It got buried under all the hoopla about Bell, Astral and CKGM, but at the same hearing where the CRTC will consider Bell's purchase of Astral and the proposal to turn TSN Radio into RDS Radio, it will also consider an application by three independent millionnaires to start up an English-language news-talk station to compete with CJAD.
The application - by Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, together under 7954689 Canada Inc. - is very similar to one they made last year for clear channel 940AM, which I've summarized here. The station would be a news-talk format, with 100% local programming, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with its own team of journalists. It would act as a sister station to a French-language one that has already been approved for 940.
Because 690AM went to CKGM (the station is changing frequencies this fall, before its format change), it has to choose an alternative. At first, the group said if it was not given one of the two clear channels (690 and 940) that would allow it to broadcast at 50,000 watts day and night, its business plan would not be viable. It also said the CRTC had to approve both stations or reject both, because their business plan requires both station to share resources.
The CRTC called their bluff, and TTP backtracked, accepting the French station and now trying for an English one on a different frequency.
The new frequency is 600 kHz, which is the former location of CFCF and CIQC, and has been quiet since that station was transformed into 940 News in 1999 and move to the former CBC Radio frequency of 940 kHz. The station would even use the same transmission towers that CFCF/CIQC once used, and which now belong to Cogeco.
This is another backtrack by the TTP group. Tietolman told me after the application last fall was rejected that under no circumstances would they give Cogeco money to use their site. But putting a station at 600 kHz isn't easy - the station's pattern has to be directional because it's not a clear channel, and 600 is a low frequency, so towers have to be spaced pretty far apart. Because the site was built for 600, it's the ideal location.
So under TTP's proposal, the transmitter site, along Highway 138 in Kahnawake, will operate both of its stations, at 600 in English and 940 in French. The English station would operate with a directional pattern pointed mainly north with 10,000 watts daytime and 5,000 watts at night. The French station would have an omnidirectional pattern with 50,000 watts day and night.
The site is being leased from Cogeco, which in turn leases it from the Kahnawake band council. As part of the lease agreement, TTP will pay Cogeco a low-five-figure monthly rent. TTP would assume most of the costs and responsibilities (including liability) for operation of the site.
Finally, the agreement prevents TTP from launching its own all-traffic radio station in either language, whether at that site or elsewhere. Tietolman said that would not be a problem and he has no intention of starting an all-traffic radio station.
Tietolman admitted that 600 wasn't going to be as good as one of the clear channels, that the cost to operate it would be higher, and that it could cause some drop in ad revenue because fewer people would be able to listen to it. But he is confident the station's business plan will still work.
The group has provided a programming grid for its new station, but it's very vague for the most part. Many shows feature a "face-à-face" format Tietolman is convinced will be a big ratings draw, pairing people with wildly different viewpoints on talk programs. It also refers to coverage of live events, open-line talk shows, celebrity gossip, a "The View" type of program with two "high profile well known and charismatic and very opinionated women who have distinct opposing points of view", and a psychological advice show.
The Tietolman group expressed a desire specifically to offer a way to give young people a chance to be on the radio (which will become even more necessary if TSN Radio is taken off the air). To that end, it proposes that weekend overnights will be hosted by students in their "apprenticeship" program.
Though the grid promises well-known hosts, and Tietolman said there is no shortage of quality talent he can choose from, no specific names of personalities are given.
Traffic is being promised every 10-12 minutes from 5am to midnight, and more often if warranted.
Most importantly, TTP made a commitment that its stations would mobilize in case of any major breaking news or emergency, any time of day. That commitment is repeated in this application.
TTP's application projects the station would have a market share going up from 6.2% the first year to 9.3% in the seventh. This is compared to a 23.5% market share currently held by CJAD, which a separate projection shows dropping to about 19% as a result of the addition of the TTP news-talk station (CHOM, CJFM and CKBE are shown to drop about a share point each).
The station would have a budget of between $3.5 million and $4.8 million a year, with revenues increasing from $2.7 million to $5.8 million a year in the seven years of the first license term. By this projection, the station would start making money on an operational basis in the fourth year of the license, and would pay for its startup costs only after seven years. The station is being financed jointly with the French-language station through a loan of $25.5 million for both.
Tietolman didn't know how many jobs the station would create, but figure it would be a few dozen. Tietolman said it was too early to say if the shutdown of TSN Radio in Montreal would mean any changes to increase sports programming at their station, or whether any people left out of a job at TSN could find work at TTP's news-talk station.
Tietolman also offered an official "no comment" on whether his group would oppose Bell's application to transform CKGM into a French-language all-sports station. The group, which has applied for radio stations in Calgary and Toronto, could be a potential buyer of Bell stations being put up for sale in other markets, and so might be a bit shy about sticking a wrench in their plans.
The French-language station is expected to launch this fall, Tietolman said. But he also said he would not set an arbitrary date, and the station would launch only when it's ready.
With a transmitter site secure, focus turns to a studio location (the two stations would share studio space) and programming.
The English-language station still requires CRTC approval, and with a hearing scheduled for Sept. 10, a decision is not expected until well into the fall, putting a launch probably somewhere in early 2013.
The CRTC is holding a hearing Sept. 10 at the Palais des congrès to consider this application. People who want to submit comments in support or opposition have until Aug. 9 to do so via the CRTC website (choose Option 1 - intervention - then check application 2012-0748-1: 7954689 Canada Inc.). Note that comments, including names and contact information, are part of the public record.
UPDATE: Tietolman informs me that certain information published with the group's application was supposed to be considered confidential. The CRTC replaced the application on Wednesday morning with a version that has the confidential documents redacted. These include the programming grid and the lease agreement with Cogeco. So as not to be a dick, I've agreed to refrain from publishing some specific details (like the specific amounts of the rent to be paid to Cogeco), but I'll keep some vague ideas of what the documents contain.
CBC television did a report on this new station during its Saturday local newscast (starts at 13:22), talking a bit with Pancholy. Also includes a brief comment from me, dismissing a suggestion that what's happening to CKGM relates to what happened to Hour and Mirror.