Posted in Radio

Campaign to save TSN 990 should focus on the CRTC

In the week since Bell’s application to switch CKGM from TSN Radio to RDS Radio became public, the station’s small group of loyal fans has mobilized. A Twitter account, a public protest set for Aug. 4, and lots of comments online. Many of those comments seem to be based on misconceptions about what’s going on. In particular, many blame the CRTC even though the commission has yet to make a single decision about Bell’s application (besides deciding to consider it).

As of Monday night, 456 interventions had been filed with the CRTC about this application alone. I haven’t been able to read all of them yet, but a handful selected at random are all from individual people, all opposed to the application.

People have been asking me if this number of interventions is high. It is. Very high. I don’t know what the record is, and it’s hard to compare this to other “average” applications in front of the CRTC, because not all applications are the same, and most are non-controversial. But even controversial ones don’t usually generate quite this much attention. As an example, RNC Media’s application to turn CKLX-FM (Planète Jazz) into a talk station modelled on Radio X – which is to be heard at the same hearing on Sept. 10 – has received only 76 interventions. (I compiled some highlights of those here.) The $3.38-billion acquisition of Astral Media by Bell has only generated 18 so far, and many of those are as much about TSN 990 as they are about Astral and Bell.

The biggest reason for this is probably social media. The link to file interventions has been passed around, published on this blog and others, retweeted and posted on Facebook with instructions telling people how to file. The CRTC, probably annoyed that so many people were using the complaint form instead of the intervention one, has taken the unusual step of posting a special link on its homepage telling people where to file interventions related to TSN 990. (The link, it should be noted, refers to the brand “TSN 990″, rather than the company name “Bell Media Canada Radio Partnership” or the station’s callsign CKGM, which are the more formal ways the commission usually refers to radio stations in public notices.)

The result of making this more accessible is yet more interventions. It’s something commissioners and commission staff love to see more of – individual people getting more involved in the process and making their opinions heard. But if those interventions just call on the CRTC to be dismantled or demand something not in the commission’s power, they won’t be very useful.

In an effort to give people a better idea of the regulatory hurdles in front of Bell Media’s application to change CKGM from English to French (and perhaps prompt some more insightful interventions with the CRTC, whether they’re for or against the application), I wrote a piece that appears in Tuesday’s Gazette: The five ways to save TSN 990.

Specifically, they are:

  • The Competition Bureau could reject the Astral purchase. Unlikely considering it hasn’t stood in the way of these kinds of acquisitions in the past. But still possible.
  • The CRTC could reject the Astral purchase. Also unlikely. Even if the commission finds serious issues of media ownership concentration, it would more likely order Bell Media to sell off assets that put it over a specific threshold.
  • The CRTC could issue an open call for applications. This is much more likely. CKGM was given the frequency of 690 kHz last fall (it’s moving there this fall, with 990 kHz going to Dufferin Communications for Radio Fierté) based on an application that argued, among other things, that the English sports-talk station needed a clear channel to better reach the anglophone community. If this station becomes French-language, that argument goes out the window. Additionally, the CRTC could concern itself with the fact that this switch would make all three clear-channel frequencies in Montreal (690, 730 and 940) French-language stations, disrupting a historic language balance. There’s precedent for issuing an open call: CKGM got 690 in the first place after people objected to an application by Cogeco to reactivate it and 940 kHz for (heavily subsidized) all-traffic stations. The CRTC responded by issuing an open call for applications for 690 and 940, and Cogeco was left empty-handed. (It cannibalized CKAC 730 for its French all-traffic station, and the status of the English all-traffic station is unclear.) Of course, if the CRTC does issue an open call, Bell could apply for this frequency for RDS Radio, and it would stand a good chance of succeeding. But the prospect of losing the frequency might scare Bell off. It said in its application that if the CRTC issued such an open call, it might reconsider.
  • The CRTC could deny the language switch. It’s the simplest thing. Bell has applied for a language switch, because it needs an amendment to its license (or a new license) to do so. The CRTC could simply deny this request, and say if Bell wants RDS Radio it needs a new application for a new radio station.
  • The CRTC could issue an exemption. This is the one everyone’s calling for, and it’s possible, though rumour has it Bell unofficially asked the commission if an exemption could be granted and were told it was highly unlikely. Bell would have to make a serious case that one of the four stations is so vital to the broadcasting system that an exemption is warranted, and make the case that the station simply couldn’t survive if it was sold to someone else. I don’t think most of the station’s listeners really care who owns the station, only that it stays on the air.

You can read more about these five options and the regulatory process in the Gazette story.

Interventions are still being accepted at the CRTC until 8 p.m. Eastern time on Aug. 9. The hearing is Sept. 10 at the Palais des congrès, and those who indicate a wish to appear in their interventions will be allowed to present their arguments in front of the commission in person.

UPDATE (July 17): Pat Hickey argues that the CRTC has a responsibility to keep CKGM running as an English station. Mike Boone adds that TSN 990 is such a small piece of the Bell empire that they couldn’t care less what happens to it and its employees. For more commentary about the application and the station, see the bottom of my previous post.

24 thoughts on “Campaign to save TSN 990 should focus on the CRTC

  1. Jim P.

    I read the piece in the Gazette with interest. Very clear and concise article. Well done Steve.

    I am inclined to think there is a Dr. Evil plot happening. Bell Media knew the CRTC rules going into the agreeement to purchase Astral. Bell planned this aquisition with the possible option to cut loose TSN990. They now have CJAD as a place transfer all that is worth keeping. They will have contracts to broadcast 3 Montreal teams – Hockey, Football and Soccer. On paper they will have combined listerner base of 2 stations.

    The losers are the TSN990 employees who have been stabbed in the back by their own employer and loyal Montreal listeners to TSN990.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I am inclined to think there is a Dr. Evil plot happening. Bell Media knew the CRTC rules going into the agreeement to purchase Astral.

      Sure. And TSN990, as the lowest-rated station, was the most likely to get dumped. But what’s the plot here?

      Reply
      1. Jim P

        When Bell decided to purchase Astral, TSN990 became the necessary casualty. Bell has not asked for an exception from the CRTC as you pointed out. Bell is therefore not shedding any tears by turning TSN 990 it into a french all sports station. In effect they are ripping the guts out of a proud group of Bell employees. Dr. Evil is proud of his efforts.

        Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Is one allowed to attend a CRTC session as a “spectator” or is it just for presenters?

      Anyone can attend a CRTC hearing, but only presenters can speak at it.

      Reply
      1. Neil K.

        Keep in mind the audio for the hearings is “broadcast” on the CRTC’s website. You don’t even have to attend in person, you can listen in. I listened to the two full days of presentations during the last hearings that granted TSN the frequency change, etc.

        The sound is pretty good, except for horrible “on hold” music they play during cigarette breaks and lunch.

        Reply
  2. Alex H

    Of course there will be more interventions about the TSN 990, it’s something that the average person can easily grasp, can understand, and can dislike. Your post regarding all the implications of the Bell / Astral buyout shows how complicated this process is and how many stations and cities it would touch. Most people cannot easily grasp that or see it’s implications in a bigger way.

    Moreover, for the vast majority of listeners, any changes would be in the future and not in the present. It’s like the Bell takeover of CFCF. It took a while for the full implications of the buyout to become apparent (manifesting itself most recently in the corporate image news set, and the total lack of locally produced content outside the news). It’s hard for people to get upset today about an unknown change that may come in the future. TSN 990 getting wiped out is a clear change that people can rail against.

    Bell are the borg of Canadian media… very scary.

    Reply
  3. Dave

    More interventions to stop the Bell purchase of Astral instead of focusing solely on TSN 990, please!

    If Bell gets Astral, all of our cable/satellite bills will go up. We’ll lose voices in the media. This is not what Canada needs.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Bell to convert TSN Radio to French – Fagstein

  5. Andre

    990 lost money every year since it opened. Still dont understand how any company can last 10 years despite losing millions. Ratings weren’t there. Last BBM (thanks for posting it btw) shows dead heat between CJAD and 990 during the 7pm-10pm stretch. That means The Barry Morgan Show was neck and neck with the Montreal Canadiens broadcasts. No matter how good Barry is or how bad the Montreal Canadiens were playing, that is insane. Every weekday show is last in the English market, not one breaking out of that #5 spot. Something was up when the Impact signed on with AD. When branding was the major reason why the Habs went to 990, how could the Impact, who has a TV contract with TSN, jump ship and sign with the “competitor”, effectively eliminating any summer programming 990 may have? Bell closing TSN990 is a business move; a good business move no matter how unpopular.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Still dont understand how any company can last 10 years despite losing millions.

      Many investments take far longer than that to pay off. Radio stations tend to lose lots of money in their first few years. And Bell was banking on the acquisition of the Canadiens rights, combined with a change to a clear channel frequency, to be enough to put it back in the black.

      Last BBM (thanks for posting it btw) shows dead heat between CJAD and 990 during the 7pm-10pm stretch. That means The Barry Morgan Show was neck and neck with the Montreal Canadiens broadcasts.

      That would only follow if Canadiens games were broadcast every weekday. They aren’t.

      Something was up when the Impact signed on with AD. When branding was the major reason why the Habs went to 990, how could the Impact, who has a TV contract with TSN, jump ship and sign with the “competitor”, effectively eliminating any summer programming 990 may have?

      I’m not privy to discussions between the various parties, but this could just as easily have been about CJAD wanting a sports property to compensate for loss of Habs games as it was about TSN not wanting to spend enough on Impact game rights.

      Bell closing TSN990 is a business move; a good business move no matter how unpopular.

      Except it’s not just a business move. If it wasn’t for the CRTC’s common ownership policy, it probably wouldn’t have been shut down.

      Reply
      1. Andre

        “Many investments take far longer than that to pay off. Radio stations tend to lose lots of money in their first few years. ”
        -Yes the first FEW years, not every single year of its 11 year operation. According to Bell, the losses got worse as time went on.

        “That would only follow if Canadiens games were broadcast every weekday. They aren’t.”
        -Yes the Habs are not on every day, and it would be interesting to see those individual day numbers. Even if the Habs bring in big ratings when they are on….twice a workweek on average…. then Barry must be making up those numbers those other 3 days, and they have to bring in close to the Habs numbers for it to be as equal as it is.

        “but this could just as easily have been about CJAD wanting a sports property to compensate for loss of Habs games as it was about TSN not wanting to spend enough on Impact game rights.”
        -Alouettes not a sports property?…which again has exclusive TV rights with TSN.

        “Except it’s not just a business move. If it wasn’t for the CRTC’s common ownership policy, it probably wouldn’t have been shut down.”
        -Except Bell never bothered asking an exception did they? Its business.

        Reply
        1. What's In A Name?

          TSN has consistently beaten CJAD in key male 25-54 demo in prime slots for last several years. One ratings period, especially one centred around the worst Canadiens season sine 1939, doesn’t tell the whole story. Plus, if Habs had made the playoffs, the station probably would have made money. The losses did not get worse every year. Quite the opposite.

          Reply
  6. Mario Perrazzino

    Lost in all of this is, what does Bell media intend to do with their remainder TEAM / TSN Radio Network. (Stations in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and two in Vancouver).
    BTW a big thank you to Fagstein and all for keeping us lay people informed.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Lost in all of this is, what does Bell media intend to do with their remainder TEAM / TSN Radio Network. (Stations in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and two in Vancouver).

      Bell’s plan is to sell one of the two Vancouver stations, but otherwise the network remains intact. I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t remain TSN Radio stations.

      Reply
  7. Mario

    From all the CRTC interventions and Twitter mentions and Facebook postings, this has turned out to be an exposure bonanza coup for TSN990 by means of free publicity and during the quietest (ad sales revenue) period of the year.

    Reply
    1. Eric

      My thoughts exactly. Rile up the base (a bit like the Republicans in the USA).

      Bell KNOWS what they are doing, this is not a random act.

      Anyway you look at it, a re-branding is a must for TSN990.

      They should try to hire people with professional sports experience to do commentary and analysis not guys out of the Ron Francis school of radio.

      Reply
  8. dave

    QUESTION: Haven’t really tuned in much lately now that they have shifted to “summer hours” which has to be the arrogant slap in the face you can give listeners. “Hey, weather is nice, we got things to do, we’re leaving early.” Anyway, last night their syndicated show at 6pm was Bob Cowen (sp?) of Rogers Spoorstnet….a show that got yanked as soon as they became TSN. Also somebody told me they heard Stephen Brunt the other day who was pulled for the same reason.
    Are they cozying up to the people in hopes of Rogers sports station? Is it because they just don’t care since they’re going under? Because they had nothing else to fill the air? Just curious why we’re hearing a competitor of TSN on what is still TSN radio…

    Reply
    1. What's In A Name?

      This is not the first time competitors TSN & Sportsnet have worked together for two weeks. Or have you already forgotten the Vancouver Olympics? Bell gets to run as many Bell commercials as they want on Sportsnet – using TSN talent – while Sportsnet gets exclusive radio rights which means they get to showcase their top talent who’s actually a radio guy. And His name is Bob McCown. Difficult to follow sports in this country without knowing who he is.

      Reply
  9. Mauireen & Thomas

    With reference to the recent decision by the CRTC to eliminate the TSN Team 990 radio station.
    This decision is based on antiquated rules and regulations which should be up graded to represent the year 2012.
    This decision is an insult to the both the francophone and anglophones who faithfully listen to this station.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      With reference to the recent decision by the CRTC to eliminate the TSN Team 990 radio station.

      The CRTC has made no such decision. Bell Media, which owns TSN 990, has applied to the CRTC to change it from English to French in order to meet common ownership limits in Montreal’s English market once it buys Astral Media. The CRTC has set a hearing Sept. 10 for this application, and will decide on it in the weeks or months after that date.

      Reply
  10. Colette Berzi

    I am from Toronto and was shocked to hear that you are thinking of silencing this radio station. This is the ONLY radio station where I can get news from the Quebec Sport scene.

    I can not believe that you would consider taking this radio station off the air. LAYOFF MY QUEBEC SPORTS RADIO STATION.

    Reply
  11. gaetano deprosperis

    loyal listener, and ashamed of the shameless leaders that believe guide us on the right path.

    Reply

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