Monthly Archives: May 2012

Blue Monday at The Gazette

It’s annoying when big news happens on your day off.

There was an email to all staff shortly before 3pm calling for a meeting about something “important”. I was at home, enjoying my first day off in a while,  so I couldn’t come in to attend.

I got most of the news first on Twitter, particularly Steve Ladurantaye of the Globe and Mail. Postmedia is engaging in another round of deep job cuts, which include “more than 20” at The Gazette.

Eventually, we got the memos from the president of Postmedia and the publisher of The Gazette, the contents of which are being widely reported (see links below). But a lot is still unclear.

The job cuts are being described as “layoffs”, though it’s too early to say that. Voluntary buyouts will be offered, and if enough people take them, layoffs won’t be necessary. Despite all the rounds of job cuts at the paper in the seven years I’ve been there, no permanent union jobs in the newsroom have been forcibly cut.

People have asked me if I’m on the “list” of people being laid off, and the truth is no such list exists yet, and whether this ends up with me eventually losing my job is something I just don’t know. If it comes to layoffs, I’m No. 105 on a newsroom union seniority list of 107 (which also includes photographers, columnists, reporters, designers, clerks and other newsroom employees), so my chances of being bumped out of a job is high higher. Looking at that list, 63 of the 107 have more than 20 years of seniority (which is adjusted for part-time workers and those who take leaves of absence). Only seven (including myself) have an adjusted seniority of less than five years. It’s a simple reality of work in a union environment where hiring has been rare recently because of the industry’s struggles.

More details will come out as the decisions from higher up trickle down to the department level, and later when we know who is taking buyouts. But whether it results in layoffs or not, the result will be a blow to the paper. National and world news stories, which are no longer being edited in Montreal, may not even be selected by local editors, though that’s still unclear. The amount of space devoted to editorial content (stories and pictures in all sections) will be reduced 35% (though I’m told this is just during weekdays). Virtually all More editing for print will be done by editors at Postmedia Editorial Services in Hamilton, Ont.

I’m not in a position to criticize the decisions of upper management at Postmedia, who have to deal with a substantial debt load and declining revenues. There are plenty of pundits not employed by this company who can do that. But whether or not it’s the right decision, it’s still sad. It’s a blow to seasoned workers who may feel more pressure to retire early or face a newsroom with declining morale. It’s a blow to young workers like myself. And it’s a blow to people looking for jobs (people like Adam Kovac), who have just seen their slim prospects here get even slimmer.

Coverage

UPDATE: I’ve clarified a few items above where I made statements about things that will happen that I’m told are still not clear. Don’t put too much emphasis on the details, which still have to be worked out. We know there will be more centralization and fewer local jobs, but how that will play out exactly still has to be determined.

Cousin Vinny joins The Beat

"Cousin Vinny" aka Vincent Barrucco

Cat Spencer, Nat Lauzon and now Vinny Barrucco. “Cousin Vinny” has become the latest personality to jump from Virgin Radio to competitor The Beat, even though the latter is less than a year old.

Barrucco left CJFM suddenly at the end of February, and was purposefully vague about why, saying he had “a new opportunity” coming up. This was apparently because of a non-compete obligation that wouldn’t allow him to jump directly to a competing station. So after three months off (during which he said he missed not being on the air), he’s back behind a microphone.

The new hire was introduced to listeners on Monday’s morning show and answered some short-answer questions:

His first shift is Monday at 4pm. His show is weekdays from 4 to 8, leading in to Paul Hayes’s Heartbeats.

Barrucco replaces AJ Reynolds, who was let go from CKBE the same week Barrucco left CJFM. Christin Jerome has been holding the fort in the meantime, and will remain with the station in her unsung-hero capacity.

UPDATE: Mike Cohen interviews Barrucco and program director Leo Da Estrela. Vinny explains it was tough to be off the air for three months and is kind of vague about the reason he decided to move from Virgin to The Beat (which I guess means it’s because of the money). Da Estrela says The Beat’s goal isn’t to steal talent from Virgin, but to get talent that knows Montreal and knows radio. He also acknowledges that the two stations sound a lot alike and have similar playlists these days.

“Tens of thousands” – the battle over protest turnout numbers

A small sliver of the protest that marched down René Lévesque Blvd. on Tuesday, May 22

It’s the most important question to answer when covering a large protest, and yet it seems nobody can answer it: How many people were there?

It happened again on Tuesday as what was billed as a huge manifestation of the public against the Quebec Liberal government turned out to be exactly that. Protesters filled the streets of downtown Montreal, blocking traffic for hours. The police, which has been pretty good at reporting where protests are via its Twitter account, stopped doing it because the protesters were everywhere.

But how many protesters were there, exactly? Could someone just provide an estimate?

Once upon a time, the police did just that. Journalists would ask them for their guess of the crowd size, and report that as if it was gospel. It didn’t matter how the police came to that figure. The story would simply say that police estimated the size.

But estimating the size of a protest is like estimating the size of a guy’s penis. Even if you’re right, you’re immediately and angrily accused of lowballing it.

So Montreal police now don’t release crowd estimates. Other police forces elsewhere in the world have done the same, for similar reasons.

Seeking a source – any source – to provide something to put in headlines, many journalists have little choice but to turn to the organizers themselves, who have very obvious motives for inflating their figures. Without any police estimates, there is nothing to challenge organizers’ figures until they reach the point of insanity (like, where the number of protesters exceeds the entire population).

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of this number. The entire point of this protest is to get as many people in the streets as possible. A protest of 50,000 is impressive, but a protest of 500,000 is much more so. Even though there’s an order of magnitude between these numbers, crowd estimates crossed that entire range. Organizers and supporters, obviously, went on the higher end. Others, perhaps with other agendas, went lower.

Bigger than before

Based on my Twitter discussions, it seems estimates on the high end were based on a mixture of gut feeling and a comparison to earlier protests. If the March 22 march had 100,000 people in it, and the April 22 Earth Day protest had 200,000 people in it, then this one must have had 400,000 people in it, because it seemed twice as big.

I wasn’t at the first two, so I can’t really compare, but this one did seem huge. It just went on forever, and when you thought it was done, another wave would come. When the head of the march reached Lafontaine Park, the tail was still at Peel St.

But estimates of those earlier protests are just as flawed. The March 22 protest organizers estimated 200,000 people, and Le Devoir used that number in its front-page headline. La Presse had police sources estimating 100,000, and said it was probably between the two (La Presse later went back and asked for a more scientific estimate, coming up with 108,000, with a large margin for error – thanks Judith). The Earth Day protest organizers had estimated 250,000 (or 350,000, depending on who you ask). Le Devoir said 250,000, but La Presse said it was 150,000, based on police sources.

Even anonymously, police sources are only as good as their methods, and anonymous sources are probably not going to get into detail about them.

For this latest protest, most of the mainstream media threw out the idea of having actual numbers and just went with the vague “tens of thousands”. Theoretically that could mean 30,000 or 300,000 (at which point you’d have to say “hundreds of thousands”), with most people visualizing it around the lower end of that scale. That infuriates supporters of the student movement, who don’t hesitate to claim the media is biased against them, and hint at some conspiracy to hide the truth, when in fact the problem is that the journalists simply don’t know what the truth is.

Montreal isn’t the only place with this problem. Here’s a post about the wildly varying estimates of the size of a Glenn Beck rally a couple of years ago.

The scientific method

Crowd estimates are very difficult to do, as OpenFile’s Justin Giovannetti pointed out after the March 22 protest. Once it gets to the tens-of-thousands mark, it can’t be counted individually. Any scientific method requires getting a sample of a certain defined area and multiplying it by the entire area. But that’s easier said than done.

For this protest, since I had the day off and I wasn’t covering it, I decided I’d try to use some scientific method to analyze its size.

As the head of the march reached René-Lévesque Blvd. and Metcalfe St., I spotted some slightly higher ground at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral. I stood there and started counting.

I decided I would use, as my sample, the block from Metcalfe to Mansfield St. Google Maps tells me this is a distance of 110 metres, which I’ll round to 100 since I’m counting from the edges, not the middle, of the intersections. I tried, through various methods, to count how many people fill this area at one time. I tried counting in my head, using an electronic counter, and taking an even smaller sample. Each of these methods gave me a figure that put the crowd a bit less than 500. That’s 500 people, covering three lanes of traffic (for the most part, the march contained itself to the north half of the street) for 100 metres. That comes out to about 500 people per 1200 square metres, or 0.4 people per square metre, or 2.4 square metres per person. This is about the estimate used for dense crowds, and the crowd was quite dense (though still fluid), so I was confident here that I was on the right track.

Having a good estimate for the size of a block, the next step was to count the number of blocks. From 3:27pm to 5:03pm, I stood there as the march went by. I picked some recognizable marcher (usually one with a distinctive sign) at Metcalfe St., waited until that person reached Mansfield, and then repeated the process.

To compensate for varying crowd density, I counted one and a half blocks when the march spilled into the other half of the street, and two blocks when it filled all six lanes. I also stopped counting when there was a gap.

In the hour and a half I was there, I saw the main protest pass by. I saw a second march, seemingly filled with more radical elements who wore masks and carried black flags, cross it in the other direction (doubling my workload momentarily), then after it appeared to have died, a second wave of the first march appeared and filled the streets once again. Just as it ended, a fourth march descended Mansfield St. I quickly moved a block east so I could add them to my count.

When it was all over, I counted 97 blocks, give or take a few. That’s a long protest. About 10 kilometres. To give you an idea of perspective, 10km is the entire length of St. Laurent Blvd. So this protest could have taken up three densely-packed lanes of St. Laurent from Gouin to de la Commune. That’s crazy when you think about it that way.

But if you do the math, 500 people times 97 blocks is 48,500. How could this protest be only 50,000 people if it took up so much space? I posted the estimate on Twitter and asked people if there was a flaw in my methodology.

The flaws

The biggest issue seemed to be location. There was, apparently, a march that took the original planned route going east along Sherbrooke St. toward Lafontaine Park. If that march didn’t pass my location, then it wouldn’t have been included in my count.

But that was it. Nobody questioned the 500 people per block estimate, or the 97-block length (a measure partly of its width, so not its actual length).

Let’s say that second march had the same amount of people in it, even though I’m inclined to think it was less than that. We’ll double the number to 100,000. Even that was insultingly low to some organizers and supporters, who said it must have easily been hundreds of thousands. I asked some what method they used to come up with their estimates. One responded “my eyes“. Many pointed to aerial shots.

The best aerial shots I’ve seen were from the Journal de Montréal, one of the few media to boldly make its own estimation (150,000). The photos, taken by Maxime Landry in the TVA helicopter, show the Place des Festivals filled with people, to the point where they spill over into adjacent streets.

I’ve seen this kind of crowd before. This is what it looks like during big Jazz Festival events. And because those events have controlled entrances (in some cases people counting participants with counters), we know that that kind of crowd (including spillover on nearby streets) is about 100,000.

That’s not to say that’s a definitive number. People were still arriving after the march began. Others may have joined in later. But it’s a good indication in terms of order of magnitude.

As much as people will criticize QMI for being biased against the students, I’m inclined to believe their estimate, or even consider it on the high scale. Based on my method of counting, and the fact that there was at least one large march I didn’t see (I believe), a figure of 100,000 seems about right.

Pictures are worth a hundred thousand protesters

That’s still a huge number. Even just counting those who passed by me on René-Lévesque, the protest took up more than 100,000 square metres and would fill the Olympic Stadium.

It’s large enough that it made the front page of every newspaper, and led every newscast (even The National led with two stories about it), and got noticed around the world. A hundred thousand is about 1/20th of the population of the island of Montreal. It’s about a fifth of the population of 15-to-35-year-olds on the island. It’s enough people that the government needs to take notice.

But it’s not 500,000 people. Not even close.

And the problem with pretending that it’s 500,000 people is that the next protest will have to be even larger than that. And at some point that ever-inflating number will be mathematically impossible and the numbers will lose all meaning, if they haven’t already.

UPDATE (Aug. 23): Radio-Canada has hired an outside company to measure the latest protest’s size. See more about that here.

Eulogy for Neil McKenty: “one the most complicated and interesting men who ever lived”

I received this from Daniel Freedman. He’s a former news director at CFCF-12 and produced McKenty Live, the TV call-in show starring his friend Neil McKenty, who died a week ago. He also delivered a eulogy at McKenty’s funeral on Saturday, which he wanted to share. It’s republished here with his permission.

Some people make a difference in the world.

Neil McKenty was one of those people.

Though he often led a troubled life himself, Neil ended up making the world a better place. That’s because he touched so many lives.

Mine was one of them.

I’m Daniel Freedman. Like so many others, I grew up listening to Neil on CJAD. Neil was more than special. He was unique. Nobody did a call-in show like Neil. His gift went beyond putting his fierce intellect to work in building bridges…at a time when so many others were trying to blow them up.

Neil actually listened. He could get politicians to actually think on the air…and say something unexpected and newsworthy. And he could get callers to open up about the most intimate details of their lives. And it’s all because he listened. And because he cared.

Life’s rich pageant unfolds in unexpected ways. One day in 1987, I was surprised to find myself in my boss’s office at CFCF Television, meeting Neil for the first time.

The meeting was to discuss the possibility of reviving Neil’s program for television. The boss in question was Don McGowan, who in his inimitable style saw fit to begin the meeting with the following question: “So Father McKenty … do you still consider yourself a good Catholic?” As my mouth dropped open, Neil remained unfazed. “Yes,” he instantly replied, “I do consider myself a good Catholic……in my own way.”

Mr. McGowan was reduced to silence – the first and last time I ever saw that happen.

The program went ahead and I became the producer. Mr. McGowan, in his largesse, made the grandiose gesture of sending a limousine to pick Neil up each morning. But since this is Montreal… and not Hollywood …the so-called limousine turned out to be a very big…. but very old and very noisy… Cadillac. And since I lived near Neil, this ridiculous vehicle also stopped to pick me.

On the first morning Neil said to me: “This is really a bit much.” He was embarrassed. I later learned that Neil had once turned down a suite at a hotel. The suite was to have been his reward for speaking at conference. But Neil was embarrassed at the fuss. He asked for a regular room instead.

That was Neil. He hated pretence. And he hated hypocrisy. I saw him show the same respect for a make-up artist, stagehand or waitress that he showed for a professor or prime minister.

Neil’s idea of a good time was dinner and dancing with Catharine at the Rib and Reef Restaurant….not exactly the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf Astoria.

Neil once told me: “I’ve made many mistakes in my life. But I got one thing right. I married Catharine. I’m the luckiest guy alive.”
I long ago concluded Neil was one the most complicated and interesting men who ever lived.

For much of his life, Neil wrestled with demons. But throughout it all, and behind the sometimes formidable exterior, Neil also had a great gift for friendship. Neil valued his friends from a Laurentian ski lodge…whose history he later wrote with Catharine.

Neil also had a great capacity for mentorship. I worked on Neil’s program with two exceptional colleagues: Joan Takefman and Wendy Helfenbaum. We called our team “Three Jews And A Jesuit” and kept threatening to get T-shirts printed.

You never knew what to expect from Neil. He could be funny….he could be demanding…he could be endearing…and, Lord knows, he could be exasperating – all in the same conversation.

For a time, Neil shared a tiny, glassed-in office with Dick Irvin. But he seemed to have bionic ears, perhaps acquired during his tenure as a teacher in the Jesuits. Neil had an uncanny ability to overhear what we were saying and correct our many errors of logic from afar – all in that booming voice so familiar to everyone.

But we always knew that Neil cared about us.

Neil cared about a lot of things. He cared about the truth. He cared about humanity. He cared about the church, with which he was so often at odds.

On one occasion, an author who had written a book critical of the church was a guest on the program. To my astonishment, Neil took her to task. His criticism was that somewhere along the road of criticizing the Vatican she had taken a detour to invent her own religion. Neil thought that was cheating.

So life with Neil was never dull. He ate ice cream on the air with one of the founders of Ben and Jerry’s – with great gusto, but very little elegance. Earlier in his career, when asked to comment on the Pope’s visit to Montreal Neil uttered the immortal words: “I’m having an ecclesiastical orgasm.” Who else could have gotten away with it?

On one occasion, we experienced every producer’s nightmare: multiple, simultaneous and catastrophic technical failures while live on air. Neil was left utterly alone on a single camera with no capability of talking to guests or callers. Most broadcasters would have melted down under the pressure.

But not Neil. Talking — and arguing — was never a problem for him. If he had to argue with himself … well, that just made it more fun. So Neil ad-libbed for almost 15 minutes, making such perfect sense that some viewers thought it had all been planned.

One thing stands out above all else. Above all, Neil was always interested in justice.

I’m sure Neil is already in heaven. And I suspect he’s already fighting to make it a better place, arguing that too many people are excluded and it’s too unfair.

After all, Neil always fought the good fight. Why would he stop now?

Ted Bird joins TSN 990

After a six-day weekend, Ted Bird will be back on the job Friday. He just signed a two-year contract with Bell Media to join the morning show on CKGM (TSN Radio 990) with Elliott Price and Shaun Starr.

Bird, who left K103 last week after two years there, had been in discussions with 990 since not long after he left CHOM in 2010. With the contract at K103 not being renewed, those talks accelerated and were finalized over the past week. The contract was signed Monday.

No comment yet from Price or Starr or station manager Wayne Bews. I’ll update if I hear from them.

CKGM is a good fit for Bird, who is very sports-minded and produced daily sports commentary for CHOM and K103, as well as weekly sports commentaries for a little while at CFCF. He still contributes weekly to CTV News Channel.

The morning show at CKGM certainly has room for Bird. It has been down to two hosts from three since Denis Casavant left.

Bird has long been critical of commercial radio since he left CHOM, saying they are taking the art of broadcasting out of the hands of artists. While CKGM does have a small-station underdog feel to it sometimes, it’s owned by corporate giant Bell Media. When I asked him last week about returning to commercial radio, he resigned himself to the fact that he didn’t have much choice if he wanted to earn a living to support his family.

“I can’t become a doctor,” he said. “Apparently, you need a licence for that.”

The announcement

UPDATE (May 16): In what was referred to sarcastically as “the best-kept secret in Montreal radio in decades”, the move was officially announced on the air at 8:05am on Wednesday. You can listen to audio of it – and a chat with Bird – here, starting at the five-minute mark (MP3).

Bill Brownstein writes about Bird’s new home, and speaks with his wife and his new boss, in a story that will appear in Thursday’s Gazette. The story reveals that Bird was making close to $250,000 at CHOM and about one-fifth of that at CKRK. Bird was also interviewed on CTV Montreal’s noon newscast on Wednesday.

A press release has been issued by TSN/Bell Media, a story is posted at TSN.ca and Shaun Starr posted on Twitter that the station was “lucky to have” Bird on board.

Former CJAD broadcaster Neil McKenty dies

Neil McKenty, the former broadcaster and author, died early on Saturday.

McKenty’s broadcasting career was before my time, far enough that I can’t really add anything insightful to the obits already done about him today:

McKenty’s blog, where he did most of his writing recently, has been updated with a note announcing his death and giving funeral information.

If you want to get an idea what he was like, you can watch an episode of McKenty Live, put on CFCF’s website last year as part of its 50th anniversary.

UPDATE (May 21): McKenty Live’s producer, Daniel Freedman, shares a eulogy he delivered at McKenty’s funeral.

CBC weekend newscasts off to a strong start

Thomas Daigle anchors his first newscast on Saturday, May 5

Whether it was despite some important breaking news or because of it, CBC Montreal’s first weekend newscast in eons went smoothly, leading with news that a tentative deal had been reached between the government and striking students. (Remember those days, how optimistic we were that this would all be over soon?)

Anchor Thomas Daigle and weather presenter Sabrina Marandola clearly showed the effects of rehearsals, and Daigle in particular was quite good for someone who comes into this with no anchoring experience.

Daigle credited weekday anchor Debra Arbec with helping him. “She gave me some good tips to improve my delivery and it has helped a lot. Debra has been a great coach,” he said during our interview the week before he started.

Sabrina Marandola on weather

In addition to Daigle, Marandola and the technical staff, the new weekend news means more weekend reporters. So far the plan, according to news director Mary-Jo Barr, is this:

  • On Saturdays, three television reporters and one radio reporter.
  • On Sundays, two television reporters, an additional national TV reporter filing to The National, and one radio reporter.

In addition, there’s an expectation that radio reporters will file to TV and TV reporters to radio wherever possible, and extra staff during major events where warranted.

The local online desk also gets weekend staff for the first time in a decade. No more waiting until Monday to post local news stories.

The staffing is similar to what you’ll find on the weekends at CFCF, where there’s a one-hour evening newscast and 35-minute late newscast each day.

Daigle does the late Sunday newscast from the newsroom set

It was a bit surprising to me that the station isn’t making use of its brand new set on either weekend newscast. The Saturday one was done from the newsroom studio, with the control room in the background. The Sunday one was done from exactly the same place, but with the green screen lowered behind and the same virtual set as the weeknight late newscasts.

While CFCF is doing all its newscasts from the same set, CBC is basically using three.

You can read more on CBC’s weekend newscasts and its two new personalities in this story I wrote for The Gazette.

The first weekend newscasts are online if you want to see them again: Saturday, Sunday.

CBC Montreal’s weekend newscasts air at 6pm on Saturdays and 10:55pm on Sundays, unless pre-empted or postponed because of NHL games.

More weekend radio

I should also mention that the addition to weekend news also applies to radio. Instead of pulling the plugs on local radio newscasts at noon, they continue until 4pm, and this since April 21. Katherine Canty, who assigns stories in the mornings, reads them in the afternoons, taking over from Loreen Pindera, who does 6:30am to noon.

Hour’s website being left to die slowly

The racks that used to carry Hour sit empty (others are just filled with extra copies of Voir)

Though everyone knew the announcement last week that Hour Community would cease publishing meant the death of the brand, owner Communications Voir left a bit open by saying it would become online-only. Publisher Pierre Paquet wouldn’t return calls to clarify what that meant.

So, one week after the final articles went up, I checked hour.ca to see what this online-only publication would be. And … nothing. Same stuff from last week. No new content at all.

It’s obviously not surprising. Kevin Laforest was the only full-time staff member, and he was let go. Even when he was working, the paper had far fewer than the minimum necessary to provide useful content on a weekly basis. Now there’s simply nobody left there to provide content to this publication, online-only or not. Its reliance on “community” (i.e. user-generated) content seems fruitless since the “community” section hasn’t been updated since March.

If Hour.ca is being kept alive merely for historical purposes, to keep its archives available, then good. I’m all for that. Put up an announcement saying you’re no longer publishing and leave it at that. But leaving it in limbo like this seems unfair. Hour deserves more than to simply be forgotten like an old Geocities page online.

UPDATE (May 22): Voir has also shut down sister paper Ottawa XPress in similarly noncommunicative fashion. Coverage from CBC and the Ottawa Citizen.

“Best” of Montreal? But seriously, thank you

Mirror readers offer their support

It’s a ridiculous popularity contest, and often it’s not even that, but more of an election, a contest of who can push more friends to fill out ballots for something whose prize is a bit of free marketing but more pride than anything else.

And yet, I’d be lying if I said I was untouched by seeing the name of my blog and Twitter feed listed among the Mirror’s Best of Montreal list yet again. Whatever my feelings about the survey, it’s clearly an indication that there are those of you out there who, when asked what their favourite local blog is, think of this one.

So let me take this opportunity to say thank you, for being fans, for subscribing, for reading some far-too-long posts, for adding insight in the comments, for following me on Twitter despite all the silly stuff I post there, and for justifying my existence and giving me the kind of audience that forces the people and organizations I cover to take me seriously.

Congratulations to my fellow honourees, whose readers also somehow thought of them when it came time to vote:

And, of course, a thought for those who didn’t quite make it, despite trying really hard, and for those who are inexplicably absent from this list, including some of my fellow journalists who were probably left out for not being alternative enough.

Seventh? That's ridiculous. I'm tweeting my outrage

Elsewhere in media categories…

The results of the survey always have to be taken with a grain of salt, despite all the efforts Mirror staff take to weed out duplicate votes and ballot stuffers. Nevertheless, some things of note in media categories beyond the brief analysis the paper itself provides:

  • Radio station: Kahnawake’s K103 (CKRK) isn’t featured in the Best Radio Station category, despite efforts and expense to increase its profile. (Ted Bird earns only an honourable mention in the radio host category). Similarly, CKBE is relegated to “honourable mention” after rebranding from The Q to 92.5 The Beat.
  • Radio show: CHOM’s Bilal Butt managed to leverage social media to push him and his show to top spots in the radio show and radio host categories. Aaron Rand, who was fourth with his Q morning show last year, disappears from the best radio show list with his move to CJAD, though he’s still on the best radio host list and the Beat morning show isn’t on the list at all either. Virgin’s morning show drops from first to 8th with the replacement of Lisa Player by Natasha Gargiulo. Daybreak is way up the list even though not much has changed there in the past year.
  • Radio host: Terry DiMonte unsurprisingly makes up for four years out of the city and quickly rockets up the radio host category, #2 behind Butt. Mike Finnerty is back in the radio host game, and it seems Lisa Player’s votes have shifted to Freeway Frank
  • Local newscaster: No surprises here. Every anglo anchor is on this list except Amanda Margison (CBC) and Richard Dagenais (Global).
  • Best newspaper: Mirror first, Gazette second, then French papers, free papers and student papers, as usual. Absent from the list this year is Hour, something Mirror didn’t note. (For that matter, nothing in the paper at all denotes the disappearance of its main competition.)
  • Elsewhere: Randy Tieman and Mitch Melnick make appearances on the best sports personality list, Mutsumi Takahashi and Orla Johannes are once again factors for most desirable woman, Richard Martineau’s anti-student rants have gotten him on the list for Montrealer closest to hell, and the tackiest personality list is headed by Mose Persico and features Ben Mulroney, Frank Cavallaro and Terry DiMonte.

CBMT to expand late-night newscasts to half an hour

Nancy Wood is excited

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had its big bash in Toronto on Thursday to announce its lineups for the fall television season. There are some big changes coming, besides the usual turnover of primetime series. The CBC has decided to drop Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune (mainly for cost reasons), opening holes in its afternoon/evening schedule. It will fill one of those holes with George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, which moves from 11pm to 7pm, but with a repeat at 11:30pm.

Not given as much attention is that CBC is expanding evening local newscasts in some areas, including Montreal. Rather than the 10-minute rush that it has been doing since 2009, CBC Montreal will have a full 30-minute newscast starting this fall, from 11 to 11:30pm.

The time slot puts the newscast in more direct competition with Global Montreal’s News Final, which has the same schedule. (Feel free to insert jokes about whether Global’s 2,000 viewers at 11 constitutes competition.)

CBC Montreal communications manager Debbie Hynes tells me the Sunday newscast, which you’ll recall is less than a week old, will remain at 10 minutes, or at least that’s the plan.

Nancy Wood, who just started as the late-night anchor, says she heard the news on Wednesday, and is excited about having a longer newscast and one that has a real time slot instead of being awkwardly sandwiched between two others.

While CBC News Montreal Late Night gets a good lead-in from The National, allowing it to get about 15,000 viewers on average (it has 30,000 at 6pm), the 10:55pm start time means it isn’t going to attract many viewers from people who watch something other than The National at 10pm. An 11pm late newscast could mean picking up people who watch U.S. primetime dramas on CTV, Global or other channels and want some local news before going to bed.

There’s no news yet as far as what specifically a late newscast would include. At the top of that list, I think, would be a local sportscaster. The 10-minute newscast includes a bizarre “CBCSports.ca Update” segment that previews the next night’s hockey games but says nothing of the ones that finished an hour before. This is mainly because there’s no one to put together a sports roundup on deadline, but it sticks out that you have a newscast talking about sports without saying what happened in the sports world that night.

The new local newscast launches in September along with the new CBC television schedule.

News headlines and weather on screen in mornings

Also announced is that some local information will appear in mornings on CBC television. During the 6-7am hour, when CBC airs CBC News Now (duplicating content from CBC News Network), the programming will be surrounded by a local wrap with local headlines, weather and other information. Something similar is done on CJNT, and people familiar with CityNews or CP24 in Toronto will know what this looks like. CTV also inserts local content into national programming (Canada AM) through an on-screen ticker. These are “rolling out across the country now,” Hynes says.

MP3 experiment on Wednesday

Depending on how many people show up, it could be pretty awesome: A Montreal edition of Improv Everywhere’s MP3 Experiment is set for Wednesday at 5:17pm.

Instructions are here and there’s a Facebook page. No RSVP required, just show up wearing red, yellow, blue or green and carrying an uninflated red or green balloon to a retail store on Ste. Catherine St. between St. Alexandre and St. Laurent.

Improv Everywhere’s MP3 experiments are explained here, but in short they involve a large group of people downloading an MP3 audio file, then playing it on headphones at exactly the same time. To the outside world, it just looks like a bunch of people wearing headphones, but who suddenly all start doing the same random things together.

Montreal had a similar thing in 2009 that I participated in, and although there were some glitches it was a lot of fun for those involved.

The weather forecast is for light showers with a high of 17 degrees.

UPDATE: Just For Laughs has an announcement set for 5:30pm. Since JFL is organizing the MP3 experiment as well, I’m guessing the timing is related.

UPDATE (May 11): The event went well, with just about every radio and TV station sending people (for both the JFL lineup announcement and the MP3 experiment). It beat the rain by about an hour.

Just For Laughs has compiled a short video, which you can see above. Here are some more, combining video with audio from the MP3 experiment track, which was 42 minutes total. (via Dominic Arpin)

Ted Bird leaves K103

Updated May 11 with audio from his last show.

Ted Bird announced Monday morning that this is his last week at CKRK (K103) in Kahnawake.

Bird told listeners the decision to leave was a mutual one between him and station management: “It was mutually agreed that it’s time to move on.”

That’s true. But it might be more accurate to say that Bird is leaving because K103 simply can’t afford to keep him any longer.

Bird joined K103 as its new morning show host in April 2010, a few months after his sudden departure from CHOM. It was for a year, then renewed for a second. Throughout that time, radio watchers have been wondering how long the perennially cash-strapped 250-watt station could keep paying a commercial radio veteran to be part of its morning show.

He hinted at that on air. “My first choice would be to stay, but the realities are it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Since Terry DiMonte announced he was returning to CHOM from Calgary, people have been wondering about the possibility of a Terry and Ted reunion. Bird put inevitable rumours to rest right away by saying this move was not a precursor to a Terry and Ted reunion. He said only that he has “a couple of possibilities over in the city” as far as his next move.

You can listen to Bird’s announcement here (MP3, 5:08)

Despite making it clear he wasn’t going back to CHOM, some fans (Tom Messner!) are fantasizing about a Terry and Ted reunion. While Bird doesn’t reject that as a possibility in the future, the truth is that CHOM or Astral simply hasn’t contacted him since he left. There’s been no attempt to rebuild the bridge that was so thoroughly scorched by Bird when he left, even though the station is under new management, which says there’s no personal animosity.

Bird made it very clear on air and when I talked to him later that he enjoyed his time at K103. “This has by far been the most fun I’ve ever had in radio,” he said. “It’s two years I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

And it showed. With cohosts Java Jacobs, Paul Graif and more recently Matty Pots, the chemistry was very strong. Bird and Jacobs especially worked well with each other, and you could tell that when they burst out laughing in studio it wasn’t because they were forcing themselves to.

Similarly, the station’s management seemed to be pleased with what he has done. Joe Delaronde, who was the chair of its board of directors and is now one of its programming consultants, said Bird “has done everything he was supposed to do and more” for the station, was a team player, made appearances at community events and helped bring up the level of professionalism at the station, providing good training for young Kahnawake community members who worked there.

Bird’s arrival was supposed to help bring in new audiences and hence new advertising. Delaronde said it succeeded on both counts. He said they did a survey of 250 people by stopping them in the street (CKRK doesn’t subscribe to BBM monitoring so it can’t really calculate its reach outside Kahnawake), and found only 0.9% of respondents said they never listened to the station. On the advertising front, Delaronde said revenues went up 1000%.

“The vast majority of people were very happy,” Delaronde said. Happy enough, apparently, that a Facebook group quickly started with comments from people demanding that the mutual decision be reconsidered and that Bird stay at K103.

Not everyone in Kahnawake was happy when Bird came around. Some complained that the station was seeking someone from outside to run things, spending money on a commercial radio guy when it could have been better spent on training and employing Mohawk talent. Many of those opinions were posted on a Facebook group along with others that supported Bird. Bird acknowledged those negative opinions about his arrival in a column for KahnawakeNews.com. Those voices, though, seemed to be in the minority compared to those who thought Bird was a way of increasing the profile of the station and, by extension, the community.

Delaronde downplayed opposition to Bird, blaming it on people who will complain about anything. He said the station has never lost its identity as a community station.

Graif, who you might recognize because he used to work at Global and occasionally fills in on the sports desk at CFCF, said Bird’s departure was “a big loss” to the station. “I’ve never had this kind of chemistry before. It made getting up at these ungodly hours easy.”

So what’s next?

For Bird, the next move is in motion, but nothing is set in stone yet. There are strong rumours about a deal to join CKGM’s morning show, but Bird would not comment on them and CKGM station manager Wayne Bews didn’t return a phone message seeking comment. The move would make sense, since the morning show has been down to two hosts since Denis Casavant left to devote more time to his work at RDS.

For K103, the show goes on with Jacobs, Graif and Pots. Delaronde mused about maybe adding a female voice to the morning show, but there have been no decisions made yet.

You can read more about Bird’s departure in this story in The Gazette, written by yours truly. There’s also a story at KahnawakeNews.com.

Bird says goodbye

UPDATE (May 11): Bird did his last show Friday morning. You can listen to Bird’s farewell message here (MP3, 1.1MB, 4:59)

Meanwhile, Delaronde writes a post for Radio in Montreal giving some context to the decision to part ways. He explains that Bird’s salary was paid at least in part by “private sponsors” who, it seems, were not willing to keep their funding going past the end of the second year.

Nancy Wood back in the saddle

Nancy Wood has a lot to be happy about these days

There’s a saying in radio that it’s not if you get fired, but when. People are pulled off the air all the time without notice, told their station is going in another direction, or has decided to make a change, or some other vague euphemism for the fact that they want a change behind the microphone. As someone who covers local media – and particularly broadcasting – I’ve seen quite a few of these. When I ask about it, both parties usually repeat the vague euphemism and offer some boilerplate about how they wish each other well in their future endeavours.

For those let go, it’s rarely good news. Even if they do end up finding a job quickly elsewhere, even if the reason for their departure isn’t their fault, it’s crushing to be pulled out of a public job like this, because you know they wouldn’t have done it if you were wildly successful.

I don’t particularly enjoy reporting on these things. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t take joy in seeing people lose their jobs. But a hiring is just as much of a change as a firing, and only the former tends to involve press releases. So I search them out (sometimes a difficult thing to do because they can’t be reached at work) and ask them for comment. Trying to manage the blow to their reputation, and protect future job prospects, they stay timid, keep a happy face and repeat management’s vague reasoning.

Nancy Wood is not one of those people.

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