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Great news: Canadian classical radio is alive and well and coming from Winnipeg

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Eric Frisen is the morning host on Winnipeg's new Classic 107.
Eric Frisen is the morning host on Winnipeg’s new Classic 107.

What a treat it was to hear the mellow tones of former CBC host Eric Friesen on the air — or, in my case, my computer — this morning. We have new Winnipeg classical radio station 107.1 FM to thank for this.

The switch was officially turned on yesterday on a frequency previously used by pop station Ignite 107. This is a significant event  in a year when several classical broadcasters either closed up or reduced their forces in the United States.

And, unlike so many classical offerings that work off automated playlists — including CBC Music’s digital offerings — there are real, live hosts to introduce the music and animate on-air interviews.

Classic 107 works much like Toronto’s Classical 96. Both are privately-owned broadcasters that survive on selling commercials. Where the two differ is in the playlists.

Judging from what I heard this morning, which included choral as well as chamber music, this is good, old-fashioned, classical listening introduced by a host who knows a thing or two about the music. Besides Friesen, former Vancouver-based CBC Radio personality Bill Richardson has been recruited as Classic 107’s star host for the afternoon slot.

As on Toronto’s Classical 96, artists with current gigs make live visits to chat. This morning, Winnipeg Symphony music director Alexander Mickelethwaite spoke with Friesen about conducting his first performance of Messiah tonight.

The CRTC approved Ignite 107’s change of programming from new rock to classical in April. In August, I had a great chat with Friesen about his plans for the station known in its early days in the late-1990s under the call letters CFEQ-FM.

The veteran broadcaster was determined that this Winnipeg venture would mark a return of quality classical programming to Canada’s airwaves. Friesen told me how Elmer Hildebrand, CEO of Golden West Broadcasting (which owns Classical 107 as well as many other radio stations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta), understood that there would be a ready market of classical listeners.

Hildebrand handed Friesen a blank slate and a set-up budget. The results are now audible for all.

People outside Classic 107’s broadcast zone can listen online here. The station’s web presence is still a work in progress. Hopefully that will get fleshed out soon.

Daytime hours are reserved for classical. After 9 p.m., programming turns to jazz.

The media landscape is in the middle of drastic change, and most traditional media outlets are finding it hard to sell advertising at a rate that makes financial sense. We can only hope that everyone involved will not just survive but prosper.

John Terauds

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