Golden West Broadcasting is celebrating a special year as its inaugural station CFAM hit the air waves at 8:01 p.m. on March 13, 1957. The radio station, operating at 1,000 watts and located at 1290 on the AM dial, was housed in a small studio in Altona - a community of 1,800 people at the time.
The idea for a radio station in Southern Manitoba was conceived by A.J. Thiessen, an entrepreneur from Rosenfeld.
"It was a very momentous evening - something that people had looked forward to for quite a while," reflected CEO Elmer Hildebrand, who at the time of the launch, worked as a commercial copywriter at the station. "It was a cold winter day...(and) it was an amazing evening and from my recollection it's sort of like yesterday, I can remember it well."
When CFAM signed-on that March evening there were only eleven employees. The company, which started as this single station in Altona, has now grown to over 40 stations in Western Canada and Northern Ontario and employs about 450 staff.
Hildebrand admits that in those early day he had no idea the station would grow to this magnitude. "But somewhere in the mid-60's it dawned on me that this was a real business and that wecould probably expand it over time, and we have."
Today, Golden West also operates about twenty online portals for people to access local news and information, as well as stream their local radio station. Hildebrand explains it became obvious a number of years ago that the company should have a digital or online presence of some form. "I may be the least proficient in that field but I know that we should be there."
He adds the online community portals are unique with no other broadcaster running web sites the way Golden West does, noting it all comes back to local content and local production.
"That is going to be a huge part of our future and, at the end of the day, that may be a bigger part of our business than radio."
Golden West has become a vital part of the fabric for about two-dozen communities, and the belief in local news, weather and sports continues to be the foundation of relationships with communities, clients and families in the centres it works in and represents. "We are nothing if we are not serving the community," noted Hildebrand.
He explains this local process is what makes Golden West unique in Canada, adding there isn't another radio broadcaster that takes this approach.
"As a result, you will hear in the media many stories about radio stations having a hard time - losing both listeners and audience. In our case that's the reverse, we're growing both with listeners and with revenue, and basically it has to do with one hundred per-cent local service."
Hildebrand feels that unless broadcasters offer this local service, they will eventually become irrelevant.
"It used to be that you needed a radio station for music, today...you need it for information and unless our stations prepare to hire people that have boots on the ground and are willing to cover events, they will become irrelevant."
He says Golden West has been ramping up these efforts ever since it was determined that this was the way to remain successful, and notes the plan is to keep it up and do more. "We're very optimistic for the future."
While he's accumulated too many memories to count over the last sixty years, Hildebrand says the biggest thrill that he still gets to this day is seeing young people enter the business, grow and become professional on a full-time basis.
"...They started their career with us and they blossomed, they haven't had to go anywhere else (and) they haven't had to move to bigger cities - they can do it all right here."
Hildebrand went on to say that in the radio business, we are only as limited as our imaginations. "I've often said that theatre of the mind is often more colourful than television, and so if we can imagine something then we can probably do it."
With cutting edge technologies and industry leading performance, Golden West is looking forward to the next 60 years.
Looking to the future, Hildebrand believes that Golden West will continue to provide the service that it does now on both AM and FM stations, as well as the online community portals. "We're also developing apps for our different centres, so that will be another expansion of the digital mode."
In fact, he predicts that one day all Golden West radio stations will be broadcasting without the towers that we see erected in the middle of fields, but rather over the Internet in some form. "All of this progress keeps going. We have a very qualified technical staff and generally we are close to the leading-edge of technical proficiency in our organization and it's something that I really enjoy watching."