OLDS — Vista Radio has entered into an agreement with CAB-K Broadcasting to buy all three of CAB-K's radio stations: Country 96.5 (CKLJ), Rock 105 (CKJX) in Olds and Country 106.5 (CKVG) in Vegreville.
“We are very excited to add these important and well-managed stations to the Vista family,” Vista Radio president Bryan Edwards said in a news release.
The purchase now goes before the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for approval, and it’s unclear how long that process will take.
Vista officials met staff at the CAB-K stations a couple of weeks ago.
During an interview with the Albertan, CAB-K Broadcasting owner/operators Brian and Melanie Hepp were asked if Vista has pledged to retain all current staff.
Brian didn’t directly answer that question, saying the visit was a chance for Vista officials to "explain a lot about their companies and stuff” and “what they do.”
The Hepps said they will continue running the stations until the CRTC decision is rendered.
Then they will decide what to do with their own personal future -- and whether they’ll continue to live in Olds, although that seems likely, in at least the near future.
Edwards and the Hepps stressed that under the new ownership, the philosophy of focusing on local news, weather and sports will remain the same, because that’s Vista’s approach to the business as well.
The purchase, if it’s approved, will bring the number of radio stations owned and operated by Vista to 50 across B.C., Alberta, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.
Vista, which began in B.C., also owns and operates more than 30 news, information and events portals and has a total staff of more than 250 employees.
Melanie said the couple had been thinking for a couple of years about the possibility of selling. Brian said the deal was finalized this past spring and signed a couple of months ago.
The Hepps said the impetus for the sale was the fact the two of them have been in the radio business now for roughly 30 years. Brian is 63 years old; Melanie is 55. They’d like to do something else with their lives now.
Also, Melanie would like to be available for her 87-year-old mom, who lives more than an hour away and be available for a new grandbaby, expected this February.
The Hepps note that for the moment at least, Olds is an idea place for them to remain.
It’s pretty much in the middle between their children who live across Alberta, as well as Melanie’s mom. (Her dad passed away in 2014. Brian’s parents have both passed away as well).
“We’ve been doing this all of our lives,” Melanie said. “Brian hired me out of college in 1988. It was my first job in Wainwright and he was the program director there.”
She noted Brian has been in the broadcasting business since 1980.
“(We’ve) had fun, so we’re just wanting to retire and move on,” Brian said.
The Hepps moved to Olds in 2003. They started up their first station, Country 96.5 (CKLJ) in February 2004 and Rock 105 (CKJX) in June 2008. They added Country 106.5 (CKVG) in Vegreville in 2016.
“We were both working for a radio company in Stettler and that’s when we just decided we’d like to just do it for ourselves,” Brian said.
“We were doing the same thing; we were both announcers and broadcasters and just decided that ‘why don’t we just see if we can have our own radio station?’
“So we applied for the licence at that time and once it was approved, then we moved here in the fall and started in February.”
CAB-K started out small.
The Hepps say initially there were about five employees, including themselves, and one part-time worker.
It grew to a peak of about 18 a few years ago. However, due to the onset of a faltering economy as a result of low oil prices as well as the pandemic, it declined and now sits at 13.
Brian said one of the highlights for the couple over the years was the opening of their radio stations.
“That was just rewarding, to be able to provide the first local radio service to Olds and area,” he said.
The Hepps also enjoyed meeting rock bands when they came to play in Olds, a period that lasted from 2008 to 2015.
"That was fun,” Melanie said.
However, they agreed it was a bit sad because playing in markets as small as Olds meant those bands had likely passed the peak of their careers.
“The idea with that really was just to help launch the rock station, so we had Nazareth that first year,” Brian said.
“And our idea was just to do one, and that was just kind of a launch promotion and stuff.
“But the reaction we had from the community and the whole surrounding area, people really came out and supported it,” he added.
"(We) had a lot of calls after that, people (saying) ‘why don’t you do this on a regular basis?’ So we decided, yeah, this is a nice community thing to do, so we just kept doing them."
Brian agreed it was exciting to meet those guys.
“A lot of them were just artists that we kind of grew up with and liked and then fit the format of the radio station, the classic rock format that we had,” he said.
The couple are still mulling over their options for the future as they await the CRTC decision.
“We aren’t sure. We don’t know,” Melanie said. “I think we want to take some time off and not do anything or just camp and travel, that’s what we’ve wanted to do.
“And then maybe we’ll figure something else out and try something else or get a job and not be business owners.
"I guess that’s why we’re not in a panic to decide what we’re going to do, because we know we have time and we don’t have to go anywhere. We own our house, and we’ll hang out.”