CFCF-50

Don McGowan (left) and Bill Haugland with their archival selves

CFCF-12, or CTV Montreal as it prefers to call itself now, will be turning 50 years old on Jan. 20. It was on Jan. 20, 1961 – the same day as John F. Kennedy’s inauguration – that the station first went on the air (they even have the video of the first broadcast), and though it has changed owners, studios, programming and staff since then, it has the same call letters, the same channel (at least until the digital transition later this year) and the same position as Montreal’s top English-language television station.

As part of the anniversary, the station is devoting most of its 6pm newscast on Jan. 20 to an anniversary look back, with invites like long-time personalities Don McGowan, Bill Haugland and Dick Irvin. Jed Kahane, the station’s news and public affairs director, also tells me a special song from comedy duo Bowser and Blue will be presented (those who remember the Terry DiMonte-hosted consumer affairs show Fighting Back know that it gave the duo a lot of exposure during the 90s).

The anniversary show will repeat at noon on Jan. 21.

Those who can’t wait until then can see some stuff they’ve already put online, including minute-long vignettes they’ve been putting together for each day leading up to the anniversary.

Among the things online:

“Starting the 17th, we’ll also have extra content and interviews at noon and 6 relating to the anniversary, Montreal history, how our industry has changed, etc.”, Kahane wrote me in an email shortly before heading for the ski slopes.

Mutsumi Takahashi and the fashions of the day in a 1990 episode of Park Avenue Metro

Take a step back in time

I was going to devote the second half of this post to a suggestion that CFCF take advantage of those vast archives and bring back more than just 10-second clips. I was going to say that they should put full episodes of these beloved (and, by today’s youth, unknown) shows online so we can watch them.

Turns out they’ve done exactly that. From the “Flashback” section, you can watch one full episode from a dozen entertainment and current affairs shows. You can see:

This is great stuff (well, mostly great, some of it is kind of dull by today’s standards). I hope it doesn’t stop here, and they can wrestle more stuff out of the archives to be enjoyed again.

UPDATE (Jan. 19): They have added more stuff, including:

It would be fun, I think, to air some of this stuff again too. Perhaps overnight, or during the weekend, when there isn’t much to watch anyway but people who have nothing better to watch can see the shows or record them using their VCRs and DVRs.

Why can’t we write new history?

Watching some of these past shows, the prevailing thought in my head is: Why aren’t shows like this being produced anymore? Why are we seeing American programming in prime-time, NFL football games on Sundays and celebrity gossip shows from 7 to 8 pm weekdays on CTV?

I realize that, in a 500-channel universe, local television isn’t the destination it used to be. But all that tells me is that CFCF should be striving to increase its local programming, rather than airing reruns we can find online or see on those cable channels.

I realize that local television stations don’t have the kind of budgets they did back then and can’t hire the same staff they had in the 60s and 70s. But with new technology, it’s cheaper than ever to produce good-quality video. If YouTube has shown us anything, people can produce shows all by themselves (though realistically it would take at least one or two more people to produce something of any quality).

I’m not eager to see a return of Mr. Chips or poorly-lit local wrestling shows. And I don’t think it’s realistic to expect local programming that rivals what’s being produced by major U.S. networks or nationally out of Toronto.

But surely there’s something between the big-budget national shows and no-budget cable access.

At some point next year, Global Montreal will be bringing back its local morning show, thanks to a promise Shaw had to make in order to buy the TV network. And though it looks cheap as hell, Global does have a half-hour local interview program.

CFCF-12, the leader among anglo Montreal stations, has only its newscasts, as great as they are. Its morning programming consists entirely of a news ticker that runs at the bottom of the screen during Canada AM. Current affairs, arts and entertainment, sports, interviews and everything else has to fit into those newscast hours.

Of the shows the station has put online, there are three I’d like to see as inspiration for new ones. Park Avenue Metro, though a silly name, was a show that allowed reporters to spend more than three minutes looking at an issue. Occasionally longer reports will air during newscasts (those are the ones that are heavily advertised beforehand). But it doesn’t happen with enough regularity.

It’s Your Move was a silly little game show with pretty cheap prizes, but I found it fun to watch, and it’s nice to see people from our community on television.

And the show with Pierre Lalonde showed something that local television could really use: live musical performances. I can’t remember the last time I saw a musical artist or band perform a complete song live on CFCF. If local college radio stations can setup a studio and bring in bands to perform live, why can’t our highest-rated local TV station do the same?

Accuse me of being a dreamer of things impractical, but I think that, in the long run, the future of local television can only be local television.

Happy anniversary, CFCF-12. Here’s hoping for 50 more years, and that the second half-century will bring memories as rich as the first.

CFCF-12’s 50th anniversary show airs Jan. 20 at 6pm and Jan. 21 at noon.

UPDATE (Jan. 15): Bill Brownstein has a long feature in Saturday’s Gazette about the station and its anniversary. In addition to quotes from old-timers Haugland, McGowan and Irvin, it includes this bit about the newscast’s ratings:

In fall 2010, BBM ratings indicate that 202,300 viewers took in CTV Montreal’s 6 to 7 p.m. weekday newscast, as opposed to 32,300 who caught the local CBC-TV package from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 6,900 who tuned into Global here from 6 to 6:30 p.m.

For the math-challenged, that’s 84% of this share to one station.

Richard Therrien, the TV columnist for Quebec City’s Le Soleil, also notes CFCF’s anniversary. As does The Suburban’s Mike Cohen and Team 990 host Mitch Melnick.

From a comment below, a link to Google’s newspaper archive of a special section of The Gazette devoted to CFCF’s launch on Jan. 20, 1961. Similarly, here’s an article from Mike Boone on the station’s 25th anniversary in 1986.

UPDATE (Jan. 19): The blooper reel is, sadly, only about three minutes long. But there’s also a report from Annie DeMelt on the “lighter side” of news.

34 thoughts on “CFCF-50

  1. wkh

    Is that dude Dick Irvin the one the street is named for? (I ask because I know Thomas Keefer by my house is not for example named for the illustrious ConU version of he of the same name).

    Reply
  2. Alex H

    Steve, you are absolutely right. It is times like these that we remember what local TV really was, and wonder why it can’t be that way again.

    The whole CTV “network merger of local stations” thing it just horrible. Local TV matters, only because it allows Bell (and Rogers, and Shaw, and Videotron) to jack up their end rates to consumers blaming the “greedy local TV channels”, which are the same channels they own! On the other side, the local TV doesn’t matter enough for them to fund it to acceptable levels. None of these stations could stand alone anymore. Considering the news cameras are run from Toronto, is there actually enough left in the local market to put something on the air here, or do they have to depend entirely on Toronto to put things on the air?

    I think it is forbidden in CTV land for a local channel to produce anything. All production happens in one place (magically, that place is Toronto), and that production is absolutely limited to shows that are generic enough to be played on any CTV station.

    Don’t think of CFCF-12 as a channel anymore. Think of it as a network feed. Once you get to that point, you realize that they aren’t celebrating 50 years, they are giving the memorial speech at the channel’s funeral, that sucker died a few years back and now the toronto brass get to bury it properly.

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    1. Tv Dude

      So true.

      There is a danger in showing people what the station used to be. How do they then justify their current state as nothing more than a CTV feed and a newscast? The irony is very deep. We know that the highlight reel for the next 50 years, assuming TV still exists in the same form, will be made up of newscast clips and nothing more. This whole CTV coast-to-coast “family” thing is totally bogus. True local TV matters, but on what used to be CFCF, it hasn’t existed for almost a decade.

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      1. John

        Who’s to say humiliating the bosses isn’t the point of this celebration?
        “Look at what we used to do, look at how people love us. Give us back our budget!”

        Reply
  3. Jim P.

    More Blast form the Past – If you get The Game Show Channel, they have Pierre Lalonde as host of The Mad Dash from the 70’s. It looks like it was made in the CfCF studio’s.

    Reply
  4. Jean Naimard

    The decline of local english TV programming in Montréal can also be attributed to the fact that there is a lot less english people than 50 years ago, a lot having left since the separatists took power and instituted ethnic cleansing and who also have decreased the number of immigrants that became english thanks to their fascist language laws…

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    1. John

      The real reason is because a bunch of small-town idiots from Vancouver bought CFCF 20 years ago and could not understand why on earth *anyone* would bother actually creating their own TV programs.
      After all, programs only exist to sell ads, people will watch whatever is on the tube, nobody will ever do anything else, and american shows in syndication cost nothing.
      Bozos.

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      1. Marc

        No. It actually began in 1979 when CFCF was acquired by Jean Pouliot and he spun everything (CFCF 600, CFQR 92.5, CFCF 12, CF Cable TV, and in 1986, CFJP 35 (TQS)) into CFCF Inc. Pouliot will always be remembered as the man who single-handedly destroyed English TV in Montreal. Of course the money-hemorraging TQS didn’t help either; that’s what led him to sell off the radio stations to the two Pierres in 1988.

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      2. Jean Naimard

        Not bozos, but “apt administrators with a shrewd business sense who do a magnificent job maximizing shareholder value”…

        Reply
    2. Alex H

      Jean, once again, you manage to miss the point.

      CTV doesn’t do local production period, except in Toronto. The newscasts are the only things done at the station level, and even those are controlled and run from Toronto.

      It isn’t an english / french thing, as the same issue exists in other CTV own stations. It is all to do with the way that the CRTC has accepted that “local stations matter”, but don’t matter enough to actually produce anything of value except a newscast. Even now, they don’t even really produce a newscast, they just put together segements and upload them to Toronto.

      So no, language really doesn’t have anything to do with it.

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        CTV doesn’t do local production period, except in Toronto. The newscasts are the only things done at the station level, and even those are controlled and run from Toronto.

        To be clear, the newscast is directed from Montreal. The only thing that Toronto handles is the commercials. CBC is the same way. It’s only Global’s newscast that’s actually directed from out of town.

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          1. Fagstein Post author

            Which doesn’t explain why while back a technical issue had us all watching Toronto’s news.

            I don’t recall this. I know there was a case a while back where there was a power outage or fire alarm in Montreal so they used the feed from CTV News Channel for about 10 minutes until they could get back.

            It’s possible someone in Toronto hit the wrong switch and replaced Montreal’s feed with Toronto’s. But that doesn’t change the fact that the newscast is produced in Montreal.

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        1. Fassero

          I wouldn’t say it’s only commercials. Some of the reports themselves are clearly feeds from other CTV affiliates (especially in the specialty segments like health and, increasingly, consumer reports.) If you want to say “well, Montreal gets gets final direction over which of those segments to use” that’s fine although, possibly, open to debate.

          In any case, the actual amount of Montreal-based news reports, from these eyes at least, is nowhere near where they used to be. Pretty bad when local newscasts are basically all that is left of local programming on the station.

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          1. Fagstein Post author

            Some of the reports themselves are clearly feeds from other CTV affiliates (especially in the specialty segments like health and, increasingly, consumer reports.)

            Sure, though this is just for the noon and 6pm newscasts. The 11:30pm newscast, which follows the CTV National News, is just local news and sports. But the fact that there are some packaged national and international reports doesn’t take from the fact that the newscast is produced and directed in Montreal.

            The problem of having non-local news in a local newscast is one I’ve studied before. On average, only about five minutes of CFCF’s 6pm newscast is national and international news.

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  5. Paul

    I recall an email exchange I had with Bill Merrill many years ago about the possibility of a Canadian-produced urban legends-related TV show. At the time I was a big snopes fan (had done freebie tshirts and the like for their email listmembers). All was going good, and then Bill died on me. That thoughtless, uncaring bastard!

    Paul

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  6. Allan

    What? No ‘Johnny Jellybean’? No ‘Puppet People’? Where is any reference to Andrew Marquis or Jim Bay? I’m also disappointed that the ‘poorly-lit local wrestling shows’ aren’t on your list – they should be at least in memory of the late Edouard Carpentier.

    And if there is to be any episode of Excuse My French uploaded it must be the episode where Charles Phillip Hutchins (played by Earl Pennington) learns how to say “je-ne-suis-pas-capable”!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Apparently they’d love to put up some Johnny Jellybean, but there aren’t any episodes preserved in their archives. Unfortunately, recording live shows wasn’t as common back then (particularly at small stations) as it is now.

      Reply
  7. patrick

    to be fair, this phenomenon is by no means limited to Montreal or even Canada. i’m originally from the US, and the state of local tv there is just as bad, if not worse in some areas. in smaller media markets, many affiliates don’t even produce a local newscast. for those that do, any local programming beyond that is a pipe dream. like many native new yorkers, i have fond memories of local children’s programs, interview shows, etc. that have been replaced by syndicated crap. a sad state of affairs, but by no means limited to the great city of Montreal.

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    1. Jimmy Jack

      In our other local market, upstate New York and Vermont, both WCAX and WPTZ clearly make a huge commitment to “local” news and information.

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      1. Fagstein Post author

        In our other local market, upstate New York and Vermont, both WCAX and WPTZ clearly make a huge commitment to “local” news and information.

        Sometimes to the point of near insanity. I mean, really, you’re sending a cameraman to a college basketball game?

        Of course, WVNY (ABC 22) clearly doesn’t make a huge commitment to local news. Its only newscast is done by the team at Fox 44. And there isn’t much besides the newscasts at any of these stations either.

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        1. Jimmy Jack

          True, that’s why I didn’t mention them:)

          But, come on, I know more about Burlington high school basketball. When is the last time “CTV Montreal” gave us a John Rennie High score?

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        2. Marc

          When you look at it, it’s true. Even in the USA local programming largely is just the news. The big difference is the stations keep their identity, eg. NewsChannel 5 WPTZ instead of NBC Plattsburgh.

          Reply
          1. Fagstein Post author

            Even in the USA local programming largely is just the news. The big difference is the stations keep their identity, eg. NewsChannel 5 WPTZ instead of NBC Plattsburgh.

            That’s mainly a question of ownership. The FCC doesn’t allow the networks to own all their stations, so small-market ones like Burlington and Plattsburgh are owned by other companies. WCAX is locally owned, WVNY and WFFF are owned by small broadcaster Smith Media, and WPTZ is owned by Hearst Television.

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      2. Jimmy Jack

        On another point for me anyway, I want CFCF 12 back and I want Pulse back. And I want that completely annoying CTV voice over dude to die. Yes die. Nothing less. God that shit heads voice drives me nuts.

        Reply
  8. Pingback: 50 years of CFCF-12 Montreal in a nutshell | Brave New TV

  9. Apple IIGS

    Alex H, well said, that sums up all my thoughts.

    As for as local news, I’d hardly even call it that anymore. It’s lost its local identity, no longer is it called “Pulse News” (or the short-lived “CFCF News” name), it’s just generic old CTV News. Which also happens to be the name of the news in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax, etc, etc.

    CTV sees all the Canadian cities as one big news team, Montreal is just part of that larger affiliation now. Even the sets and text below reports reflects that. The recent loss of the local Telethon of the Stars was really the final nail in the coffin for the CFCF-12 we once knew and loved.

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  10. Guy Bertrand

    Hello,
    I am late in the conversation but i do remember CFCF-TV 12 as a french person,i was looking lots of stuff back then,i remember looking at Satdurday Cinema i think,there was,some weekly shows like Dynasty….cinema on saturday night and the news that where different from CFTM-TV A LOT!!! more local from CFCF.

    Today with the numerous channels playing the same movie between them 4773 times a week,repeats of the same programs MANY times a day on a channel (each ones does it),it’s no more the quality,it’s the quantity and it’s bad….that’s why TV will die sooner that we think.

    Yes,Internet killed home computers (talking like C64,Atari and so on,not laptops),killed Telidon (the writed services channels),BBS (the ancestor of Internet),many jobs,many other things like cable slowly and satellite,and it’s expansive today to have cable and or satellite,back then it was Worth the money for above 30 channels and with time 60.

    Radio doesn’t go better,music is not what it was,how many boring songs plays…in the 80’s people were singing mostly happiness and love,today…depressive songs…nothing to dance on,specially the french songs.

    And now,if your not a little friend of a company such TVA is doing,you’ll never pass on tv!,yes back then it was like that but it’s worst today because WE SEE IT!.

    So when i think of CFCF,i think simply they have kill the spirit like french station CFTM-TV 10 (TVA) and here it is now…people are not interested anymore…yes life has changed and technologies but bad decisions have been made since the end of 90’s…look at what they did with CFCF AM radio,CKAC AM (french),CFQR FM…they killed all the history and spirit also of thoses stations.

    The best is gone,we will NEVER relieve a period such as old CFCF…sadly gone forever….but still in our minds!.

    Like Spock said…Live long and prosper!.

    Guy
    Lachine,Qc
    8)

    Reply

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