Castanet's 'SILK' anniversary

Castanet.net is celebrating its twelfth anniversary today, a milestone traditionally celebrated with gifts of silk, or maybe it should be SILK.

It was November 1, 2000 when the owner of radio station SILK-FM, Nick Frost, debuted his new website serving Kelowna and the Okanagan.

The site offered news, information and entertainment, targeted towards the local audience.

While some sites aimed for a national and international audience, very few were targeting a community directly as a "home town" website.

"We were early by a few years," says Frost. "Our viewers seemed to get it right away. But our advertisers didn't get it right away and so for the first few years we lost a lot of money, but we never gave up."

Today Castanet is redefining what local media can be.

Frost ran SILK-FM, (now Astral media's EZ-Rock), for two decades and he applied the lessons learned there to his new concept.

"What you learn in media is that if you can get a really big audience then the advertisers eventually will come, but it took a little longer for Castanet.net, that's for sure."

Frost knew he had a model that was going to work, but as is often the case with any new vision, he had to convince others, be it advertisers or bankers, that his plan would be a success.

It was a different time 12 years ago.

With today's mobile devices and high speed wireless connections, users can take the Internet anywhere and access it without delay.

As the year 2,000 loomed, the 'net was still slow and clunky. Audio used up too much bandwidth and video was sketchy at best.

There was even fear that our emerging hi-tech world was going to crumble into oblivion simply because calendars on computers were not programmed to accept any year higher than 1999.

Apparently it wasn't only the Mayans who had problems with calendars.

For three years Castanet slowly evolved and grew, but it was late summer 2003, when Castanet proved its worth to the community.

"The big turning point for us...was the fire in August of '03. That showed how radio and the Internet could work very well together. So many people went to Castanet for the first time and realized what a useful kind of media company it could be."

Speed was the key.

As viewers came to appreciate Castanet's ability to report the news as it happened, everything changed.

"Our heritage was radio, and one thing about radio you realize, is that when news breaks you get it on right away. You don't usually do that with television and you can't do that with newspapers, so that heritage of being first with whatever is going on in real time is what has affected Castanet to this day. I think that's why people come to us, because if there's a fire that they see or an accident, they know that we'll have it."

Today, Castanet averages over 300,000 unique visitors a week and over 1,800 viewers every second of the day.

Mobile apps and smart phones now allow viewers to connect and communicate with Castanet anywhere, anytime. Also, the site continues to expand its use of video, especially high definition.

"We'll do everything we can as a company to stay ahead of the curve, which perhaps we were at the beginning and maybe we still are. There aren't many local websites that cover local news, but we get people from all over the place, Parksville, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, people saying 'we want you here'."

As for the future, Frost sees lots of potential for change.

"We hope that we can become more regional, as we're really doing. The past year we've seen more growth than ever with viewers in Penticton and Vernon. So while we're Kelowna's home page still, we're probably becoming the Okanagan's home page and with any luck, one day we'll be BC's home page."

As for how Castanet got its name, anyone who is musically inclined may have initially made the connection to the small hand held percussion instruments which produce clicks and rhythmic accents...and they would be right.

"We were having a meeting to decide on the name. I had just come from a Rotary meeting, of which I'm a member, and they happened to have some Flamenco dancers, and they had castanets. After a couple of hours, I thought 'wait a minute. Castanet, clickety-click,' and that's where the name came from," says Frost.

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