In 1956, a group of business owners from Altona, Manitoba dreamt of operating a local radio station. News, sports, weather, farm, and business information could all be incorporated into a daily program, and shared with their small community of 1,800 people. It could be a way for farmers and their families to hear about all aspects of life in Southern Manitoba.
As a result of the dream, Southern Manitoba Broadcasting (SMB) was created. Altona’s CFAM was launched by A.J. Thiessen, the owner of Thiessen Bus Lines, which later became Grey Goose Bus Lines. CFAM went live on March 13, 1957, operating at 1,000 watts on the 1290 AM dial. The station was operated out of a small studio with eleven employees, one of which was Elmer Hildebrand, Golden West’s future Owner and Chairman. CFAM became known as Manitoba’s “Farm and Good Music Station”, beginning a tradition of quality music, while serving communities based on their unique needs.
CFAM would sign-on at 6:00 am and sign-off at midnight. All-night broadcasting would only begin on November 2, 1959, with the introduction of “Classics till Dawn”. Around this time, SMB activated a policy of employing only local staff at their remaining stations in Altona and Steinbach. Both Classics till Dawn, and the local hiring policy continue to this day at Golden West.
Southern Manitoba Broadcasting expanded its ventures when it opened its first FM station in St. Norbert, and added an AM in Steinbach. Due to limited demand for FM radio at this time, CFMW was sold three years later to the CBC.
In 1973, Southern Manitoba Broadcasting acquired a license for a new AM station in the small southwestern Manitoba town of Boissevain. To avoid the high price involved with leasing a Manitoba Telephone link, SMB developed a microwave system. This new technology would allow them to carry CFAM’s service to Boissevain, while playing local commercials. The microwave system became a significant part of SMB’s business, with systems sold to other broadcasters in Canada, the Caribbean, and South America.
Southern Manitoba Broadcasting purchased Frontier City Broadcasting, giving them ownership of two stations in Saskatchewan. Swift Current and Shaunavon were the newest additions, and the name “Southern Manitoba Broadcasting” no longer reflected a portion of the company’s locations. As a result, Southern Manitoba Broadcasting became Golden West Broadcasting. While the company was expanding beyond the borders of Manitoba, the focus on community-driven small market stations remained very much the same.
In 1977, Golden West’s future President, Lyndon Friesen, joined the company as a salesman in Steinbach. At the same time, Golden West acquired an AM station in Ajax, Ontario. Elmer Hildebrand also launched an AM station in High River, Alberta, which would later become an entity of Golden West.
A decade later, Golden West purchased a station in Winkler/Morden, Manitoba. With the purchase, Golden West agreed to the CRTC’s condition that it would run different programming than Altona’s nearby AM station.
AM stations in Estevan and Weyburn, Saskatchewan, became the newest Golden West stations in 1995. Two years later, it was decided that FM was once again a viable option, and Golden West acquired its first FM station in thirty years. Swift Current’s FM was shortly followed by successful FM applications in Steinbach, Winkler, Portage La Prairie, Moose Jaw, Weyburn, Estevan, Kindersley, and High River/Okotoks.
The new millennium would begin with two AM acquisitions in Rosetown and Kindersley, as well as AM and FM stations in Portage La Prairie. Four years later, Golden West added Christian Contemporary Music to its line-up as CHVN-FM Winnipeg was purchased from Christian Radio Manitoba Ltd. Two more Christian stations would be added: CKVN-FM Lethbridge, and Ignite 107.1 FM Winnipeg.
New FM stations became a common theme throughout the next few years, as Moose Jaw, High River/Okotoks, and Weyburn, all received approvals for FMs. Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and Drumheller, Alberta would soon be approved by the CRTC as well.
In 2010, Golden West purchased Q104 FM in Vermillion Bay, in Northwestern Ontario, with signals re-broadcast in Kenora, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout. A year later, Tiessen Media Inc. sold Golden West its FM title in Airdrie, Alberta.
In the early 2000s, Golden West expanded its coverage to include digital media. SteinbachOnline.com was launched in Steinbach, MB with an exclusive focus on local news, weather and events in that community, and additional features such as classifieds and job openings. The same relevant information that was already available on-air could now also be accessed 24 hours a day on the website.
The new web portal provided the ideal way for local businesses and organizations to connect with people in the community, and link them to their own websites. The success of this first website soon led to the determination to provide each Golden West community with a local website of their own.
Elmer Hildebrand remains involved as the Owner and Chairman. Lyndon Friesen became President of Golden West in 2008, after starting with the company as a sales person in 1975. Under Elmer and Lyndon’s leadership, Golden West was named one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies for two successive years.
Today, Golden West operates 44 radio stations and 18 community portals across four provinces, with over 400 local employees.
We are passionate about our relentless focus on providing the most relevant information and great entertainment to communities in Western Canada. Our determination and commitment is as sharp today as it has been for over 60 years.