CKUA announcer says he was ‘elbowed’ out

Peter North had to do an awkward band introduction recently.

“This is the first time in 17 years I’m not announcing myself as ‘I’m Peter North from the CKUA Radio Network.’ I quit on Wednesday … Ladies and gentlemen, Russell deCarle!”

Wait, what?

The news quickly spread that one of Edmonton’s resident roots music experts was gone from CKUA – he was their music director for nine of those 17 years, and more recently the host-producer of two shows, In the Pines and Dead Ends and Detours – and that it wasn’t a happy departure. North wants to set the record straight. He is not leaving to “move on to other projects,” as the statement read. He quit.

“I was starting to feel an elbow in the corner,” North says on his decision. “I felt that Kevin Wilson, the program director, wanted to move me more and more out of the mix.” Wilson denies this.

Though North admits he hadn’t been happy at CKUA for a while, and questions a number of decisions that were made, like buying the new $17 million building in downtown Edmonton in 2012, he cites two recent incidents he took personally:

The first was in August on the weekend of the Canmore Folk Festival, same weekend as the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival. In the Pines is a bluegrass show, CKUA had a remote unit set up in Canmore (they also do remotes from the Calgary and Edmonton folk festivals), and North was there already. Naturally he wanted to do his show live on location. He says the idea was “offhandedly dismissed.” Later on, he says, he found out CKUA wanted to try out a new announcer, Lethbridge recording artist Leeroy Stagger, on a live segment – from the Canmore Folk Festival (though it ended up not happening).

The last straw was when North saw the on-air staff schedule for the fall fundraiser currently underway. The pitchmen usually double up during these semi-annual campaigns that are their bread and butter. Instead of the usual 6-8 shifts he expected, North was given just one. Two other veteran CKUA announcers contacted (anonymously) for this story said their shifts were cut back, too.

North says the explanation he was given for these moves was money, “and we’re talking a minute amount of money.” He describes frustrating meetings with management, and says that when it comes to solving problems, “I don’t think CKUA operates from a place of honesty.”

So he came to the conclusion, “I was starting to feel pushed out, which is fine. I’ve always said I don’t think any show should be done for the rest of your life. But the shows I did there were still resonating with audiences, and still bringing in money. It didn’t make much sense.”

Wilson says he had no intention of getting rid of Peter North.

“I think there are lots of factors that go into programming decisions, lots of things we take into consideration, but the bottom line is, no station in its right mind would want to elbow out a guy with Peter’s track record,” he says. “His reputation inside CKUA and outside is obviously sterling, so whatever his impression might’ve been, we had no intention of removing him from the schedule.”

New CKUA announcer Hayley Muir comes from CJSW University of Calgary radio

It’s no secret CKUA wants to broaden its audience, to appeal to both younger listeners and voices from Southern Alberta, where before it had been disproportionately Edmonton-based.  They recently hired University of Calgary CJSW announcer Hayley Muir to host the weekday noon-2 show, live from the new CKUA studio in Calgary that opened last year.

“It’s been a balancing act,” Wilson says, “because we know how attached our listeners are to our existing hosts. So with a scalpel we’ve tried to carefully carve out spaces for these new voices so we can be sustainable, so we can reach the younger audience that’s going to be the future of CKUA.”

Wilson has only been the content (program) director since January of 2016. He succeeded David Ward, who came after Adam Fox, who took the job in 2012. New, too, is CEO Marc Carnes, who’s been at his post since May, taking over from the retiring Ken Regan.

These new lieutenants mess with their elite squad of soldiers at their peril. North and many of his peers are not the same as the commercial guys who get flipped, traded, fired and escorted out the building on a regular basis. CKUA is an institution, and so are its DJs. Some may qualify as historical landmarks. Listeners love their favourites. When Tom Coxworth’s show Folk Routes was cancelled in 2013, there was such an outcry that the decision was quickly reversed, and the show continues to this day.

Beyond everything else, North says he wasn’t comfortable with the financial stress he felt at the station.

He says, “It’s been 17 years of watching an institution of diminishing returns. It’s certainly not the place I walked into in 2001, which was in a very financially stable situation, which I think listener-supported radio should be. We got through that debacle of 20 years ago where it went off the air, and were in good shape. But slowly changes were made, decisions were made, and now CKUA seems to be teetering on financial problems again. The stress around that place is unbelievable. I worry more about the future of CKUA than for me.”

All radio is under stress – due mainly to the wealth of choices for listeners, with more and more people turning to on-demand and on-line. The radio advertising market in Edmonton alone is down $25 million from two-and-a-half years ago, according to one expert source. That’s a big blow.

CKUA posted a deficit of more than $750,000 in their last financial statement (covering the fiscal year up to August 31, 2016). Being a registered charity they have to open their books to the public (their show ratings, not so much; Wilson declined to share them). It’s an alarming number, and people eagerly await the next annual audit that comes out in January 2018, and to count the cash from this fall fund-raising drive.

“We anticipate a better financial position on the next report,” says CEO Marc Carnes via e-mail. “We are undergoing a strategic planning process this year to identify additional opportunities to derive revenue while continuing to serve our listeners and artists across the province to the best of our ability.” He also said they’ve asked staff to be “mindful” of costs.

As for the departure of one of their most valuable assets, Carnes says, “I’m sorry Peter decided to leave. He’s a great programmer and he helped introduce a lot of people to CKUA over the years, for which we are ever thankful. He’ll be missed.”

14 Responses to CKUA announcer says he was ‘elbowed’ out

  1. Ernie Zelinski Reply

    October 26, 2017 at 2:28 AM

    Peter is a great guy. No doubt Holger P and Cam H and Grant S. feel more uncomfortable with this happening. Peter had told me two years ago about the financial problems at CKUA. He said, “As Bill Clinton once said, ‘The numbers just don’t add up.’ ” But I didn’t know that CKUA had a deficit of $750,000 in one year. WOW! Talk about irresponsible behavior by management. That’s pathetic. I just made a donation of $2,000 on Friday on Cam’s show but I will be watching with great interest from now on to see what is happening at the station. Just recently, I had considered leaving a legacy donation of $100,000 to CKUA in my Will — but that’s definitely out of the question now! I will let CKUA management rely on millennials to leave these types of large legacy donations since the millennials are the future of CKUA.

    • trevor

      October 26, 2017 at 6:48 PM

      I would ask what where your ratings like? Where they dropping ? If your not bring in the listens to your show then its time for a change doesn’t matter how long you been there .

  2. Ian Thomas Paterson Reply

    October 26, 2017 at 11:12 AM

    So sorry to see you go Peter.

    I met you a few times in Black Diamond at the Stop, with Mike Kingston and so sad to see that both “The Stop,” and now you are both gone!

    I went to B.C. last Winter and one of the main reasons in returning was surprisingly how much I missed all my Favourites from CKUA.

    How about a CKU-B.C.?
    B.C. radio stations are so bad!
    The lower Mainland, the Okanagan and the Island Sure need it!

  3. Ian Thomas Paterson Reply

    October 26, 2017 at 11:14 AM

    Best Wishes on your future endeavours , Peter.

  4. Gordon Whitburn Reply

    October 26, 2017 at 1:43 PM

    Sorry to hear about you leaving ckua. It is definitely their loss. We loved dead-ends and detours. Wasn’t just playing songs it was a Continuing Story of the Grateful Dead and all their friends. Really look forward to Saturday mornings. Also I like to say I think you did a great job on the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival. I’m sure you’ll turn up somewhere maybe on the other public broadcasting station where are good friend Randy is. Cheers feeder I’m sure you’ll land in a good spot.

  5. Gordon Storheim Reply

    October 26, 2017 at 2:00 PM

    I feel “left out” of decisions, just listening, noticing loss of some of the best programming Peter North provided. I would be a happier listener if some resolution restored Points North and other shows to air, and a mix of Dead Ends and Bluegrass. Saturday mornings were my little sabbaoth holy time. I have no solutions, but hope for something in future.

  6. Gordon Storheim Reply

    October 26, 2017 at 2:02 PM

    hard enough not knowing what to say, let alone finding where to put a comment? hoping there is a better resolution. feeling helpless, un-dead

  7. Phyllis Ramsden Reply

    October 27, 2017 at 6:50 AM

    Change is hard and big management changes after years of stability is difficult, however I suspect that financial difficulties are the result of the economy and not bad management decisions. As a long time listener and ongoing donor I am happy with the programming changes and quite like Haley Muir. Our 25 year old son now listens to CKUA in his car, so I think the goal of reaching a younger audience is being realized. I am disappointed that Peter North is gone, I shall miss his programs, but I am more disappointed with the manner in which he has left. I look forward to many years of great, original music and I remain grateful for the passionate, and skilled music experts.

  8. K Reply

    October 28, 2017 at 11:52 AM

    The fundraising this fall is terrible. Way off the mark. Due to problems with deficits? We shall see.
    My concern is the incredible imbalance of gender in the staff. Are white men only useful when their pockets are deep?

  9. John Richards Reply

    October 28, 2017 at 12:51 PM

    Change is hard. I hope you find greener pastures Peter! If you’re in Edmonton why not donate to CJSR? They’ve never even had a budget of $750 000 and yet continues to be in the top five for stations in the area. The diversity and range of community based volunteer run radio can never be matched and it needs your support! Or just have a listen at http://www.cjsr.com

  10. Bill Matthews Reply

    November 1, 2017 at 2:06 PM

    I met you Peter at a few local concerts and enjoyed your programs … your leaving was a shock ….. a premier force I thought … they should have embraced u rather than letting you go ….. if as Mike says u will b missed …. they should b making the effort 2 draw you back in ….. if there are issues 2 b dealt with ….. someone voicing concerns should b applauded not avoided and isolated ….. laying the burden of guilt on people who struggle economically seems like a sinking ship …. as the economical burden intensifies how will ckua b sustained with deeper pockets being involved ……. PETER perhaps u may b needed back at CKUA more than realize …. please keep that option open despite current appearance’s ….. things don’t always seem 2 b as they appear 2 b ….. I think u have PETER fans in more corners than u thought the one u were being pushed into …… BILL

  11. joe morin Reply

    November 4, 2017 at 9:37 AM

    AD is doing ok, make that very well, this saturday joeam but it’s just not the same DE&D was terrific, a huge loss

  12. Harry MacKendrick Reply

    November 4, 2017 at 10:16 AM

    The loss of Peter North really hit home this Saturday morning when instead of the show that made it worthwhile getting out of bed there was some other programming.Just the fact that it had been relegated to a morning show was bad enough and Peter was not happy with that shift. My listening to the Dead and Co was not usually done with an orange juice in my hand; this show deserved to a prime time evening spot. Now that it has gone I accuse the management of having a- kill the goose that laid the golden egg mentality- as Dead Ends and Detours consistently brought in more dollars per hour on the fundraisers than many of the others and the station cannot afford that kind of loss. What a huge mistake!

  13. Gerry Reply

    November 18, 2017 at 12:18 PM

    I believe the loss of Peter is indicative of a much larger problem at CKUA. CKUA was all about the music when it was brought back from the dead. The ADs (promos) have at least doubled since that time. The programmers are what makes CKUA. I don’t listen to CKUA because they play an ad 10 times a day telling me how great CKUA is, I listen or did listen because of people Like Peter, Cam, Holger, Monica, Andy, Lark, and the music they play.

    I was a 35 year listener who listened all day every day and donated at every campaign since the first one. Recently I have been listening very little. I don’t like the new CKUA.

    I am probably in the minority but for me CKUA is moving more and more towards being a ad based station. It seem to be about the business not the music.

    I hope CKUA prospers but with the direction they have taken they will do so without me.

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