Ten years ago, B.C.’s oldest private TV station was about to fade to black.
“It appears we will be off the air as of August 31st,” CHEK union president Richard Konwick announced in July of 2009.
Owner Canwest was pulling the plug.
But CHEK viewers weren’t going to let that happen.
Thousands of people phoned and emailed their outrage, demanding CHEK TV be saved.
Even Canwest CEO Leonard Asper’s inbox was flooded with emails.
A Save CHEK News Facebook page was started and ‘Save CHEK News’ TY-shirts were everywhere as Vancouver Islanders wore their support.
“If we were going to go down, we were going to go down with a big fight,” says former CHEK operations manager Bill Pollock
And behind the scenes — buoyed by the public support — CHEK employees had a plan.
Led by Levi Sampson of Harmac, local investors and employees decided to buy the station.
“You’ve got 40 employees putting up their own money,” Saanich-Gulf Island MP Gary Lunn, who helped lobby for CHEK in Ottawa. “They’re not coming to the government for a handout.”
It came down to the wire and on August 31st, 2009, our goodbye party turned into a celebration as talks with Canwest continued.
“It was just a struggle getting it to where we had an agreement to take it over in the first place,” says CHEK general manager Rob Germain. “You wouldn’t think it would be that hard.”
Four nail-biting days later, on September 4th, 2009, a deal was reached.
“We are officially television station owners!” former general manager told CHEK employees at the time as everyone cheered.
Against all odds, CHEK employees raised half a million dollars in 24 hours to become North America’s first employee-owned TV station.
“I think this is historical,” former news anchor Tony Parsons said on CHEK’s first anniversary of employee-ownership. “No one in broadcasting, few people in broadcasting, have ever owned their own television station.”
CHEK News had been saved.
“Coming up with the money was one thing but if the passion wasn’t there, you’re not going to make it and the passion never wavered and that’s why we’re here today,” says CHEK board chair Levi Sampson.