The longstanding relationship between the BCHL and TSN 1040

 

Sports fans around British Columbia and across the Canadian media landscape were shocked on the morning of Feb. 9 when Bell Media abruptly shuttered TSN 1040.

There was a canned announcement after a commercial break and the morning hosts of Mike Halford and Jason Brough weren’t heard again during the show as it transitioned to a music format.

The loss of TSN 1040 stings in a number of ways to so many people. The many staff, who are now out of a job. The advertisers and sponsors, who relied on TSN 1040 as a marketing vehicle for their businesses. The listeners, who had Halford and Brough, Don Taylor and Bob “The Moj” Marjanovich, Matt Sekeres and Blake Price, and Rob Fai as part of their daily routine.

The familiarity of those personalities brought comfort and normalcy to thousands of listeners every day. But there’s another segment impacted by the plug being pulled suddenly on 1040.

Leagues like the BC Hockey League are dealt a blow as well. There’s now one less voice in mainstream media to provide an outlet for stories from levels below the professional teams in the Lower Mainland.

“When I think about the league and the station, it’s really about being able to use the megaphone of an all-sports radio station to get across the stories we have,” said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb.

“We do have a relationship with (Sportsnet) 650 and they’ve been great to us too. We’ve made sure we use as many avenues as we can to get across what we want to communicate. Obviously (the loss of 1040) cuts in half the amount of support we get.”

The relationship between TEAM 1040 (then TSN 1040) and the BCHL go back a long way, almost to the station’s infancy.

Junior hockey was always part of the focus

The driving force behind the launch of TEAM 1040 was Paul Carson. After a 19-year run as the sports director and an anchor on the legendary highlight show Sports Page, Carson and his company, Grand Slam Radio, created TEAM 1040 as Vancouver’s first all-sports radio station. It went on the air in May 2001.

Bill Courage and Dan Russell were the first morning hosts and the early months of the station coincided with the inaugural Western Hockey League season for the Vancouver Giants.

TEAM 1040 broadcast 65 of the Giants games during that first season with Rick Dhaliwal doing play-by-play for the home games, Craig West did the road games, and Bill Wilms provided colour commentary for all games. However, TSN 1040 also included segments on the BCHL as part of its regular programming during the 2001-02 season.

Then during the 2002-03 season, TEAM 1040 started broadcasting a BCHL game of the week with Lee Powell on play-by-play and former NHLer Blair MacDonald on colour.

Former TEAM/TSN 1040 program director Robert Gray, who helped launch the station in 2001 and worked there for 17 years, feels the grassroots attitude that Carson brought from Sports Page had a big influence on their radio content.

“With Paul, it wasn’t only about the pro teams, we tried to do more to promote and support grassroots and university sports too. We wanted to support all sports and leagues of all levels in the community. BCHL was – and is – great hockey (with) lots of great athletes and stories – (covering it) made a lot of sense.”

Continued partnership

Over the years, the partnership between the BCHL and TEAM 1040 continued to grow. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how integral Subway was as a sponsor of so much BCHL content on the radio station as well. Whether it was the title sponsor of BCHL broadcasts on TEAM 1040 or sponsoring the player of the week feature, Subway played a big role.

Eddie Gregory, who’s been the play-by-play announcer for the Coquitlam Express since 2004, was also a producer at TSN 1040 until this week, and he feels there was a key to the longevity of the relationship between the radio station and the BCHL.

“I believe the station always believed in the product that the BCHL provided. (It is) top quality hockey that puts players on a path to success in life. The people at the station cared about the league. There were good stories in that league that warranted the coverage.”

Although the station was geographically located in downtown Vancouver for the last 20 years, according to Gregory, the BCHL’s presence around the province wasn’t lost on those in charge of programming at TSN 1040.

“The station (also) knew that if they did a story on a smaller market in the league like Merritt, Powell River, Trail, etc., it was significant for that market to get big league coverage for their team. In those smaller markets, the BCHL clubs are the big league teams.”

As a broadcast partner of the BCHL, TEAM 1040 hosts did countless interviews with players, coaches, alumni, and broadcasters from the league, a feature that continued right until Hebb did an interview with Matt Sekeres this past November regarding the COVID-19 restrictions.

“Since I’ve been commissioner, the relationship has been tremendous. Their guys really got what the BCHL is, they appreciate the level of athleticism and commitment it takes for kids to give as much as they’re giving to become better hockey players and in some cases, have a career,” Hebb added.

There was also a one hour Sunday night show on 1040 hosted by then-Langley Chiefs director of marketing and media relations Jared Harman called “BCHL This Week” during at least the 2006-07 season. As well, for a time in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the league’s broadcaster of the year award was sponsored by  TEAM 1040.

Hello out there, we’re on the air

In the 2009-10 season, BCHL play-by-play returned to TEAM 1040 with a dozen games broadcast by Blake Price on play-by-play and Richmond Sockeyes alum Dave Tomlinson providing colour. For the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Price was joined by Jeff Paterson on colour, and Matt Baker rinkside as TEAM 1040’s BCHL broadcast team.

Then in September 2012, Price and Paterson were named co-home play-by-play announcers for the Vancouver Giants radio broadcast. As a result, Price stepped away from the BCHL broadcast and Paterson took over as the main play-by-play voice.

I was flattered and honoured when approached by then-TEAM 1040 program director Mike Whittingham to join Jeff in the booth to provide colour commentary for the 2012-13 season. It was the last season that live BCHL games would ever be featured on the 1040 airwaves.

In subsequent seasons, Paterson served as the host of Subway BCHL This Week, which was a 30-minute, magazine-style show featuring interviews and news from around the league. When Paterson was laid off in November 2015, Iain McLetchie took over as host of the show.

Recent years have seen BCHL players featured during scholarship updates on TSN 1040 voiced by broadcasters from around the league. It was a great way for broadcasters in all 17 markets to have their voices – and teams – featured on the radio in the largest city in the province.

“TSN 1040 has been a longtime partner of the BCHL going back to their early days as a station, and we are very sad to see their impressive run in the Vancouver market come to an end,” said Jesse Adamson, who is the BC Hockey League coordinator, content services.

TSN 1040 afternoon hosts Sekeres and Price also did weekly interviews with prominent BCHL alumni and personalities from around the league as recently as the 2019-20 season. They’ve also broadcast their show live from the BCHL Showcase in past years.

“Really for me, it’s about the friendships. Being able to call up some of the guys who were on the air there and say ‘We’re looking to get some information out,’ and they couldn’t have been more accommodating for us,” explained Hebb.

“On a day like this where talk radio and sports radio is under attack – I get it – but the personal side of it is the thing that resonates with me because I know a lot of those (people) personally.”

Since Sportsnet 650 signed on in late summer 2017, it has featured BCHL content, there’s no doubt about that, but the coverage on what is now Vancouver’s lone all-sports radio station pales in comparison to that of TSN 1040.

The league might not be able to find a radio station partner that provides what TSN 1040 did, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t looking.

“When you enter into an agreement (like we had) and the station’s shut down, the agreement goes away. Our job is trying to find a replacement for 1040 to a partner of the league that will do as good a job as they did,” noted Hebb.

“1040 always did a great job of promoting and covering sports outside of the Canucks, Lions and Whitecaps and that includes their work with our league. Their hosts did their homework and got to know our players and our league on a deeper level than most and it showed in the engaging and in-depth interviews they conducted with them over the years,” continued Adamson. “We wish all the staff that lost their jobs nothing but the best.”