Manitoulin boasts Canada’s first off-grid radio stations

Kelly ‘KT’ and Craig Timmermans say they’re excited to have this new space for their operations.

LITTLE CURRENT – Great Lakes Country 103 FM and Hits100 FM have opened a new broadcasting studio and office space at the Flat Rock Entertainment Centre, home of Manitoulin Countryfest and Rockin’ the Rock, becoming the first off-grid commercial radio stations in Canada, according to CEO Craig Timmermans.

“It’s super nice to not have an electricity bill anymore,” says Mr. Timmermans as he leads The Expositor on a tour through his company’s new headquarters at 1 Radio Road on the southeastern edge of Little Current.

Through the front doors of the building lies a reception area floating in the centre of a large, open rectangular space. All of the central furniture is moveable so the team can empty the space for special events and small live concerts.

To the right is a small seating area featuring a wood and epoxy tabletop made by Kelly ‘KT’ Timmermans, president of the company. She has also built the live-edge wooden shelving and a table inside the adjacent boardroom.

“This is what I did with my quarantine,” she says with a laugh. “It’s nice to have our own space and to be in charge of our own destiny. We loved being downtown but it didn’t help our business like we had hoped.”

The meeting room features a smartboard (an interactive projection screen) and an area for the station’s awards.

The northwest corner of the station is the nerve centre of the operation, featuring the building’s fresh water tank, its battery bank and all of the requisite electrical equipment needed to manage both the charging infrastructure and reroute its power into the building.

The size difference between the new and old radio boards is obvious in the future Hits 100 studio. photos by Warren Schlote

Mr. Timmermans has built two solar panel racks and there will eventually be six in operation. The two panels provided nearly enough power on their own this summer.

There is also one small wind turbine in place with more set to come online.

The sophisticated software in the electrical control system automatically starts the generator when the batteries get depleted. The station’s batteries can power the building for up to a week if need-be.

Mr. Timmermans estimates he will use $30 in diesel fuel through the whole winter season when the sun’s energy does not reach Manitoulin Island as strongly as in the summer.

And in the summer months?

“Free AC!” he beams.

Next to the control room is a bathroom with a power-operated sliding barn door at its entrance, a unique module that Mr. Timmermans built to address accessibility requirements.

The southwest corner of the building is home to the Hits100 FM studio, which is still under construction at the time of the tour.

The central table in the studio has a large, vintage control board. Mr. Timmermans explains that the new board, about a third of the size of the old one, will replace all of the features of the larger system and add new functionality.

When the studio is complete it will only use the smaller board, the same system already in use at the adjacent Country 103 studio in the southeast corner of the building.

In that studio, the flagship space, a wooden spool serves as the central table. There are four microphones in place around the table and the new-style boards are Bluetooth-enabled, as are all of the desk phones in the office.

This interconnectivity provides an easy way to handle call-in shows where a phone line can wirelessly go on air at the push of a button.

The smaller, lighter equipment is also portable and can be used to expand the amount of behind-the-mic spaces within the studio booth.

The ample-sized broadcasting booth also features sliding patio doors to the outside.

In the open central area, a second-level balcony runs around the building with office spaces upstairs.

“I hope (the new studio) will allow a little more creativity for our staff,” says Ms. Timmermans, adding that she is excited to run the music festivals next door to the venue.

Missing from the classic radio station look is a massive tower at the top of the building for relaying the signal to the main transmitter. In the digital age, a modest antenna stands on the building’s roof and a single, small transmitter sends the radio signals, internet and phone all in one.

The space is more spread-out than the previous downtown location, which has additional COVID-19 physical distancing benefits. Their staff is largely still working from home at this time but is beginning to return to the office gradually.