If you've noticed a new sound on the airwaves in the Tri-Cities recently, it's not your imagination.
What you're likely hearing is a brand-new radio station on the FM dial that is decidedly Tri-Cities.
Located in Port Moody, CKPM-FM 98.7 is the Lower Mainland's newest independent radio station.
Broadcasting from a studio still somewhat under construction on Moray Street, the station had a "soft launch" in December playing Christmas tunes.
But over the course of the year, the station intends to expand its format to play what's considered adult-album alternative, while offering a full complement of spoken-word and informational programs.
While a radio station based in the Tri-Cities solely dedicated to a suburban market might be a surprise to some, it's nothing new for owner Matthew McBride.
The businessman got his start in radio in 1981 working for a variety of stations in several major Western Canadian markets.
But after several years, McBride said he got tired of working for other people and decided to pursue his own broadcast business.
So he acquired broadcast licences from the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission in the small towns of Tofino and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, and in Pemberton.
"This is what I do; I start radio stations," he told The NOW.
CKPM will be the fourth station in his stable. However, unlike the major stations that cover Metro Vancouver and beyond, CKPM will be focused solely on the Tri-Cities.
"Our focus is not so much on the music we play . but it's on the content between the music - the connecting to the com-
munity and being a local voice for the Tri-Cities exclusively," he said.
The signal tower is located on top of a condo in Newport Village, and the station can be heard clearly throughout the Tri-Cities, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford - and as far away as Sechelt.
McBride noted it will likely take about a year for the station to fully develop.
There are just three employees now at the station, but he plans to hire more talent throughout the year as the station grows, primarily from the Tri-Cities.
The station will also be chasing advertising dollars and at some point, will look to add a high-profile talk show, again with a Tri-Cities perspective.
"We've got lots of time to paint the canvass and that's what we'll do," McBride said of some of the ideas kicking around the station. But he admitted starting a radio operation is not for the faint of heart.
The startup costs can begin in the hundreds of thousands and move into seven figures.
Though there are plenty of Lower Mainland communities to choose from, McBride said he picked the Tri-Cities because it has the right dynamics to create a new business.
"I wouldn't do this if I didn't think there was an opportunity," he said.
Media observers also believe the format could be successful.
George Orr, a former BCIT broadcast instructor and media expert, said if the station can establish an audience based on coverage of community issues and events, he would expect it to do well.
"If they play bland, boring music, it will die," he told The NOW.
"There are a whole bunch of radio stations losing money doing that now. The market niche is serving the community."
Orr argued the trouble with larger stations is the cost to advertise.
He suspects there is business to be had with local advertisers.
Orr also contends if the station does take off, similar local operations could start popping up around Metro Vancouver.
"This could be the start of something interesting," he said, calling the CKPM venture an "interesting test case."
And if the model does prove successful, there's a pretty good chance McBride will be part of some other venture.
The long-time radioman said starting a station is a little bit like an addiction.
But he's quick to point out he's not in a rush to open another station. He wants to take the year to enjoy watching his newest addition get off the ground.