Submitted by Tina Cortese, Station Manager, 105.9 The Region
You would think that an independently owned and intensely local radio station would be lost in a world where COVID-19 continues to capture every headline everywhere. In fact, 105.9 The Region (CFMS-FM) has realized the exact opposite. The pandemic has reminded the small broadcaster of their mandate: focus on THE 905 – specifically York Region.
105.9 The Region was licensed in 2012 and the station’s concept was based on research that showed the relationship listeners once had with radio was still possible, but the key to building that loyal audience was in providing truly local information. As people who call the 905 region home will attest, they do not live in Toronto, and the municipal information that impacts their lives is rarely heard on the vast majority of radio stations in Toronto. If it is, it is cursory. The opportunity was self evident – provide a radio service with guests whose names listeners would recognize as newsmakers where they live, advertisers who operate in the communities they frequent, traffic reports on streets they drive each day, weather relevant to the areas in which they live and talk shows that explored the stories they could hear nowhere else- their stories.
These days, their stories – like those of everyone else – are about the virus, but the content across all their platforms, is very much YORK REGION focused.
While 105.9 The Region is a music station, with tunes from the ’80s, ’90s and now, the independent also includes daily local newscasts and talk-information programming. Like the music mix, the staff in front of the mic and behind the scenes, is also a healthy mix of experienced broadcasters and recent media graduates. Morning show host, Jim Lang, spent over two decades in sports television and radio. A long-time resident of York Region, his was the first voice on the very first day of operation for the new station and he is proud of it.
“I’m honoured to speak with everyone from the CEO to everyday people making a difference in the community,” says Lang.
105.9 The Region’s morning team is supported by news anchors Galit Solomon, a former TV reporter who does double-duty leading the station’s social media content, and Suneel Joshi, formerly of CTV Toronto, who recently returned to radio where his career started. At the helm of the afternoon show is Amber Payie. She may have spent many years covering traffic for CHUM and CP24, but these days, her natural talent and gift of performance has been embraced by the region she now entertains on a daily basis.
This group is surrounded by talented up-and-coming multi-platform content creators. Graduates from Seneca College, including news anchor Afua Baah, weekend show host, Shaliza Bacchus, music coordinator Cristina Lavecchia and recent Durham College graduates, including technical producer Phil McCabe, commercial producer Bradley Cooper and website manager Rick Godel. They have not only found their place at 105.9 The Region, but have flourished alongside the industry veterans.
And then there’s longtime broadcaster Ann Rohmer. A recent addition to the team, Ann’s start was on television with That’s Life, covering CBC Sports. She was the first host of Breakfast Television Toronto, before spending many years at CP24. In late 2019, as Ann describes it, “the 105.9 The Region’s elevator to success stopped and asked if I needed a ride.”
Currently, she hosts the weekend news magazine show, THE FEED. The hour-long broadcast provides the opportunity for longform conversations with those making a difference in the town or city they call home. More recently, THE FEED has turned its attention to COVID-19, talking to those from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, to the province’s education minister, to federal MPs and people and companies doing their part to help fight the virus, who have all shared their stories and unique perspectives with Ann. In fact, on the day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus outbreak a pandemic, Ann was live on the air for a special broadcast with York Region’s medical officer of health.
“It seemed only natural to provide a platform for our very own medical officer of health and we were fortunate to have him with us when the news broke,” relayed Rohmer.
According to the station’s social media manager, traffic around the COVID-19 special was the “most popular post to date” with a subsequent spike in social media followers demonstrates the “need and desire for a micro perspective that was community-centric and specific to York Region.”
Bringing this unique cast of characters together are station owners Pip Bola and Debra McLaughlin and station manager, Tina Cortese.
“The station has a distinct ability to not only mobilize quickly but as many small companies these days, pivot when there is a need,” noted Cortese.
In these days of COVID-19, the station’s monthly “Mayor in the Morning” segment, featuring all nine of York Region’s mayors, has suddenly become even more valuable to listeners. The station’s website, while still devoted to community events, promotional campaigns and charitable causes, has become a one-stop for navigating emergency supports. On-air and online, York Region’s medical officer of health now has an exclusive opportunity twice a week to provide an intensely local update on the virus. Video portal, York24-7.com, has also been featuring homegrown talent with its musical “Together at Home” series.
It seems that 105.9 The Region has not only found its place, but has also become an integral part of life in York Region.
Station Manager Tina Cortese was a guest on Broadcast Dialogue – The Podcast. Listen on your favourite podcast app or here: