What do you get when former radio veteran finds himself on an indefinite work stoppage and has plenty of spare time on his hands? Answer: an online radio station called The Spark.
“In the midst of the COVID lockdown I wanted to do something creative and positive to occupy my time,” said Frank McGwire former radio veteran who spent the bulk of his 30 year career in Brandon with stints in Red Deer, Alberta and Dauphin, Manitoba. His most recent radio gig was for Westman Communications Group as morning news anchor for CKLQ and STAR FM. McGwire had started to research the web radio idea a few years ago but just didn’t have the time to go through all the channels for making it work.
The idea for his concept was sparked from years of having so many listeners ask him why radio stations seem to only play limited amounts of songs or often only 2 or 3 hits from iconic artists when their catalog offers so much more. “I kept hearing people say, “Classic rock covers 30 – 40 years so there has to be more than the 400 songs radio stations always seem to play over and over, and I really wanted to do something about it. Think about it, why do you think people made mix tapes in the 80s and 90s? Why do you think iPods were so successful 20 years ago? People weren’t getting enough music variety as radio stations didn’t take any risks and chose to only play the hits,” said McGwire. I’m a big fan of album oriented rock but that format fizzled out in the early 90s. After 92 or 93 most stations played it safe and only played familiar songs or maybe new releases from established artists.
After researching internet radio stations for a few weeks and doing a cost analysis for the station’s launch, McGwire felt confident he could launch a solid classic rock station that plays 75% hit or familiar songs and 25% non hit selections mostly from established artists. The format ranges from the late 60s up to the 90s and there are even some selections from the past 20 years in the mix as well as some music from local bands. So rather than hearing most songs you are generally tired of hearing, listeners of the Spark will hear songs they haven’t heard in years or possibly never at all. They may know the artists but in some cases won’t be able to figure out the song. That’s when the Web Radio player available at www.sparkwebradio.com comes in handy. It not only displays current songs playing, it also shows songs coming up and recent tunes played.
The Spark was made available to the general public on June 1st. Since then, not only has the listenership and social media following grown, but so has the talent roster on the station. McGwire hosts the morning show which runs weekdays from 7 – 9 a.m. Holding down the afternoon slot is Bryan Elliot a former on air announcer who logged regular shifts on HOT 101 and STAR FM in the early 2000s. Bryan has also owned and operated Expressions Entertainment (a mobile DJ and wedding planning service) for just over 20 years.
The station also offers exclusive specialty programs such as The Excellence of the 80s show Hosted by Paul Devo. Devo aka Gillespie also got his start in Brandon doing wheat kings play by play on Access 12 before moving on the CKX Sports. He eventually moved west to take on the role of Sports Director at two more CBC affiliates in the 90’s with CJFB Television in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, before moving on to CFTK Radio and Television in Terrace, British Columbia. Paul was hired by the Winnipeg Police Service in 2002 and currently serves with them as a member of the Community Relations Unit. Paul still has a passion for 80s music which he proudly features on his Excellence of the 80s show which runs Saturday night from 6 – 8 p.m.
Fans of Psychedelic rock will enjoy Psychedelic Sundays from noon – 3 p.m. With replays Sunday and Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. The program features the more eclectic sounds from bands in the rock and roll pantheon between the mid 60s and the late 70s. The show is hosted by Paul Derringer (aka McMullen) who also got his start in Brandon at KX96 in 1991. McMullen’s radio career spanned 20 years with stops in Winnipeg, Calgary and Yellowknife.
Metal fans will enjoy the Monday Night Metal Shop presented Monday evenings from 7 until 8 p.m. Hosted by Darry “Beef” Wolski, the show includes personal selections from Beef that run the gamut from the early days of metal (late 70s / early 80s) right up to the current metal scene. The program is touted as the loudest hour in radio and is already building a formidable following. Beef started radio back in the late 80s doing a similar show on 92 CITI FM, his radio career also included a stop at KX 96 a job that lasted a few years until he was let go back in 1999. But as Beef says, “He moved on to bigger and better things,” however, his love and passion for the craft of radio remained and he jumped at the chance of resurrecting his metal show for The Spark. All of these former radio show hosts have a few things in common, they all once worked in Brandon where they worked together and became colleagues and long time friends, they also never lost the passion to perform through radio.
Rounding out the Spark team is Manitoba Sports legend Peter Young. Young has just agreed to bring back his “Just a Minute” Sports feature. The former CKY sports anchor and ESPN sports contributor is semi retired while working part time as a Marketing Executive for Northerners Entertainment Group LLC. Among Young’s many achievements in the sports world is something nobody can claim, he is the only broadcaster to do play by play of the WHA and NHL Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Goldeyes. He’s also managed pro baseball and hockey teams. His Sports feature will start this Friday, July 3rd. Listeners of The Spark can hear Young’s sharp opinion on the Just a Minute Sports feature at 7:50 a.m, 11:50 a.m. and 4:50 p.m. Weekdays. In its first 6 months The Spark’s social media platform is well over 1000 followers and growing. The Spark’s program sponsor list is continually growing as sponsorship packages are available and discussions are ongoing with many local advertisers. The web radio station continues to catch on in many different places in Canada and around the world. “Among our steadily growing audience we have many pockets of listeners out west in B.C and Alberta. We often have listeners in Ontario and some from Quebec as well as stateside in New York, Michigan, California and many other states and just this week we had listeners in the UK!” said McGwire. The really neat thing is it’s available on most parts of the planet. As long as you have wi-fi and a computer or hand held wireless device you can always add some Spark to your life.”