The group of three Montreal businessmen who want to revolutionize radio broadcasting by putting money back into it don't yet have their first station on the air, but already they're looking to expand their growing empire from two news-talk stations to up to five AM radio stations in Quebec, including sports-talk stations in English and French, I've learned. And that expansion includes an as-yet unpublished application to start a new radio station on a frequency with a lot of history for one of these partners.
7954689 Canada Inc. is the official name of the company founded and controlled by Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault an Rajiv Pancholy, and known as Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media (you can read more about them here). It was founded a little more than a year ago to apply to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for two AM radio stations in Montreal, which would both have run on a news-talk format - one in English, the other in French. The French station was approved last October for 940 kHz, but since the other clear-channel frequency of 690 was given to CKGM and other frequencies were considered undesirable for the group, the commission turned down the application for an English station. The group has re-applied for an English station at 600 kHz, the former home of CIQC radio. The application was technically part of the hearings last week in Montreal that focused on Bell acquiring Astral Media, but since it did not provoke any opposition, there were no oral presentations about this application. Barring some unforeseen problem or change of heart, expect it to be approved quickly.
With two big-power AM stations set to launch soon, possibly in early 2013, perhaps more realistically by the fall of 2013 (they have until October 2013 to launch the French one unless they ask for an extension), you'd think they'd have their hands full. But they've already set their sights on getting bigger.
The group has taken part in two open calls for applications for new FM stations: one in Calgary for a hit music station and the other in Toronto for a news-talk station. Both had heavy competition and the group lost both times (decisions came for Calgary in May and for Toronto last week).
But that's not all. They're also looking to expand here.
Buying CKGM? "Absolutely"
Tietolman has previously said that his company might look to acquire existing radio stations as a result of the Bell-Astral acquisition that might force the divestment of an English radio station in Montreal. He has his sights on CJAD, but Bell said at last week's hearing that if anything it would be CKGM (TSN Radio 690) that would be sold or shut down. Asked about the possibility of buying that station instead, Tietolman said "absolutely." Since they already have an English news-talk station in the pipeline, this new one would probably maintain its sports-talk format.
During the hearings last week, Tietolman was seen having brief conversations with executives at Bell, but whether these are of any consequence, I don't know.
New application for French sports-talk at 850AM
When I asked the TTP group for their plans regarding sports radio, they were reluctant to share details, which I found odd for people who are normally very forthcoming with information. Was something in the works that hasn't been made public yet?
Turns out there's at least one thing: the Industry Canada radio station database lists an entry for a Class B station at 850 kHz, dated Aug. 20, 2012 (updated Aug. 22), with a transmitter whose coordinates show it to be in the middle of a forest in Île Perrot. The company listed with that entry is 7954689 Canada Inc., or TTP Media.
Applications for new radio stations have to meet approval of both the CRTC and Industry Canada. The latter handles the technical aspects of transmission, ensuring that the proposed station's technical parameters meet regulations and do not interfere with other stations. An engineering report filed with Industry Canada is a step in the application process for a new radio station, but an entry in the database does not mean a station is authorized to begin transmitting. It's merely a provisional entry, and it's the CRTC that will decide if the proposed station will be given a licence.
The CRTC tells me that indeed there is an application from 7954689 Canada Inc. for a radio station at 850 kHz in Montreal, but until it is published they cannot confirm any details about the application. A commission spokesperson said they could not say when a public notice about the application might come.
Asked about this application, Tietolman confirmed that his group is applying to start a French sports-talk station at 850AM. The station would be 50,000 watts day and night, with a signal pattern that would cover the region but still provide protection for WEEI in Boston.
Tietolman said the process began a year ago, when Cogeco announced it would move CKAC radio from sports-talk to all-traffic and well before Bell's proposal to turn TSN 690 into an RDS radio station became public. Tietolman said they first tried buying another existing station (he wouldn't say which one) to convert to sports-talk, but when that fell through they had their engineers find an unused frequency and signal pattern that could cover the region for a new application.
It's interesting that the frequency they came up with is 850 kHz. That channel has been silent since CKVL became CINF (Info 690) in 1999. CKVL was a major French-language commercial radio station for decades. It was started in 1946 by Corey Thompson and Jack Tietolman. The name is no coincidence: Jack Tietolman was Paul Tietolman's father.
Asked about getting back a frequency that used to belong to his family, Paul Tietolman said there wasn't any sentimental value to the frequency, and it really was just the best one available.
Quebec 800 too
That's not all. Tietolman also confirmed that TTP Media is also interested in acquiring CHRC in Quebec City, whose owners announced last Friday that they would be shutting the money-losing station down. Tietolman wouldn't go into detail about what his group would do with the station, but expect it to be a sister station to the news-talk station being built in Montreal.
Bell Media is also reportedly interested in acquiring the station, the last AM station in Quebec City. They would likely turn it into a sister station to RDS Radio, should the CRTC approve its application to put it on 690 in Montreal.
Can TTP make sports radio work?
I asked Tietolman how he thinks his group can make sports talk radio successful without rights to game broadcasts. He replied that play-by-play rights to live sports games like Canadiens and Alouettes have only a marginal impact on a sports-talk station's overall profitability. It's more of an image and brand thing than anything else, he said, and he said he was confident that they could make it work even without rights to those games.
In English, Canadiens rights are held by Bell Media (which airs them on CKGM), while Alouettes and Impact rights are held by Astral Media (which airs them on CJAD). If the application by Bell to acquire Astral is approved, Bell would move Canadiens games to CJAD, and presumably Alouettes and Impact games would stay there.
In French, Canadiens and Alouettes rights are held by Cogeco Diffusion, which airs them on CHMP 98.5. There is no French-language radio broadcaster for Impact games, which means either RDS Radio or a TTP sports-talk station could quickly pick up rights to Impact play-by-play.
Those who considered TTP's plans for their original two stations to be unrealistically optimistic will think this new expansion to up to five stations is just lunacy, an insane money-burning exercise that will leave the company bankrupt within two years. Those who think these three guys are going to save the radio industry will consider this great news.
Expect the CRTC to be very skeptical about business plans once the 850AM application and any transfer of ownership applications come before them, just as they were when TTP's original applications were heard last year.
But don't count out these little guys with a bit of money and big dreams, either.