Virgin Radio now owned by Montreal based Astral Media arrived in Alberta in June 2010 with the flip of CIBK in Calgary from Vibe 98.5 to Virgin Radio, a brand owned by British entrepreneur Richard Branson. In February 2011, CFMG in Edmonton followed suit when Astral flipped the station from EZ Rock to 104.9 Virgin Radio. Astral also operates Virgin Radio stations in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Stations carrying the Virgin Radio brand typically play rock or contemporary hit radio (CHR) with a lean towards rhythmic and dance tracks and operate independently with some shared programming under licences purchased from one of the 400 companies owned by Branson.
The Virgin Radio stations in Alberta describe their listeners as active, fashionable and early adopters of the latest trends and they describe their stations as ‘Fun and Sexy’.
When Vibe 98.5 launched in Calgary 2002, it played R&B and hip-hop music and then transitioned to a mainstream Top 40 direction by 2004. In 2007, Astral Media purchased the station, along with most of the assets of Standard Broadcasting. The format changed to contemporary hit radio (CHR) in June 2010, when 98 5 Virgin Radio was born. It became the first Virgin Radio station to play a mainstream top 40 format. The “Virgin Morning Show” runs every weekday from 5:30 to 10 a.m. and is hosted by Marc Michaels, Dani Rohs and Fuzzy. The show runs many parodies, such as a parody of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”, which Virgin renamed to “In Da Dome” to create hype for the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The show also runs a segment called “Celebrity Sleaze.” Listeners can connect to 98 5 Virgin Radio on Facebook (www.facebook.com/virginradiocalgary) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/VirginRadioYYC).
104 9 Virgin Radio was previously known as EZ Rock, which played ‘easy listening’ or ‘soft rock’ adult contemporary music that appealed primarily to women. Its on-air lineup included Ron Clark and Seanna Collins in the morning, Kerry Campbell mid-day and Jason Roberts on the afternoon drive and was Edmonton’s only station playing soft rock favourites. CFMG was the third most listened to radio station in Edmonton (behind CHED and CISN) and the second most listened to FM station. In February 2011, Astral rebranded the station Virgin Radio and changed the station’s format changed to adult contemporary hits (CHR) with a focus on adult top 40 rhythmic and dance tracks, similar to other Edmonton stations The Bounce (91.7 CHBN-FM) and Hot 107 (107.1 CJNW-FM). With the direction from soft rock to CHR, CFMG is the first Virgin Radio Station in Canada to not retain its format with the rebranding. 104 9 Virgin Radio is largely a host-free station and has no on-air personality between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays. Its morning show runs from 5:30 to 10 a.m. and is hosted by former The Bounce hosts Pepper and Dylan. The morning show runs contests where listeners call in to compete for prizes. Tyler Hall is the host from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Saturday mornings, the nationally syndicated “Fab 30 with Perez Hilton” airs. Listeners can connect to 104 9 Virgin Radio on Facebook (www.facebook.com/1049VirginRadio) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/1049virgin).
Not everyone is happy about the reformatting of the two stations. Here’s what Graham Hicks, recently retired and much revered columnist for the Edmonton Sun, had to say onhttp://www.pugetsoundradio.com/cgi-bin/forum/Blah.pl?m-1298156377/on February 19, 2011:
EZ Rock to Virgin Radio: Where’s the logic?
I am at a complete loss to understand why the Astral broadcasting company would completely give up on its EZ Rock “easy listening” format a few weeks ago, and replace it with an “urban music” format that is supposed to be extra-hot because it is “branded” as Virgin Radio.
EZ Rock was a known “brand” unto itself! Comfy, soft, melodic, it had climbed up the ratings over the years to peak a while back at an 8 share which made it one of the most-listened-to stations in town.
And EZ Rock was the station of choice of one of the most advertising-desireable demographics around, the 35 to 45 year old females.
The new radio stations that came on this past year, specifically Rawlco Radio’s very successful NOW FM and its “new” UP FM, obviously took a big bite out of EZ Rock’s audience.
But what makes no sense at a local level was Astral’s giving up of the turf without any kind of battle. It had a successful formula, it had a morning show (Seanna Collins and Ron Clark) that had “heritage” status in Edmonton. In a logical world, the station might have been slightly tweaked to react to the new competitors, to have done fresh advertising, emphasized its local connections etc. It was still profitable!
No, suddenly it flipped to “urban music” i.e. music its EZ Rock listeners wouldn’t have the least interest in, and turned itself into a brand-new animal called “Virgin Radio.”
Now Virgin is a “brand” – the Astral marketing team from down east must think the association with Virgin Mobile, Virgin Airlines etc. is somehow “cool” and we are all gonna love it.
In any case, Astral broadcasting has some kind of deal with the Virgin Group to use its name within an urban music format, and changed many of its Canadian stations across the country to Virgin Radio. But Virgin doesn’t mean much in Edmonton. And EZ Rock did.
And “urban music” – which isn’t that big in Edmonton except with a nightclub and younger crowd – is already played by two commercial radio stations in The Bounce and Hot FM. That niche is already saturated.
Why would Astral then dump its pre-established older, larger, female demographic for a format appealing to a less-populated demographic, that’s already very competitive?
Have you noticed how both Capital FM and Up FM have taken out major advertisements, inviting ex-EZ Rock listeners to check ‘em out?
I don’t get it at all. All I can think of is these decisions are being made in corporate headquarters that has erred in thinking the same “format” can be rolled out across the country in a fashion that will make more money than radio stations tailored to the quirks and individual cities in which they broadcast.
Sorry – every radio station in this city that has lasted and been profitable works very hard at building a local identity. “Brands” are no substitute for made-in-Edmonton personality and programming. (There’s a whole other story in the recklessness in which the CRTC has allowed so many new commercial radio stations into our market of only 1 million people, in an era of unbelievable listener choices outside of conventional radio, but that’s a story for another day.) At least on the local front, Virgin Radio did bring back two personalities that had established a beachhead in Edmonton.
Pepper and Dylan were the morning team at The Bounce, and then quit to go to Calgary and somehow have ended up back in Edmonton a year later with the new Virgin Radio. The good news is the two have been around long enough to have considerable knowledge of Edmonton and who and what we are.
I don’t get it. From a business point of view, I can’t see how Virgin Radio is going to make more money for Astral than its old EZ Rock.