Update (March 14, 2013): The application has been denied.
If owner RNC Media gets its way with the CRTC, Montreal could soon be getting its own "radio poubelle" station by next fall.
CKLX-FM 91.9 has applied to the CRTC for permission to change its format from jazz to talk radio, citing its poor financial situation and the lack of francophone talk radio options in Montreal.
Planète Jazz, which launched Dec. 14, 2004, is the last commercial jazz radio station in Canada, its owner says, after similar formats in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton and Winnipeg abandoned it for other more popular formats. Though it won't release full details to the public, RNC says CKLX has revenues "well below" $1 million a year, about 18% of what was forecast in the station's business plan.
It has come to the conclusion that the format does not work, and it must either change formats or consider shutting down the station.
Though it's not stated explicitly in the application, it's hinted that the new format would be similar to that of CHOI-FM in Quebec City, a station also owned by RNC Media that has controversial opinionators who talk more than they think (people like Stéphane Dupont). It's been dubbed "radio poubelle" and compared to right-wing talk-radio stations in the United States, but it's popular, with more than 200,000 listeners.
RNC Media also owns the similarly-styled CKYK-FM in the Saguenay region, as well as music stations Capitale Rock in Gatineau, Planète-branded stations and other Radio X and Radio X2 stations across Quebec.*
CHOI is so controversial, in fact, that the CRTC ordered it be shut down because of its comments. Only the sale of the station from Genex Communications to RNC Media (and the issuing of a new license) saved it from going dark.
RNC conducted a survey of Montreal listeners to gauge their interest in a new station "that would have a style that discusses subjects in the news, that asks real questions and isn't afraid of its opinions". Based on that, it predicts a new talk-radio station would have a 10% market share, and 20% among the key demographic of men 25-49. It also sees its revenues going from $2.6 million in the first year to $8.2 million in the seventh year of its license, far above what they could have hoped for Planète Jazz.
The market for French-language talk radio has been open for opportunity, particularly since CKAC turned into all-traffic last September. Other than Radio-Canada and community/campus stations, the only talk radio station is CHMP 98.5, which has shot to the top of the ratings. It also has to do double-duty as a sports station in the evenings.
The application, survey and other documents curiously make no mention of the license for a talk-radio station recently given to the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy media group. That station is also expected to launch next fall. It's unclear if they're unaware of the license or if they're just ignoring it in their projections.
RNC Media President Raynald Brière declined to comment on the application, saying "le dossier n'est pas complet."
The application, which would see the license changed from requiring 75% jazz to requiring 50% talk, is a Part 1 application, which means the CRTC has not called a hearing to discuss it, and if there's no significant opposition it could be approved without the owners having to appear in front of the commission.
The deadline for interventions is 8pm on Feb. 13. You can file an intervention or comment here, by clicking "submit" next to the item about RNC Media.
*UPDATE: This move is strangely the opposite of one being done in Abitibi, where RNC Media is abandoning the Radio X format in favour of Capitale Rock, replacing talk radio with music. (Thanks Psychodork for pointing this out.)
UPDATE (Jan. 20): The Journal de Québec reports about this move, getting the manager of its Quebec City stations to comment. The company wants to export the CHOI format to Montreal, but adapting to the market. Less talk of bringing back the Nordiques, more talk about traffic. (Is this really what separates Montreal from Quebec City?) The paper also talks to André Arthur, who thinks they should put Stéphane Dupont (the guy who told Haiti "fuck you" after the earthquake) in Montreal.
There was also a discussion on Tuesday on CHOI itself about the application, with an interview with Patrice Demers. They even discuss potential hosts, saying Patrick Lagacé is unlikely and Jeff Fillion is very doubtful, but nothing is set in stone.
The proposal also was discussed on Radio-Canada's Les Lionnes, which prompted not one but two discussions on CHOI. You can imagine how Radio Poubelle and a public broadcaster TV show hosted by three women think about each other.
La Presse covers this in the form of a column from Marc Cassivi. There are also blog posts at Voir from Sportnographe's Olivier Niquet and journalist Fabien Loszach. Each of these got criticized on CHOI, which blasted Cassivi for being uninformed about what can be heard on CHOI, and said Voir's complaints that CHOI's programming is sexist, racist or homophobic are simply false.
Stéphane Gendron reacted to the news on Radio X, in which he said he would be interested in an on-air position at the station, because he's more of a radio guy than a TV personality.
Quebec's FM93 wants to go mostly-talk
Coincidentally, the application from RNC Media comes about the same time as one from Cogeco Diffusion to change the license of CJMF-FM (FM 93.3) in Quebec City to allow for more talk. Currently the station offers a hybrid format of talk and music, but its survey numbers show more than 60% of its listeners tune in only for talk programming.
The new schedule would see talk programming in the mornings and evenings on weekends (noon to 4pm would remain music) and weekday evenings. Weekday mornings and afternoons are already all-talk.
As an added bonus to Quebec City listeners, the change would mean the station broadcasts all Montreal Canadiens games. Currently it offers only a selection. This will be welcome news to Canadiens fans in the region who may have been able to tune in to the bleu-blanc-rouge on AM station CKAC but have no hope of listening to 98.5.
The deadline for interventions or comments in the CJMF-FM application is Feb. 6. It is also a Part 1 application and can be seen on this page.