Mel Cooper

On his jacket lapel he wears the dogwood pin of the Order of British Columbia and also the Order of Canada.


A broadcaster all his life, who started on radio at CJAV Port Alberni, he was later a corporate director – Telus, Air BC – and helped make Expo 86 and the 1994 Commonwealth Games successes. He sold C-FAX radio in 2004 after 30 years and jumped into the tourist business last summer with the B.C. Experience.

What drew you to broadcasting?


I was born in Newfoundland and lived at the foot of Signal Hill where Marconi received his first radio signal. We used to play radio there in the old building.

Can conventional radio continue in the face of the Internet and satellite radio?

Satellite radio is nothing unless it has content. The secret is content. If radio doesn’t make it against other media at any time, it’s because of content. Radio was a personality medium. It’s become less of that. It needs to invest more in people. It’s overcome the competition of television, it’s stronger than ever. The future of radio is in the hands of the people who create the content and the content needs more attention.

You stayed in Victoria, yet you could have made a career in Vancouver or Toronto. Why?

When I bought C-FAX, Western Broadcasting president Frank Griffiths said to me, “What are you doing moving to Victoria? You should go to Toronto.” At that time, my goals were different. My goal was not to be the richest dead guy in Toronto.

{advertisement} Who made the biggest impression on you in business and why?
I ended up by sheer luck working for a guy at CKNW, Bill Rea, a strong community pioneer. We had the first “news cruisers” on the street. We did more and more serving the community. He was a mentor who regrettably died too young, but he made a big difference in my life.

What did you learn from the B.C. Experience bankruptcy?

Everyone in this town knows I’m used to getting kicked around over the B.C. Experience. We had six partners. We walked away from this. We weren’t used to having all this negativity in our lives. Instead of moaning about it, we said, “OK, we tried.” Passionate people get to feel the highs, and they get to feel the lows. You’ve got to just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. The words stuck with me – things will go wrong.

Does it concern you that so many of Victoria’s successful companies are sold to outsiders?

It is without doubt one of the realities of business in this age. What we’re seeing is more businesses being run by public companies. Is it good? I would suggest that it doesn’t mean as much in certain industries as others. I like to suggest that the country was built on small and medium companies. But it’s not going to work in this competitive era. It was really good back then but it’s not the way it’s going to be.

What are Victoria’s biggest priorities as a community?

The growth of education in the community, the role of education in the community, the growth of University of Victoria, Royal Roads University. It changes the look and feel of the community, it keeps young people here.
It’s been a government town, but it’s got to be more than a government town.
Tourism: trying to keep Victoria a wonderful place. We know it’s unique, but keep it wonderful. We don’t have written laws to keep it that way. If it happens, it’ll be by accident and that’s not good enough. We definitely need people who want to make Victoria more special than it is today.

What would you tell people starting out in business today?

There’s lots of creativity out there now. There are so many smart young people. I always start off by asking, what do you love, what are you excited about? I think the opportunities are in education, all the new advances in technology and beyond. Passion is a vital ingredient. It’s more competitive than at any time before. You’ve got to be really excited about what you do.

What’s the source of your upbeat attitude, your optimism?

All business is show business. You put showmanship into a lot of things. All of us have it – it’s up to us to do something about it. You’re in charge of your happiness. Everyone has the ability to be positive and everyone has the ability to be negative – you make the choice. The more competitive business gets, the more it comes down to what you’ve got in here – the heart and the brain.

You’re a big supporter of the community. Where does that come from?

If I tried to explain it, I guess it’s just in my blood to try and help others. If you serve the community well, you will do well. It made me feel good. It’s 30 years since I started Santas Anonymous. I’m playing different roles now – I’m on the Salvation Army board, and president of the Santas Anonymous board, which is a different thing.

What’s next for you?

Some people say, “Mel, maybe your last enterprise was a lesson to slow down.” I have a great desire to stay involved. There’s a small company I’m involved in, Pacific Safety. I’m doing work in relation to UVic: I work with Give Canada, a new company for people who want to give to universities. We go out and find the people who can help make it happen.