This week, I’m taking a closer look at the applications for Montreal’s AM clear-channel frequencies 690 and 940 kHz that were presented at CRTC hearings in October. Today, I’m looking at the application from Dufferin Communications for a music-talk station for the gay community on 690.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to representatives of Dufferin Communications (a subsidiary of Evanov Communications – the two names were used interchangeably) during the CRTC hearing. I feel a bit guilty about that, but it’s hard to see their proposal for a music/talk station geared toward the gay community as anything more than an also-ran in this battle between the heavyweights.
Evanov is an established but small player in the radio market. It owns 13 radio stations (including two whose purchase was approved a week after the hearing), mostly in small-market Ontario, but also two in Halifax and three in Winnipeg. It does not own any French-language stations.
Its proposal for 690 AM in Montreal is based on Proud FM in Toronto, a station of only 128 watts (up from 50) that airs programming of interest to the gay community (well, LGBT and whatever other letters you want to add to that). The programming would be mainly talk and music, with a bit of news of special interest to the community.
Characterizing Toronto’s Proud FM as “very successful,” Evanov VP Carmela Laurignano pointed out it’s the only commercial radio station of its kind in Canada during a phone interview before the hearing.
Considering Montreal’s vibrant gay community, it made sense for them to want to try that format here.
“We had been looking at it and studying it a little bit,” she said. “We had been planning to do it anyway, but there was a call for applications.”
Seeing a CRTC notice for applications for 690 and 940, Evanov put in its application for Radio Fierté.
Commissioner Tom Pentefountas hesitated to bring it up, and kind of apologized for doing so afterward, but he couldn’t help but notice that an application for a French-language radio station was being done mostly in English. There’s no rule against that, of course, but it’s kind of a strike against them. How well do they really understand the Montreal (or Quebec) radio market?
“Une suggestion, à l’avenir de faire un plus grand effort de faire vos présentations et vos mémoires dans la langue dans laquelle vous voulez diffuser,” Pentefountas said.
Evanov was apologetic for its language troubles, blaming the short notice and their lack of experience in French stations.
Whether any of this will impact their chances is anyone’s guess.
Radio Fierté’s main selling point is diversity. This station would not only bring a new commercial player into the Montreal radio scene, but provide programming for an audience that isn’t served currently.
The station would be about 50-50 music and talk, which is more than the Toronto station because the Montreal one would be on AM. Still, that leaves a lot of music, which tends not to be successful on the AM band.
“It’s not going to be all ABBA all the time,” Laurignano told me with a laugh during our conversation, reassuring me about the musical content that would not differ so much from other stations because gays and lesbians aren’t so much different from the rest of us.
Which brings up the basic question: Do gays and lesbians need their own radio station? Radio Fierté is obviously banking that they do, based on their experience with Proud FM.
It also promises original programming on the talk side, with “news and information that you would not hear on other radio stations, but not to the exclusion of regular news,” Laurignano told me.
The station also thinks it can bring in new advertisers to Montreal radio, again based on its experience with Proud FM.
There wasn’t a lot of opposition to the application to Radio Fierté, probably because the other players knew their chances were slim. The others welcomed the idea, but described it as a “niche” station with a niche audience that didn’t really deserve a clear channel.
Evanov’s representatives responded that their audience isn’t limited to the Gay Village, and that gays and lesbians live all across the region.
Evanov was the most receptive to suggestions of alternative frequencies, in that it never said it would refuse an alternative frequency. But its proposed transmission site – shared with CJAD – would require an exemption from Industry Canada in order to work on 940. If CKGM moves off of 990, Evanov said it would accept that frequency (using CKGM’s site) under an alternative proposal that would see their financial projections and financial contributions reduced.
Astral has agreed to negotiate with Evanov for shared use of the CJAD transmitter site about 20 km south of Candiac. If given 990, it would negotiate with Bell Media for shared use of the CKGM site southeast of Mercier.
The bottom line
Evanov applied for this frequency because it was there. It doesn’t make a compelling case for a clear channel, and would probably accept a Class B or even a Class C or low-power FM frequency. Its proposal to be half-music hurts the application significantly.
It’s been suggested political correctness might have a role to play here, that the station might get approved just to avoid seeming homophobic. I find that hard to believe, especially considering the struggles at Proud FM in Toronto. The commissioners have been very professional so far, and seem to judge each application on its merits. I don’t think the “gay card” will work either in favour or against the station.
I would be very surprised if Radio Fierté gets either 690 or 940. I think it’s a good idea for a station, and think they’ll probably get some alternative frequency or be asked to reapply, but not on a clear channel.
I rate this application’s chances slim.
If approved for 690, Evanov would see Radio Fierté on the air within a year.
Here’s a scenario that could work for Evanov, if all the pieces fall into place. I believe that Evanov truly believes in what they want to do and, that given the opportunity, could probably do quite well in this market. A couple of things need to happen in the next little while that could give them an opportunity to apply for a vacant FM frequency.
With the CRTC giving a license to KKIC Kahnawake on 89.9 MHz, that frees up 106.7 MHz. CKDG has an application on the books with the CRTC to move from 105.1 to 106.7 MHz. It was difficult at best for the CRTC to deal with that application without having to deal with the pirate version of KKIC broadcasting there. By moving them off to 89.9 things can now start to move.
If the CRTC were to approve the move of CKDG to 106.7, 105.1 would become vacant and that’s where I think Evanov should be hanging around the door waiting to jump on it. If I were them, I think I would get an application in sooner than later for the frequency, conditional of course on the frequency becoming vacant. I guess they could also apply for 106.7 immediately, perhaps withdrawing their 690 application, and go head to head with CKDG for the frequency.
If they are working successfully in Toronto with the low-powered operation they have, I would think that 105.1 here in Montreal would suit them fine. Of course, they could be forced to go into battle with other applicants for the frequency, but they might have the upper hand considering that all of their up-front work has basically been done and there would probably be a substantial cost savings for them on FM as opposed to AM.
I’m still a little puzzled as to why CKDG wants to move to 106.7 from 105.1, and I don’t really have a read on what their chances might be with the CRTC. If they get it, they would then have CKDG on 106.7 and their other ethnic station CKIN on 106.3. These two frequencies sandwich the strong St-Hyacinthe station on 106.5, a signal which generally bombs its way into the Montreal region. In fact, I think this station would like to consider itself more of a Montreal area station than strictly regional for St-Hyacinthe. Sandwiching them with the two Montreal based stations would basically prevent them from trying to reach out any further.
Time will tell.
Sheldon, I just don’t see it working out.
If they are looking at a station that is as much about talk as it is about music, and want reasonable coverage for their money, they AM is the way to go. Not a clear channel, mind you, but one of the other frequencies available, perhaps tagging onto one of the existing antenna sites to avoid cost.
Putting them on FM, when Montreal has a shortage of FM channel slots available is pointless. My feeling is the same for 98.5, which I really feel should be moved back to AM, so that the FM channel can be freed up for musical content.
We are out of FM space, and trying to jam even more in there isn’t not going to help anyone.
In their presentation they were talking about as much as 50% music content, not something that is going to come across very well on AM. They do however feel that their target audience is so hungry for this specialized content that they will tune to the station regardless where they end up on the radio dial. They openly stated in their presentation that with the low power they are using in Toronto, they could probably reach more listeners by opening up their windows and shouting!
They could get an FM station, even a low-powered one, on the air for much cheaper than it will cost them to work from an AM site.
This is really a niche market station idea. HD Radio sub-channel material.
The simple thing to do is let them have a alternative AM position with 1kw of power.
Sheldon’s idea is very interesting. I would say let the situation play out on the FM band. CKDG-FM would be wise to move over to 106.7 fm. This will allow them to increase their coverage area. Then what happens with 105.1 fm would come up. The 105.1 slot does have a near by station using it. WKOL-FM. This puts limits on the coverage area.
The other one I’m thinking about is the CBC’s use of 104.7 fm for Radio 1. Why are they using that? Isn’t their use of 88.5 fm good enough? The CBC is using 3 fm slots to send out only two services (Radio 1 & 2).
I think something will have to be done by the CRTC and Industry Canada to free up some FM space. Something like a rubics cube arrangement. By moving certain stations around, in Montreal, in conjunction with adjacent markets (Ottawa, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivieres) a FM slot or two may open up. The other thing use HD Radio FM multi-casting.
CKDG and CKIN have the same owners. CKIN can be a HD2 channel of CKDG.
That would free up 106.3
Perhaps the CRTC can supply incentives on HD Radio use on how their Cancon can be calculated. Either by each HD stream. Or globally by all the HD streams each station transmits.
That way a station can decrease Cancon on HD1, but be required to increase by the same amount on HD2. Or HD3! Some smarty pants station may get the idea of reducing their Cancom on HD1 & HD2, and create a all Canadiana stream on HD3.
There has got to be a way to free up some space on the FM band. The other way would be to ask some station groups to sell off one of their too many owned FM stations within a market. I’m sure that wouldn’t go down very well with the stations affected.
All aside, I’m not sure this station really will have a chance in hell succeeding on the AM Band. But, hey, if they want to give it a try, I say, let them try. If it fails, they give back their license and somebody else tries something else. Not the end of the world.
CBC applied for 104.7 to fill what the considered to be a coverage gap in the west end. Whether there actually is one is open for debate. But their 104.7 transmitter is very low power, and it’s hard to describe it as a “slot”. Other stations at 104.7 in Gatineau and Quebec City mean there’s a limit to what can be done with the frequency here.