On July 7, 2021, one of Red Deer’s most well-liked and accomplished entrepreneur and community volunteers, Rod Stephen, passed away. He was also the person who fundamentally reshaped the broadcasting sector in central Alberta.
Rod was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, in 1935. He began his broadcasting career at the local radio station CJGZ 68 years ago in 1954. He then moved to Red Deer where he worked as an announcer on radio station C.K.R.D.
Rod then moved to Edmonton where he worked at station C.H.E.D. He built a solid reputation as a radio personality and often used the moniker “Rockin’ Rod.”
After four years at C.H.E.D., he returned back to Red Deer and CKRD for the next decade moving up from being an announcer to the position of general manager.
Rod left C.K.R.D. and radio in 1970. He then worked first as salesperson and eventually regional manager selling vacuums with Electrolux Canada.
Rod’s interest in radio, however, did not falter. He strongly felt that there was a niche in central Alberta for a new radio station with a different music format, country and western.
Consequently, Rod teamed up with other investors such as Jack and Joan Donald to move ahead with the proposal. They formed Park Country Broadcasting and in 1972 applied to the C.R.T.C. for a licence to start C.K.G.Y. An independent radio engineer was hired to write up the technical application to the C.R.T.C. Tragically, the man passed away just before the C.R.T.C. hearing and another engineer had to be hired to write a new brief and new hearing set. The application was approved on October.
C.K.G.Y. went on the air on July 26, 1973, at 1170 on the AM dial. The first song was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Turn Your Radio On.” C.K.G.Y. was now Red Deer’s second radio station and the first 24-hour country music station.
The new station was an immediate success. It soon had the largest listenership in central Alberta. As part of its commitment to the community, C.K.G.Y. broadcast from different towns each afternoon using a Winnebago motor home as a mobile studio.
Rod continued with other ventures. He became an original partner in the creation of station CISN in Edmonton and went on to develop CIZZ (Z99) in Red Deer.
Rod was a director on the Radio Bureau of Canada and the Alberta Association of Broadcasters. He became a member of the board of directors of Shaw Cable. He was the president of Shaw Radio Ltd. which purchased the radio stations of which he was an owner. This then became a part of Corus Entertainment.
In 1959, Rod married Sharon Brown of Red Deer. They had two children, son Jeff and daughter Cidnee. Rod and Sharon became very active in the community. Rod was the first chairman of the Downtown Business Association. He helped to found and build the Red Deer and District Museum. He served as chair of the Red Deer Heritage Preservation Committee. He also served as a director with the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, Kinsmen Club and Economic Development Board.
After retiring in 1989, Rod and Sharon purchased the Harper property adjacent to the Red Deer Golf & Country Club and developed the Fountains community. Also for 35 years, they spent their winters in La Quinta, California.
There will be a reception held in Rod’s honour at the Red Deer Golf and Country Club on July 24 from 1 to 4 p.m.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.