Planète Jazz lives! Well, kinda.
On Thursday morning, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission released a decision denying a request from owner RNC Media to amend the licence of CKLX-FM Montreal (91.9 FM), changing it from a specialty jazz format to a spoken word one.
RNC said in its request that the jazz format did not bring nearly enough revenue, reaching only 18% of projections. So it proposed a spoken word format that, at the time of its application, was on only one other commercial station in French: the very successful CHMP 98.5.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this would have meant Montreal getting a Radio X station, as RNC owns the brand and its Quebec City station CHOI is very successful.
Sure enough, in August, the station switched formats anyway, launching Radio X Montreal. In order to remain in compliance with its licence, the station kept jazz music during the low-rated evenings, overnights and weekends (except a few hours on weekend afternoons when it airs rock music). The licence says that “a minimum of 70% of the musical programming broadcast to musical selections from content subcategory 34 (Jazz and blues)” — but there’s nothing that requires music itself to take up a certain percentage of the broadcast day. So theoretically it would have to air no jazz music at all so long as it aired no other type of music.
The CRTC’s decision doesn’t really address this issue, and the appearance that the station, while respecting the letter of its licence, doesn’t seem to reflect its spirit. In fact, it said: “The Commission analyzed the broadcast levels of CKLX-FM’s spoken word programming and notes that the licensee is in compliance with its obligations in that regard.”
The decision instead looked at the following issues: the station’s finances, how its proposal would affect other stations, and whether the station was in compliance with the letter its licence on other matters.
For those who think this means the return of Planète Jazz, don’t hold your breath. The CRTC agreed that the station was unviable financially in that format, serious enough to warrant a change in its licence.
It also felt that, because of CHMP’s success, it could handle some competition, and that the change wouldn’t have a serious impact on the many community radio stations in the region.
But there’s a new player out there: Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, which was given a licence for a French-language talk station at 940AM, set to launch some time this year. The CRTC felt that the station was going to have enough trouble getting off the ground as a French-language AM talk station, and adding another direct competitor could hurt it further.
Much of the decision concerned the station’s licence obligations. By looking at the broadcast week of Aug. 19, 2012 (the first week of Radio X), the commission found that it had incorrectly classified some hit songs (most of them English-language) as specialty jazz/blues selections. Fixing this meant that the station was in non-compliance with a licence obligation that at least 65% of the popular music it airs must be in French. The CRTC found that only 44.5% was. It also meant that the station was in non-compliance with the condition that at least 70% of its music must be jazz/blues.
RNC responded to the CRTC by questioning its methodology, but the commission didn’t budge.
It’s mainly for this reason, that the station wasn’t complying with its licence obligations in terms of musical programming, that the CRTC denied the request for an amendment. “The Commission’s standard practice is to deny applications to amend conditions of licence for which the objective is to remedy situations of non-compliance,” its decision reads.
It also noted the potential effect on the TTP Media station, as well as the fact that other broadcasters who requested similar changes in other markets changed to music stations, not talk.
All this appears to open the door to them trying again, once their conditions of licence are met and if they can find a way to limit the effect on the TTP Media station. Turning it into a rock music station like Radio X2 or Capitale Rock might be an option.
RNC: We’ll try again
Raynald Brière, president of RNC Media, which also owns Capitale Rock and Planète stations throughout Quebec and runs affiliates of V and TVA in Gatineau and Abitibi, tells me they’re keeping Radio X.
“Nous maintenons le cap avec Radio X à Montréal. La format actuel est maintenu,” he writes me in an email.
He explains that the company has taken note of the commission’s ruling in terms of music and will act accordingly to fix it, and was happy that the commission recognized that the specialty jazz format was not viable financially.
He also said they would try again to change the station’s licence. Its licence is up for renewal on Aug. 31, and that will be another opportunity for the station to ask for a change. It’s also when the CRTC will examine the station’s non-compliance and what it will do about it. The station’s existing licence was a short-term three-year renewal because it was found to be in non-compliance on its Canadian talent development contribution obligations.
The CRTC can’t issue financial penalties, but it can issue another short-term renewal (which isn’t desirable because of the additional paperwork involved) or, in an extreme case, deny a renewal and force a station to give back its licence.
The application for licence renewal hasn’t yet been published by the CRTC.
Radio X ratings lower than Planète Jazz
Though RNC seems committed to the Radio X format, ratings suggest that it’s been a flop so far. The first ratings period in the fall showed that the station’s share had actually dropped after the conversion. The latest ratings show the station with a 0.6% share overall, compared to 1.1% for the same period a year ago. The station also has a smaller reach overall.