Monthly Archives: December 2011

Technology is abandoning AM radio

The only portable AM radio I could find at a huge electronics store - a $10 radio with analog tuner

I did some Boxing Week shopping Thursday night. Despite the cold, I went wandering for about three hours around various stores, though for the first time in years I didn’t have any big-money purchases in mind.

One thing I had been looking for was a portable device capable of receiving AM radio. Ideally it would have had a digital tuner, an antenna of some sort and an internal memory capable of recording the radio. As someone who writes about radio a lot, it helps to be able to record as well as listen.

But going through the aisles of iPods and other MP3 players at Future Shop and Best Buy, I discovered that such a device does not exist. Well, actually, it does, but it’s kind of expensive and you can’t buy it in one of these stores.

In the end, I bought the radio you see above, a Dynex (read: cheap as hell) FM/AM pocket radio. It has an analog tuner and cheap plastic parts (and obviously no recording capability), but it has an antenna and a headphone jack, and though it’s a bit noisy it receives CJAD and CKGM.

It used to be, even as little as a decade ago, that no one in their right mind would try to sell something as a “radio” and not include one of the two bands. But as portable CD players were replaced by smaller MP3 players with lower power demands and no moving parts, FM has become less of a priority and AM has been all but abandoned.

A portable CD player sports a ferrite bar AM antenna (left) about 4cm long and 3mm thick.

There are a few technical reasons for this. For one, because the AM band is at a much lower frequency than FM (centred around 1 MHz vs. around 100 MHz), the antenna has to be much longer. For older portable devices (like my old CD player pictured above), this is accomplished by coiling a long antenna inside the device. Ideally it would be strung out in a straight line for maximum reception, but coiling it is a compromise that works here, though its reception isn’t as good and it’s highly directional (which is why the angle at which you’re holding a portable AM radio affects its reception).

In smaller devices, such an antenna – about the size of a AAA battery – becomes prohibitively large. Smartphones and iPods don’t even have room for that AAA battery, much less an antenna for what has become a secondary function. For FM reception, portable devices ingeniously use the headphone cord for an antenna, but that doesn’t work for AM.

In addition to the size of the antenna, AM radio is more susceptible to interference, requiring even more electronic real estate being used for filtering and amplifying.

"AM RF IN" marks where the AM antenna connects to the circuit board ("RF" means "radio frequency")

And then there’s the simple matter of demand. Music stations long ago moved from AM to FM, as has CBC and Radio-Canada in Montreal. We’re left with only three large commercial AM stations (CKAC 730, CJAD 800 and CKGM 990) and a handful of smaller AM stations that would be very difficult to capture with a portable antenna anyway.

That’s about to change. The CRTC recently awarded two new frequencies (the previously dormant 690 and 940 kHz), and two new AM stations will be on the air at some point in 2012. Two others, who lost in the bidding for those frequencies, may also reapply for other vacant frequencies. By the end of 2013 we could have four new high-power AM radio stations in Montreal, at a time when most broadcasters have all but abandoned the band.

But can these stations survive if there’s nobody left who can listen to them? It’s not just iPods and smartphones. Even larger desktop alarm clock radios have started to abandon AM in favour of iPod connections. Unless a device’s main function is broadcast radio, you’re much less likely to find AM on it. And people like multifunction devices.

The one big thing keeping AM alive is the same thing keeping most radio alive: cars, which are so large there’s no need to worry about space for an antenna. Entertainment for drivers obviously can’t be visual in nature, so radio has become the perfect source for them. And radio has responded in kind by catering to drivers, focusing on rush-hour programming and having regular reports on traffic.

The industry has also responded by offering online streaming as an option, via apps for iPhones or other smartphones. Rather than capture a noisy signal through the air with a big antenna, smartphones can download a high-quality audio stream through the cell network they already use for phone calls and checking their Facebook.

But switching to the Web opens up these broadcasters to competition from all over the world. For people who don’t care as much about local content, there is a seemingly infinite choice of things to listen to.

Five years ago, when asked by Forbes about why its MP3 players didn’t have AM radio, a representative of SanDisk explained the technical reasons behind it, but added that “SanDisk is exploring the possibility of adding an AM receiver to some of its MP3 players.”

I’m still waiting. Hopefully AM radio will still be around by the time a solution is found.

UPDATE (Jan. 9): La Presse has an arts section cover story today about the future of AM radio, which discusses this issue as well as the larger market for the band. It includes quotes from broadcasting consultant Michel Mathieu painting a dire picture for AM radio, which is kind of ironic because Mathieu was hired to get many smaller community stations their broadcast licenses, including stations like CJLO on the AM dial.

There’s also a story about Paul Tietolman and his upcoming French-language talk radio station, with some thoughts from experts about its viability.

Welcome to CFCF’s postvanderheyden era

Todd van der Heyden won't be seeing Jellybean around much anymore. (Fagstein file photo)

It ended not with a bang or with a whimper, but with the standard anchor goodbye. Friday was Todd van der Heyden’s last day at CFCF, and the 6pm newscast spent a few minutes at the end to acknowledge the departure of one of its anchors.

It was no Farewell to Bill, the special program devoted to long-serving anchor Bill Haugland in 2006, but CFCF’s tribute to van der Heyden was appropriate and classy. For those who missed it, the whole thing has been posted online. You can watch it in the CTV News video player here.

The segment starts with van der Heyden introducing a story about pandas (the usual fluffy, funny and entirely expendable story that fills time at the end of a newscast) only to have producers pull a switcheroo and run a story about van der Heyden put together by reporter/anchor Tarah Schwartz, which includes some testimonials from some of his long-time coworkers. The packaged report is followed by a one-on-one with Schwartz and a speech from van der Heyden thanking viewers for their loyalty (as far as he knew going into this, only the latter part was going to be in the newscast).

Unfortunately for van der Heyden and viewers, there was no message from coanchor Mutsumi Takahashi, nor from weather presenter Lori Graham, nor from sports anchor Randy Tieman. They’re all off on vacation, and I guess nobody thought ahead long enough to have them record a short video message before they left. The result gave some the impression that they had intentionally kept quiet as a snub. And with due respect to the people filling in during the holidays, this kind of moment isn’t the same with Randy Renaud and Paul Graif.

For the record, Takahashi (who was also on vacation at the beginning of the month when the announcement came that van der Heyden would be leaving), had this to say to me on the subject: “Bill, Brian, Todd… All I can say, Steve, is that I’m obviously having trouble holding on to my men…”

Though it’s possible they exist, I don’t know of anyone there who didn’t like van der Heyden. No matter what your opinion of his work, it’s hard not to like him personally once you get to know him.

Mutsumi Takahashi looks at Todd van der Heyden with a mixture of loving affection and facepalming disbelief at his silliness. (Fagstein file photo)

Van der Heyden starts on CTV News Channel on Jan. 16, co-hosting the show Express, weekdays 1-4pm with Amanda Blitz.

At CFCF, no decision has been announced for his permanent replacement, but weekend anchor Paul Karwatsky (who led the list of candidates) has been named the “interim” co-anchor. This gives management more time to make a final decision, and a chance to try out Karwatsky in the post to see if he’s the one they want.

Good luck to him, and to van der Heyden I can only say: Qapla’!

For more on Todd van der Heyden and his departure from CTV Montreal, see my post on the subject from earlier this month. He was also interviewed on CJAD.

The year in music, as mashed by DJ Earworm

I’m not a music critic. I couldn’t dissect a song to tell you what parts of it are good and what parts are bad. That’s why you won’t see me writing about music a lot.

But this is an exception.

The above is United State of Pop 2011 (World Go Boom) by DJ Earworm. It’s a mashup of the 25 most popular songs of 2011, including songs by Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, LMFAO, Rihanna and Adele. It was uploaded to YouTube on Christmas Day.

And it’s awesome. But I expected it to be.

To describe it as a “mashup” seems unfair. In reality, this is a song created from little bits of other songs, a masterpiece of musical editing that is as awe-inspiring by its complexity as it is catchy in its melody.

If you haven’t heard of this before, you need to listen to the previous years’ versions:

Each is just as impressive. And for added awesomeness, each can be downloaded free as an MP3. Just follow the link in the YouTube description to DJ Earworm’s website.

Fagstein’s 2011-12 guide to holiday transit

As I have in previous years, I ask that you have some sympathy for the bus, metro or train driver, station attendant or other employee who has to work during the holidays – some on Christmas morning, some through midnight on New Year’s Eve – just so that you can get you from point A to point B in the dark, wet, snowy mess that is the last week of the year.

Here’s what there is to expect as far as schedule changes this weekend and next:

STM (Montreal, including the entire metro)

Details from the STM’s website. For details on adapted transit or customer service, consult their page.

Note that from Dec. 24 to Jan. 8, the STM offers its Family Outings plan, which allows an adult to bring up to five children under 12 to ride for free with a fare-paying adult. (Normally this is allowed only during weekends and statutory holidays.) This does not apply to the 747 bus.

  • Saturday, Dec. 24:
    • Buses and metro service will follow a regular Saturday schedule.
  • Sunday, Dec. 25:
    • Most bus routes will run on a Sunday schedule.
    • Metro trains will pass about every 10-12 minutes on the green line and every 10 minutes on the other lines.
  • Monday, Dec. 26:
    • Most bus routes will run on a special schedule.
    • Metro service will run on a special schedule, with additional trains added to the Orange and Green lines from 8:30am to 7pm to accommodate rabid Boxing Day shoppers.
    • Monday to Friday shared taxi service will not be in operation.
  • Dec. 27-30: Normal weekday schedules for all services.
  • Saturday, Dec. 31:
    • Buses, metro and taxi service will follow a regular Saturday schedule.
    • Once again, there’s no extension of metro service despite how many people are out celebrating New Year’s Eve, but because it happens to be on a Saturday people get a half-hour more than usual. Last trains of the night leave the two blue line terminuses at 12:15am, in all five directions from Berri at 1:30am and from Longueuil at 1:30am.
  • Sunday, Jan. 1:
    • Bus routes will follow Sunday schedules for the most part.
    • Metro trains will pass about every 10-12 minutes on the green line and every 10 minutes on the other lines.
  • Monday, Jan. 2:
    • Bus routes and metro trains will follow a special schedule.

Note that Opus cards can be recharged at any point after Dec. 20.

STL (Laval)

As usual, the STL offers free transit on its buses on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

  • Saturday, Dec. 24: Saturday schedule. Free service on all routes.
  • Sunday, Dec. 25:
    • Sunday schedule for all routes.
    • The following will only have service from 11am to 9pm: 12, 20, 25, 27, 28, 31, 33, 37, 39, 40, 45, 46, 58, 61, 63, 65, 66, 74, 144, 804 and 903.
    • All other routes will have full regular Sunday service.
  • Monday, Dec. 26: Saturday schedules in effect for all routes.
  • Dec. 27-30: Regular weekday schedules for all routes.
  • Saturday, Dec. 31: Saturday schedule. Free service on all routes.
  • Sunday, Jan. 1:
    • Sunday schedule for all routes.
    • The following will only have service from 11am to 9pm: 12, 20, 25, 27, 28, 31, 33, 37, 39, 40, 45, 46, 58, 61, 63, 65, 66, 74, 144, 804 and 903.
    • All other routes will have full regular Sunday service.
  • Monday, Jan 2: Saturday schedule for all routes.

RTL (Longueuil)

Like the STL, the RTL is offering free service for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and is asking for donations in lieu of fares.

From their PDF guide:

  • Saturday, Dec. 24 (free service): Saturday schedule for all routes
  • Sunday, Dec. 25: Sunday schedule for all routes
  • Monday, Dec. 26:
    • Saturday schedules for most routes.
    • Saturday schedule with additional departures on lines 8, 35, 45, 80.
    • Weekday schedule for taxi lines T22 and T89.
  • Dec. 27-30: Regular weekday service for all routes
  • Saturday, Dec. 31 (free service): Saturday schedule for all routes
  • Sunday, Jan. 1:
    • Sunday schedule for all routes
  • Monday, Jan. 2:
    • Saturday schedules for most routes.
    • Saturday schedule with additional departures on lines 8, 35, 45, 80.

AMT (commuter trains)

The AMT offers free trips on the two lines that operate on Christmas and New Year’s – Dorion/Rigaud and Deux-Montagnes.

From their website:

  • Saturday, Dec. 24: Regular Saturday service on all lines
  • Sunday, Dec. 25:
    • Sunday service on Montreal/Deux-Montagnes and Montreal/Dorion (all trips are free)
  • Monday, Dec. 26:
    • Saturday service on Montreal/Deux-Montagnes
    • Sunday service on Montreal/Dorion
    • No service on other lines
  • Dec. 27-30: Regular weekday service on all lines
  • Saturday, Dec. 31: Regular Saturday service on all lines
  • Sunday, Jan. 1:
    • Sunday service on Montreal/Deux-Montagnes and Montreal/Dorion (all trips are free)
  • Monday, Jan. 2:
    • Saturday service on Montreal/Deux-Montagnes
    • Sunday service on Montreal/Dorion
    • No service on other lines

Customer service at the AMT will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Pete Marier leaves CHOM over contract dispute

Pete Marier

 Last update: Dec. 27 at 2am, adding a comment from Marier at the bottom.

“My show on CHOM was terminated last night.”

That was the extent of the comment from Pete Marier Friday morning, on Facebook, to the fact that he’s leaving CHOM.

Rumours about Marier’s impending departure have been flying about for a few weeks, but things came to a head this week when Marier was given an ultimatum, a source close to Marier said. (Marier himself isn’t talking – his only communication with me directly was to confirm the news of his departure.)

According to the source, who asked not to be named for fear of pissing off Bad Pete, Marier was told Thursday after his show to sign a contract that would have decreased his salary by more than half, otherwise he would be terminated as of Friday. Marier refused, which led to a heated verbal confrontation in Astral Media vice-president Martin Spalding’s office on Friday morning. Marier was thrown out of Astral’s Fort St. offices, and called the police to press for charges of (very minor) assault against Spalding, according to the source, who was in the office at the time.

Spalding wouldn’t get into what happened in his office, saying he didn’t want to air dirty laundry, but he did say that emotions got the better of both of them. Spalding confirmed that Astral exercised an out clause when Marier made it clear he would not accept a new contract with a reduced salary, and his last day was set at March 8, 2012. Spalding said the new salary figure, which he wouldn’t specify but said was nowhere near a 50% pay cut, was “very competitive” for an afternoon host in this market, and that even if it’s less than what he would make in mornings, it’s higher than what he made the last time he was doing the afternoon drive show.

Spalding said Marier was given five chances to accept the offer and stay at CHOM. He maintained that Marier was to be one of the three “pillars” with Terry DiMonte and Tootall, and that they wanted him to stay. “He was in our long-term plans,” Spalding said.

“No choice”

“He left us no choice,” he explained. With DiMonte set to return Jan. 9, management wanted to get its schedule finalized by then. Spalding said he and Brand Director André Lallier didn’t want to go through a big launch Jan. 9 and have to make a big change two months later when Marier left.

Spalding said the decision was made Thursday night, after one final offer, to make Friday Marier’s last day. That still gave Marier the chance to say goodbye to listeners, which he seemed to accept on Thursday. But on Friday morning, Marier changed his mind and said he wouldn’t go on air.

Marier remains on CHOM’s payroll, as per the terms of his contract, until March.

“It saddens me because I think he’s a great guy,” Spalding said. Despite their falling out, Spalding had nothing but praise for Marier’s talent and said it was unfortunate that he wouldn’t accept Astral’s offer.

The timing is probably the worst part about this. Marier’s last contract wasn’t set to expire until next September, but with DiMonte’s return so close in the new year, the decision had to be made now.

On Friday, as they have done in the past with acrimonious departures, CHOM scrubbed Marier’s name and photo from its website. The 3-7pm timeslot on the schedule now just reads “The Drive”

Listeners fight back

Marier’s Facebook wall was flooded with comments from angry listeners, one of whom has started a Facebook group to demand CHOM rescind its decision, but its chances to success are just about zero now that the decision has been made. After initially allowing non-profane comments to stay, the people managing CHOM’s Facebook page deleted all comments about Marier. That didn’t stop them, of course, and they kept posting, adding more anger and some sarcasm to their voices.

It used to be that broadcasters, newspapers and other media could control their means of communication, and simply make people or issues disappear. But with social media like Facebook, their power is limited. They could shut down the page completely to comment, but that would throw away the baby with the bathwater.

Unfortunately for Marier, this kind of thing blows over. People aren’t calling in to CBC anymore to complain about Nancy Wood, or calling in to Q92 to complain about the axing of Tasso and Suzanne. CHOM can only hope that the protest about Marier dies down enough by Jan. 9 that it doesn’t harm their promotional plans.

Pillar of CHOM

Marier, 52, has been at CHOM since 1989 (except for a stint in Winnipeg from 2002 to 2005), mainly hosting morning and afternoon programs. He stepped back into mornings with Ted Bird and Chantal Desjardins, then went back to the afternoon drive when CHOM rejigged its schedule to prepare for the return of Terry DiMonte.

At the time, Spalding agreed with myself and many others that Marier’s voice was probably more suited to afternoons than mornings. (Even though CHOM’s ratings actually went up with Marier in the morning show chair.) There was no indication at the time that Marier’s future at the station was in doubt. In fact, Spalding referred to Marier as one of the “pillars of CHOM” – a description he maintained even when discussing Marier’s departure.

Not DiMonte’s fault

There’s been speculation that Marier’s departure is related to DiMonte’s return. It’s true that the timing of that is why this decision came now, and that DiMonte’s return is why Marier moved back to afternoons (and hence was offered less pay), but neither of these things are DiMonte’s fault.

Still, many comments online are extremely negative toward DiMonte, suggesting his return is why Marier is leaving, in part because CHOM spent big bucks for DiMonte and has little left for the rest of its staff.

That’s just not true, DiMonte says.

“The notion that I had anything to do with it is complete nonsense,” DiMonte wrote to me on Saturday. “I was REALLY disappointed that he left. I’ve known Pete for years and we always got along great. He’s a great broadcaster, a Montreal favorite and part of the fabric at CHOM… and I thought with me, him and TooTall it was going to be a helluva lineup. I’m really sorry he left.”

DiMonte also denied that Astral is breaking the bank to bring him home (he denied similar rumours about the kind of money he was supposed to be making in Calgary). He said he’s getting a pay cut, not a pay increase, to come back home. “The notion that there’s nothing left for others is internet claptrap. It’s just not so.”

Spalding similarly flatly denies that other announcers are being offered less because DiMonte got more.

Though DiMonte is getting a say in his morning cohosts (no decision has been announced yet), he said he had no part in Marier’s contract negotiations and was only told about everything after the fact.

“It’s not going to be as much fun without Pete, but I’m not sure what I can do about that.”

Team Pete or Team Astral?

I don’t have access to the dollar figures involved here, so I can’t say whether CHOM’s move was justified or whether the contract was fair. A 20-plus-year veteran is obviously going to attract a lot more sympathy than a faceless corporation, but that doesn’t mean the latter has to cave to the former.

That said, if Marier’s only demand was that he get paid the same salary, it’s hard to be too outraged by it. If Marier was a “pillar” of CHOM, he should have been treated as one. Unless his salary as a morning DJ was unreasonably through the roof, would it have hurt the bottom line so terribly for it to remain at that level?

As with any negotiation, the two sides choose what they can live with. Marier believes his talent (or his dignity) is worth more than Astral offered, and if he’s right he won’t be unemployed for long. (He’s still doing freelance voice work, including a lot of radio commercials – many that are still airing on the station he left.) Astral believes it’s more profitable to let Marier go than to keep paying him a morning-show salary. If it’s right, the company will either save money by not having Marier on payroll, it will do better on ratings and revenue with the money it would have spent on him, or both.

No matter how this ended, or which side is right, it really sucks for something like this to happen two days before Christmas.

Lineup decisions coming soon

No decision has been made about the rest of the CHOM lineup, including who will replace Marier on the drive show. Spalding said Rob Kemp and Chantal Desjardins, who will get the bump from the morning show unless they become DiMonte’s sidekicks, are still part of their plans, and roles for them are being finalized. He said an announcement should be expected within the next two weeks. In any case, it’ll come before Jan. 9.

UPDATE (Dec. 26): From Marier, on Facebook:

Dear Friends, Thanks for the tremendous support and well wishes. Both are greatly appreciated. In spite of recent events (on which I cannot comment right now), my family and I had a great Christmas! I hope you all did too. Merci encore!

“Happy to sit down”?

UPDATE (Jan. 6): A Gazette story from Bill Brownstein on Terry DiMonte coming back to CHOM includes a sidebar that mentions Marier. It includes quotes suggesting reconcilation is possible:

Spalding: “If Pete called me today and if we could come to terms, we’d make it work. We would have him right back in drive. The last thing I ever wanted was to lose him. He’s an incredible talent.”

Marier: “If Astral Media is willing to negotiate a contract with me, I’d be more than happy to sit down with Martin Spalding and try to work it out.”

Lisa Player stops playing

UPDATE: Lisa Player’s last day at CJFM was Friday. You can listen to her goodbye message, delivered just before 9am, on her final blog post on Virgin Radio’s website. They’ve also posted a video of the same speech.

Lisa Player is leaving Montreal for Northern Ontario

As I sat in the conference room at Astral’s studio on Fort St., interviewing people for my article in The Gazette on the change in the morning show at Virgin Radio, the discussion turned to how unusual it is for radio personalities to stay in the same job for long. For some reason, Montreal seems to be an exception, perhaps because of its two languages or because it has a particular connection to its media.

Still, at CJFM, most of the voices are new. “Freeway” Frank Depalo, Andrea Collins and Nikki Balch have been there less than a year. “Cousin” Vinny Barrucco and Tony Stark not much longer than that. Mark Bergman has been around for a while, but he’s behind the scenes now.

So when Lisa Player leaves her post as the morning show co-host at Virgin Radio (she and Kelly Alexander are the only hosts to predate the name – unless you include MC Mario), her seven-year tenure is remembered as being exceptionally long (she says it’s the longest she’s ever had a job in radio) and relatively short by the standards of people like Aaron Rand, Terry DiMonte, Tootall and Andrew Carter.

A look at this video posted less than two years ago, and you see that of the nine personalities, listed, only two (plus Player) are still on the air here.

Continue reading

Natasha Gargiulo joins Virgin Radio morning show

"Freeway" Frank Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo form the new CJFM morning team

After just under a week of anticipation, Virgin Radio (CJFM 95.9FM) announced Thursday morning at 7:10am that Natasha Gargiulo is going to be the new morning co-host in the new year, taking the place of the departing Lisa Player. Starting Jan. 3, she will co-host Freeway and Natasha in the Morning with “Freeway” Frank Depalo.

You can listen to audio of the announcement and a chat with Gargiulo here (MP3).

Virgin Brand Director Mark Bergman graciously allowed me to break the news a few hours early so it could be in Thursday morning’s Gazette. It was, surprisingly enough, the first time I had been inside the Virgin studio with its giant branding star (and a giant CHOM logo in the hallway visible through a window), and I got a chance to talk to Gargiulo, Depalo, Player and Bergman about this big change.

Meet Natasha

First, an introduction to the new girl. She’s definitely not new to the station. She started at what was then Mix 96 way back in 2000, and was so desperate to get into the industry she worked for free.

“I gave up a really good job in university to do telemarketing at night and work for free (in the Mix promotions department). My parents thought I was crazy,” Gargiulo told me during our chat in a conference room in Astral’s Fort St. offices.

She continued working at CJFM until she was hired at Global Quebec in 2003. (“I always wanted to be on television,” she says.) From there she worked as a weather presenter and an entertainment reporter for Global’s local newscast. She also got other gigs, including working for Entertainment Tonight Canada, hosting Ciao Montreal on ethnic station CJNT (back when it and Global were both owned by Canwest), and a few other television gigs.

About a year and a half ago she came back to CJFM as a contributor to the afternoon drive show with “Cousin” Vinny Barrucco. Since then her role has expanded to de facto co-host of that show. She also filled in on the morning show this summer while Lisa was on vacation. Those two facts had led some people to correctly speculate that she’d be a strong candidate for the job.

As for the afternoon show, Bergman says Barrucco will continue it solo for the time being. There are no immediate plans to give him another co-host.

In addition to all her other activities, Gargiulo is also a mother. You can see a video done for ET Canada of her and Leticia, now 15 months, at a photo shoot earlier this year.

Many jobs

Here’s the part where I question this young lady’s sanity. In addition to a radio gig that requires being at work at 5am five days a week, and the hectic, inflexible schedule that comes with being a mother, Gargiulo says she will continue working for ET Canada.

“I figured I can’t put all my eggs in one basket,” Gargiulo said of having so many things going on at once. “If Ryan Seacrest can do it, why can’t I?”

Not that she’s some sort of superhero. She credits her “very supportive husband” for allowing her the flexibility to jet off on weekends to do entertainment reporting.

Besides, she says: “My motto is never say no, because you never know how long this ride is going to last.”

That’s certainly true. Though some radio personalities in Montreal seem to last forever, most don’t last a decade. Case in point is CJFM itself. It’s turned over most of its daytime staff in the past year (losing Cat Spencer, Heather Backman and Nat Lauzon) and just about everyone since the station became Virgin Radio in 2009.

Target demo

Not that Gargiulo’s stint should be considered temporary. Bergman, at least, is happy with her appointment.

“I think Natasha is a young Montreal working mom who lives everything that the Virgin Radio brand represents: fun, entertainment, she’s into social media, pop culture. I think she’s a great reflection of the typical virgin radio listener.”

If that sounds a bit like a radio program director, it’s because that’s what it is. Bergman is up front about the fact that this is about targetting a key demographic, which is like Gargiulo: Young mothers, people who enjoy hit music and have the spending power to please advertisers.

No big changes

Asked what, other than the personality, would be changing with the new so, everyone involved agreed that there wasn’t going to be any drastic changes. But the team is constantly discussing new ideas and could put some of them into force slowly in the new year. But even then, don’t expect fundamental changes. They’re still the number-one music radio station, and they don’t need to reinvent themselves to improve.

“We wanted four words people would think of about the show,” Bergman said about the more philosophical thoughts. The words they came up with are fun, real, local and entertaining.

“If we can accomplish those four goals, we’ll be happy,” Bergman said.

“The show is always evolving,” said Depalo. “I’ve only been here seven months, so this is not it.”

Natasha Gargiulo starts Jan. 3. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatashaGargiulo.

UPDATE: Lots of congrats for Gargiulo on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to read the announcement in press release form, Astral Media has posted it to their website.

See also: Lisa Player stops playing

You failed my subscription challenge

I'm very disappointed in all of you

So a week ago, I asked you to participate in a fundraising event in which I spared you from the guilt trip of asking you for money. Instead, I promised to give away my own money in proportion to how much you helped to inflate my ego by subscribing to my RSS feed or following my Twitter account.

Kind of like those emails that say Bill Gates will donate money if you forward them. Only this one was real.

I gave you a week, so that news of my good deed would spread far and wide and everyone would have a chance to let themselves be counted.

One week later, here are the results: The number of Twitter followers has gone from 3,816 to 3,854, an increase of 38. Subscribers to my RSS feed haven’t changed, and could possibly have even declined.

So my grand total to be given to charity, under the generous formula I set, would have been $38. Enough for a family of four to … have dinner at a McDonald’s.

Seriously? I can’t get you lazy bums to do something as effortless as hit “follow” or “subscribe” even if I’m paying for you to do it? At that rate, I’d wonder if you’d even remember to breathe if there wasn’t an unconscious brain function that forces your lungs to expand and contract. What do I have to do, deliver a pizza? Show you porn?

Look, I know, lots of people already follow me, and not everyone has more than 3,000 Twitter followers. Well, I’m not everyone. My extended family (which includes a lot of those aunts whose sole purpose in life is to initiate awkward converstaion) thinks I’m some sort of Internet superstar, and my attempts to dissuade them of that notion are interpreted as false modesty, which only makes it worse. Put simply: I have a reputation to build, and such a piss-poor participation rate in a yearly charity exercise is embarrassing. Like a reader poll that only gets two responses.

And if those great aunts stop believing in the legend of Fagstein, they’ll move on to even more uncomfortable questions, like wondering why I’m not married and don’t have kids yet.

So you know what? Screw it. Screw the whole formula. Screw the “subscription challenge” and counting Twitter followers like some narcissistic douche.

The Gazette Christmas Fund is getting a cool $1,000 from me this holiday season, which will be used to write eight cheques for $125 each to families in need. And I’m not going to put something like “on behalf of Fagstein readers” as the name that goes on that list of donors, because you had nothing to do with it. If you couldn’t care enough about these families to even get off your ass and setup a few hundred fake Twitter accounts to follow me with, then you don’t deserve to be associated with this donation in any way.

You want to make Christmas brighter for someone, you’re going to have to do it with your own money this time.

That is, except for the 38 new Twitter subscribers. To you, I thank you from the bottom of my ever-expanding credit card balance.

To the rest of you, you can all go to hell.

Merry Christmas.

Radio ratings: A good fall for Cogeco and CKGM

Overall market share for anglophone Montreal (note that this includes only BBM members)

Ah, ratings. That time of the every-few-months where people who own radio stations gloat about their rising numbers, and if they don’t have rising numbers they selectively comb through demographics and time periods until they find something to gloat about, and if they don’t find anything there either they just bullshit their way through a press release.

Normally I don’t pay much attention to them, because the changes are so insignificant. But with some major programming changes this fall, and some corresponding jumps and plummets in audience, it’s worth taking a closer look this time.

Here are some more objective highlights from the ratings numbers from what I’ve been able to find. The top-line numbers from BBM Canada are here (PDF, first page is English audience, second page French audience). You can compare that to the spring report or last year for the same period.

Astral Media also does a presentation (PDF) that looks into the numbers overall for key demographics, and for important time periods for adults 25-54, which advertisers apparently covet.

CJAD 800AM (Astral)

Programming changes: Aaron Rand show added to evenings, moving Ric Peterson to early afternoons and Kim Fraser to weekends. Barry Morgan does 7-10pm weekdays, replacing Dan Delmar. Loss of Canadiens games to CKGM.

Overall (adults 2+, seven days a week), CJAD is still the highest-rated station in the Montreal English market. It has a 24% market share, within 0.2 percentage points of this spring and last fall. But it’s losing audience in key demographics, especially young adults. In the 18-34 demo, it’s down from 17% this spring to 11%. Though losing rights to Canadiens games is undoubtedly part of that, it’s not the whole story.

If CJAD thought Aaron Rand would give a ratings boost for its evening drive, that hasn’t happened. Its audience for 4-7pm weekdays is stagnant, and it has dropped to fifth place, behind Mitch Melnick on CKGM, for 25-54.

CKGM 990AM (TSN Radio 990, Bell Media)

Programming changes: Rebranding. Acquisition of Canadiens games. Denis Casavant leaves morning show.

The biggest change to CKGM is the addition of Canadiens games, which is giving a significant boost to the evening audience, making it No. 1 on game nights. “Canadiens games are registering an impressive 28.2 share among males 25-54,” Bell Media’s Greg McIsaac tells me. Previously, the station was fifth place with a 3.7 share during that time period. Now, overall, it’s 19.8, ahead of Virgin Radio, station manager Wayne Bews tells Mike Cohen.

But the station is seeing ratings gains everywhere. Overall, CKGM is reaching more listeners, 131,000 a week compared to 93,000 in the spring. Its market share overall has gone up from 2.7 to 4.

Mitch Melnick’s afternoon show has the most impressive gains, going from 3,490 to 4,540 listeners during an average minute, representing a 30% increase in audience. It was enough to push CKGM past CJAD for this time period among adults 25-54, particularly impressive since he’s now up against Aaron Rand.

For me, the big question out of this is: Was getting Canadiens games worth it? Obviously they won’t get into details about their business plans, but the mood seems to be pretty positive.

Bell Media also wouldn’t comment on whether the station is still losing 30% of its audience after dark, as it complained to the CRTC during hearings that eventually granted it the right to move to the clear channel of 690 kHz. But critics might argue it’s hard to get a 28% share if you’re having significant reception problems.

There was also speculation that the station might be picking up francophone listeners after the closure of CKAC Sports. Though there has been a “moderate increase”, Bell Media’s McIsaac says, the overall numbers among francophones have remained unchanged since the spring. Overall, CKGM has a market share of 0.0 among francophone listeners.

If anything, the more likely scenario is that anglophone listeners who tuned into CKAC are coming back to CKGM. The French all-sports station had a 0.5% share among anglophone listeners. Stands to reason many of them would prefer hearing sports-related news and commentary during the day.

CKBE 92.5FM (ex-CFQR, The Beat, Cogeco)

Programming changes: Complete station rebranding. Cat Spencer replaces Aaron Rand on morning show, Ken Connors moves to weekend mornings, Nat Lauzon does weekend afternoons (starting Oct. 15).

They called it a brand new radio station. They wanted to shed all remaining remnants of the old Q92. But despite all the changes, it has still inherited the old Q ratings. The station has a 16% market share overall, which is actually down slightly from last year.

But program director general manager Mark Dickie still has a happy face. (Well, I assume he does. He seemed content when I chatted with him over the phone.) That’s mostly because CKBE has made the strategic decision as part of the Beat rebranding to target the 35-44 female demographic that competitor CJFM seems to have abandoned, and it’s seeing corresponding gains there, and Dickie says they’ve managed to do that while continuing to grow its 45-54 female demo. Overall, from 9am to 4pm, it has a 30% market share for women 35-54.

“It’s pretty well what we were hoping for in the first book,” he said. Among his cherry-picked highlights, the breakfast show with Cat Spencer and Sarah Bartok has surpassed CJFM among the key demo and has gone from fourth to second (behind CJAD) among adults 35-54. (Expanding to adults 25-54, it’s still third, but gaining on second-place CJAD.)

Besides the new morning show, the Beat has also focused on weekends, moving Ken Connors to a beefed-up weekend morning show and bringing star Nat Lauzon in for weekend afternoons.

Lauzon’s numbers are good, even though she’s been on for only half the ratings period. Her numbers are up 6% on Saturdays and 7% Sundays compared to the spring. Among adults 35-54, afternoons are up 12% on Saturdays and 15% on Sundays.

But it’s Connors who is making the biggest impact, with double-digit growth on weekend mornings. Among women 35-54, the station’s audience has grown 37% on Saturdays and 53% on Sundays on weekend mornings.

“It’s definitely paying off,” Dickie says of the decision to focus on weekends, and of the Beat rebranding in general.

Of course, a lot of that is the promotional blitz that comes with a station rebranding. We’ll have to give it another ratings period to see if this audience is sticking around.

CJFM 95.9FM (Virgin Radio, Astral)

Programming changes: Freeway Frank replaces Cat Spencer on morning show, Nat Lauzon leaves midday show for CKBE.

Virgin is still the market leader among adults 18-54. The only big demo it’s lost control over is men 25-54, where CHOM has snuck into first place. The morning show, which took on Freeway Frank Depalo this year and is about to lose Lisa Player, has kept its audience. Its audience during midday, which has lost veteran Nat Lauzon, hasn’t seen a significant change among adults 25-54.

Virgin’s on-air lineup is young, and midday hosts Andrea Collins and Nikki Balch are new to the station over the past year. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose. “As the leader our plan was not to react,” Brand Director Mark Bergman tells Cohen.

CHOM 97.7FM (Astral)

Programming changes: Pete Marier moved to afternoon drive, Rob Kemp to morning show, Tootall to middays and Sharon Hyland to weekends.

Even though CHOM is in a period of transition as it awaits the return of Terry DiMonte on Jan. 9, this has actually been a pretty good ratings period for the station. It’s up just about everywhere, except among women and during the drive-time show, where it’s stagnant. It’s now first overall among men 25-54, overtaking sister station CJFM. Even the morning show has picked up listeners, though it still sits fourth among English-language stations overall.

CBC Radio

Overall, Radio One’s market share is still 8% among anglos, which hasn’t changed over the past year. For Radio Two, there’s been a slight drop in overall audience, going from a 3.1% to 2.6% market share.

CHMP 98.5FM (Cogeco)

Programming changes: Incorporation of sports programming in evenings after closing of CKAC Sports.

Cogeco Nouvelles, in a totally unbiased press release masquerading as news, declared 98.5 the most listened-to station in Canada. I’m too lazy to confirm that, but they’re not making up their significant market gains.

Overall, the station has jumped from a market share of 12% last fall to 20% this fall. That’s incredible. It’s gained throughout the day weekdays (it’s stagnant on weekends, when it plays music). The morning show, hosted by Paul Arcand, has gone from 33,000 to 45,000 average listeners a minute since last spring, a 37% increase. It’s a 47% increase if you count from last fall.

In the noon and early afternoon periods, CHMP has rocketed past three other stations, CITE, CKMF and CKOI, to jump from fifth place to second among adults 25-54.

Demographically, the spike is most pronounced among men 25-54, where it was once in a three-way tie for first place with NRJ and Rythme FM, but is now way ahead (28% to 20%). But it’s also ahead among women and young adults.

Unsurprisingly, the station has seen an increase in ratings during the evening, where it has replaced repeats of the day’s talk shows with sports talk and Canadiens broadcasts. “Its new sports programming has proven a contributing factor to the station’s growing success,” says Cogeco. But that’s not the whole story. Simple math shows that adding all of CKAC’s former audience to CHMP only accounts for about half its increase in market share. Something else is causing more people to listen to the station and/or for longer.

CKAC 730AM (Radio Circulation, Cogeco)

Programming changes: Complete station rebranding, replacing sports and sports talk with 24/7 traffic information.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that since its switch Sept. 6 from sports talk to traffic, CKAC has plummeted in the ratings. But that was expected. Last fall, it had a 4.1% market share. This fall, it’s 0.5%.

Where CKAC’s morning show had an average minute audience of about 9,000, Radio Circulation is only 1,290. Similar drops happen across the schedule and across demographics.

Still, CKAC reaches more than 1 million listeners a week (counted as those who listen at least a minute in a week).

In its application to the CRTC this spring to put a French-language traffic station on 690AM, Cogeco estimated a French-language traffic information service as having a market share of 0.8%, with a total 265,200 weekly listening hours. That number, they said, would double as of the third year. As it turns out, they’re behind that estimate a bit (even though there’s one fewer station to compete with).

Fortunately for Cogeco, its agreement with Transport Quebec doesn’t set any minimums concerning market share or total audience.

Other French-language stations

There haven’t been much changes to the music stations on the French side, certainly not much of interest to anglos.

Among young adults (18-34), Astral’s CKMF (NRJ) has overtaken Cogeco’s CKOI for first place, going up six points with a corresponding drop of six points for CKOI.

CKOI’s overall market share has dropped from 9.8 last year to 6.6 this fall, a significant drop. Why Cogeco would say it’s proud of the station’s performance is beyond me.

Quebec City

In brief:

  • CFEL (CKOI), recently sold by Cogeco to the Leclerc family on orders from the CRTC, has slid significantly in market share among adults 18-34. It’s now 16%, compared to 24% last fall, dropping it from first to third in the market.
  • There’s a corresponding spike for Astral’s CITF (Rouge FM) in that same demographic. It has gone from 5% to 11% market share over the same period.
  • CHOI (Radio X) is losing a lot of audience during weekday midday, and Rouge FM has a corresponding spike in audience for that period.

Fagstein’s Fourth Annual Subscription Challenge

I'm giving away some of these (the money, not the condoms)

To celebrate yet another year of employment, I’m giving away some of my money again.

And as in previous years, your participation does not involve you spending any money, just helping to inflate my ego a little bit.

In the past I’ve given to Dans la Rue, the Welcome Hall Mission and the Old Brewery Mission. Now all of them are annoying me regularly with letters in the mail, which I find annoying not because they’re charities asking for money but because they’re wasting so much on printing and postage. It just seems weird that there’s someone who has gone through the calculation and determined that this money needs to be spent to get people to donate.

This year, I was told by my boss that I’ve reached the five-year rate of pay at work. Under the current collective agreement, that’s the maximum rate, even though I’m still a part-time temporary employee whose future there isn’t at all set in stone.

While I could use some more job security  … and my own weekly column too, while you’re at it, imagination … my bank account can attest to how much I’ve benefitted from these people paying me to do something I enjoy so much, so I’m giving back by sending my big donation to the Gazette Christmas Fund. Or The Gazette Christmas Fund. I’m still debating whether the “T” should be capitalized.

Anyway, here’s how it works: I’m going to give $1 of my own money for every new (legitimate) follower to my Twitter feed between now and one week from today (Dec. 21), and $2 for every new subscriber to my RSS feed. The former is currently 3,816 and the latter is 1,196 (though I don’t know how reliable that Feedburner count is). And to save myself going bankrupt in case this goes super-viral, there’s a combined limit of $2,000, which I can totally waive if I feel like it, because I set the rules, man.

So go forth and sing my praises, and together we can give away a bunch of my money and make me cool at the same time.

And if you insist on donating your own money, go ahead. I’m not going to stop you.

Traffic wars in Kirkland

I always laugh when I hear about people in suburbs complaining about traffic. It seems everyone wants giant highways heading into downtown, but they don’t want anyone but them using their streets.

In Kirkland, there’s a street called Henri-Daoust St., that acts as a shortcut between Antoine-Faucon St. and Brunswick Blvd., a bit west of St. Charles Blvd. It’s a simple two-lane street that serves as a small artery for the area, and is used by the STM’s 201 and 261 buses. But it was also used by a lot of people in western Pierrefonds to get around traffic on St. Charles.

Because western Pierrefonds is an area that is continuing to expand with new developments, the problem is only getting worse.

So residents on that street demanded traffic-calming measures, preventing cars from using it as a shortcut, at least during rush hour.

Complicating matters is that one end of the street is in Pierrefonds, a borough of the city of Montreal, while most of it is in Kirkland, an independent city. Pierrefonds had no interest in preventing its residents from using the street, and Kirkland could not legally block people.

Finally Kirkland decided to prohibit cars from turning left from Henri-Daoust onto Brunswick during the morning rush hour (and the reverse during the afternoon rush). Once drivers were aware of this restriction, they would stop using the street.

And, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. More than 1,000 drivers stopped using the street as a shortcut, according to the city.

But residents still weren’t happy, and they went door-to-door trying to convince people to push the city for more action.

The city reacted alright, by telling residents they were removing the signs prohibiting left turns, effective Dec. 15. Residents say it’s “revenge”. The administration is being called “bullies”.

I don’t know whether this move is badass, or just being a total dick. It certainly seems a bit of a juvenile way to get one’s point across, if that’s the goal.

But the pamphlet being passed around by residents (PDF) clearly states that they don’t like the no-left-turns sign, that it wasn’t their idea but was only reluctantly accepted.

The truth is there is no way to make everyone happy. There are things to be done to calm traffic to make neighbourhoods more livable, but people who live in the suburbs have to come to realize that their way of life isn’t sustainable. Other people also want to live in the suburbs, and they will want to use your street.

And not every street can be a cul-de-sac.

Dropping dead isn’t such a bad thing

Warning: Deep thoughts below.

My great-grandmother died yesterday. She was 104.

It wasn’t a surprise. She had been in a coma in the days leading up to her death, and it was just a question of timing. As it turns out, it happened just before my mother was scheduled to come in and do her shift by the hospital bed.

It’s sad, but it’s being met with a feeling of acceptance, and it got me thinking about death, and about the downside of being near-immortal.

I was watching an episode of The Simpsons, recorded on my PVR, when my mother called to give me the news. The episode was one of those this-is-what-the-future-is-like ones, and made jokes about the various technological ways some characters used to extend their lifespans. Just before that I was watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which has also explored the idea of how immortality isn’t the best thing in the world.

Up until very recently, Jeanne Clément (née Béïque) was remarkably healthy for a woman her age. Even in a society where life spans are increasing, the average state of health at 100 is dead. But it wasn’t just that she was alive. It was only a few years ago that she moved out of her home in Châteauguay and (reluctantly) into a nearby nursing home. Well into her 90s she was living alone and independently, doing her daily chores and occasionally getting help from one of her kids.

This story, written two years ago for the local paper, describes her dancing. At 102. I don’t doubt it. By then she had a walker, but she was still quite agile, considering.

Obituary in The Gazette

Her first name was Jeanne, but I can’t think of anyone who would have called her that recently. To the people in her home it would have been “Mme. Clément”, and to everyone else, she was “Mom”, only think of that word spoken with a moderate Québécois accent.

I’d like to say I knew her well, but I didn’t. By the time I was old enough that going to grandma’s house meant something other than finding toys to keep us occupied while the grown-ups talked about boring things, her ability to sit through long social events was waning.

She had 10 children, though by the time I came around it seemed like dozens. Those kids were married, many had kids of their own, and in some cases grandchildren. Even a simple gathering limited only to her descendants and their spouses became a big affair. The photo above was taken at one of those in 2008. The family is so large at this point that while I recognize just about everyone, I can barely remember where people are placed on the family tree.

I saw her once, with my mother, shortly after she moved into her retirement home. We looked at some old photos, and I remember being impressed with how intact her memory was, describing things that happened in a past three times my lifespan. It was like someone from that era had walked through a time machine. In hindsight, I wish there had been more experiences like that, and maybe fewer where I was playing with toys in the basement and counting the seconds until we left for home.

She might have lived to 110 or 120 had it not been for a stroke less than two weeks ago, that left her in that coma. Given her age and the brain damage caused, it made sense to simply let her life slip away and keep her as comfortable as possible.

I don’t have strong feelings either way on the issue of euthanasia or assisted suicide. I think people should be given the power to end their suffering if there’s no hope of recovery. But I also think that opening the door to making such life-or-death decisions could lead to abuse, or to people making these decisions for the wrong reasons.

In this case, at least, the wishes of the patient weren’t really an issue.

“I’d like to drop dead, you know,” she said in an interview conducted a few years ago, back when she was still living at home and in complete control of her faculties. My mother laughed when she heard that statement, entirely deadpan. It wasn’t that this old woman wanted to see herself die, merely that she’d rather a quick death than a long, painful or depressing one. It’s a sentiment my mother shares.

There were also psychological reasons, as much as physical, for not wanting to do on. As fun as it might seem to live to such an old age, my great-grandmother lived to see all her peers die. Her husband, her friends, even one of her children (the latter slowly, from cancer). It’s a depressing thought. When you reach that age, and realize that almost your entire life is behind you, and that you’ve already accomplished almost all of what you’re going to do in your life, there’s the temptation to wonder whether there’s any reason to go on, no matter how healthy you are.

I don’t want to paint the picture of a depressed old woman just waiting to die. She had a long life and raised some great children (with some pretty fantastic senses of humour, at the very least), and I remember her as someone who was caring and well loved. It’s unfortunate I didn’t know her during the decades of her life lived before I was born.

Her funeral will be some time next week. Hopefully, from her children who are now grandparents (and some even great-grandparents of their own) I’ll hear some stories of that part of her life I never knew. And I won’t be tempted to pull that electronic toy out of my pocket to pass the time.

As for my own life, I honestly don’t know. I’d hate to be in a position of facing a slow and agonizing death, and if there was no hope of recovery I’d probably want my family to pull the plug. But it scares the heck out of me to think of being in that position. I have no desire to die. I could see myself living even if it meant nothing more than filling crosswords or watching TV all day. But that assumes my brain still functions and I am not in constant pain.

Hopefully I won’t have to make any tough decisions about my own life for another 80 years. And by then, maybe everyone will be immortal.

If not, I fully expect a statue will be erected in my honour.