Peter Whitaker never intended to get into the radio industry.
It was his declining eye sight that prompted the career change from his role as co-owner of Mississauga’s Lakeshore Pools and Beachcomber Hot Tubs to owner and president of Mississauga’s online radio station, The Haze FM.
Whitaker, who is legally blind, left the hot tub business and took to internet radio and now has big plans for expanding distribution and the number of clients licensing his custom management software that runs his stations.
“We’re negotiating to go in all of the city’s recreation centres in the next two or three months,” he told YourMississaugaBiz.com from his office on Lakeshore Road.
The Haze is currently playing in the city’s transit terminal near Square One and about 60 to 70 local small businesses such as doughnut shops, legions and restaurants.
The station was born out of Whitaker’s frustration at the lack of media options aimed specifically at companies and residents in Mississauga.
The idea of delivering daily local news to residents is what inspired Whitaker and his team to start the radio channel. “Because that doesn’t exist,” he said. “There’s nowhere to go to find out what’s going on this weekend, tonight, tomorrow night, that type of thing.”
It’s estimated the station now reaches more than 1.2 million people per month and unlike over the air radio stations he can track the numbers much more accurately.
But it wasn’t easy to getting that many people listening to the station.
“Delivery of the system was the first problem I had to overcome,” Whitaker said. “We knew getting 10,000 or 15,000 to tune into their computers was going to be tough.”
So Whitaker started targeting places where his station, (named after Mayor Hazel McCallion), could be played to a lot of people. The first place was the transit terminal at Square One. “That’s 40,000 people a day going through that facility,” he said, noting The Haze replaced Toronto radio station CHFI which had been playing there for 7 years previous.
A survey done by the transit terminal last fall had favourable results. “Lots of people knew it was a local station and a percentage could actually name the station,” Whitaker said. “So after three years we’re getting some good recognition.”
In addition to reaching into more places in Central and Northern Mississauga, Whitaker hopes to bring in more volunteer staff from nearby schools and move closer towards his five-year plan of breaking even.
One of Whitaker’s new revenue tools is working with internet radio stations who want to license his media management software. He currently has nine Ontario based stations using the system. From the Port Credit office there are four stations, The Haze which is easy listening, a blues station, an indie music signal, the Bayshore Health news and information station and a top-40 dance track. He also has three stations serving Wasaga Beach, Collingwood and Georgetown.
“I run the back-end of all of those stations, doing programming and selling advertising,” he said, noting his goal of eventually managing 30-50 stations. “We can run internet stations coast-to-coast out of our little place in Port Credit.”
Whitaker also wants to continue to fostering more local talent.
His latest full-time hire, the station’s news director, is a Sheridan College graduate. “He’ll be joining us sometime mid-August and helping us get ready for the re-launch (of The Haze) in mid-September,” Whitaker said. At that time The Haze will launch a live morning show which he says will be unique among online radio stations.
It’s a lot of momentum for a guy who’s first specialized career was in installing pools and hot tubs. His only other multimedia experience was a cable advertising show that took place years ago, but gave him enough inside knowledge to start and bring in some experts in the field.
Whitaker changed career paths because of blindness, but he has no plans of slowing down.
“I’m legally blind and can’t do what I used to do,” he said. “This business is something I can do, seven days a week.”