Les Justiciers masqués predicted how all-traffic radio would work. Are they that far off?
I should start this off by pointing out that I don't drive. Never have, and don't have any plans to soon. I take public transit to get where I want to go most of the time. So for the most part an all-traffic radio station is useless to me. And I can't offer my thoughts on whether or not it's useful to a driver. I'd like to hear thoughts from other drivers, though, about whether and how they would make use of an all-traffic station like CKAC 730.
Though it had been rumoured for days, the formal decision came down last Friday that CKAC Sports would become Radio Circulation. It went all-music over the weekend, with only this announcement from VP Richard Lachance (MP3) explaining why sports talk had been replaced by Céline Dion et al.
The station went live at 4:30am on Tuesday morning, the day after Labour Day. It cut off Ginette Reno's Fais moi la tendresse in mid-song as the clock hit 4:30 exactly, as you can hear in this excerpt of the first four minutes of Radio Circulation 730 (MP3).
From there, it took on its all-traffic format. It might be a bit harsh to judge it so quickly, considering the speed at which it was setup (announcers were hired less than a month before launch). Cogeco's application for a CRTC license for an all-traffic station came out in May, and might have gotten one in time if it wasn't for competitors arguing that there should be an open call for applications for the former frequencies of CINF Info 690 and CINW 940 News.
The CRTC set an Oct. 17 hearing date for those applications, but Cogeco decided it couldn't wait that long (mainly because the government money tap would only open when an all-traffic station was on the air). So CKAC Sports, Cogeco's only AM station (and the only francophone AM station, for that matter) was sacrificed to get Radio Circulation on the air.
Cogeco is going on with its 940 application for an English all-traffic station, but will have to fight with Tietolman-Tétrault for that channel. Three applications are still pending for 690, including a frequency change for CKGM (The Team) 990, which wants to move to a clear channel and improve its coverage.
Traffic every five minutes
I've listened to the new station on and off since it launched. It seems to run on a schedule that gives the traffic report every five minutes. In one five-minute block, it's a four-minute traffic report followed by a minute of advertising. In another, it's a two-minute traffic report focusing on the "points chauds" and two minutes of weather, followed by ads.
As a point of comparison, a commercial music or news-talk station will give traffic reports that last about 30 seconds, or 45 if you include all the sponsor info. And all those traffic reports tend to sound the same - rushed, fast-talking, and with its own special vocabulary designed to refer to locations as quickly as possible ("the two 15s" for example, referring to that area where Highway 15 and Highway 40 intersect and become the same road for a short stretch, or "the whiskey trench", that area of Highway 138 in LaSalle formerly known for the overpowering smell of the adjacent
In contrast, Radio Circulation is slow. There's a lot of umms and ahhs. Sometimes it feels less like back-to-back traffic reports and more like a talk show whose subject is traffic. But it's also comprehensive. It will talk about traffic on Taschereau Blvd. on the South Shore. It'll talk about traffic on city streets. It doesn't have to limit itself to five or six things in its traffic report.
During the evenings, when traffic is just about non-existent, the subject material switches. Instead of traffic jams, the announcers talk about road closures for overnight construction work. (I'm not quite sure what they'll talk about overnight during the winter - snow clearing schedules?) Between 1am and 4:30am, the station runs recorded information about overnight construction and safety messages.
There were promises made about information on public transit service, but I have yet to hear any of those things while tuning in.
I suppose the best thing to compare this station to would be the Weather Network, which has a simple function and doesn't expect its viewers to tune in for more than a few minutes at a time (obsessive masturbating teenagers notwithstanding). They also operate on a schedule that minimizes the wait between the critical information (local forecast), while allowing some time to do something else, like talk about weather-related issues.
Of course, being television, the Weather Network can have nearly constant on-screen graphics showing the local short-term forecast while the rest of the screen discusses something else. There isn't an easy way to do this in radio.
I also spent a bit of time listening to CHMJ AM730, Vancouver's all-traffic station (coincidentally on the same frequency). The biggest difference between the two is that Vancouver's station is privately-owned and has to actually earn its revenue.
The stations sounded about the same - a similar five-minute schedule for traffic, though Vancouver's announcers were clearly a bit more comfortable, having been at their jobs for more than two days. The similarity shouldn't be surprising - Cogeco mentions it specifically as a model to follow in its CRTC application.
One thing I noticed is that Vancouver's station splits its traffic reports for bridges from the main traffic reports. This makes sense because bridges are less vital to Vancouver's traffic scene than to Montreal's. Vancouver's station also offers reports on wait times for ferries (which doesn't really apply here) and waits at the U.S. border (which might be useful here, but probably less so than in Vancouver).
And then there's the fact that CHMJ provides information on police radar traps. That raised a question for me: Is a radio station that gets $1.5 million a year from the transport ministry in a position to do the same? The agreement between Cogeco and the MTQ obviously doesn't require the station to provide radar warnings to drivers, but it doesn't forbid it either. And while it's true that the police forces don't work for the transport ministry, it might be a bit embarrassing if the provincial government was funding an operation that undermined the provincial police force.
To me, this underlines once again why having a government-funded all-traffic radio station is a bad idea.
Nevertheless, it's here, and if Cogeco is successful with the CRTC, we'll get an English one within a couple of months. Radio Circulation's website is running. Right now it's just a live stream of the station audio and a Google map with Google's traffic info overlay.
And just because I think the government funding is a bad idea doesn't mean I don't think we should have an all-traffic station in Montreal. We have enough free space on the AM band that if someone wanted to start a private station up that provides a useful service, there's no reason we shouldn't let them.
But I'm not sure if drivers will use it, either. So I put the question out to you drivers: Would you switch to an all-traffic radio station, which has a comprehensive traffic report every five minutes, or just listen to your favourite music/talk station and get the major traffic points every 10 minutes?
Is there a market for all-traffic radio in Montreal? And if so, does CKAC do a good job of capturing it?