The Team 940? Bell proposes frequency swap

Cogeco’s CRTC application to bring two Montreal AM radio stations back to life has prompted interventions from the owners of the other AM stations in the city – Astral (which owns CJAD) and Bell Media (which owns CKGM/The Team 990) – as well as Paul Tietolman, who has been trying for some time to start up his own AM station at 940 kHz.

The interventions (two are opposed to the application, while Astral is negative but not quite so categorical) are based on these main points, which have been responded to by Cogeco:

  1. Concentration of ownership: The interventions point to the fact that Cogeco asked for and received an exemption to a CRTC policy that forbids any owner from having more than two stations on the same band in the same language in the same market. This allowed them to purchase all of Corus Quebec’s radio assets in Montreal, adding CKOI and CHMP 98.5FM to CFGL Rythme FM, giving them three French-language FM stations. Now they want to add two more stations to their empire, giving them five French-language stations (they also own CKAC) and two English-language stations (with CFQR). Cogeco responds by saying that exception was, well, exceptional, and that owning two French-language AM stations would not be a further exception to CRTC policy. Cogeco also says it doesn’t believe an all-traffic station (even one that solicits advertising) would be a significant competitive threat to existing broadcasters.
  2. Use of clear channels: The interventions agree with me and other radio watchers that 50,000 watts and a signal pattern that stretches into the Maritimes and northeastern Ontario is overkill for a Montreal traffic station. They say that if the application is approved, it should be for two frequencies that are not clear channels. Cogeco responds that the frequencies have been vacant since June 2010 (when the CRTC announced it had revoked the licenses) and no one has applied for them.
  3. Unfair competitive advantage: The interventions question the entire point of a publicly-funded all-traffic station. And while there’s nothing the CRTC can do to change how the Quebec government spends its money, the incumbents object because the funding would give the traffic stations an unfair competitive advantage. The funding “will allow Metromedia (the Cogeco subsidiary that owns the stations) to aggressively sell advertising in the marketplace, potentially offering lower rates than what is offered by the incumbents. This potential strategy will only serve to further undermine an already weak market,” writes Bell Media VP Kevin Goldstein in his intervention. Cogeco responds by quoting news articles demanding better communication about road conditions from the government and says they only expect about a quarter of its advertising revenue ($600,000 for the first year) will come at the expense of their competition.
  4. Guarantee of format: The interventions say there’s no guarantee that their all-traffic format would be maintained once the contract with the Quebec government runs out. Cogeco responds that it would accept a condition of license making such a guarantee.
  5. No public bidding: The interventions feel this project should have been open to a public bidding process. Cogeco responds that any broadcaster could have responded to the notice from the transport ministry that it intended to award this contract to Cogeco, but none ever did. The lack of demand meant the government did not have to open bidding on the project.

Here’s where the intervention from Bell gets interesting: They state that they have been trying, since Corus shut down CINW (940 Hits) and CINF (Info 690) in January 2010, to purchase the transmitter and antenna from them, to no avail. Bell says that if the CRTC wants to approve this application, it would be prepared to perform a frequency swap, taking either 690 or 940 kHz and taking up a clear channel that allows them to broadcast 50,000 watts day and night.

Propagation patterns for CKGM (Team 990AM) in red (day) and black (night) vs. CINW (940AM) in purple and CINF (690AM) in blue, as provided in Bell's CRTC intervention

As Team 990 gains broadcast rights to Canadiens games in the fall, nighttime propagation becomes more important. As a Class B frequency, 990 requires the transmitter to modify its signal at night, reducing its coverage. Switching to 940 would give CKGM a much larger coverage area.

The idea makes a lot of sense. Montreal sports teams – and the Canadiens in particular – are going to have a lot more interest in the outlying regions than Montreal traffic information. It makes sense for that station to have a larger coverage area. And, of course, most people interested in traffic will listen to the radio in their cars, which should not have trouble picking up a giant transmitter just a few kilometres away.

But Cogeco responds by criticizing Bell’s suggestion that it would have been too expensive to retune its existing transmitter and antenna from 990 to 940 kHz. It quotes an engineering expert it hired that said in the worst case scenario of having to replace everything, it would cost less than $250,000.

We’ll take them: Tietolman

Tietolman Tétrault, in its intervention (PDF), suggested the stations use frequencies of 600 and 850 kHz (formerly of CIQC and CKVL, respectively) and said the 690 and 940 frequencies should be open to applications. It said it would be willing to apply for both:

Tietolman Tétrault Média est déjà prêt, intéressé et apte à appliquer pour l’obtention de ces fréquences. Nous avons en main un plan d’action que nous estimons bénéfique pour la diversité radiophonique nécessitant ces deux fréquences-clés. Évidemment, ces deux fréquences seraient en ondes peu de temps après l’obtention des licences.

Tietolman, whose family once owned CKVL, had tried to offer a competing $81-million bid for Corus Quebec, including 690 and 940. They’ve indicated for a while now that they’d like to bring back 690 and 940, though they haven’t said what kind of format the stations would have.

Other interventions

A few other smaller groups and individuals also filed interventions in this application.

Jacques Blais of S.O.S. Québec Radio filed a handwritten note (PDF) – he wrote that he had computer problems – in which he called the project useless and a waste of public money, and appealed to common sense in rejecting it. He also repeated that 50,000 watts was too much for this station, and said the 690 and 940 frequencies should be reserved for French-language stations only, because the French language is threatened in Quebec.

That last part is kind of funny because his supporting documentation was my previous blog post and an article from The Suburban.

Marc St-Hilaire of the Syndicat général de la radio union said (PDF) endorsed the new station but said it was worried that Cogeco would deduct the number of people it hires for these stations from its commitment to hire journalists for its Cogeco Nouvelles news agency. Cogeco made the commitment as part of the deal that got it to own three francophone FM stations in Montreal.

Chantale Larouche of its parent union the FNC expressed similar thoughts in a separate intervention (PDF).

Cogeco says each station would have six full-time announcers, plus a full-time traffic journalist, and that these would be in addition to the commitments they already made for the creation of Cogeco Nouvelles and the hiring of journalists.

Finally, Miguel Therriault of Quebec City filed a very brief intervention (HTML), saying, in its totality: “Les coûts sont outrageusement exagérés. De plus ce service est complètement inutile. Les stations de radio actuelles répondre très bien à la demande. C’est une dépense inutile.”

You can read the interventions here:

The hearing to discuss Cogeco’s application was supposed to happen next Monday, but the CRTC announced last week that the items have been withdrawn from the agenda and will return as part of a later hearing. No explanation was given and no date has been set yet.

UPDATE: An open call has been issued for the two frequencies, with a deadline of Aug. 29. Cogeco maintains it still wants to setup all-traffic radio stations and will go through this process if necessary.

16 thoughts on “The Team 940? Bell proposes frequency swap

  1. Marc

    Moving CKGM over to 940 is better use of a clear channel, especially now that they have the Habs. Though one would have thought that Bell (then CTV) would have jumped on the occasion more than a year ago. There was pressure (for a second time, first was in 1999) on CJAD to grab the 940 spot but they’d never do that; I’m sure lots of their listeners are unaware that a radio can tune other frequencies than 800.

    I’ve said it before that re-activating 600 and 850 for the traffic stations makes much more sense.

    Jacques Blais’ complaint is worthy of Just for Laughs.

  2. AlexH

    This is sort of part of the discussion we have had there in the past. Now we know what has really happened with the 940 and 690 frequencies, Cogeco has been hoarding them to be able to re-use them later, while being able to claim they have returned them to the CRTC.

    I think the CRTC needs to take a very simple step here: Rule that Cogeco gave up the frequencies and has no claim to them, rule that Cogeco’s exemption on media concentration shrank to their current size when the gave up on 690 & 940, and that they can make a merit based application for new AM channels for their traffic projects. They can get in line behind Bell, Tietolman, and any others who may want to use one or more of the clear channels for new stations.

    Quite simply, the only justification for using the clear channels for traffic is because Cogeco already has configured transmitters in place. But using that as the key point of decision would essentially reward them for taking 690 & 940 off the air but still maintaining the equipment. It would be incredibly stupid, actually, but the CRTC is getting really good at making truly stupid decisions these days.

    Team990 really does need to be team 940 or team 690. The traffic stations can run on 600 and 990 without issue (I wonder if there is another AM slot near 600 that could be taken over… hmmm). There is absolutely no way to justify using clear channels for traffic.

    1. Marc

      Team990 really does need to be team 940 or team 690. The traffic stations can run on 600 and 990 without issue (I wonder if there is another AM slot near 600 that could be taken over… hmmm). There is absolutely no way to justify using clear channels for traffic.

      For political reasons, I don’t think the CRTC will allow a non-French station on 690.

      Again, 600 and 850 would be perfect for these stations, 10 kW each. You would need a very complex and pricey antenna system to run 50 kW full time on 850. CKVL was 50/10 day/night and it barely reached Baie d’Urfe at night. 600 was never 50 kW, was 10/5.

      As for other frequencies that can be used: 530, 540, 550, 650 are all wide open. The x-band is already well populated.

  3. Jordan

    I hope others comment on CKGM’S 990 AM frequency, CKGM 990 has great geographic coverage, there is no need for a frequency swap. Traffic Stations on 690 and 940 is nothing but a joke, a total waste of Canada’s finest clear channel frequencies and a way for Cogeco diffusion to protect 98.5 FM from real competition. The state of talk radio in Montreal is pathetic, if someone proposed good quality talk and news information on the AM band it could easily affect Cogeco’s 98.5 FM – La Puissance des Mots, this is why Cogeco wants these frequencies, to keep competition out of the market, the listeners need options, choice and quality, radio is for the audience, not for the accountants and shareholders

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Cogeco wants these frequencies, to keep competition out of the market

      I doubt that. First of all, there are plenty of other frequencies available if someone wants to start up an AM radio station. And the licenses for these stations were voluntarily returned to the CRTC.

      This is more about Cogeco finding a way to use a pair of dead transmitters and getting the government to pay for it.

      1. Jordan

        I stand by my comment that “Cogeco is trying to keep competition out of the marketplace”. The Morning of June 8th 2010 Tietolman Tetrault made their public offer for Corus Quebec, it was announced that Corus Entertainment rescinded the licences back to the Commission, this raised some eyebrows. If Cogeco wanted 690 and 940 when they purchased Corus Quebec in May 2010 why didnt they request to the sellers to keep these licences operational, simply because of the union?

      2. Jordan

        Steve, I forgot to mention earlier that many broadcast people are of the opinion that the launch of the “Traffic Stations” on 690 and 940 AM was a ploy to help subsidize the cost’s associated with Cogeco Diffusion’s promise made to the CRTC for the famous “COGECO NOUVELLES” network feeding the franchise stations. Steve, please check out 98.5 FM website and tell me if you believe Cogeco actually followed through with their promise of licence pertaining to hiring 50 newspeople, remember, the original approval was based on the creation of a new News network, unfortunately this did not come to light. 98.5 FM carries 95% of Canadian press stories, this is unfair to the listeners throughout Quebec.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          many broadcast people are of the opinion that the launch of the “Traffic Stations” on 690 and 940 AM was a ploy to help subsidize the cost’s associated with Cogeco Diffusion’s promise made to the CRTC for the famous “COGECO NOUVELLES” network feeding the franchise stations.

          The unions’ interventions addressed this, and Cogeco’s response denied it. They say the hirings for the traffic stations would be in addition to their commitments to Cogeco Nouvelles.

          1. jordan

            fagstein wrote
            “The unions’ interventions addressed this, and Cogeco’s response denied it. They say the hirings for the traffic stations would be in addition to their commitments to Cogeco Nouvelles.”

            What commitments? They did not follow threw with any promises and the CRTC approved the amendments, I watched Richard Lachance from Cogeco fire 85% of the staff of CKOI-FM. Cogeco is a monopolistic cable company that only cares about one thing and that is the profits.

    2. Jordan

      If Cogeco does get the green light to proceed from the commission, they would own CKOI 96.9 FM, CFQR 92.5 FM, CHMP 98.5 FM, CKAC 730 AM, CFGL 105.7 FM AND 690 AM and 940 AM-This is what we call”CONCENTRATION OF OWNERSHIP”

  4. ATSC

    I think the FCC deletes any station after they have been off air for a year. I don’t see why the CRTC doesn’t do the same, and then open up the frequencies to other applicants. If CKGM-AM 990 wanted to move onto either 690 AM or 940 AM it should seem a simple process. Those frequencies are public. Not one company to own.

    1 – I think the CKGM-AM plan to move onto either one of those two AM spots is an excellent idea.

    2 – I still think that Cogeco should add HD Radio on one of their existing FM stations to supply this proposed all traffic services. Here is info on how HD Radio works.

    These would not really be considered as new stations, but sub-channels of an existing station. Much in the same way the FCC treats them when it come to limits to station ownership in any market.

    3 – As Jordan posted…. if Cogeco is allowed to add these two stations on the AM Band, that would give them 4 FM, and 3 AM stations in this market. 7 stations is too much. Way, way too much. They presently have 5 stations in this market. They should be forced to sell off two. Not add two more. This is very dangerous for any society to have too much media concentration in any one market. And to top it off are proposing two more stations that will be funded in part my the provincial government.

    4 – RDBS (Radio Data Broadcast Service). This is a add on function that analog stations use to send station ID’s, and song info to listeners. If you have a new car, or a new radio, you can see this info on the screen of the radio. Not as good as HD Radio info, but still useful. I have seen CFQR-FM 92.5 send weather info on it. Traffic info can therefore be sent as well. Do we really need tax payer money to fund traffic radio channels when technology exist to send the info in other ways? And which is currently being used by the major station groups in this city?

  5. JoshG

    To your point on why the applications were rescheduled: just an educated guess, but I think the main reason is that the hearing on July 18 won’t be set up for full oral arguments. The original (May 19) notice of public hearing said the CRTC would consider the applications “without the appearance of the parties.”

    This is usually done for minor “non-appearing” applications where a public hearing is required under CRTC procedures, but isn’t expected to cause any great controversy (i.e. issuing niche digital specialty channel licences). The hearings are basically perfunctory affairs at CRTC headquarters and last less than 15 minutes – neither the proponents nor the intervenors appear. A transcript of one such hearing can be found here:

    If substantive interventions are received – as in this case – the application will be pulled from the “non-appearing” hearing and be put aside for the next feasible regular public hearing.

  6. Fassero

    And, of course, there’s the lingering question of when The Team becomes the TSN Radio brand. Is that part of Bell’s interest in moving to a clear channel? Not sure. In Toronto, I think the brand is at 1050 which is a pretty crowded area of the dial there.

    If the TSN thing takes off, I have long wondered if Bell might launch an RDS Radio network for Quebec and other French listening areas. I think Bell only owns 990 in Quebec (?). I would guess this would all depend on when CKAC’s Canadiens rights come up for grabs (and we already saw how fast Bell grabbed the English rights from CJAD.)

  7. Pingback: Government pays for Cogeco to shut down CKAC Sports – Fagstein

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