Okay, I didn't see this one coming. Four months after posting the position of Daybreak host, and after months of rotating in guest hosts and having a show with no real direction, CBC has settled not on Steve Rukavina or Sue Smith but on bringing back former host Mike Finnerty.
The Daybreak website has a release and The Gazette has a story (UPDATE: And a longer one in today's paper). CBC.ca also has a story, which entirely glosses over what happened to former Daybreak host Nancy Wood.
The release has the usual quotes of how thrilled everyone is. Similar comments directly from Finnerty via email:
I've had a blast at guardian.co.uk and learned so much that I sometimes thought my head was going to explode. I hate the idea of leaving. It's a great job.
But I miss broadcasting. I miss being on air. I miss live radio. And yes, I miss Montreal.
I have a notice period here to serve out, three months, but I am taking two weeks off in August to host The Current for Anna-Maria Tremonti. That's starting August 9th.
I think you know I'm a fan of Fagstein and a regular reader (and occasional visitor to the threads).
So y'all better be on your best behaviour, okay?
Back and forth, but this time to stay
Finnerty left Daybreak just over a year ago to take a job as multimedia news editor at London's The Guardian. He was replaced by a TV reporter and former Radio Noon host, Nancy Wood, and ... well, we all know how that turned out. (Wood has since taken a job at Enquête.)
Finnerty said when he left that the big reason for doing so was his partner, Dom, who moved with him to Montreal but had trouble finding work here. An opportunity opened up in London, and they decided they'd both move back across the Atlantic.
Now, Finnerty says, they both found they missed Montreal:
I think it's fair to say that it was on moving back to London last year that he realized how great a city Montreal is. He used to say, "I finally get the Montreal state of mind". He is totally onboard with the decision to return to Daybreak. He thought I did a pretty good job at it and might even do better this time around :-)
Finnerty says his contract with the CBC - which he signed on Saturday - is until June 2014. This is much longer than that given to Wood, which suggests that either the CBC has more confidence in Finnerty than it had in Wood (you'll recall they referred to her as an "interim" host) or that they're tired of searching for new hosts every six months.
Even with the four-year contract, Finnerty expects the kind of pressure on him to perform that his predecessor had:
A friend of mine who hosts on the BBC once said to me that when you're on air for a living, you need to accept that you could be tapped on the shoulder at any time. I don't expect the CBC to keep me on air if I'm not doing well. That's being honest.
I am comfortable with management's ratings expectations because they're the same as mine. I expect that if you, taxpayers, fund CBC Radio we have to deliver something of demonstrable public value, in this case a type of local coverage of Montreal that you cannot get otherwise. Good, solid, reliable, essential, surprising, Montreal listening. When you listen to Daybreak, I want you to think you've had Montreal for breakfast, that you've got your money's worth.
If no one is listening, or if just seniors are listening and not a broad range of Montrealers, than how do we justify spending your money? Daybreak doesn't need to be Number One - though why not? - but it has to show that it is of clear, public value. It has to have good ratings. The CBC management are right to insist on that, and I am totally onboard.
The last time Finnerty was host, Daybreak on CBME-FM had an average minute audience of 15,100 listeners and a total audience of 61,000 with a 14.4% market share, according to numbers dug up by Mike Boone. Wood's ratings were lower than that, with an average audience of 12,800 listeners, a total audience of 53,000 and a 12.4% market share. Wood's ratings were the major reason for her being pulled from the host's chair.
Even though the numbers suggest fewer people tuned in to his replacement, Finnerty acknowledged to The Gazette's Basem Boshra that has has some hearts to win back: "I know there were a lot of listeners who were upset at Nancy's departure, and what I would like to say to them is that it's time for the page to be turned. It's time for me to get to work on winning their affection back, winning their respect back, and proving to them that, day in and day out, we're going to bring them the stories and voices that matter and make a difference to Montreal."
Online reaction to Finnerty's return is mixed. The Daybreak Facebook page, the Gazette story and CBC story have some messages congratulating Finnerty and others questioning the choice. A Facebook group originally setup to protest Wood's removal also has some comments, as well, of course, as the Radio in Montreal group.
Finnerty was known for his confrontational style with guests (even where it seemed unnecessary), which turned off many listeners. Asked about it, Finnerty agreed people think that of him, but he disagreed that it was either aggressive or unwarranted:
I accept that some people think that of my style, yes. I read all the feedback that comes my way and I do care, and take it onboard. I also get a lot of positive feedback from people for putting the tough questions to people in positions of power. I don't think my style is aggressive. I think I have a role to play hosting the CBC morning show in Montreal. I don't think it's fair to have someone on air to talk about an issue that demands a tough or assertive question and not ask it. I think Montrealers want me to pursue questions of importance, and if they aren't answered, I think it's fair to point that out or ask again. Fair is the watchword. Call me on it.
The bottom line is that I want Daybreak to be an interesting listen. I want its journalism to be robust. I want people to tune in because they know they will get good interviews where we focus on the issues that matter and try to find out what's new, what's important, what's really going on.
Finnerty asked to add, even though it sounded "a bit luvvy", that "the Daybreak team is bloody brilliant: Monique Lacombe, Sonali Karnick, Pierre Landry, and David Blair. Steve Rukavina is a tremendous host and one of the biggest assets at the station. I loooooooooove Sue Smith. They've been working really hard. I can't wait to join them."
Finnerty's start date as host of Daybreak hasn't been set yet, but will be in the fall, possibly around Thanksgiving. In the meantime, he's filling in as host of The Current for two weeks starting Aug. 9.
UPDATE (June 22): Mike Boone, in his column yesterday, didn't mince his words about Finnerty being replaced by Wood and then coming back within 14 months:
What a joke.
But there is continuity at CBC Montreal. The same gormless twits keep making hare-brained programming decisions. On our dime.
UPDATE: You can listen to Finnerty's interview with Daybreak the next day in their podcast (MP3).