Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

CKAC Circulation 730: First impressions

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all-music over the weekend, with only this announcement from VP Richard Lachance (MP3) explaining why sports talk had been replaced by Céline Dion et al.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 brewery distillery).

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.

Some comparisons

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?

23 thoughts on “CKAC Circulation 730: First impressions

  1. Neil K.

    “…overpowering smell of the adjacent brewery…”

    It was actually a Seagram’s distillery in LaSalle…hence the name “whisky trench.” As a kid, that smell was the first sign our family was going on vacation to the U.S.!

    Reply
  2. Derek Cassoff

    As one who take the commuter train into work during the week, I may not be the best authority on this subject, but I think this will be useful when heading onto the highways and bridges on the weekend. As it is, I find it very frustrating spinning the dial searching for a traffic report before that crucial fork in the road.

    By the way, I sure hope I wasn’t the only one who clicked on the “obsessive masturbating teenagers” link. I had to know what was behind it.

    Reply
  3. AlexH

    I would say that a a lot of “umms and ahhs” would come on the first day of any new format, especially one that is as “tight” as traffic.

    I listened to it a big last night (in their last hour before automation), and it was at least more useful than listening to Quack to Quack on CJAD (holy crap, are there really that many nutjobs and conspiracy theorists in the world?). I found the information useful and timely, and certainly more in keeping with the speed I made it through the city at that time of the night.

    I think their big downfall will be the bounce rate – the speed at which people tune out. Clearly, you are not going to leave it on there and listen to the same thing over and over again, so there is sort of a natural barrier to getting large sustained listenership. I do think however that they may end up with high exposure numbers, as more people realize that instead of scanning 10 stations hoping to catch a traffic report, they can just tune here and get it all.

    It’s a useful tool, not something you would tune into for 24 hours per day.

    Reply
    1. Just Me

      I agree with you about “Quack to Quack” on CJAD (that show proves that there are lots of idiots in the world), but I’ve always thought of the show as “Cuckoo to Cuckoo”.

      Reply
  4. JohnF

    While I don’t know that I would listen to the station continuously I can see two major use cases:

    If you’re heading out on the road and want to confirm which route might be the better option every ten minutes isn’t fast enough. You can switch to the all traffic station and get immediate traffic information. Google maps traffic overlay is nice, but it’s far from 100% accurate

    Other times you find yourself in sudden and extremely bad traffic and wonder what the cause is and if there’s a way out.

    I much prefer travelling by public transit for my daily commute, a lot less stressful than driving in traffic.

    Reply
  5. Richard

    The only time I would ever have thought it useful was when Hurricane Irene hit. I was coming back from a camping trip in Mont Tremblant, and I was on the 15 south (north of Laval). It was stop and go for long stretches (lots of people coming home after the weekend, plus lots of rain and wind making conditions a bit more dangerous). I considered taking the 640 across to the 13 to get into town (only a small detour for me, I’m in the Sud-Ouest), as I especially didn’t want to get stuck in water on Decarie. I kept switching stations to see if I could find some up to date info on traffic and on whether or not the 13 was a viable option for me, but the most detailed reports I got were from vermont.. Well, i took the 13 and it went beautifully, no traffic and easy going.

    Anyway, the point is, it would have been useful then (an admittedly extreme situation). Any other day? Useless. :)

    Reply
  6. gds

    I know the CRTC doesn’t allow it. But an english station broadcasting traffic seems like a waste. It would make more sense to me if it was just a bilingual traffic radio. After highway numbers and street names, how many words in french could they possibly use to describe traffic?

    Reply
  7. Sheldon

    I am currently doing some part-time delivery work three days a week and find myself driving all over the island and into Laval and the South Shore on a regular basis. Since the debut of the traffic station on 730, I have purposely been checking it out from time to time during my driving schedule, particularly when my travels require me to head towards the Decarie Expressway, the Met, Highway 20 or 40 or any of the numerous bridges.

    I have to say that I have found it to be useful. I’m not having to wait 15 minutes or so for updates which may or may not include the specific stretch of highway I am interested in at the time. The information is updated frequently and, in most cases, I have heard within minutes a report on the specific territory I am interested in. There is also the added advantage of hearing, almost immediately, about accidents, major slowdowns or closures that have just happened.

    I can see this service being particularly useful for courriers, truck drivers, taxis, etc.; basically anyone whose livelihood depends on getting from point A to point B quickly.

    So, in that respect, I find the service helpful

    On the other hand though, does this need to be on a clear-channel radio frequency? Should the government be handing over our tax dollars to a private company to help finance this undertaking? No, and HELL NO!

    In the U.S. there are government run similar services known as Traveller Information Stations (TIS for short), or Travel Advisory Services. These are most often low-powered stations, generally operating on AM frequencies such as 530 kHz or 1610 kHz. There are highway signs posted in the areas indicating the presence of these stations. They are most often run by state Department of Transport agencies, meaning that they are government funded. Generally speaking, they include recorded messages that repeat over and over, but when necessary, live messages can be inserted. Flashing lights on the roadsigns usually signal the addition of urgent or emergency information then being broadcast.

    If a company, such as Cogeco, thinks that there is a service to be performed, and money to be made off of such a service, fine, go ahead and set up the stations. Would they have considered doing this though if the government of Quebec had not come knocking with money in their hand? I don’t think so. Why would they want to put these stations on the two vacant clear channels 690 and 940 kHz. Simply because Cogeco has a site with transmitters and antennas for these two frequencies sitting in Kahnawake which they obtained in the purchase of Corus properties. It was an easy thing to do. The hardware was already there and a good chunk of the money was going to be handed over to them by the Department of Transport to do this. So, what the heck!

    However the monkey-wrench in all of this turned out to be the interest in these frequencies by other broadcasting organizations. Their interventions and the subsequent call for applications to use these frequencies ended up painting Cogeco into a corner. Thus we are where we are now.

    So, leaving Radio Circulation on 730 kHz at this point is fine with me, although I am still bugged about them doing this with our tax dollars. Do we need an English station to do this as well? Probably not. I think the majority of people in this city should be able to make sense out of the French service.

    What needs to be done though is something that was never really done properly when we had CINF and CINW all-news stations on the air in Montreal. Radio Circulation needs to be properly marketed and promoted to the public. The public needs to clearly know how this station works and how to get the best use out of it.

    Reply
  8. Maurice

    I drive and take the métro, depending… I already gave Radio Circulation a try the other evening, at a time when no other station was airing traffic reports. From that one experience, I “discovered” that one needs to tune in a few minutes before driving off because I drove right into the trouble spots. (Yeah, I’m a little slow at grasping simple concepts sometimes. :) ) However, I like this concept because traditional traffic reports are often useless to me because they’re too fast: while I’m trying to picture in my mind something like “la sortie pour l’autoroute 15 Nord de la 40 Est,” I’m missing the next trouble spot. But the slower format gives me the time I need.

    And given I use public transit half the time, yes, I would like to hear about delays on that system as well. This station should be about moving around la métropole regardless of the mode of transportation.

    Reply
  9. ATSC

    I would check it out if I know that my route will probably have problem spots. I really don’t mind the idea of a All Traffic station. What I do mind is paying for it with tax payer money. This I’m really against.

    Reply
  10. Dan

    With GPS devices and smartphones capable of seeing up-to-date traffic and weather data, is there really a need for dedicated channels of this sort?

    Reply
  11. Vahan

    Traffic reports, in my opinion, are useless. Every driver is a creature of habit. They get up every workday at the same time and get jammed in the same traffic in the same spot everyday. The reports mean nothing if no one is taking an alternate route. On tv the interview people jammed in construction zones, the expected jams, what do these bright lights tell the reporters? This is going to take me an extra X hours to get to work now. Instead if changing routes or times of departure they race out of their driveways and into the same mess everyday. So useless. Unless there is something exceptional like space junk that has fallen onto a highway, then it is news, yet the guy on the street reporting will still have two whining people complaining of how government is not doing their job properly and how taxes are being wasted, the same soapbox rants we get from everyone when a mic is shoved in their face.

    Reply
  12. Shawn

    Steve, I can tell you as someone who does drive occasionally, and listens to CBC, that the traffic updates on CBC Radio fly by far too fast for me to catch, much of the time. Maybe it’s because I’m a part-time driver who hasn’t had his neurons sufficiently rewired, but the whole thing seems rushed and cursory.

    If traffic is critical info, then it should be delivered more deliberately, and some pauses — even ums — can’t hurt.

    Reply
  13. Chris

    “it might be a bit embarrassing if the provincial government was funding an operation that undermined the provincial police force” -> undermine their revenue you mean?

    I hope they do broadcast speed traps. Hopefully, it’ll slow motorists down.

    I’d trade speeding ticket revenue for slower cars (and therefore less collisions) any day.

    The revenue can be recouped by ticketing all the other offenses that motorists routinely commit: not yielding to pedestrians, illegal parking (of countless varieties), rolling stops, running lights, etc.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      undermine their revenue you mean?

      Yes. The government has this thing about liking money, as I’m sure you know. There’s also the fact that speed traps are designed to at least seem random. Having drivers know where they are will cause them to slow down around the traps, but continue speeding elsewhere.

      I hope they do broadcast speed traps. Hopefully, it’ll slow motorists down.

      You realize they’ll only slow down around the speed traps, right? And most drivers do that anyway, because attentive drivers see the police cars.

      I’d trade speeding ticket revenue for slower cars (and therefore less collisions) any day.

      I think most people would agree. Certainly the SAAQ would. But how do you propose to make this trade? How does broadcasting the location of speed traps reduce collisions? How many collisions happen near speed traps?

      The revenue can be recouped by ticketing all the other offenses that motorists routinely commit: not yielding to pedestrians, illegal parking (of countless varieties), rolling stops, running lights, etc.

      Illegal parking is a bigger problem to you than speeding?

      Reply
  14. William Raillant-Clark

    I used to drive Montreal to St-Hyacinthe and back everyday, and let me tell you it was murder firstly sitting through endless advertisements, the drive-time waffle and whatnot, and then a couple of the top 10 hits (for the millionth time) in the hope that I’d get a traffic update. For a while, one of the English radio stations had a completely incomprehensible traffic report that was so fast and so jargony that it was over before you realized it had begun (took me 3 months to work out that Lackadey Boulevard is the route otherwise known as Boulevard de l’Acadie…) Anything has to be an improvement over what’s currently available!

    Reply
  15. Jerry

    M. Millard prononce tou-tes ses syllab-es très clair-e-ment… “La quinz-e su-D est très congestion-ÉÉÉEEE”

    I would probably only listen to the station if they start reporting on public transit…might be nice in addition to the text alerts I get from STM and AMT. School closures could also be useful as we head into the winter season. They could also have a segment about traffic/closures elsewhere in Quebec in case you’re planning on heading out on a longer drive, plus the border wait times.
    I do occasionally drive, but almost always on evenings and weekends when there’s no traffic…

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      That’s a good point. While the majority of listeners are going to be car drivers, major transit disruptions should be noted too. And with Montreal streets resembling more and more a find-the-cheese maze, regular reminders of all the onging closures and congestion, which can be hard to keep track of.

      The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is the best possible time to launch a station like this. I’ll be tuning in, when I drive.

      Reply
  16. yves cardinal

    Hi,

    We tuned in for the first time on Saturday 10 th at around 16.45, while on our way from Chateauguay to Montreal, and tempting to cross Mercier bridge. The information given was ALL WRONG!!!!!!!! The said access was clear while we had to wait around 30 minute. We tried it another time a little later in Montreal itself. ALL WRONG!!! Why do we pay for wrong information. Better not have ANY

    Reply
  17. Marc

    They’ve turned CKAC, a legendary news/talk/music/variety/sports station into this total joke. A big thank you to Cogeco and the CRTC for this. Our radio market is truly pathetic beyond belief.

    Reply
  18. gg

    The traffic announcers on the Vancouver station also moonlight as traffic/sports/newsreaders on the sister station, the biggest private talk station in Vancouver, CKNW – hence they have some pretty good skillz.

    The Vancouver station also provides regular updates on our coastal ferries (leaving from the Greater Vancouver ports) and on transit.

    At night it often replays talk shows from CKNW.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>