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  • Writer's pictureAidan G

Sarah Christie: Managing The Music

We're back with another radio star this week- one whose career I actually contributed to.

Sarah Christie has been in radio for well over a decade, and currently serves as the National Music Manager for Virgin Radio Canada. We discuss her rise through the radio ranks, from a humble intern who moved to Winnipeg for an internship as soon as she was able, to one of the most important folks on Virgin's team. We also discuss how I hired Sarah myself back in the day, but didn't actually meet her until 5 years later. Radio is funny like that sometimes.

Sarah shares some in-depth insights on the changing state of radio programming over the last decade. Things sure ain't the way they used to be, and stations have had to adapt to a whole truckload of new technology to stay on top of current music trends, including trolling TikTok for the newest surprise hit. She also discusses why she spent most of her career in Winnipeg, and what makes the city so special to her.

Late in the show, we shift towards talking about Sarah's other interest, climate change. Sarah's got her own podcast, Earth Care, which provides listeners with a bevy of tips and ideas to help reduce their carbon footprint. You'll hear lots about it in this interview, but you should also check out the

latest episode below if you want to, well, care for the earth.

You can find Earth Care on iHeart and Spotify.



Tara Sands (Voiceover)  00:02

The Sound Off Podcast. The show about podcast and broadcast starts now.


Matt Cundill  00:13

Sarah Christie is the national music manager for Virgin Radio Canada and host of the Earth Care project. I remember the first time I listened to her demo, listened to her show, and then later saw her resume. And I thought, yeah, this looks and sounds like radio talent. At some point in this episode, we'll get to the story of how I hired her in 2014, but never met her until five years later. Such is life in radio. Sarah is also going to give me a look inside how the music comes together on the radio. It's not programmed the way it used to be 10 years ago. We appear to be using more analytics and tools, but also relying on intuition and instinct as well. Sarah Christie joins me from Toronto.


Sarah Christie  00:58

Wow, I actually didn't. And it's not that I didn't want to get in radio. It's that I didn't know that was an option. I had a high school teacher, when you- it comes time in high school, you got to pick what you're going into in university, what you're going to be studying in university, and because my high school was set up with academic courses, applied courses, the academic stream is you go to university, but I was so lucky to have a teacher kind of shake me and go, go to college, you should be in radio. And it was kind of that aha moment of, I didn't even know that was an option. And it's funny that I didn't know that it was an option, because in my eyes, the legendary music director programmer Pauly Morris, who was the music director, at Hits FM in St. Catharines for so many years. I knew him growing up, he was- he's best friends with one of my neighbors. So I grew up just, you know, asking questions, wanting to see the radio station, I had a little like- as a kid, those toy radios that could connect to like an empty am station, you know, so you could broadcast in your basement. So I always had a fascination with radio, but it was just so far fetched of an idea in my head to actually pursue it as a career until I had that high school teacher who said, what are you doing? Go to radio. And wouldn't it be great if I remembered her name? I'm going to kick myself and email you at like midnight being like, ahh!


Matt Cundill  02:18

How did you know Paul Morris? Because if memory serves me right, they would never really present a small market award for music director of the year at Canadian Music Week. They would just mail it to him annually to save time.


Sarah Christie  02:31

Yep, yeah, that checks out. No, so I grew up in St. Catharines. And my family is still there. And my family lives on this street that I always equate to like something from a 1950s movie, where like everybody grew up together and knows each other and is like peeking through their windows anytime something happens. And so he's coincidentally really good friends with one of the families there. And so because we're all so close, he was always at our barbecues and a lot of my childhood memories he was also there. And so that also introduced a lot of older music, like rock and roll, and kind of that rock and roll dream that's attached with radio, of like being at every concert and, you know, framing all your concert ticket stubs, and it's very much from growing up around Hits FM and knowing Pauly Morris.


Matt Cundill  03:17

So was Hits FM the station that you grew up listening to?


Sarah Christie  03:21

Yes and no. CHUM FM was always out in the morning. And my mom always wanted to win Beat the Bank. She actually did once. And I remember, so she just- she won $900. She stopped and then- then the vault went, and she would call every morning when they were airing the contest. And I heard her screaming, I was upstairs getting ready for school and I heard her screaming and I ran down and I was like, oh my God, you finally won. So no, we listened to CHUM FM every morning. You know, then it kind of was just dial switching to what station was playing the Backstreet Boys, which was very important. So Hits FM yes, because we were just introduced to so much music in our house growing up that it was kind of whatever song we wanted to listen to. But what was surreal about CHUM FM was that was one of my first internships. And so my first experience in the 260 building in Toronto, I was hearing voices before I was seeing the person. So I would like hear Roger Ashby down the hallway and turn around and be like, oh my god, like Jeff Howitt. And you know, Rick. Would hear Marilyn, my goodness, hear their voices before I actually saw them. And that was just surreal. Because those were the voices I would hear first thing in the morning growing up, and they gave my mom 900 bucks.


Matt Cundill  04:33

That is sweet. And here you are interning, how does one intern for this legendary morning show?


Sarah Christie  04:39

I, in college, sat down and emailed probably every email in radio that I could find, being like, please let me enter your building, which is how I ended up interning in Winnipeg before I worked there. But Dwayne Reade, who is my work Godfather, was the first one to really get back to me and be like, sure. What do you wanna do? So I started on their street team. And then I kept showing up at Dwayne's door being like, what else? What else could I do? Like I'm here, put me to work, I moved here for the summer, put me to work. And so he then hooked me up with just little tasks that would essentially keep me busy for the day and get me into the station.


Matt Cundill  05:17

How did you know? Because the first question I asked was, how did you know you wanted to be in radio? Somebody had to tell you, you really need to be in radio. But then without any prompting or too much prompting, you had no trouble taking an intern position in a completely different time zone in a faraway planet called Winnipeg. How does that happen? I mean, there's got to be like a level of bravery just to go, yeah, no problem. I'll go to Winnipeg for the summer. Just don't make me stay for the winter.


Sarah Christie  05:46

Ah, well I moved there in the winter, actually. I moved there in the middle of January for an internship. Yeah, no, I- I think there were a lot of things floating around my head, that I definitely- there's always a lot of things floating around my head. There were these bubbles of what I had interest in. And then once I had time to step back and really understand radio, I went, yeah, this is all of those things. This is creativity. This is connecting with people. This is music, my goodness, like I am the biggest cheerleader of music, I suck at singing, playing instruments, like I can't really dance, but I love all of those things. So this is just a job where I get to champion all of that and meet people and talk to people and somehow that is on my pay stub. You know, like that's- it was just one of those- one of those things where once you take a step back, go, why not give this a try?


Matt Cundill  06:41

Yeah, and you got to touch everything in the building. And when I say the building, it's located- I know where it is. It's over on Pembina highway, and you got to go and do music and play on their RCS system. Might have done a few overnights?


Sarah Christie  06:55

Yeah. Towards the end, I would do the overnight like the graveyard shift, as they call it. And then I would stay and intern with Bo and Des in the morning.


Matt Cundill  07:04

It's like 2am to like 2pm.


Sarah Christie  07:07

Yeah, and I was living- I was living- I can't remember the name of the neighborhood. But I had to take a bus, the rapid transit that would get- it was like an hour to the radio station. But that obviously wasn't a thing overnight. So it was yeah, cab overnight, then bus home in the morning. But that was cool, because David Drake was my program director there, and I think felt really bad that I moved there for an internship in the middle of winter. So he was like, what do you want to do? Like, let's let you do everything to keep you happy. So I also got to work at the NHL games with the TSN team. And I would go set up the microphone system for the player walk offs, which is hilarious because I know nothing about sports in general. And so it was always a conversation of my dad being like, so who- who'dyou hold the mic for today? And me having to like go ask around. It'd be like, I couldn't tell you. They were sweaty and tall.


Matt Cundill  08:00

What a great experience that was, because you get to be in Winnipeg. I think the one thing you learned was that public transportation isn't really very useful in Winnipeg, you have to own a car or you can't do anything. Right?


Sarah Christie  08:12

I did get a car. The second time I went to Winnipeg, I did, that was within a week I had a car. Yeah. But it was also for a morning show. So you have to be there at a very specific time.


Matt Cundill  08:22

And so far, you've you've had your entire career, you know, work inside Bell properties. And you went back to Toronto shortly after that, though. But- and this is where I know, first of all, I knew that you did overnights because I actually heard you. I was working in the market at the time, I must have had insomnia and heard you.


Sarah Christie  08:38

No way.


Matt Cundill  08:39

Yeah, but you went back to Ontario and then started to work at Niagara, with Today FM.


Sarah Christie  08:45

Yeah, so that was after my internship, I went and they launched Today FM, which was the same format on two different stations. And it was an experiment at the time, like, first of its kind in the area. So that was- that was also neat, because we were a completely new group all doing this thing together from the ground up. So we all became close quite fast. And you know, still keep in touch, which I think is something you don't get to experience unless you're willing to move and- and spend time at different stations.


Matt Cundill  09:17

But that station, and I remember this because of your demo tape, and I listened to the demo tape. You guys were creating content all the time and doing things a little bit differently than other radio stations were. There was some experimentation to it. It wasn't going to be 10 in a row. It was going to be content as well as lots of music.


Sarah Christie  09:35

Yeah, it was all about the conversation, the join the conversation, and it was mirrored after, I believe it's Now in Edmonton. The join the conversation, so they had an active text line which was always supposed to be going. We were really social media focused, which I mean, it's so funny to say that now because everyone is social media focused, but at the time it was- it was different. We were always supposed to be making content. And I think that's why they pulled in different personalities, like Oren is a comedian. He's an actor, like just trying to bring in some different perspective to, you know, push creativity out of one another, which was really fun.


Matt Cundill  10:13

After that, though, you get hired in Winnipeg. And then this is where it gets strange because the person who hired you gets fired before you get there.


Sarah Christie  10:21

I've had a story that I wanted to tell you about that for 10 years. And it didn't occur to me until like this past week that we've never even had the chance to talk about that. I mean, there's probably many stories that we could sit down and talk about with that experience. But yeah, that was- that was surreal.


Matt Cundill  10:36

Well, let's swap stories, shall we?


Sarah Christie  10:39

Well, I mean, because I was interviewed by you and Matt, we talked a lot on the phone. And then-


Matt Cundill  10:45

Yeah for context, it's Matt Sutton, who is the morning show host there at the time, we were looking for a co host. And you came up and seemed like a very obvious hire. So much so that we hired you, but go ahead.


Sarah Christie  10:57

Yeah, no. And then I just- Matt filled me in on what ha- Matt Sutton filled me in on what happened. And then I wasn't sure I had like, my bags packed, I was like, do I still have a job? I quit my other job. So when I got there, I remember. So this is my first- my first time having moving expenses, my first you know, big gig in radio, a morning show. And so you had hooked me up with moving expenses. And I remember emailing you and saying, I don't have anything, I just have clothes, I'm gonna furnish my apartment when I get there, I'm gonna have to like go start from scratch. And I don't really remember what you replied, but I'm sure it was something like, great have fun, like not knowing that I didn't understand moving expenses. So then I'm in my head thinking, wow, I'm gonna go furnish my apartment and then bring them receipts. And that's what I did. I furnished my apartment and then brought them receipts. And this was 10 years ago. So moving expenses were healthy, versus I don't even know if they exist anymore. Now, I didn't use all of them. Like I didn't use all of them. But I remember going to HR and submitting all these receipts after I had gone and furnished my apartment. and they were being like, what, what am I looking at here? And then after, I don't know, a week of them trying to figure out how to handle this situation, because you weren't there. I was new and confused. They submitted them. And I thank a lot of people for furnishing my first apartment.


Matt Cundill  12:24

That is outstanding.


Sarah Christie  12:26

I didn't know. Now I know.


Matt Cundill  12:29

Yeah. I think the people who were who were lining up to fire me, by the way, asked, what are we doing with this morning show position? Oh, all hired. Here you go. Here's the paperwork. I've done it already. And there was a look of disappointment in that it had been filled, and I had filled it, and there was no going back because the contracts had been signed.


Sarah Christie  12:46

Oh, well. Thanks for getting me in there.


Matt Cundill  12:50

Yeah, well, for what it's worth, you're on the air in Toronto, and I don't know where they are.


Sarah Christie  12:55

Someone approved my moving expenses. And I appreciate that.


Matt Cundill  12:59

Oh no, absolutely. Moving expenses? For sure. Absolutely. We're gonna stamp that thing right through. You can see how, by the way, the way I operated didn't necessarily jive with the direction they were going.


Sarah Christie  13:12

Well, when I got there, Matt Sutton, you know, had just so many great stories about you guys working together too, and I- it's a shame that we never got the time to experience that. But thank you for hiring me. And bringing me back to Winnipeg. I do really love that city.


Matt Cundill  13:30

Yeah, you know what, this is a great place to do radio. I know radio has changed and there may not be as many people on the air. But it's always been a great place to do radio. I think Edmonton for that matter, as well. But you know, so much great talent has passed through this city, in one form or another. I think because there's enough stations, it's very competitive. Everybody knows each other. You're going to meet all the people, it's- yeah, it's- it's a great place to do radio. And still is, even to this day.


Sarah Christie  13:59

And also, it's just a great city. I had so much fun exploring there. And that's also the fun part about moving for your job is- and being on air, it forces you to get to know your community. But there's a lot that makes Winnipeg special. I just read this really great article that was shared, I think, on LinkedIn. And it was basically talking about how Winnipeg is the most hated city, but only by the people who live there, because it's like their city. It's theirs to hate. And it was just everything that makes Winnipeg so special. And yeah, I echo it.


Matt Cundill  14:32

If we were doing a radio show, we would play the Weakerthans.


Sarah Christie  14:35

Yeah, exactly. And Burton Cummings.


Matt Cundill  14:38

What did you do after- I think you stayed in Winnipeg for six months? Maybe a little closer to a year, but what came next?


Sarah Christie  14:44

Yeah, it was a little closer to a year and then I moved back to Toronto to be assistant music director at CHUM with Lisa, and then have, in some way or another, been in the music department ever since. In some way or another I mean, because at some points it's been split between being on air but yeah, was assistant music director with Lisa Grassi.


Matt Cundill  15:02

Are you still touching music? Naturally you are.


Sarah Christie  15:05



Matt Cundill  15:06

Yeah, I've got- I'm gonna have music questions coming up. So.


Sarah Christie  15:10

Okay, yeah. As we record this my job title is the national music manager for Virgin Radio. So I schedule and am part of the music team that pushes out the music for our Virgin brand at Bell.


Matt Cundill  15:25

Did you also do some on air work at Kitchener afterwards, or did you just program that?


Sarah Christie  15:30

No. So I was on air, I did middays, I did drive in Kitchener. I was there for almost four or five years. Again, love Kitchener. It's just so great being on air because it like- without that, I don't think you have as much time or intention to go and figure out all the things that make a city special. But Kitchener, Winnipeg have such a special place in my heart. So yeah, I was- I was on air and music director when we launched Virgin Radio there.


Matt Cundill  15:58

So is it fair to say you know both Music Master and RCS? Could you go back and forth? Are you- are you- are you bilingual when it comes to this?


Sarah Christie  16:04

RCS, I don't really know. No RCS I- RCS I've watched people schedule on and I've played around in, but ours- I'm a music master girl.


Matt Cundill  16:13

Nice. Since that time, though, that you've worked- so 2016 onward, I know you've got to work with some great programmers. I think Karen Steele falls in there. Tell me a little bit about you know, programming radio, over the last five years. A little bit, sort of, you know- and even going through the pandemic. So we started talking about you know, Today FM and it being conversational and social, and now you're back working with Bell, heavy music. But there's social parts to it as well. So just tell me what- what do you have to do to make great radio for your listeners?


Sarah Christie  16:45

You have to be a great team, that's for sure. Because without it, you're gonna be missing so many elements. But Virgin I'll speak to specifically because it's a music driven brand. And then obviously, the hope is that your stations also have phenomenal personalities, but Virgin's interesting. And the CHR brand is interesting, because it's ever changing. And something you think won't work, you hear it for the first time, you know, go why would I even listen to this song again? Suddenly blows up on TikTok now, and that's now something we have to consider. And it's a rock song from the 80s, you know, things like that. So it's- it's interesting now, because you have to be keeping an eye on so many different outlets that might influence your decision when programming, whether that's movies, TV shows, social media, trends, things- things that you weren't paying attention to before, because there still is that programmer- programmer's instinct of just wanting to know, this is a good song, I feel it, like I- when I hear it, I just know this is a good song. But then you- there are just so many other things to consider now. And because music turns around so fast for the CHR, you have to constantly be keeping an eye on that. And it's a fun challenge, though, like- and it introduces you to a lot of new music that I don't think you would otherwise be paying attention to, which is- which is really fun. For the CHR brand, I would say just staying on top of- on top of what's- what's hot.


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Matt Cundill  18:41

Back in 2014, I thought I was really super cutting edge. And I thought, you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna follow the Shazam charts. And I'm gonna be very much ahead of everybody. And look at that, I can- I can tap into the API and the back end and I can see who locally is Shazam-ing what, and I thought, okay, great. I've got a great edge. But you've got now so many tools that you and Lisa and everybody have to think about. So what are some of the things that you'll have to look at that go beyond- because it used to be just, you know, we're gonna look at the Billboard chart. Now, like, how do you find out like, what's trending on TikTok? How do you find out what songs are reacting in what places and the decision to make to get that on the radio?


Sarah Christie  19:22

Shazam is a funny one, because I do look at that. But Shazam is funny because you go- you know, sometimes you'll find yourself going, are they Shazam-ing it because they hate it, and want to go, what is this? Or are they Shazam-ing it because they really like it and want to hear it again? Oftentimes, we end up coming to the conclusion that it's more often than not, you're Shazam-ing something because you like it and you want to add it to your playlist. You know, you're at a restaurant and you're Shazam-ing it quickly. Yeah, so I mean, TikTok is great because it has literally trending songs, a whole category of them, but it's also you know, if you spend enough time on there, you'll pick it up quite fast that the video you're seeing over and over and over again is- is trending, is now becoming a trending song. I look at iTunes, I look at Spotify. Like I look at the competitors. You know, media base is obviously an incredible tool for grabbing data. But there's just so many external resources now that you want to pull from to see. And it's- and it's also fun watching the trends too, like Tracy Chapman, you know, as we record this, the Grammys just passed. So Tracy Chapman, Fast Car is at the top of every chart right now. And then what I think is fun about CHR is you can look at that stuff and go, how do we play with it in this moment in time, because things turn around so fast. And yeah, there's- there's a lot of external sources to keep an eye on now. Practice by Drake, which I saw that that started climbing on Spotify and Shazam this past week, so then I had to go, why is that? Is it in a show? Is it in a movie? Why is this song trending? Finally figured out, it's on TikTok, but like that keeps happening. And it's suddenly now things we have to consider when we go sit down for a music meeting. Okay, let's talk about Fast Car for a sec. Because it was three hours after the Grammys that it gets to number one on the iTunes chart. And if I were in radio in your position, I'd be like, okay, how do I cope with this tomorrow at work? Because now we gotta get it on. Do we have to think about how we're going to rotate it and present it for the week? But let's talk about presentation. Because if I don't watch the Grammys, and/or I missed the show, or whatever, I feel like I'm gonna need some context as to why the radio station is playing it. How does that work? The way we're set up now is, there's still a lot of local freedom and opportunity for- that's such a morning show thing to run with, in my opinion. And so they would be the ones who I think are going to really sell that. And so if it was on air, they have it, they can do that locally. If I'm just deciding that everyone wants to do this same bit and talk about the same thing, you know, it's not really up to us. So that's kind of a local- local opportunity there. Presumptuous is the word I was looking for.


Matt Cundill  22:14

And most of this music that we are hearing, they're not shared experiences anymore. And I thought they did such a good job at the Grammys, whenever they would- before the artists would perform, there was a backstory and a one minute preview as to the why, how it came together, why this is important. And one thing I know it did was, the story kept me on the couch. And instead of saying, here's a rap song, which will make me go and make a sandwich, or cause me to go and maybe check my phone or do something else, I would watch the story. Okay, there's the story. I want to watch the song now. And so that's when I bring it up. I mean, another one that comes to mind that I- like, how did you handle this? Was- was Kate Bush, Running Up That Hill.


Sarah Christie  23:04

So we featured that song. And we do have a couple of fun features and opportunities to test music. Lightly test music, you know, your classic like this or that like things like that, where listeners can text in and vote on- and so anytime songs like that present themselves, those are really great resources to lean on, or simply using our call out research. Like if this song- Kate Bush is a great example, we threw that in our call out research because we didn't know what to do with it, especially considering it was kind of the first of what we now see is just a wave of trends deciding that a song from 10 years ago, 20 years ago is going to be popular now. Like social trends deciding. So I think just being open to the data, seeing what we're seeing and going okay, well, let's give it a shot. Let's test it. And if it sounds awful, let's figure out another way to test it. And until- until we figure out a way to make it sound good on air. Yeah, Kate Bush was a great example. Even Luke Combs, Fast Car. That really threw us for a curve because it's a country song. It's a Tracy Chapman cover. There- it got to a point where, you know, the data, you can't deny it. So it's just- yeah, really reading into that.


Matt Cundill  24:19

But you're not terribly averse to too much country on a CHR station. I mean, I'm not saying you're going to inundate the airwaves. But to have a country song sort of cross the desk. And what comes to mind is the one where the- last night we let the liquor talk.


Sarah Christie  24:32



Matt Cundill  24:33

You know, it's number one everywhere and winding up in places- you play it, right?


Sarah Christie  24:38

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that is, I mean, another beast of CHR is just that it's the place for crossover. So you know, right now, Noah Kahan is everywhere, but folk indie singer, maybe even a little country and then you're gonna have that side by side with a hip hop song and it's just whatever's hot. You do have your core artists obviously, but it's- again, what do people want to hear?


Matt Cundill  25:02

I mean, the narrative inside radio is that CHR is suffering and it's not doing as well. And it's all changed. And it's different. It sounds like it's doing great. And it sounds like it's a lot of fun. And it sounds like the biggest songs are getting played. So people inside radio are saying that these are tough days for CHR. It's not like it once was. But it sounds to me like it's the greatest time ever for CHR, because the best songs are getting played.


Sarah Christie  25:28

That's- yeah, that's an interesting- and we hear it all the time. It's an interesting perspective. But, you know, then you see, you open streaming charts, and you see the top of Spotify, iTunes, Billboard, whatever you're looking at, are the artists and songs that you're going to be hearing on a CHR station. So sure, maybe that's your perspective. But it is, like we're still playing what people want to hear. It's- and- and music you always hear comes in cycles, too, right? When Justin Bieber came out with What Do U Mean, and Sorry, there was that tropical kind of pop sound that we heard for the next three years. And then Post Malone came out, and we heard the kind of Lo Fi rapping. And so if somebody hates that kind of music, that's- totally. So if that's not really what you migrate to, then of course, you're going to think that this is not a great time. But as long as the people behind the scenes are willing to look at what people want to hear, then it's fun.


Matt Cundill  26:26

You said call out research.


Sarah Christie  26:29

Yeah, yeah.


Matt Cundill  26:29

Who answers their phone?


Sarah Christie  26:32

We're not literally calling. No, no, no, it's uh, yeah, email.


Matt Cundill  26:36



Sarah Christie  26:37

Still old school because it's an email and not a text.


Matt Cundill  26:40

That makes sense now.


Sarah Christie  26:41



Matt Cundill  26:42

Interviews, artists coming by the station. Virgin is a brand that rolls out across the country. And I'll just throw Katy Perry's coming to the station. How do you handle the interview? Shannon Burns does the interview, what happens to it after the interview is over?


Sarah Christie  26:58

It depends on where it's being shared. But we have a powerhouse team of editors who have built an incredible studio, it looks so cool, in what used to be Lisa Grassi's music department office that was so iconic. Because it had this- it still does have this CD backdrop wall, and filled with then all the archive CDs, which are now gone. And when I worked with Lisa, back at CHUM, it was just so fun bringing all the artists in there because you could see their eyes kind of light up and all the music that was in there. But now that we've kind of shuffled places around in the building, the iHeart team has turned that into a filming studio. And so once they do their interviews that goes back and chopped up and shared across podcast platforms, websites, social media is available for announcers to use on air as well. So a lot of exposure streams now with social media and various content platforms existing you know, especially with the iHeartRadio app being one of our tools.


Matt Cundill  28:02

In what category do we put the move brand?  It's AC. Yeah.  Do we even have Hot AC anymore?


Sarah Christie  28:09

CHUM FM is still Hot AC, yeah, yeah, for sure. So like MOVE has their no repeat work day. And the playlists, I mean, if you look at them side by side, are completely different. So yeah, like there are songs that you would hear on CHUM, that you might hear on Virgin, but you would never hear on MOVE. So yeah, there's stepping stones there. For sure.


Matt Cundill  28:29

So I was thinking about programming rules the other day, and I'm trying to think are there more rules? Are there less rules? Or are they different than maybe 15 years ago? So we talked about things like artist separation. I think these are a little bit obvious. But when you look at a quarter hour, and we'll talk CHR, for instance, what makes up an ideal quarter hour of listening, in terms of like song sequence and types of songs?


Sarah Christie  28:53

That's a funny question, just based on one of the conversations I had with Lisa today, where we were talking about how a lot of it is DIY. And that's just because of all the artist separation and genre bending music that exists now, where you listen to the song you go, I don't know how to- I know what I don't want to hear this play next to, but I don't know how to categorize this song. We do a lot of big research that kind of determines what would be our main styles, or that people want to hear. And so you- you would program based on a 15 minute turnover, right? Someone getting in the car and running groceries, you want to make sure that whatever they hear in that 15 minute errand are reflective of the biggest songs and their favorite songs. So through that we have like our power, our current categories and our recurring categories, and you just want to make sure that they're balanced in such a way that if someone is running- running a quick errand, they hear that exact mixture of music.


Matt Cundill  29:54

And how do you handle those downtempo weird songs? And we are moving into a bit of an era here where like, downtempo songs will show up. Olivia Rodrigo, Driver's License. It's tough to cushion it around some songs. And I have to suspect that the Billie Eilish song, What Was I Made For, would also be maybe a bit of a challenge.


Sarah Christie  30:13

It is and it isn't. And I say it isn't only because those songs are massive. People love them. And- and so when we hear it with our programming ears, we go, oh my God, no, you can't play that that's going to put people to sleep, they're going to be- they're going to tune out. No, people, people love it, and they want to hear it. So you- you treat it like a big song. And obviously, if it's slow, you want to make sure that you're carefully placing other tempos around it. So you don't sound like a slow dance station. But that's a perfect example of okay, yeah, we gotta be careful with that one because of the tempo, and you want CIHR to be upbeat and moving people forward. But also, you have to just acknowledge that this is what people want to hear.


Matt Cundill  30:53

I'm really glad you're here to answer all these questions. Because I mean, I haven't really done a lot of music on radio since 2015. I haven't touched a Music Master selector since then. And these are questions, I still wonder if- if- you know, what's changed inside the music department? So you did mention Media Base. How much does it matter, you know, the aggregate of other radio stations and what they're playing? And I mention that because I really don't think it's a big deal, you know, to try to be stealing share from other radio stations, when I think the goal is to really try to capture people's encounters with their TikTok or with their TV viewing experience, or with all those other things and the Shazam-ing that's going on, how much do you drill down on media base to find out what your competition is into? And how much does that affect the decision that you make?


Sarah Christie  31:41

We definitely use it, we use it consistently. The weight is hard to gauge, just because there are so many things that we're looking at now. They all kind of worked in concert, you know, so you go, okay, well, this is happening on Spotify. And then I saw this on Media Base. And, and you know, sometimes if they're different, that becomes the deciding factor, you know, if there's- just going to make up a number, if there's six people in the music meeting, and four of them agree with what's happening on Spotify versus media base, then okay, maybe we'll go with the Spotify thing, and I wouldn't put more weight on one just because of the audiences that are available on all of it.


Matt Cundill  32:20

Well, maybe it's a little bit different, that you use it in a different way than maybe 10 years ago. We used to look at before, what are they playing the most of? And can we copy that?


Sarah Christie  32:28



Matt Cundill  32:29

That's not an effective strategy today. But do you go in and look for the anomalies, then, of what stations are-


Sarah Christie  32:35

Oh yeah, yeah, for sure. You know, it's also handy to look at- America, we are completely different markets. And that's important to say, because, you know, you want to see the trends that are happening across the border, for sure. But also keep in mind that we're just different markets, and what they can get away with is different from what we can get away with, and what our audiences want to hear. But it is interesting, because if you see suddenly 10 stations, 10 CHR, major CHR stations are all really supporting this one song that we're kind of considering, well, that's telling, and it's- you know, and it's- so there is weight to it, for sure.


Matt Cundill  33:10

You've also done some podcasting. I can't remember, I think it was one or two podcasts. I think you had one about being vegan.


Sarah Christie  33:17

Yeah, that was- it was called Vegans Have More Fun. That was a fun, fun podcast.


Matt Cundill  33:21

Do they?


Sarah Christie  33:23

I'd like to think so. I had a blast. So no complaints, 10 out of 10.


Matt Cundill  33:28

But you're still vegan, right?


Sarah Christie  33:30

I am still a vegan. Yeah.


Matt Cundill  33:32

And now you've got one, Earth Care. Tell me why you like podcasting. And contrast it to radio, by the way, because your life is radio. So much of it is radio, so much of it is in the now, but here's something completely different.


Sarah Christie  33:44

Definitely the curiosity, and talking to people, and just this new outlet to storytell, I think, is so special about podcasting and- and the creative freedom of it is also so unique to podcasting. And just like TikTok I think, you learn that there's an audience for everything. You know, how many of us have opened TikTok and gone, wow, there's a million views on this video of this woman cleaning her counter and- because there's an audience for it, and so, if you, I think, are really passionate about something and willing to give it the TLC it deserves, because podcasting is a lot of work. Like you know. Yeah, it just is such a great challenge and a great way to meet new people and- and storytell.


Matt Cundill  34:35

By the way, when we did last see each other, Toronto was like drenched in smoke, and- like forest fire smoke. I think you were just finished choking and asphyxiating yourself in the middle of the hotel lobby after biking in through the smoke. But what is the biggest challenge when it comes to climate change and keeping our earth clean?


Sarah Christie  34:55

Biggest challenge, okay. I'm gonna- I'm gonna talk on an individual level, because the biggest challenge is much bigger than you and I. I think the biggest challenge is the lack of conversation about it. And I say that because the conversation is a gateway into understanding that you are entitled to care, you're entitled to talk about it, you are entitled to engage in these conversations and- and recognize that, you know, what some of these companies or governments are doing and how they're spending their money does impact us and affect us. And so I don't know if it's too politicized, which it shouldn't be, or if it's a lack of awareness, but just there has to be more conversation, because that's how it starts.


Matt Cundill  35:42

Yeah, I'm gonna agree with you. I find it bizarre that conversation about climate change always seems to degenerate into some sort of, you know, amorphous boogeyman about a tax, about a solution. And every time there's a solution that involves climate change, there's this strange, bizarre pushback from people. And by the way, I'm as right wing as they come. Not that far right wing, but I do like to, you know, put my vote in the Conservative box. And I will point out that the Mulrooney Conservatives did more for climate change than any other government. You know, the Progressive Conservatives, that used to be our thing, was the environment. And then at one point, it stopped it. But when you make a suggestion about a 15 minute city in a place like Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg, you get these people who come up with these crazy conspiracy theories, and I just want a grocery store- I wanna be able to bike to the grocery store, and I want to be able to bike to downtown Winnipeg without getting run over by a semi. And I want to be able to just, you know, not have to pay huge city taxes for roads that are going to get beat up. And it's just money, money, money. It's my tax money getting eaten up. It's just- it seems crazy. People are a little bit- they don't really want to engage in civil and proper conversation, when it comes to, you know, things we can do to make the earth a little bit better. By the way, it's also going to save you a few bucks.


Sarah Christie  37:00

It is. That is always my selling point. It's going to save you money. There are so many things about individual climate action that are gonna save you money, that how can you argue with that?


Matt Cundill  37:11

I have a car. And I thought, I think there's a possibility I could live without a car. You know, I travel in Europe. And I'm like, oh, my gosh, I can live without a car. I can take the train. I can take public transit. It's pretty nice. No, I live in Winnipeg. But it's possible, it can be done.


Sarah Christie  37:27

Yeah, that was absolutely surreal. CMW. And it was the wildfire smoke from Northern Ontario, Quebec. That was one of those days, though, where I'm walking around and going, how are we not all talking about this? How is this not the main topic of conversation? This is- this is climate change hitting us in the face right now. This has never happened. And yeah, I don't know how that doesn't shake you a little bit to want to do something.


Matt Cundill  37:57

Yeah. Well, I'm glad you got your podcast to- to keep us up to date on the situation. I think- Earthcare. You can find it on your favorite iHeart app. There's only one iHeart app. Sarah, what do you think is- what are you looking forward to in 2024 with- with radio? Expectations and hopes?


Sarah Christie  38:16

I think it's inspiring, I guess, to see all of the new content that, whether it's on air or behind the scenes, that people are coming up with and finding different ways to, you know, turn their show into a podcast, or pull a podcast clip and turn it into, you know, something for social media, and just how it's all so intertwined. So it really drives the rest of us to keep learning and not get cozy. If that makes sense.


Matt Cundill  38:45

It does, it does. By the way, you've got a dream job. The job you've got is, like, one of the ones that is just, you know, coveted and one that I always wanted and it was a goal, you know, going up and going through the radio ranks. I think it's one of the fun ones. And that's why I asked all these programming questions, because I'm curious.


Sarah Christie  39:00

It is very fun. It's- it's very fun. And I just said I wasn't gonna say that word again. But it is, it truly is. It's- you're playing with music. You get to be a champion of music and there's no single person on Earth that doesn't like music.


Matt Cundill  39:14

Thanks so much for doing this. I appreciate it.


Sarah Christie  39:16

Thank you for having me.


Tara Sands (Voiceover)  39:17

The Sound Off Podcast is written and hosted by Matt Cundill. Produced by Evan Surminski. Edited by Chloe Emond-Lane. Social media by Aidan Glassey. Another great creation from the Soundoff Media Company. There's always more at

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