The president of the company buying 21 B.C. radio stations from Bell Media says there won’t be any closures or layoffs, despite concerns from B.C. Premier David Eby about the sale.
Vista Radio president Bryan Edwards said the stations have a total of about 80 employees and he believed some were understaffed.
“We have continued to grow our company in the markets we’re in and news is a big part of what we do. And I think that that’s an area that we will certainly bulk up in these acquired stations over a period of time,” he said.
Edwards said his 20-year-old company, based in Courtenay, B.C., already operates radio stations in communities adjacent to the ones its planning to purchase.
Bell Media’s parent company BCE earlier announced widespread layoffs and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations across the country, as well as ending multiple television newscasts and making other programming cuts.
British Columbia Premier David Eby responded by saying Bell had bought up the stations “like corporate vampires” then “sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists.”
He said Bell had overseen the “encrapification” of local news.
“And now they say, ‘You know, it’s no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations.’ It’s no longer viable to have investigative news, and they were allowed to do this,” he said. “I find it reprehensible. I think it’s appalling.”
But Edwards said Vista pays attention to the needs of individual markets with local staff that live in the communities, and it doesn’t use centralized programming.
“We have real people living in those communities. And it’s what we do, it’s who we are, and it’s how we built a significant business,” he said.
“And we’re really looking forward to picking up the stations and picking up all these employees and giving them a different opportunity.”
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Vista currently owns 51 radio stations in three provinces and the Northwest Territories. The deal with Bell, which is subject to CRTC approval, includes all Bell Media radio stations in B.C., apart from those in Vancouver and Victoria, and 27 regional transmitters
“That’s a significant divestiture and it’s because it’s not a viable business anymore,” said Bell chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson.
“We will continue to operate ones that are viable, but this is a business that is going in the wrong direction.”
Edwards wouldn’t say how much Vista is offering for the stations that include broadcasters in Kelowna, Penticton, Fort St. John and Prince Rupert.
He said he thinks the CRTC approval of the sale could take a year.
— By Ashley Joannou in Vancouver, with files from Sammy Hudes in Toronto
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024