Sports

Chilliwack radio station pulls plug on Chiefs play-by-play

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"Local news, local weather, local sports," was how Chilliwack's newest radio station was touted seven years ago by Elmer Hildebrand of Golden West Broadcasting.

Since then, the Chilliwack Bruins left town, the Chilliwack Chiefs returned, 89.5FM changed from The Hawk to The Drive, and now listeners will have to be satisfied with "local weather," as all members of the news and sports departments have been laid off.

That includes Chiefs play-by-play man Marc Fitzgerald. "Layoffs include myself," Fitzgerald Tweeted on Thursday. "I will call the final six games of the season, and then move on to new challenges. Thank You for the support."

"It's disappointing," said Chiefs president Glen Ringdal.

Ringdal said he was visited by station managers last Thursday who told him the station was "streamlining" and as a result, Fitzgerald had to go.

"It's been a great relationship. Mark is one of the premier play-by-play guys in the game in B.C. He's a terrific play-by-play guy and I'm sure he will land on his feet somewhere.

"For us it's sad to see it end. It just seems to be the way things are going."

Whether games are broadcast on radio or not, the decision means the Chiefs have to find another play-by-play man after this season because of league deals to stream all games on pay-per-view with FASTHockey.

Ringdal said Star FM has no interest in the hockey games, so the team may look towards Internet broadcasting, which is likely the future anyway.

"Maybe this just pushes us a little faster into that world where we were heading anyways," Ringdal said.

As to broadcasting games on radio or TV at all, there have always been two schools of thought: one is that blackouts force fans to come to games; the other, Ringdal's philosophy, is the more exposure the better.

"To me it's a loss and our trick is to figure out how we can make up for that loss in getting to our fans," he said.

Ringdal said about half the teams in the league have arrangements similar to what the Chiefs had with The Drive. Penticton, Prince George and West Kelowna all have their games broadcast on local radio, but the closer you get to the city-Langley, Surrey, Coquitlam- the less that happens.

Fitzgerald is far from the only person to lose a job last week. A source told the Times seven full-time and two part-time employees were laid off, including news director Don Lehn and reporter Jason Bryant.

Both Lehn and Fitzgerald thanked people on social media for the outpouring of support in the wake of the news.

"[T]he day before the layoffs, I marked 35 years in broadcasting and I have been through this before," Lehn said on Facebook. "So who knows. .. stay tuned. .. and again. .. I can not stress enough THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!"

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