CJMS 1040, the country music AM station in Saint-Constant, is in trouble.
After repeated attempts to acquire logs and tapes from the station to evaluate it ahead of its licence renewal next year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ordered it to appear at a hearing in Gatineau on Nov. 5 to explain itself, and has threatened to impose sanctions, up to and including non-renewal or revocation of its licence.
A radio station broadcasting licence involves several requirements, among them that the station has to provide, on request, logger tapes (i.e. recordings of what was aired) and program logs (written lists of what was aired, including all musical selections) for a given date.
In a letter sent July 4, the CRTC says it has been trying since December to get the logs and tapes for a week in November. The CRTC planned to evaluate that week as a sample as it reviews the station’s licence, which expires on Aug. 31, 2014. It followed up its initial letter with a phone call two days later, then another phone call in January, then another in February and then an email in June. Even after the July 4 letter, CJMS has not handed over the tapes and logs.
This is a very serious problem. The logs and tapes are the only way the CRTC can evaluate what goes on the air. It can’t tell whether the station is meeting its Canadian content requirements, or its requirements for local programming, unless it can tell what was actually broadcast.
The CRTC judged the station in non-compliance with its licence, and has now requested the logs and tapes of the last week of May instead.
This isn’t the first time CJMS has been in trouble with the CRTC. In fact, the commission says this is the fourth consecutive licence term that CJMS has failed to comply with all aspects of its licence:
- The licence was first granted in 1998 to Michel Mathieu (who works as a broadcasting consultant) for a 5,000-watt station at 1320 kHz. After getting approval for a frequency change to 1040, the station went on air in April
20091999 under the callsign CJMS, despite having no relation to the station that operated for decades under the same callsign at 1280 kHz. The first licence was for a standard seven-year term, until 2005, though it was extended to 2006. (In 2001, Mathieu’s shares were transferred to Alexandre Azoulay, who still owns the station.)
- In 2006, the CRTC renewed the station’s licence for only two years after finding that it failed to meet obligations to file legible and complete logger tapes, it had failed to file annual reports on time, that it had failed to meet the quota of French-language music and that a Canadian talent development contribution it made was ineligible because it was self-serving.
- In 2008, it renewed the licence another for two years after CJMS had failed to file its annual financial returns on time. CJMS had said that it had an agreement with an accounting firm to avoid such problems in the future.
- In 2010, the CRTC found that the station had failed to make its Canadian talent development contributions on time, had failed to broadcast local newscasts, and had failed to submit complete lists of musical selections it had aired. It renewed the station’s licence again for a short term, this time four years.
Non-compliance with a licence is bad enough, but repeated non-compliance, particularly over the same matters, causes the CRTC to take much more drastic action. It’s calling CJMS to the hearing to give any reasons why it shouldn’t issue a mandatory court order forcing it to comply with its licence.
But it could go even farther, it says: “Given the licensee’s history of non-compliance, the Commission may also consider recourse to the suspension or revocation of the licence, pursuant to sections 9 and 24 of the Broadcasting Act.”
The CRTC has gone this far before. The most famous case was in 2011, when it revoked the licence of CKLN-FM, the Toronto-based radio station at Ryerson University, whose administration and programming went right off the rails during a long management dispute. The frequency vacancy led to 22 applications to fill it, a race that was won by what is now Indie 88.
Four straight non-compliant licence terms is very bad, and revocation is definitely a possibility here. The key will be if the logs and tapes are submitted and what they show. If the station is otherwise compliant, and demonstrates serious measures to ensure compliance in the future, it might get away with a mandatory order or just another short-term renewal.
But everything in this station’s history (including problems I wrote about this summer) points to a radio station that is at best disorganized and at worst incapable of managing the basic regulatory requirements asked of all licensed broadcasters.
The CRTC is accepting comment about CJMS’s licence issues, but requests that those comments relate only to the specific non-compliance that is being investigated here. Comments can be filed through the online form here until Sept. 27. Choose option 1 then check the box next to “2013-1228-0: 3553230 Canada Inc.”