You could call it Ed Torres's destiny - his early dreams had him flying a plane. And there's symmetry between soaring through the air and soaring over the airwaves.
The 40-something Ed grew up in Toronto, the son of Spanish immigrants. By the time he was 17, he was a licensed private pilot - a teenager who could fly a plane, but not yet legally drive a car.
He found his radio groove with younger brother Frank in high school when they started a radio club. In no time, they were running their own private radio show through the high school PA system. While there are no historical Nielsen ratings to check for accuracy purposes, Ed insists their inaugural radio station was ranked No.1 among homerooms.
Fast forward to post-college and Ed was a commercial pilot flying cargo, supplies and even air ambulances in northern Ontario. Later, he become a pilot for Canadian Regional Airlines and was "doing what I had always wanted to do," Ed recalls fondly.
Unfortunately, just as he had become captain, Ed was "downsized" by amalgamation in the skies. When both brothers found themselves out of work at the same time, Ed and Frank started a banner-flying company with messages like "I love you" or "John, you're behind on support payments." It wasn't long before their bird's-eye view had them spotting a new market niche. From their vantage point, the Toronto traffic reports they were listening to often didn't jive with what they were seeing.
"We'd look down and see the Don Valley Parkway was anything but ‘moving along well,'" he chuckles.
They had an epiphany. Their company Skywords would create free and accurate traffic reports and sell the 10-second ad slots that followed. Toronto radio stations loved the idea and within a year, they had 12 stations using their services.
Things were going so well that Ottawa stations - and later others across the country - wanted the same kind of service. So Skywords came to Ottawa in the mid ‘90s with Todd Bernard as DAWG's general manager. But, as cellphones and call-in traffic tips began replacing eye-in-the-sky reports, and deregulation saw smaller stations gobbled up by bigger corporations, the market for traffic report sales was shrinking. By 2006, the writing was on the wall.
"We decided the only way to control our destiny was to own our radio station," says Ed pragmatically of the radio station that he and Frank built.
In 2007, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) opened up a new radio frequency in Ottawa. Skywords was one of the 16 applicants, among some major Canadian radio players such as Astral and Evanov. But Ed had a killer game plan. He was proposing something unique: a blues station with 40 per cent Canadian content - 10 per cent more than the required norm.
"Big corporations had turned radio into 400- song jukeboxes that got played on a continuous loop," he says. "We wanted to give the vibrant blues scene in Canada an outlet and nobody else was doing that."
In 2008, they got the news that the CRTC had approved their application, but the decision was appealed and Ed and his crew spent a year of campaigning and sleepless nights to have the licence upheld. It paid off. On June 7, 2010, DAWG hit the airwaves at 101.9 FM.
Says Todd, "With Ed spearheading our initiatives, we were able to convince the CRTC of the idea's economic viability and we've proven there is an appetite for a new format that offers something refreshingly different from typical ‘cookie-cutter' radio."
"We're the only stand-alone radio station in a major market in Canada," adds Ed. "We compete with the biggest players."
Ed is living his dream. He is proud, and rightly so, of successfully building an independent station - his second family. His first family consists of his high-school sweetheart wife and their two teenage sons, with the older one sometimes sporting the DAWG mascot outfit at public events.
Ed's efforts earned him the Blues Booster of the Year award last year. Now, blues fans are likely waiting for more big things from him - including an expanded version of the successful 2010 Calabogie Blues & Ribfest (coming again Aug. 17-19), as well as a DAWG for Toronto in the near future.
The station recently ran a "Get Out of the DAWG House" contest for Valentine's Day. But for Ed Torres, the DAWG house is home sweet home.
ED'S FAVOURITE THINGS
Music Idols: Willie Dixon and Neil Young
Instrument: Guitar - "The best gift you can give your children is music lessons."
Clothing Style: Casual
Favourite Facebook post by a fan: "I wanna thank you for existing. Because of this station, I started listening to the radio again."