By Carolyn Girard
For the millions of Canadians who grew up watching Dennis the Menace, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, Babar, Care Bears, The Racoons and Curious George, Bill Stevens is the man to thank. His internationally renowned business helped launch and produce favourites like these and many others.
But the owner of Crawley Films, Canada’s oldest film company, is no longer producing for a visual audience. Stevens is relying on his wife and son to run the company as he pursues his latest endeavour – managing CHRI 99.1 FM, Ottawa’s only Christian radio station.
“We’ve almost shut it [Crawley Films] down while I’m doing this stuff,” he says. “I just felt called to get this station and try to build a strong enough team to carry on when I’m gone.”
Although he has a Christian background, Stevens only became a practicing non-denominational Christian, along with his wife, seven years ago.
Realizing the impact he could have as a Christian, and the value of serving his community, Stevens joined CHRI’s board of directors two years ago, after meeting Bob Dubroy, the founder of CHRI.
The “miniaturization of technology” had already allowed him to downsize from a fully-equiped 30,000-square-foot production studio on Fairmont Avenue to a computer in a corner of his house.
After his conversion, the company adopted a more Christian focus, producing small series and movies for Crossroads Television, a Christian-oriented station.
But his choice to manage Ottawa’s family radio station didn’t happen on a whim.
He was asked to take over as general manager last August when Dubroy stepped down to work on getting a second Christian radio station approved by the CRTC, which is expected to “come up for licence anytime soon.” The new station would target an older demographic of baby boomers and seniors.
Since Stevens took over, the station has slightly changed its perspective.
“I think the core values the station was built on are the values that it will continue to stand on,” Stevens says.
“The principles are the same, but it’s the techniques and the technology that have changed.”
Stevens worked with his staff to create a better sound quality for the airwaves and for their Internet broadcast. He also gave his staff free reign to make major changes to the programming format.
“The biggest change I brought is the greater involvement from the staff because I didn’t know what to do,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know how to run a radio station by myself so I had to get everyone involved.”
He says Brock Tozer, CHRI’s program and music director and morning-show host, wanted to change the programming, targeting more specific audiences and playing a better line-up of music, which Stevens approved as a welcome idea.
An example of this is a specific evening program that features Christian hip hop.
“When I took over the station, we worked on block programming so every time you turn on the radio, you hear something different,” Stevens says.
CHRI caters primarily to an audience between the ages of 18 to 44, playing “hot adult contemporary music and programming.”
It sounds a lot like music on mainstream radio stations, including country, pop, rock and hip hop. The difference, Stevens says, is in the words.
“Every word you hear on CHRI, in both songs and programming, has been carefully chosen to reflect a wisdom that only comes from God,” he says.
That principle started with CHRI’s creation, but recent improvements are helping to deliver it in a better package.
The new focus and improved quality couldn’t have come at a better time, as CHRI is celebrating its 10th year of operation, with more contests and bigger promotions.
Now 59 years old, Stevens says he will probably be ready to move on from CHRI by the time he is 65, but in the meantime this is where he wants to be.
“It’s funny because it’s kind of a culmination of everything I’ve done in my life,” he says.
As with film and television production, Stevens has travelled the world as a musician and music publisher, and pursuing other business endeavours such as an e-commerce business he still owns today.
His background in production, multimedia, marketing and sales have set the stage for his newest role. Although some might see his new position as a step backwards financially, Stevens could not care less.
With a laugh, he says as general manager he now makes as much as he did when he took over as the owner of Crawley Films in 1982.
“I’ve produced things that have been seen by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. A couple of things I’ve produced are classics. Millions of people have them on their hard drives or libraries,” he says.
“But if you can touch someone’s life in a meaningful, positive way, you don’t need to touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people. You only need to touch the life of one.”
It seems that CHRI is touching more than one life, however, as Stevens receives e-mails and letters from people every day with stories that feed his drive.
The station aims to provide family-oriented content which reflects the things Christians have in common rather than reflecting a specific denomination.
“Being a rich young filmmaker and musician is pretty cool, except there’s no progress personally,” he says. “I wasn’t growing and I made lots of mistakes as a result.”
Since their conversion of heart and acceptance that Christ truly died for their sins, he and his wife have become active in the music ministry at their church and at different Christian events, striving for a higher standard of morals, which he says CHRI tries to communicate on a daily basis.
“It’s called ‘family-radio’ for a reason,” he says. “It’s really there to support the concept of family, which is very much under attack today.”
He also says it’s a much-needed niche in a city where about 50 per cent of people have a Christian background.
“At a time when cultural diversity is so important, the people from this culture also need a strong voice. And with radio, that voice is available 24/7.”
Since he was 16 years old, Stevens has been playing the drums and singing in different bands. He had his first experience in a recording studio at the age of 17.
Having followed the music industry quite closely over the course of his life , he notes that the cultural shift towards the Christian market is a recent phenomenon.
“Being a Christian a few years ago was a marginalized position to be in, but today for some reason, people are starting to come out of the closet and are willing to admit they’re Christian.”
He cites examples such as Bono from U2, a self-professed Christian, the band Switchfoot, which recently performed in Ottawa, and the Backstreet Boys’ Brian Littrell who has a hit record on the Christian market.
Recording companies aren’t blind to the culture shift either, where big names like Sony Music and EMI have Christian production divisions.
Stevens says the industry is huge, and for good reason – the beneficial effects of a Christian lifestyle are inevitable.
“Ever since I started acting like a Christian I’ve just learned so much about people,” Stevens says.
“It changed the way I do business, the way I deal with sickness, money, my personal relationships, my family, my marriage and
my relationship with my