At 10 a.m. today, Corus ended programming on two AM stations in the city: CINF 690 AM (Info 690) and CINW 940 AM (940 Hits, formerly 940 News). Both are currently looping messages from station managers (with ominous intro music) explaining that the “current economic climate” has made continued operations impossible:
The shutdown cuts eight jobs at CINF, and two jobs (announcer Jim Connell and one technician) at CINW. The Corus Nouvelles newsroom, which laid off a dozen people a year ago, will continue operations, mainly feeding the talk station CHMP 98.5 FM. Three journalists, two traffic reporters and three operators will lose their jobs, while five journalists and three traffic reporters will move to CHMP.
Both stations began in December 1999, when they were owned by Metromedia. CINF began as CKVL in 1946, and spent half a century at 850 AM, before changing callsign and frequency and taking an all-news format. More details at the Canadian Communications Foundation.
CINW began as XWA in 1919, eventually becoming CFCF (the television station’s call letters were taken from the radio station’s, which stood for “Canada’s First, Canada’s Finest”) and then CIQC in 1991. It spent just shy of 80 years on the same frequency. Its experiment in all-news was tweaked in 2005 with the adoption of news-talk format similar to CJAD and the hiring of hosts who were branded as opinionative like Aphrodite Salas and former CBMT anchor Dennis Trudeau. It failed completely in 2008 with the firing of almost all its staff and the switch to all-hits programming. Since then the station has been dead-last or close to it in the ratings. More details at the Canadian Communications Foundation.
Both stations ceased transmitting at 7:02 p.m. No fanfare, no countdown, not even a national anthem. They just stopped.
Corus employees won’t be making any public statements about the shutdown, instead referring people to a PR agency. Still, one disgruntled employee emailed me, complaining that a very small number of companies own far too many broadcast outlets, and the CRTC needs to step in.
UPDATE (Feb. 1): Jim Connell, the on-air personality laid off as a result of 940’s closing, was on CFCF News at Noon today, lamenting the death spiral of AM radio.
So what now?
The release says Corus will surrender its licenses for the two frequencies to the CRTC. This means two clear channels (those that don’t have to reduce power to avoid interference at night, meaning their signals carry much farther) are up for grabs. (Both frequencies were used by many years by CBC Radio – 690 in French and 940 in English – before both moved to FM and the all-news stations took up the channels). According to Wikipedia’s list, the only other clear channel in Montreal is CKAC. A decade ago this would have been a huge opportunity. Half a century ago station managers would kill for even a chance at getting one of these.
But in the current media environment, the question is more whether anyone would bother.
Various theories are being brought up on the local radio discussion group, including:
- CJAD should move to 940 from 800 to take advantage of the clear channel. This was brought up last time the channel was available, but CJAD dismissed the idea, preferring its spot on the dial, which it considered easier to find.
- CBME-FM (CBC Radio One) should simulcast on 940 AM to reach more listeners. CBC dealt with the coverage issue by setting up a network of FM repeaters, including 104.7 FM in NDG. It’s unclear if there are enough people having trouble receiving the station to warrant the expense of running an AM transmitter.
- Rogers, which owns a chain of all-news AM radio stations including CFTR 680News in Toronto, could setup a station here.
Other stations, especially those in the extended AM broadcast band like CJLO 1690, would definitely benefit from moving to the lower frequency and increasing their power. Or some new player (Rogers, perhaps?) could come in and setup a new AM radio station.
But the future of AM radio in particular doesn’t prompt much optimism. New portable media players, if they have radio receivers at all, only do FM. AM radio has a smaller bandwidth, meaning the sound is less clear, and it’s more susceptible to interference. Even the CBC realized that when it moved all its Montreal stations to FM.
As for the all-news format, I think there’s definitely room for something coming up on the French side, with CKAC concentrating on sports, CHMP doing talk (and simulcasting a lot of CKAC, including Habs games) and leaving Radio-Canada alone on news. But on the English side, CJAD and CBC will be tough competition for any new entrant. One will take away any serious news listeners, and the other will take away the rabid angryphones who want to call in constantly to complain that there’s too many potholes.
We’ll see what kind of interest there is when the CRTC puts the two channels on the block.
Until then, the shutdown gives a rare opportunity to listen to far-away stations without interference from local frequencies. I got lots of stuff late at night from both newly created holes, stations overlapping each other to the point where I couldn’t really understand any of them. The best I could hear was WEAV 960AM in Plattsburgh, which was carrying Sean Hannity when I tuned in.
UPDATE (June 10): The CRTC has revoked the licenses of CINW and CINF.