The end of An era, how Scott Jackson built LIFE 100.3
Back in the 1970s if you were to tell the scrawny Toronto teenager Scott Jackson that he would one day start a leading Canadian Christian radio station, there’s no way he would have believed you.
Sure, he was an aspiring radio announcer, but being an entrepreneur wasn’t on his radar, especially with any connection to a Christian label.
Jackson didn’t grow up in a religious home. He and his wife Janice Baird even politely asked the minister marrying them to refrain from mentioning anything to do with God at their wedding.
Jackson would eventually bolster an impressive resume, spending countless years working up and down the radio dial.
“When I was a kid, I grew up listening to 1050 CHUM, which was the big TOP 40 station in Toronto,” said Jackson. “Scott Carpenter was the first DJ that I kind of listened to, and I felt like he was my friend on the radio. And he made me love my favourite songs even more because he was the DJ playing my favourite songs.”
As a youngster, Jackson convinced Janice (his girlfriend at the time) to spend their New Year’s Eve at home listening to the year-end countdown on the radio.
He would then do whatever it took to get on-air, even bowing out of his Humber College studies early to take a job at CKLC Kingston as an evening announcer.
All this time Jackson had his sights set on returning to Toronto to work evenings at one of the big stations. He repeatedly sent his demo tapes out, but only ever received limited response. One day, the radio enthusiast worked up the courage to call Sandy Sanderson, program director at CFT (today 680 NEWS). By the end of their conversation, Jackson was awakened to the reality of how competitive getting on-air in Toronto would be.
“It’s going to take 500 years for me to get the job, I thought. Well, that’s not going to be happening. So now where am I going to go? So, then I started looking around and I was a little more reasonable when I sent out my tapes and resumes,” explained Jackson.
After spending eight years in Kingston, Jackson’s next move would be to CHAB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Initially, he only wanted to be an evening DJ, but, while there Jackson toured an Edmonton station where he began to broaden his career aspirations.
“So, I found out even when you get to a bigger station, you’re still taking caller number 7, you’re still giving away concert tickets and the tape recorder still doesn’t work. So, I thought at that moment I thought if I was the boss that tape recorder would work because I would just tell the engineer, ‘go and fix it, and fix it by noon today’. So, I left Edmonton, and I said, ‘I think I want to be the program director,’” said Jackson.
His next move would then be in 1986 to CKAP Kapuskasing as program director. After this, Jackson went to CHVR Ottawa Valley, now as Operations Manager. It was here in Pembroke that Jackson and his wife had a life-altering experience.
“The neighbour across the street invited her [our daughter] to a church program, and Crystal came to us and said, ‘can I go to church on Wednesday night?’ And we said, ‘church, why do you wanna do that?’ And she says, ‘Well, my friend Eva wants me to go to church with her,’” said Jackson.
“We went to church because in the [Awana] program, Crystal would get points for her team if she brought a friend to church. So, she looked at my wife and I and we were a couple of points, so we’d do anything for our kid. ‘Okay, we’ll even go to church.’ So, we went to church,” Jackson added.
This proved to be only the beginning as Jackson and his wife started making friends in the congregation and shortly after they were at the pastor’s house for dinner one night when they both gave their lives to Jesus and converted to follow the Christian faith.
The idea of Christian radio still didn’t register for Jackson yet. It was only in 1993 that the CRTC modified its policy to allow religious broadcasting in Canada. However, when a friend heard contemporary Christian songs on the radio in the US, he notified Jackson, and this would eventually lead to him taking a job as vice president at WAY FM in Nashville. Despite soaking it all up, Jackson only lasted a year at the job.
“I got fired at the Christian radio station. And I (thought) ain’t no way I’m ever coming back to Canada. No way. I’m never doing that,” Jackson explained. “There is five [Christian stations] in Nashville and I went to all of those and they didn’t have any openings. Kind of looked around the mid-south and I opened it up across the states.”
No other job in the US would ever come and after running out of money, Jackson and his family were forced to return to his parent’s home (now in Barrie) to live in their basement.
Jackson would then take another job as an announcer for a secular radio station in Toronto, but this proved to be the tipping point for doing solely Christian radio.
“One day I was going to church in Barrie – Janice and I, and our two kids were in the backseat, and they were age like 11 and 14. And I had the radio station in Toronto on, and they had some really rude song on,” said Jackson. “And I thought, my target audience is sitting in the backseat, and I’m responsible for these songs on the radio. And as we got to church, my wife said, ‘could we park the car around the corner?’ Because we were in the station vehicle, she was so embarrassed.”
By this point Christian radio had become legal in Canada. In 1999, Jackson launched LIFE 100.3 in Barrie. Today, more than 20 years later, had Jackson known how the station would grow he likely would have left the ‘100.3’ out of the name. Not only does the boosted signal reach York Region, but there are also repeater stations in Peterborough, Owen Sound and Huntsville, all at different frequencies.
Many in the Christian community, including the Barrie pastors who fell asleep during a Jackson presentation at a ministerial meeting, doubted his vision for Christian radio.
“I guess people thought it would be sleepy hymns or heavy metal noise, but I guess people didn’t realize that it would be normal music with Christian godly words,” said Jackson. “They didn’t realize that, and that those words are affecting them just like they’re affecting me. I think words to songs affect everybody: is it bringing you closer to God or is it pushing you further away?”
On April 30th, Jackson stepped down as president of LIFE 100.3 and he handed the leadership over to Steve Jones. The radio station founder continues to work at LIFE part-time as a consultant, as the manager of the artist relations department, and as the host of the Saturday morning Retro Show.