. He insists he's not in competition with the newly established Peach City Radio, noting he will co-operate with them. He also doesn't see himself as a competitor of Newcap Radio, which bought the old Giant FM and turned it into a more modern-sounding broadcaster.
"They're after the 18-30 demographic like all radio stations. I just need to look at a census (of age demographic) to know my audience. I'm playing country, but without all of the strict formating which goes on in radio today. I will bring local people in the studio and if they go over five minutes, I'll let them finish their story. It's about local. Who cares about the latest story unless there's something happening in Penticton and the South Okanagan right now?"
Meanwhile, the Giant FM building on Nanaimo Avenue West in Penticton is scheduled for demolition. Country 100.7 general manager Ernie Blumke said ratings were released this week and that the country station "did phenomenal with our target audience."