The new radio morning show has been in the works for almost five years, ever since CBC undertook a country-wide study looking at underserved markets. But the station will be up against some challenges when it launches April 29, including the retirement of one of its veteran hosts Costa Maragos and a market, that some say, is already saturated.

 

All photos courtesy of CBC. From L-R: Newsreader Dan Kerslake, Producer Kim Garritty, Online Host Matt Kruchak, Host Leisha Grebinski.

UPDATED ON APRIL 25: The over-the-air component of Saskatoon Morning has been delayed due to a CRTC “licensing issue,” the CBC reported on April 24. According to an article from the CBC, the show could be delayed for a couple of months or longer. The show will still be available online starting April 29, but for now, 94.1 FM will continue to air the Morning Edition.

By Ashleigh Mattern

After decades of waking up to CBC Radio Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition hosted out of Regina, Saskatoon will finally have a dedicated local CBC morning show.

Beginning April 29, CBC Radio One's Saskatoon Morning will feature host Leisha Grebinski, newsreader Dan Kerslake, producer Kim Garritty, and online host Matt Kruchak on the new show Daybreak.  But the station is up against some challenges, including the retirement of one of its veteran hosts Costa Maragos, a market, that some say, is already saturated, and a delay in getting its CRTC licence.

John Agnew, managing director of CBC Saskatchewan, says they're aware of the competition out there – including from sources like satellite radio and online stations and newspapers – but he's confident they're doing the right thing by launching the Saskatoon show. Although he declined to discuss ratings, Agnew stands by CBC’s decision to expand in Saskatoon even though BBM Canada reports that out of nine stations in Saskatoon, CBC Radio One comes in seventh in terms of number of listeners over age 12. (Provincially, CBC Radio One comes in second after the music station CJWW).

“There's a risk in anything you do, and certainly there's a bit of a risk here, but it's a calculated risk," he said. "We've talked to a lot of people in Saskatoon, we've done focus groups and surveys, and all our gathered information is that indeed people listen to The Morning Edition, lots of people like that show, but all those people indicated a preference for a made in Saskatoon morning show.”


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Catering to a boom town

The new morning radio show has been in the works for almost five years, ever since CBC undertook a country-wide study looking at underserved markets, says Agnew. New programs have been rolling out across the country since that study was completed, and Saskatoon is the latest on that list.

“When [CBC] started 76 years ago, there were lots of people living in places like Nova Scotia and eastern Ontario, and fewer people living in Saskatchewan and the interior of B.C.,” Agnew said. “In their review of areas that were growing in Canada where CBC didn't have a lot of service, Saskatoon was on that list.”

Agnew says there are a lot of reasons Saskatoon is a good place for CBC to start a new program: it's one of the fastest growing cities in the country, it has the youngest median age, and there's a lot of growth in the industry and business sectors.

While the re-launch of the music station Wired 96.3 as 96.3 Cruz FM last December created plenty of interest, Vic Dubois, general manager of Saskatoon Media Group, says there's little buzz about the new show in Saskatoon's radio industry. Saskatoon Media Group includes country music stations CJWW and 92.9 the Bull, and  adult contemporary station Magic 98.3.

“We don't dismiss CBC arbitrarily, but we know CBC has its loyal percentage of radio listeners,” he said. “I would hazard an educated guess that any buzz would be from regular CBC morning radio listeners…. I'm sure there will be a buzz with those people, but they're singing to the choir.”

Currently CBC has an online advertising campaign and a large poster outside their new offices. Agnew says they will launch a modest campaign including newspaper advertising closer to the start date of the new show. CBC also found a new home for its radio operations in February, moving from 2nd Avenue to 4th Avenue in downtown Saskatoon to accommodate the changes to their programming.

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The Talent

Saskatoon Morning will be hosted by Grebinski, who is moving back to Saskatchewan from northern B.C. She previously spent more than five years as associate producer of The Morning Edition. Producer Garritty also returns home to Saskatchewan from producing CBC's morning radio show in Quebec City. Online host Kruchak comes from the Regina Leader-Postwhere he worked as the coordinator of interactive news. The only familiar voice for Saskatoon residents will be Kerslake, who already reports for CBC Saskatoon.

Agnew says this isn't the first time they've filled positions with people who were working outside of Saskatchewan and were eager to move back.

“We found over the last couple of years that whenever we recruit for positions or for any job at CBC Saskatchewan, we inevitably hear from people who left – usually a few years ago at a time when there wasn't much going on in Saskatchewan,” he said.

Costa Maragos retires

The new morning show and head office in Saskatoon aren't the only changes CBC Saskatchewan has seen in recent months: In March, Costa Maragos announced his retirement after 31 years in broadcasting, including 23 years as the anchor of CBC Saskatchewan's supper hour newscast. The catalyst for his retirement was a change to his shift: CBC had asked him to do the late night news in addition to the supper hour news.

“I'm used to contributing,” said Maragos. “When I come in late in the day, all the decisions have already been made…. I never say no to extra air time, but in this case, the 10 minute broadcast at the end of the day didn't seem that exciting.”

He says he didn't see the change as a demotion, but as a compliment because they wanted him to be on the air more. In the end, he made the choice to leave. “I've had a chance to work in small, medium, and large markets, for TV and radio, I have hosted and reported and done documentaries – there really wasn't much left for me to accomplish at CBC,” he said. “I had a chance to do it all, and I worked with incredible people over the years.” He's planning on re-entering the work world, but he hasn't figured out what he's going to do yet. For his part, Maragos says a dedicated morning show in Saskatoon is “long overdue.” 

“Frankly, I'm surprised it took CBC this long to get around to doing this,” he said. “So much is happening there and it's not always reflected on the airways.”  

The new show

Saskatoon Morning will air from 6:10 a.m. to 8:37 a.m. on weekdays. The over-the-air component of Saskatoon Morning has been delayed due to a CRTC “licensing issue,” the CBC reported on April 24. According to an article from the CBC, the show could be delayed for a couple of months or longer. The show will still be available online starting April 29, but for now, 94.1 FM will continue to air the Morning Edition. Eventually, the show is expected to air on Saskatoon's CBC Radio One FM station, which covers the City of Saskatoon and commuter cities nearby in a radius of about 50 kilometres. By comparison, Saskatoon Media Group's FM stations reach 100 kilometers in radius, says Dubois. The Morning Edition will still be available in Saskatoon on CBC's AM channel, but with the Saskatoon show focusing entirely on that city's news, The Morning Edition listeners can expect less content about Bridge City, says Agnew.

The first edition of CBC Radio One's Saskatoon Morning will air Monday April 29, and there will also be an open house that day at CBC Saskatoon's new digs.

 

Ashleigh Mattern is a full-time freelance writer based in Saskatoon, Sask. She writes on a wide variety of subjects, but specializes in arts and culture feature articles. See her work at ashleighmattern.com.

 

Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.