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COVID-19 pandemic sees successful radio startup relocate from NYC to Edmonton

Click to play video 'COVID-19 pandemic sees successful radio startup relocate from NYC to Edmonton' COVID-19 pandemic sees successful radio startup relocate from NYC to Edmonton
The COVID-19 pandemic has sent many of us back to our roots. As Morgan Black explains, successful New Yorker Sheri Barclay said it took a global crisis for her to see her hometown in a new light.

The creator of a popular public radio station based in New York City is now broadcasting from her home in Edmonton.

Sheri Barclay founded KPISS.fm in 2016, which features a rotation of hosts, funded by listener and DJ donations. The station’s shows feature a wide range of talent and genres, and focuses on musical appreciation and personal stories.

“I got my start at CJSR 88.5 FM in Edmonton. My show became syndicated by a fashion company and I moved to New York,” she explained.

Barclay rented a parking lot and converted a 1977 RV camper to her new studio. The station has drawn the attention of Sloan’s Jay Ferguson and George Stroumboulopoulos.

KPISS’s converted studio inside a RV camper
KPISS’s converted studio inside a RV camper. Courtesy: Kara Zuaro

The station manager was growing her business rapidly with about 75 broadcasters — then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York. Barclay quickly decided she had to leave the city.

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“I thought the lockdown would last for two weeks. I closed down my studio, following protocol,” Barclay said. “I just panicked. There were a lot of people getting sick, people were losing their jobs.”

A phone call to her mom cemented that Barclay would journey back home to Edmonton, returning after seven years away.

“This is the only time it’s socially acceptable [to move back home with your mom]. That’s not such a bad thing,” she laughed.

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Barclay packed up and brought her successful business with her. She realized that the city she had once left to seek more opportunity had grown up too.

“My mom’s neighbourhood in Inglewood has been revitalized. [Before] it wasn’t poppin’ 124th Street — the way it is now. That’s cool,” Barclay said. “It can be just as exciting and vibrant [as a larger city]. My Brooklyn friends want to visit Edmonton now.”
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Sheri and her mom on October 14, 2020
Sheri and her mom on October 14, 2020. Courtesy: Sheri Barclay

From Edmonton, Barclay taught the broadcasters at KPISS how to put on a show from home, thanks to “a broadcast training series” she created.

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Barclay and the numerous station DJs are scattered across North America. She said many of them are beginning to see their hometowns in a new light.

“A lot of artists are discovering you can make art anywhere. You can live cheaply. You can grow your own community.”

In something akin to a reverse brain drain, Barclay said many expats — including herself — are re-rooting themselves at home.

“I’m really interested in connecting with the music scene here in Edmonton and reporting on that and adding local contributors,” she said.

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Barclay is currently developing “The Edmonton Show” hosted by another ex-pat, Maria Elena in Montreal, that would play music entirely from Edmonton.

KPISS welcomes contributors and new listeners and can be found streaming here.