Bell to convert TSN Radio to French

Well, this is a shock.

As part of its acquisition of Astral Media, including CJAD, CHOM and CJFM in Montreal’s English market, Bell Media has decided that rather than sell one of the four English stations it would own here, it is going to keep all four of them but convert one to French.

As such, Bell announced Tuesday that it has applied to the CRTC to convert CKGM (TSN Radio 990) to a French-language all-sports station named RDS Radio 990. (Actually it would be RDS Radio 690, since the station is moving to that frequency.) Bell expects the switch to happen by Jan. 1, 2013, though that’s dependent on how fast the CRTC makes a decision. It says it is prepared to make the change within 120 days of the CRTC’s decision.

The CRTC’s competition rules require that a common owner control no more than three stations in a market of fewer than eight commercial stations (English Montreal has five), and no more than two AM and two FM stations in a market of more than that (French Montreal has eight). Since neither Astral nor Bell have a French-language AM station in Montreal, converting the station to French would allow them to keep it.

TSN Radio 990, formerly The Team 990, has always struggled as a low-rated station, but there was a feeling over the past few years that it had finally found a niche that worked after various other failed attempts at different formats.

How many jobs will be lost?

This is devastating news for TSN 990’s employees, most of whom probably would not work at a French-language sports station. They were told of this at a meeting at 10:30am Tuesday. It’s unclear how many of them will lose their jobs, how many will stay on with the French station and how many will get other jobs within the company, at CJAD, TSN television or elsewhere.

“It is difficult to say at this time how many employees will be affected by the converting of TSN Radio,” Bell Media’s Matthew Garrow tells me. “Staffing decisions will be determined on a case-by-case basis.”

Because the Bell purchase of Astral is conditional on CRTC approval, job cuts might not be known until after the CRTC’s decision. The Globe and Mail’s Steve Ladurantaye tells me he’s been told “the vast majority of employees at TSN 990 will land elsewhere within the company.”

Canadiens games to move to CJAD

Bell has already announced that Canadiens games will move back to CJAD. When this will happen is unclear, though it appears they will stay on CKGM until that station changes formats.

Alouettes football games and Impact soccer games already air on CJAD. It’s unclear what would air on RDS Radio. French radio rights to Canadiens and Alouettes games are currently with Cogeco, which airs them on 98.5FM and other stations in Quebec. To be viable, they’d almost certainly need Canadiens games. The Impact are currently without a French-language radio broadcaster, so would almost certainly quickly find a home on RDS Radio.

Among the things Bell says in its application:

  • RDS Radio is not expected to make money in its first seven-year license term.
  • CKGM’s programming is currently 92% local. Bell says it plans to continue this high level of local programming in French (though it has not proposed a minimum amount of local programming). It plans to rely particularly on RDS personalities and give more opportunities to specialized broadcasters and analysts.
  • Audience projections show a market share of 0.5% in its first year, and 3.5% by Year 7. CKGM currently has a 3.3% market share, according to the latest BBM numbers. CKAC Sports had about a 4% market share in the year before it changed from all-sports to all-traffic.
  • Financial projections show a budget of between $3.5 million and $4.8 million, climbing slowly through the seven-year license. Revenue, most of which would be local advertising, would climb from $600,000 to $4.4 million. The station is projected to lose money throughout its seven-year license term.
  • Bell sees this switch as balancing the language scales in Montreal, in terms of radio stations per listener (by its calculations, Montreal has 370,500 people per francophone commercial station and 168,600 per anglophone commercial station). “As it stands today, Anglophone listeners in Montréal are very well served while Francophone listeners are underserved.”
  • Bell focuses on CKAC’s disappearance as a sports station as evidence of a need, saying franco Montreal is the only one of the top five markets in Canada without a sports radio station. The application makes no mention of sports programming on CHMP 98.5.
  • The application hints at what kind of live sports events the station might carry. Besides Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, it mentions auto racing, boxing, Carabins football, QMHJL Armada and even the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s Montreal Stars.
  • With Cogeco holding a commanding market share among young men, and Quebecor having an increasing sports broadcasting portfolio, Bell sees this application as increasing diversity.
  • RDS Radio would offer its programming to other Quebec stations in other markets, much like Cogeco does with its news-talk programming.

Bell says that if the CRTC denies the application, it will divest itself of one of its four English-language stations to comply with the CRTC’s common ownership policy. That would mean selling one of the stations, or if no buyer can be found, shutting one down.

An open call for applications?

Normally, applications for new radio stations are considered as part of an open call for applications. That means that the CRTC, once it decides that a market can support a new radio station, issues a public notice calling for competing applications and then evaluates which proposals best fit the market. That’s what it did last year when Cogeco applied to reinstate CINW and CINF to start all-traffic stations. While initially it was going to just judge those applications, objections from competitors prompted the commission to issue an open call and accept competing applications.

The result was five applications (Cogeco withdrew the French all-traffic application, preferring to instead change CKAC into an all-traffic station). The two that were eventually approved for 690 and 940 AM were a news-talk station by independent group Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy and a frequency change by CKGM. CKGM’s former frequency of 990 is being given to Dufferin Communications for a French-language LGBT music/talk station.

Cogeco, whose applications started the whole process, was left out. It has yet to reapply to the CRTC for an English all-traffic station though it has said it is working on one.

There’s some irony in that Bell profited from an open call for applications when someone else applied for new stations but now feels it is unnecessary.

This could be the biggest obstacle to Bell getting CRTC approval, and could rest on a simple semantic question: Is this an application for a new station, or a change to an existing one? If it’s the former, competitors like Tietolman and Cogeco could have a case for demanding the CRTC issue an open call, where it would compete with their applications.

Bell says if the CRTC does issue an open call, it might consider withdrawing its application for TSN’s language change. That would mean moving to Plan B, which involves selling or shutting down CKGM or one of the English-language Astral stations.

Paul Tietolman, who with his partners have applied for an English news-talk station at 600 kHz, declined to say whether his group would oppose Bell’s application or ask for an open call for applications.


The news hurts especially for its listeners. Randy Tieman and Mitch Melnick devoted much of their shows Tuesday to the news and reactions from listeners. Tieman made it clear he disagrees with the decision and blames the CRTC (and to a lesser extent Bell). Melnick said the news was sad, but bit his tongue a bit. “I cannot say what I’d like to say. It wouldn’t serve any purpose,” he told listeners on air. But a look at his playlist, with songs like Shattered, When The Whip Comes Down, Angry Young Man, Going Nowhere Fast, Wish I Was Drunk, I’m Not Angry, No Banker Left Behind, It’s a Shame and Baby Let Me Follow You Down, you can guess at his mood.

On-air comments and comments to the media apparently prompted this email from station manager Wayne Bews, forbidding further discussion of this on air and saying people who don’t silence callers wanting to talk about it will be pulled off the air.

Two Facebook groups have already been started (one of which has a corresponding Twitter account) for people who want to “save” the station. There’s also an online petition with 138 signatures so far. Comments to the CRTC are much more likely to be successful in blocking the move, though people who argue for saving the station would have to suggest some alternative. If Bell buys Astral, owning four of five stations in English Montreal simply wouldn’t fly.

A “rally” has been planned for Aug. 4 at McLean’s Pub on Peel St.


Lots of people are asking questions or speculating on social media, so here’s some answers to things I’ve been asked:

  • Why is the CRTC forcing them to do this? It’s not. The CRTC’s rule says Bell can’t own more than three stations in this market, that’s all. How Bell chooses to come into compliance with this rule is up to them. It could sell the station (or another one), or shut it down. In this case, it has chosen the latter option so that it can use the same frequency for a French-language station.
  • Why did the CRTC deny Bell’s request for an exemption from this rule? It didn’t. There is no ruling denying such a decision and the CRTC says Bell never asked for one. In any case, it’s unlikely they would get this because it would mean owning four of five commercial stations.
  • Could CJAD become an all-sports station? It could, but it won’t. CJAD has a 25% market share, while CKGM’s is about 3.5%. A more likely scenario is a format similar to what exists on Cogeco’s 98.5FM in French: news-talk during the day and sports/sports-talk during evenings and weekends.
  • Could TSN personalities start their own (online-only) station? Considering that CKGM has never made money, and an online-only station would not have big draws like Canadiens games, it’s highly unlikely such a station would be profitable.
  • Would TSN personalities move to CJAD? Maybe. But there’s no word on this yet. CJAD certainly wouldn’t accommodate all of TSN’s employees.
  • Would the new Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy station create sports programs or hire people from CKGM? It’s too early to say, Paul Tietolman tells me. Even if there’s nothing official, it stands to reason that some people who are let go from one station might be hired to work at the other.
  • Who would handle Canadiens play-by-play on CJAD? This is unclear at this point.
  • What happens to the 990 frequency? Couldn’t TSN stay there? The CRTC awarded it to Dufferin Communications for a French-language music/talk station. CKGM will change frequency, whether or not this change is approved. The frequency change is likely to happen before the format change.
  • Why weren’t staff given a heads-up? Bell and Astral are publicly-traded companies, and this is a $3.8-billion deal. They don’t have the luxury of announcing major deals to staff before announcing them publicly to shareholders.

Bell’s application to change CKGM’s language (along with its larger acquisition of Astral) requires CRTC approval. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 10 at the Palais des congrès on both matters.

People wanting to file comments with the CRTC or appear at the hearing can file an intervention here (the application number is 2012-0573-2 – Bell Media Canada Radio Partnership). The deadline is Aug. 9. Note that comments – including names and contact information – are on the public record.


See also: Campaign to save TSN 990 should focus on the CRTC

140 thoughts on “Bell to convert TSN Radio to French

  1. Mario

    So let me get this straight. Reading off twitter I see there is no confirmation yet that Bell ever asked for an exemption to own and operate 4 local commercial radio stations in the same language?

    If that’s the case, Sheldon was right (as always) that this was all part of Bell’s master plan from the start.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      there is no confirmation yet that Bell ever asked for an exemption to own and operate 4 local commercial radio stations in the same language?

      In fact, the CRTC confirmed to The Gazette’s Brendan Kelly that there was no request for an exemption.

      If that’s the case, Sheldon was right (as always) that this was all part of Bell’s master plan from the start.

      I don’t see how that follows. Bell didn’t ask for an exemption because they felt it was highly unlikely they would get one. There’s no evidence that the people who worked on Bell’s application in front of the CRTC last year knew that months later Bell would announce it’s buying Astral Media.

      1. Sheldon

        But there is also no evidence that they didn’t know about Bell possibly taking over Astral. I still say that mega-deals like Bell buying out Astral doesn’t happen overnight. Any successful business works on 3, 5, even 10 year plans. We may never find out the answer for sure, but I have heard that Astral was shopping themselves around out there on the market for quite some time.

  2. Jordan

    Gazette Editorial ” The CRTC should grant an exemption for TSN 990″

    No, Bell should sell Tietolman CJAD 800 and possibly CHOM

    Bell does not deserve gifts for acting completely anti-competitive

    1. ATSC

      I agree. They should be forced to sell two of those English stations. I would prefer CKGM-AM (with it’s new AM position on 690 AM), plus CHOM-FM. A sports radio station and a rock station might make for a good dynamic for somebody to buy.

      Perhaps Rogers Media would be interested in running a sports radio station in this town! They certainly are trying to enter the Montreal market with their attempts to purchase CJNT-DT.

      1. Usedtobe

        Why should they be FORCED to sell one more station than the regulations already allow them to own? They are allowed three English stations. They can keep three English stations. Period.

        Rogers on the other hand is a possibility to set up a cheapie clone of their Toronto station. They could run local AM/PM drive from a small satellite studio and simulcast much of the Rogers feed, like the Team did for many years with American sports programming.

        Maybe Rogers will apply for sports on AM600! (not really a possibility, but it would make things interesting…)

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Maybe Rogers will apply for sports on AM600! (not really a possibility, but it would make things interesting…)

          The thing is, without Canadiens, Alouettes or Impact broadcast rights, all-sports isn’t much of a money-maker. And the Canadiens are pretty friendly with Bell.

          They could do it anyway, with the hope of securing those rights later. And there are other frequencies available on AM. 850 kHz, for example. Though the more stations get approved, the less desirable the available frequencies are.

          1. What's In A Name?

            Sportsnet might not have a radio station in the market but they are opening a TV station (CITY TV).

        2. ATSC

          Because, you’re more likely to find a buyer for a AM/FM deal than just a AM deal.

          Also, don’t forget that Bell also owns CFCF-DT. They would basically run most of the Montreal markets english stations. Way to much concentration.

          2 AM stations (CKGM, CJAD)
          2 FM stations (CJFM, CHOM)
          1 TV station (CFCF)

    2. Alex H

      No, the CRTC should just decline the transaction entirely, AND move to return the limits to 1 FM and 1 AM in a market going forward for any new transactions. Basically, Astral Radio in Montreal is already an issue, and allowing Bell (which already owns a station) to buy Astral is just senseless.

      Rather than “find a way” let’s just say “NO WAY!”

      1. Fagstein Post author

        No, the CRTC should just decline the transaction entirely, AND move to return the limits to 1 FM and 1 AM in a market going forward for any new transactions.

        By “going forward”, you mean Cogeco’s market dominance in French would be grandfathered in? Would that be fair?

        1. Alex H

          You cannot undo what has already been done – the choices made in the past are ones that you have to live with. However, I would say that if Cogeco came in looking to make changes to their portfolio, that I would be asking them to start diverifying rather than modifying, and let someone else take a shot at it.

          I think that over time, the system would winnow it down until they were in compliance, and the airwaves would have more voices, more sources, and possibly more journalists as well.

  3. Rick

    They say AM Radio is dying…far from it! Talk Radio will never die as long as we keep driving cars. Montreal can’t live on just 1 Anglo talk Radio Station.

  4. Pingback: Bell’s purchase of Astral: The issues in front of the CRTC – Fagstein

  5. Pingback: Campaign to save TSN 990 should focus on the CRTC – Fagstein

  6. Pingback: How you can help save TSN Radio 990 | the Jimmyriggers

  7. Michael D

    Steve, it says on the right hand column that there is an update to this post today…don’t see anything new…???

  8. Matt

    It will be very interesting to see whether or not CTV News Montreal covers the rally in support of 990. One would think a gathering of hundreds of people to save a radio station with decades of local history behind it would be the sort of thing that would definitely be classified as news. I saw them once cover a retirement party for a crescent Street bar employee.

    If Bell is so adamant about silencing the 990 announcers, it can be presumed that absence of news coverage also is a corporate directive, which lends plenty of valid argument as to why such a vile company should NOT be allowed to own so much of the country’s broadcast channels. Let’s hope the CRTC shuts down the whole purchase of Astral!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      It will be very interesting to see whether or not CTV News Montreal covers the rally in support of 990. One would think a gathering of hundreds of people to save a radio station with decades of local history behind it would be the sort of thing that would definitely be classified as news.

      I have no reason to believe Bell is or would prevent its news division from covering a story that goes against its financial self-interest.

      A gathering of hundreds of people for just about any reason would probably be newsworthy, but I’m skeptical that this rally will draw that many. Facebook tends to have a 10-to-1 ratio of those who say they’ll go and those who actually show up to events like this, and that’s particularly so for events organized weeks in advance.

      If CBC and Global cover this event and CTV doesn’t, you might have a case. But on a Saturday night during an election campaign, it will need to be a pretty slow news day for them to show up.

  9. Neil K.

    I’m not sure if the event scheduled for Maclean’s Pub Saturday night was cancelled or postponed, but I walked by the pub three times between 8:15 and 10:00 p.m. and there was no evidence of any “rally” going on. No media trucks, no protest signs, no TSN signage or personalities, and no Fagstein reporting! In fact the pub itself seemed unusally dead for a hot summer night.

    Does anyone know if the rally did indeed take place? Did I miss something? Or was this like the protest in support of The Mirror?

    1. Michael D

      Good point, I actually forgot about it myself..A hot summer evening on a Saturday night with the Olympics on, who does this planning anyways….The demo should have been the same week when the news broke..
      This mirrors Steve’s post up above…..But the interventions to the CRTC is what’s gonna count, not some Saturday night drunk to fill up the cash register….Not effective..

  10. Neil K.

    If the rally did take place as planned but was poorly attended, maybe downtown wasn’t the best choice to hold the event.

    In retrospect, the event should have taken place on the West island, like the formerly-known-as-Bourbon Street or the Bar-B-Barn. Somewhere the average 990 listener could drive to and park easily. The typical anglo suburbanite wouldn’t drive downtown on a Saturday night in the summer unless his life depended on it. (That’s based on most of the suburbanites I know. Most come downtown once or twice a year socially.)

    1. Michael D

      This Neil, confirms what I’ve been saying for like 20 years now…West Islanders have become like moles out there..They’re like in a ghetto…They have two big theatre complexes, all the fast food outlets are there and most well known restaurants are there like the Barn, Vieux Duluth,etc.. a few big malls, the big drugstore and hardware chains…etc.

      but they will only come to town if they have to.. a hockey game, football game, Madonna on August 30th..or maybe major medical treatment or going to higher education at McGil or Concordia Imust throw in,,but outside of need, it’s in the backyard of Roger Pilon or some other WI sidestreet…..

      Come on West Islanders, see the world !!

  11. Sheldon

    I was at the (non) event. It struggled to reach the double-digit numbers in attendees. As indicated in other comments, there were no signs, no banners, no one greeting anyone at the door. They publicized that laptops were going to be set up for people to submit CRTC interventions. No computers in sight. As it turned out they never needed them anyway. One of the staffers got hold of one of the bar’s employees who was involved in the event. He was quite concerned that there was hardly anyone there. I know that the whole Facebook thing is easily something to jump on board with, but actually going through and showing up is not something that people should really be counting on. Although out of 310 people who claimed they were going, you would think that at least 25 or 30 people would have shown up. Worst of all, and I have yet to read or hear any explanation for it, the organizer of the event didn’t show up! Given the gut-wrench reaction that Bell’s announcement had with the TSN 990 listeners, I was convinced that there would be a good turnout. Now we’re hearing a number of excuses. It was too hot; it was downtown; it should have been held outside; it wasn’t publicized enough; I was out of town; whatever…
    Thank goodness that the media didn’t show to cover this event. A successful event probably wouldn’t have changed much in the decision making process. That will come down to the CRTC hearing. This could, however, have been a rallying point; a show of support and solidarity. It would also put people together to talk, exchange information, express feelings, and hopefully stoke the fires of discontent again. For me, it ended up just leaving a bad taste in my mouth and a confirmation of my belief that people are developing shorter and shorter attention spans. This was a hot-button item minutes after the Bell announcement. People were angry and ready to do something about it. A month or so later, it seems to me that many people have unfortunately moved on.

  12. Michael D

    Hi Steve, it says on your right column about updates. that there is an update for this posting or blog.

    I’ve seen clearly marked Updates in the past in other postings..and I have asked in the past what were certain updates.. like again in thie case…as often it really doesn’t show as the update doesn’t seem to standout or noticeable inany way..

    Any way, you can make things clearer…thanks

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Hi Steve, it says on your right column about updates. that there is an update for this posting or blog.

      Most of the updates to this post and similar ones are to add new links to the list at the bottom. I believe my latest update to this post is to add a link to another piece from Mike Boone.

  13. Pingback: Three pleas to save TSN Radio 690 – Fagstein

    1. Fagstein Post author

      c.r.t.c.=c.ommunist r.adio t.v c.ontrol

      What makes you think it’s communist? Considering the crazy profits of Canada’s telecom companies, I might argue the opposite.


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