Only a few months after the CRTC denied a request from RNC Media to change the licence of CKLX-FM 91.9 so it could go from Planète Jazz to Radio X, the company is trying again.
On Wednesday, the commission published the station’s renewal application, and set a hearing for Nov. 5 in Gatineau to discuss it.
CKLX-FM, which launched in 2004, is licensed as a specialty music station, and one of the requirements is that 70% of the music it airs must be in the jazz/blues category. When it launched, it was thought that because Montreal has a successful jazz festival every year, there would be a market for a jazz radio station. As it turned out, the ratings were very poor, and the station continuously lost money. (It wasn’t the only one. Other commercial jazz stations in Canada also changed formats after deciding it wasn’t working.)
It changed formats a year ago, going from all-jazz to a talk format during the day on weekdays, rock music on weekend afternoons, and jazz otherwise. The new format met the letter of the licence, if not its spirit. But RNC wanted to rid the station of jazz completely, and for that they need a change of the licence.
As it did last time, the application is to modify the licence so that instead of a specialty music station focused on jazz/blues, it becomes a specialty talk station, with a minimum of 50% talk during the broadcast week.
The CRTC doesn’t deny that the station is struggling financially enough to warrant a licence change. But it cited other reasons why the request should not be granted. The new application (which was first filed before the decision denying the licence change was issued) attempts to address those concerns:
Potential harm to new competitor: The CRTC took note that TTP Media has a licence to launch a news-talk radio station in French at 940 AM, and said that having a new competitor right off the bat might cause them harm. TTP Media opposed RNC’s request to change the station’s licence the first time around. RNC counters this time by saying that the AM and FM audiences are different (it suggests 940 AM would target an older audience because its programming would include call-in shows), but also that the licence change would affect hours after 7pm weekdays when Radio X currently airs jazz music, and that those hours represent a small portion of listening hours to talk radio stations.
The possibility of a new specialty musical format: RNC shot down the idea that CKLX-FM try a different musical specialty format, in part because it felt its experience was in the talk format that makes CHOI-FM a top station in Quebec city, and in part because it feels the other music stations in Montreal have a huge competitive advantage because they are owned by the same two companies (Astral, now Bell, and Cogeco).
Non-compliance with licence obligations: The CRTC doesn’t like to reward broadcasters who aren’t in compliance with their licences by approving changes to those licences. It prefers that broadcasters come into compliance, and then present a case for a licence amendment. In this case, the CRTC found that RNC was classifying hit songs as jazz/blues songs, and that with proper classification, the station wasn’t in compliance with the minimum level of jazz/blues songs, and with another standard condition that 65% of popular music that airs on French stations be French songs.
RNC responds to this mainly by disagreeing with the way the commission proceeded. It said the CRTC rejected songs that aired on the station as being in that category because they were hit songs, but there’s no rule that says songs that reach positions on sales charts are ineligible for inclusion in that category. One document attached to the application even goes so far as to define “jazz” and “blues” by copying the introduction to their Wikipedia articles, then justify why it believes the songs are actually jazz/blues. They include these:
- 1,2,3,4 by Feist
- Waiting on the World to Change and Gravity by John Mayer
- Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
- Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner
- Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
- Purple Rain by Prince
- Oye como va by Carlos Santana
- Rehab by Amy Winehouse
- Roxanne by The Police
- You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon
- These Eyes by The Guess Who
Justifications include their artists’ profiles on allmusic.com, and participation in the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
Nevertheless, it said it has removed these songs from its playlist.
And $350,000 to sweeten the pot
As part of its request, RNC has said it would commit to adding $350,000 over seven years (but only starting in the fourth) to its Canadian content development contributions, with $200,000 going to journalism/broadcasting scholarships, and $150,000 to Fondation NewRock.
According to financial projections it filed, if the application is approved its advertising revenue would go up from $1.4 million in the first year to $7.9 million in Year 7, its expenses would go up from $3.5 million to $5 million a year (including the proposed additional contributions), and it would make money starting in Year 4. Without the licence change, it would lose between $1.1 million and $1.5 million every year of its licence and the company would have to consider shutting it down.
While normally that would be a bad thing, here the CRTC has to consider that Montreal does not have available FM frequencies, and opening up one that allows for a 4.6kW transmitter on Mount Royal might mean a lot of great ideas for new radio stations.
But as much as some people don’t like the Radio X format, RNC is an independent in this market, and talk radio is an expensive format that the commission usually encourages. I suspect that here, finally, RNC will get its wish, and we’ll be rid of jazz music for good.
The CRTC is accepting public comment on the proposed licence change, and on the overall renewal of the licence of CKLX-FM in Montreal, until Sept. 27. You can file comments here, by selecting Option 1 and then Application 2013-0237-2: RNC MEDIA Inc. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, goes on the public record.