Montreal radio ratings: A boost for CKOI, but not much new otherwise

Numeris released its quarterly PPM ratings last week, and I’m not completely sure how to headline this because there hasn’t been much change.

Here’s how it works out for English-language stations:

We see long-term declines continuing for CJAD and The Beat, the latter of which seems to have been hit hardest by the pandemic (probably because it’s long been a 9-to-5 at-work station), and we see that Virgin Radio remains not only behind CHOM among anglophones, but once again behind CBC Radio One as well.

TSN 690 had its best summer book in years, which may have something to do with the Canadiens playing in the Stanley Cup Final in July.

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Nikki Balch out at The Beat 92.5

Just as Montrealers are enjoying their Labour Day weekend and local media are preparing for the fall season, The Beat rebranded its morning show, erasing host Nikki Balch out of existence.

Nikki, who has been with the station since 2016, and had been at Virgin Radio a few years before that, hasn’t posted anything publicly, nor have her now-former colleagues that I could find.

The station has replaced her with Claudia Marques on the renamed “The Morning Show”. She moves to mornings after co-hosting the afternoon drive show. Mark Bergman and Stuntman Sam remain on the morning team, and Kim Kieran gets officially added to the brand.

The move comes just days after the on-air staff, including Balch, posed for a new set of photos.

Martz Communications sells 94.7 Hits FM, Wild Country 96.5 to religious educational broadcaster

If you’re a Montrealer who likes to listen to 94.7 Hits FM to get music unencumbered by CRTC regulations, I have some bad news for you.

And if you’re a Quebecer who tunes in to the weak 96.5 FM because there aren’t better country music options on the radio here, I also have some bad news for you.

Both WYUL 94.7 in Chateaugay, N.Y., and WVNV 96.5 in Malone, N.Y., have been sold to the Educational Media Foundation, which owns hundreds of stations in all 50 states under the K-Love and Air1 brands, both of which broadcast Christian music.

The purchase price is $2.5 million. The deal includes the licenses and transmitter facilities but not much else. Martz Communications retains the logos, branding, studio equipment and everything having to do with employees.

“EMF approached me over a year ago and ultimately made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Martz owner Tim Martz tells me. “Given COVID-19’s impact on the economy and advertising revenues, and the current difficult business climate, it became clear that their offer made sense considering the alternatives, even more so since I recently turned 70 years of age.”

The stations remain operational for now and at least the next three months, Martz says.

An application for transfer of ownership was published Monday by the Federal Communications Commission. It was first reported by All Access and Radio Insight. The deal would close within 10 days of FCC approval, according to the agreement filed with the commission.

EMF intends to convert both stations to non-profit educational stations. It writes to the FCC:

EMF’s educational goal is to educate its audience with respect to both teachings of the Bible, as well as broader topics of contemporary significance ranging from family issues, money management, philosophical problems and opportunities facing children and young adults, and information concerning the scope and availability of other non-profit services in the community.

EMF will offer a wide variety of education programming designed to meet the needs and interests of resident within the local community of license, including education programs on current events, and programs examining economic, social and religious issues. EMF will also feature inspirational music, news and other cultural programming. In furtherance of EMF’s educational purpose, EMF’s educational programming will include features that explore family issues, values and understanding and other programming that is designed to assist families and individuals manage their personal finances.

“As you can imagine, the decision to sell was very difficult on a number of levels,” Martz says. “Since I grew up in Montreal, the stations have a special meaning for me. Both Hits and Wild Country have been serving listeners in Quebec and Ontario for some 20 years and there are just a lot of fond memories of employees, listeners and even competitors from over the years.”

As a result of the sale, Martz’s office in Pointe-Claire, which does Montreal ad sales for Hits FM, “will likely close at the end of September,” Martz says, resulting in six full-time employees losing their jobs, including on-air host Marty Lamarre and Montreal sales boss Tim Thompson.

Another office in Cornwall, Ont., will remain to serve its other border-crossing stations, WSNN (B99.3) in Potsdam, N.Y., and WICY, which has a transmitter at 103.5 in Akwesasne.

“I’d like to thank our listeners, the many hundreds of thousands of them and our valued advertising clients for their support today and over the years,” Martz says. “Last week I met with the entire staff as a group and individually to share my thoughts. I want to thank our wonderful staff — Tim, Marty, Joel, Rene, Warren and Alexandra — for their many years of hard work, dedication and friendship.”

I’ve reached out to EMF and will update if I hear back.

CKHQ-FM Kanesatake gets power increase, protected frequency

The community radio station in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake north of Montreal can breathe a bit easier knowing that it can’t be de facto threatened off the air if someone sets up a new radio station.

On Monday, the CRTC approved an application from CKHQ-FM 101.7 to increase its power from 27 watts (max effective radiated power) to 51 watts.

The increase in power won’t do much for the station’s signal — it will still be almost impossible to catch outside Kanesatake and parts of Oka. But by increasing power to 51 watts, the station’s transmitter changes its class, from low power to Class A1.

Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s previously approved signal (red and brown) and its new approved signal (blue and green)

The change is significant because low-power stations, by policy, do not operate on protected frequencies. So if someone gets a new licence to operate on a frequency that causes interference to or is caused interference from the low-power station, that station has to change frequency.

That scenario almost came to light in 2018 when an application was filed for a new station in Lachute at 101.7 FM. It would have forced CKHQ to find a new frequency, but with it being so close to Montreal, there aren’t other frequencies available.

In the end, the CRTC rejected the application on its own merits, giving CKHQ another chance.

CKHQ has two years from the date of the decision to apply the new technical parameters. It must also deal with outstanding compliance issues, notably the installation of an emergency alerting system.

Reviving Kanesatake Radio is on Facebook.

CBC cancels Daybreak’s Taste Test music column

Brendan Kelly (a colleague at the Montreal Gazette) will get to sleep in on Wednesdays. His weekly Taste Test column, in which he introduces Daybreak listeners to new music, has been cancelled after many years, effective immediately.

Neither Kelly nor CBC Montreal offered any comment on this news when I asked about it, and neither would confirm nor deny it explicitly.

UPDATE: After this post was published, Kelly confirmed the news on Twitter:

Kelly later offered a goodbye as well in a long Twitter thread:

And former Daybreak host Mike Finnerty had some kind words for his former colleague:

Montreal/Quebec radio ratings: Minor fluctuations in a long-term decline overall

Numeris released top-line data for its spring ratings period last week. There isn’t much new (CJAD still leads among all listeners, The Beat is still the top-rated music station), but a few things of note:

  • CJAD 800 saw a third straight gain, and remains top-rated in the Montreal English-language market, but the overall trend remains downward as fewer people listen to radio.
  • The Beat 92.5 tied for its worst performance in average minute audience in the past five years, and lost ground against Virgin, but still has almost twice the audience of Virgin among anglophones.
  • CHOM 97.7 has been remarkably consistent over the past few years, retaining its audience as other stations lost theirs. We’ll see in the coming months whether the loss of Terry DiMonte will have an impact overall.
  • Virgin 95.9 is still fighting it out with CBC Radio One for market share. You have to wonder how long Bell will let that go on before something dramatic happens. (Replacing its morning team clearly didn’t work.)
  • The Canadiens’ good fortunes once again had a positive impact on TSN 690. (Six of the seven playoff games against the Leafs are included here.) In total average minute audience (anglo and franco combined) it had its best book since 2018.

  • 98.5fm remains top-rated among francophones, and once again claims to be the most listened-to station in Canada. As the francophone rights holder for Canadiens games, the team’s performance had to help a bit.
  • ICI Radio-Canada Première remains mostly stable, though lost some ground against 98.5
  • 91.9 Sports continues to slowly build its audience but remains well below what it was in 2019. With the Canadiens playing late into the spring and maybe early summer, this station’s acquisition of rights to Montreal’s MLS team hasn’t captured peoples’ imagination.

  • Rythme FM remains top-rated among francophone music stations, and appears to have slowed a long-term decline and held up against Rouge, CKOI and others.
  • Rouge and CKOI had their lowest audience in at least five years, but continue to fight for second place with Énergie, which has remained pretty stable.
  • Virgin 95.9 continues to do slightly better than The Beat 92.5 among francophones
  • WKND 99.5 is still building its audience, but more slowly, and is still below what Radio Classique was in 2017 when it last subscribed to Numeris ratings.

  • The overall audience for all measured stations is still low compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Meanwhile, Numeris also released diary ratings recently, the first in a year after last fall’s report was cancelled due to pandemic complications.

Quebec City

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • ICI Radio-Canada Première 106,3: 22.8%
  • CHOI Radio X 98.1: 18.8%
  • FM93: 14.2%
  • WKND 91.9: 11.7%
  • M 102.9: 7.6%
  • Rouge 107,5: 5.7%
  • ICI Musique 95,3: 5.6%
  • blvd 102,1: 2.0%
  • Énergie 98,9: 1.7%
  • Vibe 100,9: 1.5%
  • CBC Radio One 104.7: 0.2%

Both Radio-Canada and CHOI saw a significant jump in share. Other stations went up or down a few points, but the biggest change was at Énergie, which dropped its talk format last summer and went back to rock to join the rest of the network. That decision was devastating to its ratings as it went from a 6.0% share to a 1.7% share in a year, losing that audience to CHOI and FM93.

Saguenay

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • KYK FM 95.7: 26.5%
  • Rouge 96.9: 22.2%
  • ICI Radio-Canada Première 93.7: 12.6%
  • Énergie 94.5: 11.8%
  • CKAJ-FM 92.5: 10.1%
  • ICI Musique 100.9: 5.2%

In Saguenay, KYK climbed above Rouge to take the #1 spot among all audiences 12+. Community station CKAJ signed up for Numeris ratings, and found itself with a 10% share. ICI Musique saw its share almost double from 2.8% last year.

Sherbrooke

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • ICI Radio-Canada Première: 19.1%
  • Énergie 106.1: 16.5%
  • Rouge FM 102.7: 16.4%
  • 107,7fm: 10.9%
  • Rythme: 7.1%
  • ICI Musique: 5.9%

In Sherbrooke, ICI Première took top spot over both Bell stations Énergie and Rouge, which are statistically tied. Meanwhile Rythme FM Estrie saw its share drop by almost half.

Trois-Rivières

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • Rythme 100,1: 14.2%
  • ICI Première: 13.5%
  • Rouge 94,7: 12.6%
  • Énergie 102,3: 12.3%
  • 106,9fm: 9.1%
  • ICI Musique: 8.2%
  • CKBN 90,5: 7.2%

In Trois-Rivières, less than two points separate the top four stations a year after Rouge led handily. Both Radio-Canada stations picked up a couple of points.

Ottawa-Gatineau franco

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • ICI Première: 21.7%
  • Rouge 94,9: 14.4%
  • 104,7fm: 9.7%
  • WOW 97,1: 7.1%
  • Énergie 104,1: 6.9%
  • ICI Musique: 5.5%
  • 106.1 CHEZ: 3.3%
  • Move 100.3: 3.0%
  • Hot 89.9: 2.5%
  • Pure Country 94: 2.5%
  • Lite 98.5: 2.0%
  • Boom 99.7: 1.7%
  • CBC Radio One: 1.7%
  • CBC Music: 1.6%
  • Kiss 105.3: 1.5%
  • Pop 96.5: 1.2%
  • Jump! 106.9: 1.2%

Among francophones in the national capital, the public broadcaster is back on top by a wide margin, followed by Bell’s Rouge, Cogeco’s talk station 104,7 and RNC Media’s Wow 97.1. RNC’s other station, Pop 96.5, remains in the chaff with the English-language music stations and below even CBC Radio One among francophones. Its 1,750-watt signal limits its upward mobility.

Ottawa-Gatineau anglo

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • CBC Radio One: 23.1%
  • Move 100.3: 7.6%
  • Hot 89.9: 7.5%
  • CFRA 580: 7.1%
  • CBC Music: 5.6%
  • Boom 99.7: 5.3%
  • 106.1 CHEZ: 5.2%
  • Live 88.5: 3.7%
  • Pure Country 94: 3.6%
  • TSN 1200: 3.5%
  • CityNews 1310/101.1: 3.2%*
  • Kiss 105.3: 3.1%
  • Lite 98.5: 3.1%
  • Jump! 106.9: 1.9%
  • Rebel 101.7: 1.6%
  • Country 92.3: 1.3%
  • ICI Musique: 1.0%

No surprise that CBC does best by a lot in Ottawa. CFRA slipped a couple of spots from last year, and Bell’s killing of the Majic 100 brand doesn’t seem to have hurt the station now called Move. Boom had a good book, going from 4.0% to 5.3% share, but otherwise most of the music stations stayed within a point of where they normally land in this very crowded market.

Meanwhile, Rogers’ shuffle is not a ratings winner so far. It went from a 9.1 share overall to a 7.6 share. CityNews gained one share point with its new FM simulcast, but the country station went from 3.5 points at 101.1 to 1.3 points on the much lower power 92.3, whose Smiths Falls signal doesn’t get into the city as well.

*The original version of this post had a typo in CityNews’s AM frequency.

The Terry DiMonte playlist

Unless you’ve been in a coma, you’re aware that Friday was Terry DiMonte’s last day at CHOM. There are several news stories about it, so instead of writing yet another summary I’ll just point you to the coverage:

It’s quite the tribute that all three French-language dailies wrote stories about DiMonte’s departure. You don’t normally see such news cross the language divide. But DiMonte also made it a point to acknowledge and honour the city’s bilingual nature, even choosing a song by Harmonium as his final song.

I compiled a playlist of songs that aired during his final show here:

If you didn’t listen, CHOM has compiled clips of the final show, which was filled with guests including Ted Bird, Patti Lorange and Justin Trudeau, plus his regular columnists. Here are the links to those segments:

It’s still unclear what the future is for both DiMonte and CHOM. DiMonte launched his new website on Friday, which talks about a “next chapter” in the fall. And though he plans to disappear from social media and take the summer off with his wife, it seems pretty clear he plans to remain active afterward. His website teases an interview video series, which is something he’s tried before.

As for CHOM, Pete Marier will be stepping into the big chair at least temporarily as of Monday. He would definitely be a leading candidate to take the job permanently, but there are various options available.

New Bounce brand continues Bell Media’s consolidation of music radio stations

Bell Media took another step toward putting its 109 radio stations into neat little brand packages this week with the announcement of a new brand: Bounce, which has been applied to 25 of those stations, including all the EZ Rock stations in B.C., the Bob FM stations in Winnipeg and elsewhere, and 102.9 K-Lite in Hamilton. (The full list of stations is below.)

The format bills itself as favourites from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, with an apparent focus on more pop and rock songs, with artists like Aerosmith, The Tragically Hip, Bon Jovi, INXS, Elton John, Michael Jackson and Oasis. It seems to be a way to bring the adult contemporary focus of EZ Rock, the nostalgia of Bob and the harder rock formats of 100.9 Big Dog or 105.3 The Fox into the same family.

This move makes Bounce the largest of the Bell Media brands by number of stations, though most of them are in smaller markets. It also, along with previously announced Move and Pure Country brands, reduces to just a handful the number of Bell stations that haven’t been tied to a national brand.

I’ve written about brand consolidation recently, but this just further underscores how much cleaning up Bell in particular is doing with its brands, with 85 of its music stations now belonging to just 7 brands.

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Radio-Canada drops its last private affiliate TV station, forcing it to close

An era is going to end on Aug. 31. One that might not matter much as the nature of television changes.

CKRT-DT, a television station based in Rivière-du-Loup, ends its affiliation with ICI Radio-Canada Télé on that date. The public broadcaster has decided it will not renew the agreement, much like it did for CKRN-DT in Abitibi-Témiscamingue in 2018. And like with CKRN, the owner of CKRT has decided it has no other choice than to shut the station down. (UPDATE June 18: The CRTC has approved the revocation of its licence effective Aug. 31)

I learned of this through a CRTC application filed by CKRT’s owner Télé Inter-Rives, which also owns a Noovo affiliate and two TVA affiliates serving eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick. The group wants to redirect the funding CKRT receives from the Independent Local News Fund to the Noovo station, which would see its local news obligations increase as a result.

I talk about that application in this article for Cartt.ca subscribers.

If the CRTC approves the application (it approved a similar one for CKRN), it would mean not that much changes. There would still be local TV news in Rivière-du-Loup, and most people would still be served by Radio-Canada’s station in Rimouski, whose Téléjournal Est-du-Québec covers the region.

There would be a loss of service over the air, though. CKRT has two transmitters in Rivière-du-Loup (the second covers some holes in the downtown signal), and five others in Baie-St-Paul, Dégelis, Cabano, St-Urbain and Trois-Pistoles. All were upgraded to digital by Télé Inter-Rives, though they had no obligation to do so outside of Rivière-du-Loup.

CBC/Radio-Canada decided in 2012 it was no longer interested in operating over-the-air transmitters except for originating local stations. And that policy move is part of the reason for dropping this affiliation. Spokesperson Marc Pichette told me that the industry has shifted to a place where “over-the-air television is no longer considered an adequate and efficient means to offer our content to Canadians.”

UPDATE: Télé Inter-Rives has applied to the CRTC to repurpose two of CKRT’s transmitters serving Rivière-du-Loup for its other stations. Under the plan, CFTF-DT (Noovo) would take over Channel 7 on Mont Bleu, the primary signal of CKRT, and shut down CFTF’s main Channel 29 transmitter. CIMT-DT (TVA), meanwhile, would take over CKRT retransmitter on Channel 13 in the city proper and shut down its transmitter on Channel 41. These applications are open for comment until July 28.

A long list of former affiliates

A lot of TV stations have previously been affiliates of CBC or Radio-Canada. One by one those affiliations dropped. Some were by the request of the station, which decided to switch to a private network (especially after they became owned by the same company as that network), while others were dropped by the public broadcaster because it no longer made sense to them.

Here are those who lost their affiliations since 2005:

CBC

  • CKX-TV Brandon, Man.Shut down in 2009 after CTV decided it no longer wanted to pay to keep it open, and CBC refused to buy it for $1, then two other companies — Shaw and Bluepoint Investment Corp. — both decided to buy it and then reneged on the deal.
  • CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C., and CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. — Were bought by Bell Media in 2013 as part of the Astral acquisition and dropped their CBC affiliations in 2016 to switch to CTV Two.
  • CFJC-TV Kamloops, B.C., CHAT-TV Medicine Hat, Alta., and CKPG-TV Prince George, B.C. — Owned by Pattison Media, they dropped their CBC affiliations and switched to Canwest’s E! network. When that network went bust in 2009, they switched again to Citytv.
  • CHBC-DT Kelowna and CHCA-TV Red Deer — Dropped CBC affiliation in 2005 to switch to Canwest’s CH network, later E!. When that went down in 2009, CHBC was the only station to be switched to Global — it’s now known as Global Okanagan. CHCA was shut down.
  • CKWS-TV Kingston, CHEX-TV Peterborough and CHEX-TV-2 Oshawa, Ont. — Owned by Corus before it bought Global from Shaw, they switched to CTV affiliation in 2015 then became Global stations in 2018.*
  • CKSA-DT Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. — Owned by Newcap and since bought by Stingray, it lost its CBC affiliation in 2016. It switched to become a Global affiliate, as its sister station in the same city is already a CTV affiliate.
  • CKPR-DT Thunder Bay, Ont. — This Dougall Media station ended its CBC affiliation in 2014 and became a CTV affiliate. Its sister station CHFD-DT was a former CTV affiliate that switched to Global in 2010 after it couldn’t reach a renewal deal with CTV.

Radio-Canada

  • CKTV-TV Saguenay, CKSH-TV Sherbrooke and CKTM-TV Trois-Rivières — Owned by Cogeco, they were sold to CBC/Radio-Canada in 2008 and became Radio-Canada stations. These were the last TV stations ever purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada.
  • CKRN-DT Rouyn-Noranda — Owned by RNC Media, shut down when Radio-Canada ended its affiliation deal in 2018.
  • CKRT-DT Rivière-du-Loup — Owned by Télé Inter-Rives, set to shut down Aug. 31, 2021.

To recap:

  • 3 stations purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada
  • 2 stations becoming CTV Two stations (owned by Bell Media)
  • 4 stations becoming Global stations (owned by Corus)
  • 3 stations becoming Citytv affiliates (owned by Pattison Media)
  • 2 stations becoming CTV affiliates (owned by Stingray and Dougall Media)
  • 3 stations shut down

*Corrected, thanks Tim!

Evanov rebrands Hudson Jewel station as Lite 106.7, skews playlist more toward 1980s

For the first time since it launched in 2014, Evanov’s radio station in Hudson/St-Lazare west of Montreal has gone through a rebrand.

Starting Monday at midnight, Jewel 106.7 (CHSV-FM) is Lite 106.7 Hudson’s Lite Favourites (its first song under the new format, for the record, was Baby Baby by Amy Grant). The change coincides with an identical one at The Jewel in Ottawa, which also becomes Lite 98.5, kicking off with Lionel Richie’s All Night Long.

The midnight brand switch was a bit anticlimactic, with just the new station ID:

A press release was issued overnight and a more formal announcement of the change happened just after the 8am news:

Recorded by Gary Gamble, Director of Operations for Evanov Communications, the announcement said that after reviewing comments from listeners who wanted “a vibrant radio station in touch with today, playing the best music from timeless artists past and present” (I’m sure they phrased it like that, too), it was rebranding “to build on the success of Jewel 106.7 and maintain our lite sound.”

Two other Jewel stations in eastern Ontario, CKHK-FM 107.7 in Hawkesbury and CHRC-FM 92.5 in Clarence-Rockland, switched to Hot Country at 9am after the morning show. (Their social media pages have already changed, leading to some comments from confused fans.)

It sounded like this:

The announcement on the Clarence-Rockland station noted that people who still wanted to listen to the Jewel-style light pop can still tune in to the Ottawa station on 98.5. Steven Lee Olsen’s Hello Country kicked off the new brand.

As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca, there are minimal changes to staffing as a result of this rebranding. All four stations keep their morning teams, including Ted Bird and Tom Whelan at Jewel 106.7. The biggest programming change is that the country stations will bring in nationally syndicated Casey Clark at midday and Bobby Bones in the evening.

I spoke with Ted Silver, Evanov’s program director for the four stations, about the change, and he explained that for Jewel/Lite, it was a matter of “following the curve” so the stations can better target the core audience of adults 45-54. “The audience we were appealing to 10 years ago is 10 years older,” he said, and have aged out of the demographic that can be sold to advertisers effectively.

Silver, a former PD at Montreal’s Q92, says Lite should be similar to what people listened to at Q92 before it became The Beat. Jewel listeners won’t feel alienated, it’s more of an evolution than a drastic change. But there will be less focus on the 70s and more on the 80s, because it wants to attract people who were in high school in the 80s.

Jewel’s remaining stations in Toronto, Brantford and Meaford will keep that brand, which is more entrenched in southern Ontario, Silver said. Evanov also has a Jewel station in Halifax, but the CRTC just approved its sale (along with its Hot Country sister station) to Acadia Broadcasting.

The Hudson station doesn’t subscribe to Numeris ratings, but does get some data from a company called StatsRadio. It estimates the station’s audience at 140,000 listeners, “not bad for a little suburban radio station,” Silver said. (That number is probably exaggerated — Jewel 98.5’s weekly reach in Ottawa as measured by Numeris was less than half that.)

What radio executives say about the future of their industry

Late last year, I was asked by my editor at Cartt.ca to write a feature story about branding in commercial radio, to be tied to the CRTC’s review of its commercial radio policy. That story ended up turning into a 10-part series for the website called The Future of Radio, in which I talk to some radio industry executives about how and where things are going.

Here are links to the individual stories (for Cartt.ca subscribers), and below are some point-form comments about the things I learned through this project:

The series

The sources

I spoke to several radio executives for about an hour each for this series, and each conversation was quite insightful. Thanks to them for agreeing to take part:

  • Troy Reeb, Executive Vice President Broadcast Networks, Corus Entertainment
  • Steve Jones, Senior Vice-President Radio, Stingray
  • Rod Schween, President, Jim Pattison Broadcast Group (since renamed Pattison Media)
  • Jon Pole, President, My Broadcasting Corp.
  • Julie Adam, Senior Vice-President of TV & Broadcast, Rogers Sports & Media
  • Kevin Desjardins, President, Canadian Association of Broadcasters

(I tried to get an executive at Bell Media to participate, but things have been a bit chaotic there lately.)

By design, I’ve spoken to people high up at larger national and regional broadcasters, and these stories reflect their views, but those are far from the only voices that deserve to be heard about radio. As the CRTC process continues (replies are due this week), we’ll hear more from groups that are critical of the big players.

The lessons

Some of the things I heard from several radio executives during our talks:

  • Radio brands are boring for a reason. They often include the frequency and the format, or some generic branding like Kiss or Move or The Beat. You need listeners to be able to remember your brand when they fill out radio surveys by Numeris (which is how it’s done in all but the five largest markets).
  • Creating common brands allows for synergy. But it’s not always about common programming. It’s also about saving money on things like imaging — those station ID jingles and promos. When you only have to design a logo or website once for multiple markets, you can save money but also invest more to get better quality and share those costs across multiple stations.
  • Expect more blending of syndication and local. For small-market stations, it just doesn’t make financial sense to have local announcers 24/7. In some, it doesn’t even make much sense to have a local morning show. So big broadcasters are taking a well-produced syndicated or national show and blending it with local news, traffic and weather. We’re also seeing popular morning shows from some markets being edited and repackaged to be used in other markets in the evenings.
  • Moving toward a Canadian radio star system. Both Bell and Corus have created national overnight talk shows for their talk stations, replacing syndicated U.S. programming like Coast to Coast, and other broadcasters are looking at doing their own thing instead of bringing in foreign shows. If they’re going to spend money anyway, they reason, why not spend it on some of their own talent, and give them a larger national audience?
  • The peak hour is getting later. It’s hard to say how much of this will be reversed when we fully emerge from the pandemic, but the peak hour for radio has shifted from about 7am to 8am as people who aren’t commuting don’t have to get up as early. We’re also seeing more listening throughout the day, instead of people abruptly dropping off once their car is in the office parking lot.
  • Radio will follow the platforms. Most broadcasters have kind of given up on trying to create their own digital ecosystems. Instead, they’ll adapt their content to whatever platform people are using. They’ve started up podcast networks, combined forces on the RadioPlayer app (with Bell as the notable exception), and signed up to work on smart speakers. They’re posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and whatever else will come next.
  • AM is not the future. It’s not dead yet, and AM stations still rate well in some markets, but the broadcasters aren’t betting on its future. There are no more AM stations in Quebec outside Montreal. Where bandwidth and regulations permit, stations have switched from AM to FM across the country. CBC is replacing low-power AM transmitters with FM ones. And the big players want to be able to move their AM stations to FM as well without having to give up their FM music stations. As a transition measure, HD Radio transmitters in large markets have allowed the big guys to simulcast AM on FM HD, but that’s not a long-term solution, because…
  • Neither is HD Radio. After the disaster that was Digital Audio Broadcasting in the 1990s and early 2000s, broadcasters are hesitant to adopt HD Radio, the technology principally used in the U.S. After a few years of experimentation, there isn’t much hope for its future, for the same reason as DAB failed: A lack of receivers. HD Radio still isn’t as common in cars as it should be, and receivers outside of cars are just about nonexistent. There’s potential for the technology for niche ethnic stations (and some ethnic broadcasters are using digital-only channels for single-language programming) but it’s nowhere close to mainstream. The fact that it’s confusing as well — to tune to CJAD 800 you have to go to 107.3 FM HD Channel 2? — doesn’t help. By the time this might get fixed up, or a new digital technology emerges, it will be easier to deliver audio programming over the internet. (Shout-out to radio broadcast manufacturer Nautel, though, which proposed a very unworkable national network of HD-only stations that would have channels in multiple languages.)
  • But maybe smart speakers. There was a noticeable uptick in smart speaker listening as people stayed home during the pandemic (and realized they don’t have other radio receivers at home). There was a big worry that as people went toward internet-based devices for their audio needs, they might choose things like Spotify over local radio. So there’s a big effort to ensure smart speakers tune to radio first.
  • Don’t expect a Canadian Spotify. I asked several of the executives, if they’re getting all this unfair competition from Spotify and Apple Music and the rest, why don’t they just launch competing platforms? The answer is they lack the scale to make it profitable. The technology wouldn’t be difficult to implement, but even with tariffs that the music industry has mocked as laughably low, Spotify and its peers struggle to make money, and there isn’t much hope a Bell or Rogers version would be more successful. Quebecor is trying with its QUB Musique app, and Stingray has several streaming music channels, but otherwise everyone is sticking with radio, even digital-only radio channels (which, because the user does not control the playlist, has a different tariff scheme).
  • The industry wants more consolidation. One issue brought up in filings to the commission is its limits on local ownership — currently 3-4 stations depending on market size, and no more than two on any one band in any language. The CAB has proposed a new formula that would allow some broadcasters to own up to half the stations in a market. Bell wants to eliminate ownership limits completely. Allowing AM stations to move to FM is an excuse given, but others say radio needs to have fewer owners to be more competitive. (The change isn’t just supported by the big guys, but several smaller owners also agree with consolidation because it means more potential buyers for their stations, which increases their value.)
  • Paperwork is a big problem. Both large and small broadcasters spend a lot of human resources just meeting the CRTC’s reporting requirements. In some cases, they’re necessary, like providing annual financial statements or lists of songs they have broadcast. In other cases, they’re redundant or of limited use. Some broadcasters proposed ways of cutting the paperwork burden, but many told me they just wish the CRTC was itself more efficient, processed applications more quickly, and wasn’t such a bottleneck in plans to launch, acquire or change stations.

There were also plenty of things that weren’t surprising. Broadcasters want lower quotas (dropping CanCon to 25% of songs from 35%), interest groups want quotas maintained. Big broadcasters want fewer regulations for themselves and more for their foreign digital-only competitors.

And, despite everything, everyone believes that radio has a future. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be in the game.

Quebec’s most and least trendy baby names of the decade

People love talking about baby names, and so the time of year when Retraite Québec announces the most popular names of the year is always a tempting fruit for a journalist looking for a quick story.

Unfortunately, the top five names doesn’t tell us that much. Liam and Olivia have been popular for a while now, and the top five doesn’t change that much year to year. Some journalists go a bit further and look at the end of the list for more unusual names (misspellings, mashed-up names, or words you wouldn’t think of as names), which can be amusing if you can avoid making fun of a name in a language you don’t understand.

Fortunately, Quebec’s open data website has full datasets of first names used since 1980 for boys and girls, so how about we do some more interesting number crunching?

Rather than just look at the most and least popular, I decided to see if I can suss out some trends. So I took the full data set, with almost 400,000 first names, and added a column calculating how many times they were used in the past 10 years versus the past 40 years. Normally this would be about 25%, but many names have gotten much more or much less popular.

A few caveats about these lists:

  • The database only goes back to 1980, so names that had already fallen out of favour by then won’t show up.
  • I’m assuming the database is correct. There may be errors here throwing off the results.
  • The lists are separated by gender because it’s two different data sets. In several cases names have gotten less popular because they’re traditionally associated with the other gender. Combining them would take a while and probably crash my computer.
  • For data entry cleanup reasons, I’ve excluded compound names from these lists (whether they have a hyphen or a space separating them) as well as names that are in the database as just one letter (which I assume are initials incorrectly coded as names). I’ve also set minimums for the number of times a name has to be used to weed out outliers.
  • Since the database does not include accents, I have not included them here.

Good? OK, here we go:

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Review: Noovo Le Fil does news differently, with some familiar cost-cutting

Noémi Mercier hosts the first episode of Le Fil on March 29.

In the lead-up to its launch on March 29, Noovo (formerly V, formerly TQS) hyped that its new daily newscast called Le Fil would be, above all else, different.

Different in how it told stories (longer, more in-depth), different in what stories it would tell (younger, more diverse), and different in how it presented itself (two Black anchors, a more industrial-looking studio).

After two weeks of watching these programs, I can conclude that it’s definitely different. In some ways that are good, but in many ways the difference is a stark reminder of how few resources are being put into news-gathering at the network, even though its new owner Bell Media has extensive English-language resources across the country, francophone journalists at radio stations across Quebec, and lots of money.

Rather than being an alternative newscast to TVA and Radio-Canada, it might be more fair to say Le Fil isn’t even in the same league, and isn’t trying to be.

History

A recap of what led to this: TQS, founded in 1986, was the first television network to try to compete directly with the duopoly of Radio-Canada and TVA in Quebec. It was owned by the Pouliot family, who also owned CFCF (CTV Montreal) and CF Cable.

Its newscast, Le Grand Journal, promised to be different, but looking back seems very generic — an anchor in a studio, tight two-minute packaged news reports with reporter voiceover, and weather and sports.

TQS would eventually be bought by Quebecor, but then sold because Quebecor bought Videotron, which owned TVA. Cogeco and what was then Bell Globemedia bought TQS in 2002 (with Cogeco as the controlling owner) and injected money into its news operation, but by 2007 Cogeco gave up and pushed the network into bankruptcy.

It was bought by Maxime Rémillard, a film producer and distributor, who disbanded the entire news operation and renamed the network V. Rémillard convinced the CRTC to drastically reduce the network’s local and news programming requirements in order to keep it alive, and tried various cost-effective ways of doing the bare minimum of news programming, with forgettable newscasts like Les Infos and NVL that were outsourced to other companies.

Rémillard’s massacre of the news operation was heavily criticized, but it worked. V stopped bleeding money and managed to survive.

In 2019, Rémillard agreed to sell V’s five stations (Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay) to Bell Media for $20 million, and Bell promised to bring back newscasts to get the CRTC to approve the purchase. The CRTC approved the deal last year and brought in higher local programming requirements, with each station needing to broadcast five hours a week of local programming and two and half hours a week of “locally reflective” programming. Next year, the local programming requirements for Montreal and Quebec City go up to 8.5 hours a week.

Bell must also spend 5% of V’s revenues on local news. In 2019-2020, V brought in $35.7  million, which was about half of its expenses. This would mean about $1.8 million a year minimum on news.

Enter Le Fil.

Structure

Le Fil is a series of newscasts:

  • Le Fil 17h: An hour-long newscast at 5pm weekdays, hosted by Noémi Mercier, a long-time journalist who had been seen mainly on Télé-Québec before joining Noovo.
  • Le Fil 17h30: Though billed as a separate newscast, it’s more of a regional cutaway for Noovo’s owned-and-operated non-Montreal stations (Quebec City, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke). About 15 minutes total not including a commercial break, each region’s newscast is anchored out of Quebec City by Lisa-Marie Blais, who comes from LCN but was part of TQS in the last days of Le Grand Journal. For Montreal viewers, Mercier continues to anchor with more local segments during this time. After the regional cutaways, the regions come back to Mercier who does a signoff opinion/analysis monologue.
  • Le Fil 22h: The 10pm half-hour newscast is hosted by Michel Bherer, who spent 13 years at Radio-Canada but also worked at TQS back in the day. It consists mainly of a selection of stories that were presented at 5pm. Regional cutaways, also hosted by Blais, begin at 10:10pm. (They’re not posted online, so I haven’t seen their content.)
  • Le Fil Week-end: Two hour-long shows that strangely air at 9am on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and mostly repeat stories from the week, sometimes with fresh introductions. The shows include an original feature interview near the end. They’re hosted by Meeker Guerrier, who previously worked at Radio-Canada and since last fall has been a regular columnist on Bell Media radio stations and RDS.

For all of them, the structure is pretty simple: five-minute blocks, either packaged reports, often introduced by the journalist, or perhaps an in-studio chat with a journalist or a columnist.

Contributors include big names like La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert and freelancers like fact-checker Camille Lopez and U.S. politics watcher Valérie Beaudoin.

Laid-back news

The biggest difference between this newscast and a mainstream one is how it tells stories. Rather than a standard two-minute heavily narrated package including B-roll of people walking and ending with a reporter standup, these packages are about five minutes long, adopting a slower pace, and let their subjects do a lot of the talking. Almost like a mini documentary. Many packages include music, to further accentuate that feel. The reporters are also present, but more casual and engaging in how they talk to the camera.

There are “live” chats between the anchor and the reporter, either in studio, or via double box, and I notice the reporters tend to be introduced by first name only.

The rough edges can be seen in the reports, which often show technical issues that I have difficulty just dismissing as first-week flubs or COVID-19 compromises. Subjects in interviews often don’t have a microphone on them, leading to poor-quality audio. This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if they hired both reporters and experienced camera operators who would be more concerned with those technical aspects. Many reports are done entirely by the reporters alone.

Diversity

The other big difference Noovo highlights in its approach to this newscast is diversity — not only of its staff, where two of four anchors are Black, but of the story subjects. They spend more time talking about issues facing young people, racialized communities, Indigenous communities. I don’t know if they’re necessarily covering these issues better than their well-funded competitors, but that’s where they’ve decided to put their focus.

Being a brand new operation, most of their journalists are pretty young, and so much of this focus on different types of stories may come naturally.

Look and feel

Michel Bherer next to the window in the Montreal studio.

Reporter Audrey Ruel-Manseau on the side of the anchor desk in Montreal.

Lisa-Marie Blais at the Quebec City studio.

Lisa-Marie Blais and Alexane Drolet in Quebec City.

I suppose Bell Media was trying to get away from the standard TV studio look with its design for the studios in Montreal and Quebec City. It’s very industrial, like you might expect for a tech startup or something. White-painted brick, exposed metal conduits, a light wood desk, coloured lights, vertical screens. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they were going for something new and cool, but it comes out to me looking a lot like moderate-budget community TV.

The graphics are better. Bold white text on dark blue backgrounds for the most part. Overlays are squarish on the side rather than going along the bottom.

No weather or sports

Despite being built by the same company that runs CTV News, there’s very little of the usual building blocks of a newscast. There’s no weather report, no sports highlights (Bherer briefly gives out the final score at the end of the night when the Canadiens play), no market numbers, no entertainment news, no stories from foreign news services, and no ambulance-chasing fire and car crash briefs.

Bell owns RDS (in fact, the two broadcast out of the same building), so it would not have been difficult to incorporate a sports component, so it seems this was done intentionally. And honestly, it would have been odd to shoe-horn something like sports highlights into this show.

News briefs are often presented on screen with no visuals or only a faded still image to accompany them — literally the text of the brief is presented as a graphic as the anchor reads it. They’ve gotten a bit better at this as the days went on, with some briefs presenting visuals now, but it’s an odd thing to see so much text in a newscast.

One thing I have seen a lot of, though, is vox pops. For a newscast that promises to do things differently, adopting one of the news media’s laziest, most useless forms of journalism — asking random uninformed people on the street what they think of some topic — would be a head-scratcher if we didn’t already know why it’s done. It’s an easy crutch for an uninspired assignment editor.

They’re not in every newscast, but in less than three weeks I’ve seen a handful of them.

Recycling the news

The most glaring way Le Fil saves money is through reusing its content. The 10pm newscast is largely stuff that aired earlier in the day. The weekend newscast is mostly stuff that aired earlier in the week.

Even the regional cutaways involve a lot of reuse. The 15 minutes mean they have three stories. But for most of the regions, the third story is common, regardless of what region it comes from.

So for the Mauricie, Saguenay and Estrie regions, we’re talking about 10 minutes per weekday of actual original local news. Less than an hour a week.

Since Bell has not deemed those three regions worthy enough to even have their own anchors or studios, it’s probably unsurprising that even their local news isn’t that local.

Will anyone watch?

The first broadcasts of Le Fil got just over 100,000 viewers, according to Richard Therrien of Le Soleil. That’s relatively decent, but also a lot of curiosity factor. Later broadcasts got smaller ratings.

Working against Noovo is the schedule — if you want news at 5pm, you can watch TVA. If you want news at 10pm, you can watch either TVA or Radio-Canada. And if you want news at 9am on weekends … well, I guess you have that now, assuming you don’t have LCN or RDI on cable?

I would have liked them to, say, push the late newscast to 11pm and offer some counter-programming in the 10pm hour. Or try to do something more with the weekend news than an hour-long in-case-you-missed-it.

Multiplatform

I can’t say Noovo really sets itself apart by promising its news will be on a bunch of platforms, since everyone is doing that now, but it’s worth noting here. At the moment, there isn’t much along these lines. Packages and newscasts are posted to their website, a few clips are posted to YouTube, and they have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, and now TikTok too.

A new Noovo Info website is promised to launch later, which will give a better idea of the digital facet of this operation. By then, Bell will probably have found a way to integrate its journalists at Rouge and Énergie radio stations throughout Quebec into the system, and maybe even found some synergies with CTV and CTV Montreal in particular.

Bottom line

So with some aspects still marked incomplete, and taking into account the usual early-day bugs that will work themselves out as everyone gets more familiar with the daily routine, I would rate Noovo Le Fil as … OK.

Noovo doesn’t have the same news resources as Radio-Canada and TVA, which both have all-news channels and close relationships with other journalists on different platforms (Radio-Canada has digital and radio journalists, while Quebecor has the Journal de Montréal, 24 Heures and other platforms for journalism). But Bell has deep pockets, so if it wanted to, it could create a new competitor on that same level.

As a news operation, it’s definitely better than what it replaced. As a newscast on TV, it’s also better, though probably not better enough to become a real threat to the duopoly of Radio-Canada and TVA. (And we’ll see if, down the line, Noovo’s desire to be different will hold or if it will slowly morph into a similar kind of generic TV newscast that its competitors have settled into over the decades.)

Some of its longer-form documentary-style reports might have some success on digital platforms, I suppose, but it’s really unclear what target audience they’re trying to reach here. Le Fil doesn’t have the flash of TVA nor the reporting depth of Radio-Canada, and despite their promise to be more diverse and reflective, I don’t see that many people who don’t normally watch the news flocking to this show.

Which leaves us with the distinct impression that, despite all the hype, Le Fil exists not because Bell wants to shake up the marketplace when it comes to local news on TV, but simply because the CRTC required Noovo produce local news, and this is what they came up with to fill that minimum requirement.

I hope I’m wrong there.

Noovo Le Fil airs at 5pm and 10pm weekdays and 9am Saturdays and Sundays on Noovo.

Professor suspended for using U-word as university investigates what U-word is

A professor at the University of Eastern Ontario has been suspended after a student’s complaint that he used the U-word in class. The university has launched an investigation to determine the circumstances of the incident, including figuring out what the “U-word” is.

“We took swift action to protect students from offensive academic material,” university president Goby Jasyrundy said in a statement. “We intend to fully investigate this incident, and invite the student in question to meet with our special panel to tell them what the U-word is and why it is offensive.”

Initial Google searches and checks with Urban Dictionary and the Scrabble Dictionary suggest the U-word may be an antisemitic slur or possibly a degrading term for people from Uruguay, but neither would seem to apply to this context.

“What’s important is that students learn in a safe environment, free from racial slurs or ethnic slurs or sexist terms or maybe just a word with too many consonants?” Jasyrundy said.

“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” he continued before apologizing for using the B-word.