Proud FM, Toronto’s gay and lesbian radio station, marked its second anniversary in April with a couple of changes: first, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the sale of half the station to its controlling partner, the Evanov Radio Group; second, managers say for the first month in its history the station has turned a small profit.
“We’ve overcome major challenges,” says station manager Bruce Campbell. “The trick now is to consistently build on that.”
The biggest of those challenges, says Campbell, was too many cooks in the kitchen. For the past few years the station was comanaged by Evanov and a group of financiers comprised of funeral home tycoon George Marchi and the Commisso Family Trust. It was an antagonistic arrangement, says program director Bob Willette, that proved exhausting.
“It was like growing up with two parents who hate one another,” he says.
With the sale, Evanov now controls 95 percent of the station. Evanov vice president and radio group manager Carmela Laurignano, Proud FM’s first general manager, holds the remaining five-percent stake. Evanov vice president of finance Michael Kilbride says the group plans to continue what he calls its “hands-off policy” for programming, telling Campbell, “It’s your station, you run it and we’ll keep our fingers out of it.”
Plans for a stronger transmitter and expanded internet service are still in the cards but the station still has no plans to register for ratings monitoring with industry standard BBM Canada.
“We don’t need to spend $50,000 to put us back into being unprofitable,” says Campbell.
But that means advertisers and listeners have to take Proud FM’s word on the size of its audience. Katherine Vassallo is a media planner and buyer at Maxxmedia, whose radio division doesn’t send advertisers to Proud FM.
“We look at what ranks well in radio,” she says. “If it doesn’t show up in the top 10, it’s not considered.”
Proud FM faces what Vassallo calls a double wedge: advertisers will either pass it over as a niche station or, if they plan to target the gay and lesbian market, pass it over for being too small.
But Campbell says he is happy with the station’s growth so far.
“I think we’ve certainly served our mandate to represent the community,” he says, adding that he plans “to strengthen our programming and increase the number of gay and lesbian voices out there.”
One of those voices is Xtra columnist Shaun Proulx. His afternoon show with Mark Wigmore has become, says Willette, “the bar by which we measure everything else. I think Shaun took to this better than anyone expected, maybe even him.”
“Mine is the cornerstone show and I need to live up to that,” says Proulx.
Parts of Proulx’s radio show — “the most fun stuff” as he puts it — are scheduled to be simulcast on gay specialty digital channel OutTV starting later this fall. (Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra, owns a minority stake in OutTV).
“I’ll have to get rid of bad radio habits: slouching, staring out the window, adjusting my crotch,” says Proulx. “I’m getting really good at recycling the things I do and I’m trying to cross-promote all of it. Thank God for Twitter.”
Some eyebrows were raised this year when Patrick Marano began hosting the midday show on Proud FM. For the previous year he’d been an intern, station receptionist and Proulx’s boyfriend.
“There’s no All About Eve story here,” laughs Proulx. “Patrick has an amazing set of pipes — a great radio voice — and he worked for free for months and months. It was the station that wanted him.”
As a pornstar, under the name Eddie Stone, Marano can handle the gossip.
“People will say whatever they say,” he says shrugging. “I just do a fun show and keep it light.”
For his part Proulx says the gossip about his love life amuses him.
“It makes me sound far more interesting than I am,” he laughs. Though he does reveal that, to avoid work conversations at home, “We have a safe word. It’s ‘chocolate.’”
“I was an intern at CFNY,” says Willette. “I firmly believe in dance with the ones you know and if the budget’s there, those are the people I want to give the job to.”
When Ken Kostick left Proud’s morning show this winter, Willette decided to pair intern Adam Lawrence with the station’s other biggest name, Deb Pearce. He says he is delighted with the results and with how he’s “expanded the sound of the station” beyond merely dance, vowing to include more local queer artists like Will-W, Gavin Bradley and the Cliks.
“Yes, we try to make money but there’s a responsibility here,” Campbell says, thrilled by the one listener who made “Proud FM” his licence plate. “This radio station means something to people — a voice, a connection — so I tell my people that we can’t let it fail.”