UPDATED Jan. 21 with comments from new CTV Montreal GM Louis Douville.
While viewers concern themselves with a high-profile change behind the anchor desk, there's another, perhaps more important, staffing change happening behind the scenes at CFCF.
Don Bastien, who as you can see from the photo above has been general manager of CFCF/CTV Montreal since 2001, is retiring. Today, coincidentally the 51st anniversary of the station, is his last day.
Louis Douville, the general manager at CJOH (CTV Ottawa), takes over starting Monday.
Bastien described his retirement to me as having "a touch of sadness" because of all the people he would be leaving. He's been with CTV and related company Baton Broadcasting since 1972.
"That's probably the most difficult part, when you've been interacting with them on a daily/weekly basis for all this period and all of a sudden that's going to come to an end."
Bastien's planning to take it easy for a while, taking some time to catch up with life and family. They're going to a ski trip in France next week, and he jokes that he might be playing golf "a little more than I did". Beyond that, he plans to keep up with various philanthropic activities, and he's been appointed to the board of St. Elias Mines of B.C., and he'll be looking for other opportunities to keep active. But he says the days of a Monday-to-Friday 9-to-5 job are over.
The decade under Bastien was transformative for CFCF, in good ways and bad. When he was appointed to the position in 2001 after being CTV's national sales director based in Montreal, the station had just been bought by CTV from WIC when WIC was bought by Canwest Global. CTV imposed a common brand for all its television stations, and the "CFCF-12" and "Pulse News" brands that had existed for decades were eliminated. A few years later, even the call letters were gone and everything became "CTV". Many viewers still resent this stripping of the station's identity.
A few years before the acquisition, the station cut just about all programming except for the newscast. What little additional programming remained would eventually be cancelled as well. The telethon, the morning newscast, Entertainment Spotlight and Sportsnight 360 all disappeared under Bastien's watch. Some elements of the latter two have been incorporated into the weekend newscasts, but to a large extent CFCF is just a CTV rebroadcaster with a local newscast.
It's a popular newscast though, with ratings that continue to obliterate the competition, and a high percentage of local news content. Bastien said maintaining this dominance, particularly in the face of increasing pressure from specialty channels, will be a challenge for his successor.
More recently, there has been significant technological change at the station. It began transmitting in high definition, later swapping out its analog transmitter and 50-year-old antenna on Mount Royal. Just last September it moved into its new studio, a million-dollar investment as it prepares to upgrade its newscast to high definition.
But when asked what his biggest challenge was in his decade here, Bastien points to the 2003 move from 405 Ogilvy Ave., where CFCF had been based since just after its launch in 1961, to 1205 Papineau Ave. in what has become the city's broadcasting neighbourhood.
"The relocation project was a huge undertaking," Bastien said. "Not necessarily from a technical point of view. But it was an opportunity for us to upgrade technology. When we went from tape-to-tape editing to linear editing. The real challenge in the relocation project was not moving from one building to the next. We were not moving technology, we were moving people, who had worked in a single building all of their career. We were changing areas of the city. That was huge, working with entirely different facilities."
The move meant CFCF's master control was moved to Toronto. Though the newscast itself is controlled from their building, advertisements and network programming are handled way down the 401.
The technological change is still ongoing. CTV is moving ahead with upgrades to equipment to prepare for the newscast moving to high definition. This will require new studio and field cameras (scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks) and new editing equipment and servers, which represents a substantial investment. Bastien said it will be dependent on how CTV authorizes capital expenditures. No date has been set, but Bastien said he expects it to happen either this year or next. Hopefully the recent upgrades of both CBMT and CKMI's newscasts to high definition (or at least partly HD) will put more pressure on CTV to follow suit.
Asked what advice Bastien had for his successor, Bastien said Douville will need to "maintain our connectivity to our viewers, to our market, to our community."
It's a connection Montreal anglophone television viewers take very seriously.
Douville comes back home
"It's always been a dream to come back home," says Douville, who takes over as CFCF's general manager starting Monday. At that point, he said during a phone interview on Friday, he will be introduced to the staff and learn about things like where the photocopiers are. "Monday is mostly going to be about passing the torch," he said.
But the training should be short. Douville has a lot of experience as general manager of a CTV station and said he's very familiar with CTV Montreal.
Douville grew up in Montreal, attended Concordia University, and his family lives here. But his 30-year career took him to Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Ottawa before coming back home.
Douville described CFCF as the "crown jewel" of CTV, mainly because it's the only station covering all of Quebec, while much smaller regions have multiple CTV stations.
"I'm fortunate that I'm taking over a station in good shape," Douville said. With the station's ratings dominance, "there are no pressing issues" and he reassures that "I'm not coming in to make many changes."
Douville recognizes that the conversion to high definition is a priority. "It's a situation we face in all our CTV stations" outside of Toronto, he said.
But he also said that it's the content, not the resolution, that matters most. The market share is holding even though the newscast is still standard-definition, he said, and "those numbers speak for themselves." Douville also said the technical quality is still very high (the lighting, the set design, etc.) and if it wasn't for the 4:3 aspect ratio people probably wouldn't notice it wasn't HD.