I wouldn't dare say that the crisis affecting news media is behind us, but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about local media — particularly on the broadcasting side — going into 2013. The coming year will see at least four new radio stations and one additional television station, which will mean more jobs for technicians, editors, advertising salespeople, marketers, broadcasters and even some journalists. And existing media will see some big changes too that will improve the local landscape.
In August, I did a piece for The Gazette going over upcoming changes station by station. Here's mainly an updated guide to those changes we expect to see this year:
The biggest changes will happen on the AM dial, thanks to the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group which plans to launch news-talk stations in English and French. There's also another additional station, and perhaps a third by TTP Media. It won't bring things back to what they were in the 70s, but a lot of those frequencies that once had big-name radio stations and have been silent the past few years will be brought back to life:
600: TTP's English station will occupy the old CFCF/CIQC frequency, silent since 1999. The station was approved in November by the CRTC. The group wants it to have live programming 24/7, including a journalistic team that puts CJAD's to shame. That will mean hiring a lot of people.
690 (CKGM): TSN Radio was saved as an English station when the CRTC said no to the Bell/Astral deal, but they're going to try again, this time asking for an exemption to allow them to keep CKGM along with the three Astral stations. While a popular idea among the station's fans, it might not work with regulators who would face giving four of the five English-language commercial stations in Montreal to one company. The one thing that might help get this through is the new TTP station at 600 bumping the total number from five to six. But will that be enough to justify an already dominant radio group (CJAD/CHOM/CJFM) getting even bigger? In the more immediate future, an early afternoon host has to be found (or announced) for Randy Tieman's old slot.
730 (CKAC): The government-subsidized all-traffic station still does poorly in the ratings, though it doesn't have to worry about that too much because of the $1.5-million-a-year paycheque it gets just for existing. There's a new government that would love to save as much money as it can, but the deal with Cogeco only comes up for renewal in 2014.
800 (CJAD): No big plans are in the works for Montreal's News-Talk Leader that I know of. But it might have to change whether it wants to or not. If TTP makes good enough offers to lure away talent from CJAD, the latter might have to reshuffle its schedule.
850: The CRTC has confirmed that there's an application for the use of this frequency, but it hasn't been published yet. We do know it's from the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group and that it's for a French-language sports talk station. They've seen an opportunity now that there's no longer an all-sports radio station in French. But with 98.5FM carrying Canadiens and Alouettes broadcast rights, and devoting their evenings to sports talk, will there be enough of a gap for TTP to capitalize? If the application is published soon, it could be approved by this fall.
940: TTP's French-language station goes here, on the clear channel that was once home to CBC Radio and 940 News. The station was approved in the fall of 2011, which gives them until this November to launch or request an extension from the CRTC. No launch date has been set, but the plan is to launch both simultaneously some time in the spring. And just as 600 could steal talent from CJAD and elsewhere, we could see 940 taking away people from stations like 98.5 or even Radio X.
990: The former CKGM/Team/TSN 990 frequency was vacated on Dec. 1 and is ready for Radio Fierté, a French-language music and talk station run by Dufferin Communications. They have until November to launch or request an extension.
1410 (CJWI): Still waiting for the Haitian radio station (CPAM Radio Union) to switch to this frequency from 1610.
1570 (CJLV): The Laval-based commercial station, which had threatened to shut down if the CRTC didn't convert it into an ethnic station, had its bluff called when the CRTC ruled that the Montreal market couldn't take another ethnic station. Its plan B seems to be a partnership with Internet radio station CNV (which you'll see sometimes if you go to Complexe Desjardins) which sees the latter's programming on the former's signal.
The FM dial in Montreal is full. That's really the only thing preventing someone from launching another radio station to compete with Virgin, The Beat and CHOM. Still, there's room for at least one addition in an adjacent market.
89.9 (CKKI-FM): Kahnawake Keeps It Country has hired a new morning man: local radio critic Sheldon Harvey. The small station with a low-power transmitter in its backyard isn't even the most popular station in Kahnawake. Can the former pirate station get enough revenue to cover its modest expenses and keep it on the air?
91.9 (CKLX-FM): Months after relaunching as Radio X Montreal, the former Planète Jazz is still awaiting a CRTC decision on whether it can abandon its status as a specialty jazz music station and be relicensed as a general commercial station. The application for this was first published almost a full year ago, and officially heard at the Sept. 10 hearing in Montreal. Under its current licence, CKLX-FM is required to devote 70% of its musical selections to the jazz/blues format. This doesn't technically interfere with them being a talk station during the day, since there isn't much music during talk shows. But it does go against the Radio X model of rock music on weekends. So until its licence changes, CKLX airs jazz/blues music evenings, overnight, on weekend mornings and weekend evenings.
92.5 (CKBE-FM): The Beat has some schedule shuffling to do. Ken Connors has essentially replaced the fired Murray Sherriffs as the morning news man, and Pete Marier has been doing weekend mornings in his absence, but on the website Connors is still listed as the weekend morning man. Will Bad Pete get a permanent gig here? On the regulatory front, the station is awaiting a decision on a request to boost its power from 44 kW to 100 kW. That request hit a bit of a snag because Dufferin Communications has applied for an FM station on that frequency in Clarence-Rockland, Ontario, just east of Ottawa. The CRTC is treating the applications as competing, even though The Beat said it would accept interference caused by the overlapping coverage areas. The hearing was in November, and a decision hasn't been published yet.
93.5 (CBM-FM): CBC Radio Two is waiting on the CRTC to decide whether, as part of the CBC's larger licence renewals, it will be allowed to carry commercial advertising. The request received fierce opposition from commercial competitors who believe the CBC will use its government financing to create an unfair commercial advantage for itself, as well as from CBC listeners who believe this will cause the network to make more decisions based on ratings and advertising than on the quality of programming.
95.9 (CJFM-FM): Will Montreal's top-rated music station face a stronger competitor in The Beat in 2013? Will its schedule undergo more changes as what seems like a revolving door of talent keeps spinning? Will listeners tire of Ryan Seacrest and demand more local talent during peak hours? We'll see. Otherwise, there aren't any big changes I know about in the works at Virgin.
96.9 (CKOI-FM): CKOI faces an identity crisis. Its ratings are pretty bad, and the regional network of stations with its brand has been switched to talk, with the exception of the Quebec City station that Cogeco doesn't own anymore. Cogeco already has a talk station in Montreal with 98.5, so what to do with the low-rated flagship station of a network that no longer exists? Its owners can comfort themselves with the news that it still ranks highly among younger audiences (18-34), but you have to wonder if the station will last the year the way it is without some big shakeup.
97.7 (CHOM-FM): As Montreal's rock station marks one year since the return of Terry DiMonte (see Bill Brownstein's story in The Gazette), the schedule is pretty stable: DiMonte and Heather Backman in the mornings, TooTall during the day, Bilal Butt in afternoon drive and Jason Rockman in evenings, with Sharon Hyland, Rob Kemp and Randy Renaud on weekends and Brandon Craddock and Ronny Mack splitting the overnights. Its ratings are decent, and it owns the male demographic (not hard since the other music stations are both targetting women).
100.7 (CBFX-FM): Like Radio Two, Espace musique is seeking permission to carry advertising.
103.7 (CKRK-FM): Kahnawake's K103 is trying to keep going without the attention that Ted Bird brought. It has a new program director in Al Gravelle, and a new morning guy in Zack Rath to join veterans Paul Graif and Java Jacobs. Will the station find an answer to its main existential question — is it a Kahnawake community station, or a wide-audience commercial station?
105.1 (CKDG-FM): Ethnic station Mike FM quietly lost afternoon guy Patrick Charles, leaving Tasso Patsikakis to carry the show solo. Is he bringing in the kind of ratings (and advertising) needed to make the relationship work for both parties? If not, there's a limited amount of time to make it work. Earlug ads in The Gazette are nice, but if Mike FM is going to be a general-interest radio station during the morning and afternoon drive hours, it needs some serious efforts in promotion.
106.7: Dufferin Communications, the same company behind Radio Fierté, has received CRTC approval for its radio station on this frequency in Hudson/St. Lazare. The station, which will almost certainly carry Dufferin's Jewel branding, will air mainly easy-listening music but also carry local news and information, which will be a boon to the local community. Here's a CTV Montreal report on the planned station. Its launch could be as early as spring but expect it to be closer to fall.
Local television in Montreal is going to see its biggest changes since 1997. The number of stations will increase by one, from 9 to 10, but the changes are more significant than that:
CBMT (CBC) has taken some significant steps to improve local programming, even in the wake of cuts to the CBC's budget. The evening newscast expanded to an hour and a half, a late-night 10-minute newscast was added and then expanded to 30 minutes, and weekend newscasts added so the station has news seven days a week. This could improve even further depending on how the CBC's licence renewal goes. The CBC has proposed that its local stations have seven or 14 hours a week of local programming, depending on the size of the market (Montreal's English market would be considered large). Currently, CBMT has a bit under 11 hours a week of local news, so this would mean an expansion of some sort. The CBC also said that one of those 14 hours could be non-news programming. This could mean the return of cookie-cutter local lifestyle shows like Living or something else. But anything is better than nothing.
CFCF (CTV) is finally making the move toward high-definition newscasts, and a finish line is in sight in the spring or early summer for the 4:3 programming to be replaced by beautiful 16:9 HD. Its newscast also finally has a permanent replacement for Kai Nagata in Quebec City. Former Gazette reporter Max Harrold started there in November and is already working on his TV reporting skills filing reports in Montreal. He should be in Quebec City by the time the National Assembly resumes its work in February.
CKMI (Global) is launching a two-hour weekday morning show, long promised as part of Shaw's purchase of Canwest in 2010. It's supposed to be some time in the spring, but an exact date isn't set yet. There's also been no announcement of a host, though there have been hires on the technical side. The show will be Montreal's first local morning show since This Morning Live was cancelled in 2008. That was five years ago, but could we see some of its personalities returning? Richard Dagenais still works there.
CJNT (Metro 14/City) is changing owners, from Channel Zero to Rogers, within the month. Starting in February, its ethnic programming will be stripped (at least from primetime) and replaced with the entire Citytv lineup, including some new original Canadian shows. By September, it will launch a three-hour local morning show, competing with Global, and a weekly half-hour local sports show, the first since SportsNight 360 was taken off CFCF to make room for expanded weekend newscasts. The move will mean 20-30 new jobs, mainly technical ones. Rogers has made clear that it plans to hire locally for its on-air jobs.
ICI is the new kid on the block, taking up the ethnic programming from CJNT. The independent station, with some generous support from both Rogers and Channel Zero, will need to install a new transmitter and setup a complete television station essentially from scratch, but hope to be on the air by late spring or early summer. With more than a dozen independent producers already signed on and many more reportedly waiting to join, the project for an ethnic station financed by its own producers starts with a lot of good will.
I'm sure I've missed a bunch of stuff, that's being worked on in secret, or that's being done at a station too small to have a PR person keep me abreast. (If you know of stuff, let me know.) But even with just this, we can be confident that there's a lot happening in this city in 2013. And I'll try to document as much of it as I can.
Happy new year.