Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

Behind the scenes with Tasso and Patrick at Mike FM

Patrick Henry Charles (left) and Paul Zakaib (aka Tasso Patsikakis)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Big local radio personality decides he’s had enough of how faceless corporations have micromanaged what happens on air, taking all the fun out of it. So instead, he’s moving to a low-power station few of his fans have ever heard of, becoming a big fish in a smaller pond, sacrificing a big paycheque for more creative freedom. The small station, not licensed in a way that would normally make it a competitor to the big commercial stations, decides it’s going to go after a bigger mainstream crowd to attract more advertising revenue.

It’s easy to see the parallels with Ted Bird here. Give me another example of this happening and I can write a trend story about it.

I went by Mike FM (CKDG) last week to sit in on a broadcast of the Tasso and Patrick show, which debuted on Oct. 24. It stars Paul Zakaib, who has been better known as Tasso since the 80s and has been mostly off the air since he was sacked from the CFQR morning show he shared with long-time partner Aaron Rand in 2009. With him is Patrick Henry Charles, who worked on the Aaron and Tasso show from 2001 until he got a better offer from competitor Astral to be part of CJFM’s morning team, but about a year later was moved into a position that gave him less airtime and far less exposure.

I talk about Mike FM and Tasso and Patrick in an article that appeared in The Gazette on Tuesday. It reveals, among other things, that there were talks about bringing an Aaron and Tasso show to the station, but they fell through the cracks when Rand was hired to do an afternoon show at CJAD.

So Zakaib called up his old pal Charles, who had recently left Astral because he felt his talents were being wasted there. They met with CKDG GM Marie Griffiths, and before long the Tasso and Patrick show was born.

Every radio station needs an SUV with its logo on it. (Photo: Patrick Charles)

Marketing push

Griffiths is taking advantage of the big names coming on board to promote the station, which includes things like a branded SUV, a Page A3 ad in The Gazette, and hiring a PR company to send out a press release and organize a VIP meet-and-greet (celebrating the announcement as well as the first anniversary of sister station CKIN-FM).

That PR part complicated matters for me somewhat. I had arranged with Charles directly to sit in on their program during its first week, but was turned away when I showed up, asked to arrange it with the PR agency instead. I understand the logic, not wanting to see that PR money go to waste, but it still resulted in me losing an afternoon. Shortly thereafter, I sold The Gazette on the story, and after a few emails back and forth I was scheduled to visit the station again.

Though it was implied that there were other journalists wanting to get a piece of Tasso and Patrick, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m the only one to publish anything about them since their debut, aside from the usual press release republishers.

Paul Zakaib takes notes of break times

Inside the studio

Perhaps the thing that struck me most about sitting in on this show was the sight of Zakaib with a binder and a stopwatch. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was timing how long they were talking. They’re still tinkering with the show, and he wants a log that he can reference while planning.

For someone who comes across on the air as an improvisational slacker, Zakaib is taking this job surprisingly seriously, at least from the perspective of someone who doesn’t work in the industry.

They can’t put an exact time on it, because much work is done at home at odd hours, and because they don’t really consider it work when they do things like read articles they might want to discuss on air, but Zakaib and Charles say they spend a few hours preparing each show. That means coming up with a script, but in most cases that’s something as vague as a subject or news story they’ve agreed to discuss.

Patrick Charles at the mic

Charles, of course, does music parodies, which are posted to the show’s Facebook wall. The day of the visit from me and Gazette photographer Allen McInnis, Mike FM had taken an ad out in that morning’s paper. (The timing was a coincidence – I wasn’t aware of the ad until I saw it in the paper.) Charles celebrated by writing a song about it, to the tune of Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets.

A week later, when the article came out, Charles took the same song and rewrote it slightly (the chorus, “we’re in today’s Gazette”, works for both).

The format

The show itself is about what you’d expect for an FM music station. Lots of hits (the focus is on hits from the 70s to 90s, so you can hear everything from Britney Spears to AC/DC), and funny banter and bits between (many of which involve Tasso going to his car and phoning in using a funny voice).

What you won’t hear much is the extras that drive-time shows are filled with. There’s no newscast, just the two hosts chatting about interesting stories in the news. Weather is done occasionally by reading off Charles’s iPad. And traffic is rare, and half of that is fake, funny traffic from special correspondent Elaine Closure (get it?). I wrote in the piece that Charles finds traffic reports annoying, but he clarified on air that it’s more the frequency of them that he can’t stand.

To give you an idea of what they sound like, I’ve compiled clips from their first show on Oct. 24 (MP3). There’s also some nuggets of information in there.

Producer Felix (Shotgun) Sullivan

Tasso and Patrick are joined, mostly behind the scenes, by Felix (Shotgun) Sullivan, who handles the board and music. On the left, you’ll see a small whiteboard he writes the names of songs on (in the photo, it’s Van Halen’s Panama), to remind the announcers when they forget (which is often). He might look like a pot smoker off the street, but Sullivan actually studied at the London School of Economics and was hired for his financial skills, until his passion for music resulted in him being moved into an in-studio job.

No ratings

Zakaib admitted that this is all a big gamble, for both sides. He and Charles are gambling that they can make a decent (though not necessarily lavish) living at a small-budget station. Griffiths and Mike FM are gambling that the money they’re spending on this talent will repay itself in the form of increased audience and ad revenue.

Because it’s not willing to pay the $40,000 a year it costs to be part of the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement ratings system, CKDG doesn’t get the kind of numbers that the big stations do. Instead, they’re grouped in with every other small station from CKUT to CKRK in that 6% block of “other” when the ratings come out.

Griffiths doesn’t object just to the cost, but the fact that BBM separates the audience into French and English, which she says introduces a bias against multicultural stations (CKDG broadcasts in other languages, particularly Greek, outside of the morning and afternoon drive shows and her own mid-morning call-in show MG Live).

So instead, Griffiths relies on contests to keep a measure of audience, and uses testimonials to attract new advertisers.

Power boost, maybe

Owner Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio Ltd. (the name comes from the fact that CKDG used to be a cable-only station) has an application in front of the CRTC for a year and a half now asking for a change in frequency from 105.1 to 106.7 MHz, with a boost in power from 141 to 407 watts. Even with that boost, which will increase its coverage area and make it easier to pick them up from inside buildings, it still compares very poorly to the 40,000-watt commercial music stations.

(The application also points out the marketing advantage of having CKDG and sister station CKIN-FM 106.3 closer together on the dial, and being able to sell them as “the 106es” – I’m not a radio marketing expert, but I don’t know how significant that is.)

The application paints a dire picture if CKDG isn’t awarded the frequency, but Griffiths downplayed the application, saying “there’s no urgency” for the change, though she would have liked to have had it done before the big marketing push this fall.

The delay is curious, with the most logical explanation being that the CRTC had to deal with a pirate radio station in Kahnawake operating on 106.7. That station, Kahnawake Keeps It Country, got CRTC approval for low-power broadcast and launched as CKKI-FM on 89.9 MHz on Nov. 1.

Good start

Listening to the Tasso and Patrick show, it’s clear that Charles and Zakaib have chemistry, which is natural from them having worked together for so many years. Even Astral VP Martin Spalding, who admitted that the company couldn’t find somewhere to use Charles’s talents properly, said he liked what his former employee was putting on the air.

As for the suggestion that this show puts Aaron against Tasso, both parties reject that. Yes, they’re both on weekday afternoons, but Rand is doing news-talk (Spalding said Rand had impressively reinvented himself to fit in with his new role at CJAD), while Zakaib is doing music and comedy.

I don’t know how many fans there are out there who want to listen to both, but I guess they’re just going to have to live with it and pick one.

The Tasso and Patrick show airs weekdays from 3 to 6pm on CKDG-FM 105.1. You can listen live from MikeFM.ca

UPDATE (Jan. 14): Richard Burnett talks to Zakaib (along with returning radio star Terry DiMonte) for his Gazette blog. Zakaib had some not-so-nice things to say about Montreal’s radio ownership oligopoly.

12 thoughts on “Behind the scenes with Tasso and Patrick at Mike FM

  1. Steve W

    Fagstein, any idea of Charles & Zakaib’s salaries at CKDG-FM? Even an estimate? Are we talking even $50-75,000 per year each range? BTW, I think Patrick Charles was let go by Astral(it wasn’t his decision to leave recently). Another example of going from big corporate radio station to low-power radio station is Jim Connell(last I heard working for a low-power Country radio station somewhere around the Montreal-area). Not sure he still has that daily radio gig(he was part of the recent application from Tietolman-Tetrault-Pancholy for newstalk French & English radio stations in Montreal).

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      any idea of Charles & Zakaib’s salaries at CKDG-FM? Even an estimate?

      No, and I didn’t ask. But I’m guessing it’s somewhere between minimum wage and $100,000 a year.

      I think Patrick Charles was let go by Astral(it wasn’t his decision to leave recently).

      Charles says he left Astral. I have no reason to disbelieve that, unless you have a better source.

      Jim Connell(last I heard working for a low-power Country radio station somewhere around the Montreal-area)

      That’s CKKI-FM. At last report, he was still there, but it was a weekly gig, not a daily one. And to call it a job might be pushing things a bit. He was part of the TIetolman-Tétrault-Pancholy team and would probably be hired by the station if it gets a license.

      Reply
  2. Steve W

    I was told by a person in the radio industry it wasn’t Charles decision to leave Astral. Thanks for Jim Connell clarification, that his on-air CKKI-FM gig is a weekly gig.

    Reply
  3. Boris

    A market this size , south of the border would have a minimum of 40-50
    signals bouncing around, offering a plethora of choice to radiophiles !!

    Why can`t we just rejoice in the fact that someone is trying to stand tall and ALONE against the
    same old monolithic corporate suits that now control a massive amount of the cities
    CRTC bequeathed licences…I say break a leg and celebrate having fun again.

    Oh BTW….salaries for on-air talent have plummeted in the last 10 years …check any of the
    T-4`s of the major guys and gals , on both Fort and La Gauchetiere, including said Mr. Rand`s,
    against those of yesterday and you will quickly see how an industry operating , essentially, as an
    oligopoly- with virtually no employment options, has created the need for the ones who still care
    to look outside the box …..

    make ave du Parc proud boys

    a listener

    Reply
  4. Paul W.

    Sure CKDG-FM is making waves but how long can sustain the momentum ? I believe a few years ago they did this again when they hired former CHOM-FM (Let go or Fired) “Super “Dave Reynolds for the afternoon slot and it did not last long.
    Does anyone know where is Super Dave working now ?

    Reply
    1. Neil K.

      Dave is now the morning man and PD at The River, a station in Campbell River, BC.

      He had been running a cluster of stations in New Brunswick the last time I saw him, just before he got hired in BC. By the way, I was told AJ Reynolds, the new PM drive guy at the Beat, is his nephew. I guess radio is in the family genes.

      Here’s Dave’s page from the station’s website:

      http://www.997theriver.ca/announcers/dave_reynolds/

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Riley

    Patrick and Tasso have a new listner. Recently new to Ontario from Montreal I find myself listening to Montreal’s “The Beat”, online but wanting to hear Tasso’s crazy stories and Patrick’s mashed up jingles. These two men are what true radio talent is all about. Thank you for writing this aticle, hopefully radio still has a chance.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Patrick Charles leaves Mike FM – Fagstein

  7. Pingback: Tasso leaves Mike FM | Fagstein

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