What happened to TTP Media?

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Over the past few months, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is what is going on with the group known as TTP Media. The group, composed of businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, has licences for three AM radio stations in Montreal, none of which has launched yet. And none of them has said anything publicly for months.

Some of those inquiries have come from people looking for jobs at these new stations, which have promised to invest heavily in local programming and local news. Others have come from radio watchers excited about having something else to listen to. And some are from people who have a beef with CJAD and want to see competition as soon as possible.

Since May, I have been trying to get answers from all three of them. And it has been proving strangely difficult. Tietolman, who had previously been very talkative about the new station, without giving away any secrets, clammed up, asking me to speak with Pancholy, who is the managing partner.

Pancholy told me he didn’t have anything to say at the moment, but that I could expect an announcement in the next four to six weeks that would answer most of my questions.

That was May 23. Despite repeated phone calls, I haven’t spoken to Pancholy since. (That’s 20 weeks ago, in case you’re counting.)

Tétrault, for his part, has at least been getting back to me. “Our group is very much alive and hard at work,” he wrote me in an email on Aug. 20. “However, we do not want to announce anything till we are fully ready. I hope you understand. We will contact you when the time comes.”

On Oct. 3, in response to another request for information as the deadline to launch the first of those three stations approaches, Tétrault said “we do not like to talk about our plans” but that he’d make an exception to tell me this:

In the current business environment, it makes business sense to launch multiple radio stations as close to each other as possible. Consequently, we had requested that our implementation deadline be extended. The CRTC has recently responded favorably to our request.

We do not have any other comments at the moment.

Tietolman had told me something similar the last time I saw him in person, during the Bell/Astral CRTC merger hearings in May. The group wants to launch its English and French news-talk stations at the same time. (The three have gone back and forth on this plan a bit, first saying they would launch simultaneously, then saying they wouldn’t have to do that, and now saying they want to do that again.)

News of this extension will no doubt fuel more rumours out there about why this group has disappeared from the public radar.

History

The first time this group came onto the media scene was in 2010, after Corus and Cogeco announced that the latter would purchase the former’s radio stations in Quebec, including CFQR (Q92), CHMP (98.5 FM), CKOI and CKAC in Montreal. The total purchase price was $80 million.

Tietolman, the son of CKOI and CKVL founder Jack Tietolman, and Tétrault, a realtor and former Montreal city councillor, formed a partnership and announced an $81-million bid for those stations. The bid wasn’t taken seriously by Corus, which had already signed an agreement with Cogeco, and with CRTC approval, the Cogeco purchase of Corus Quebec was closed on Feb. 1, 2011.

A few months later, the CRTC published applications from Cogeco for new radio station licences at 690 and 940 AM, frequencies that had been silent since the shutdown of Info 690 and what was once 940 News. Cogeco had come to a deal with the Quebec government to fund a traffic station in each language. And since it had bought the transmitters used for those stations in the deal with Corus, it was able to reactivate them easily.

But while Cogeco expected a quick approval of its use of those frequencies, other groups wanted a public hearing to consider other options. Tietolman-Tétrault was one of those groups, saying they had a better plan for those frequencies. “Those two frequencies would be on air shortly after the granting of licences,” the pair told the CRTC.

In October 2011, the CRTC held a hearing to discuss five applications for the use of those two frequencies. Cogeco had by then converted CKAC to an all-traffic station, and kept only its application for an English all-traffic station. Bell applied to change the frequency of CKGM (TSN Radio) from 990 to 690 to improve its signal. Newcomer Dufferin Communications (Evanov Radio) applied for an LGBT-themed station.

And there was Tietolman and Tétrault. They teamed up with Rajiv Pancholy, a wireless industry executive who was a former CEO of Fido before it was bought by Rogers. They incorporated as 7954689 Canada inc., operating under the name Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media or TTP Media for short. The company, owned 1/3 by each of the partners, submitted applications for English and French news-talk stations for 690 and 940. During the hearing, in which they were accompanied by plenty of guys in suits to show how serious they were, they told the CRTC that the two applications were not severable and that other frequencies would not be acceptable to them.

The CRTC called them on their bluff when it awarded only 940 to the group for the French-language station. CKGM got 690, and Dufferin was given CKGM’s old frequency of 990. Cogeco and TTP Media were invited to re-apply if they could find another frequency acceptable to them. (Cogeco never did — its English all-traffic plans have essentially been abandoned.)

TTP Media did reapply, for a station at 600 AM, the former CFCF/CIQC frequency (and using the same transmitter site). With no competition or opposition, it was approved last November. And then the group applied for a third licence for a French-language sports talk station on CKVL’s old frequency of 850 AM. That application was approved in June.

The group also applied to launch FM music stations in Toronto and Calgary. Both of those had stiff competition (Toronto’s 88.1 FM had more than 20 applicants) and it was successful in neither.

One more year

TTP’s three licences, like all licences for new radio stations, came with a two-year deadline from the date of the decision to launch. This means the following deadlines:

  • Nov. 21, 2013, for the French-language news-talk station at 940 AM
  • Nov. 9, 2014, for the English-language news-talk station at 600 AM
  • June 19, 2015, for the French-language sports-talk station at 850 AM

With the extension Tétrault mentions above, the French-language station will now have until Nov. 21, 2014, to launch. Normally, the commission will grant a one-year extension without too much hassle, and then another one, and refuse any further extensions. (These requests are not subject to public comment and decisions are posted in bulk weeks after they’re made.)

So many questions

I can understand the group’s desire to keep some secrets. Lots of media do that, even when it becomes ridiculous sometimes. And from the beginning, there has been a desire to keep close to the vest a programming strategy that the group hopes will be nothing short of a game-changer in radio broadcasting.

But after two years, there’s been no news. The only thing we know has been secured for the two news-talk stations is the transmitter. TTP signed an agreement with Cogeco to rent the former CINF/CINW transmission site in Kahnawake for a price that reaches into five figures a month.

There has been no word on any on-air staff. No word on studio location. No word on programming. No word on branding, callsign or anything else.

Jim Connell (centre) and Steve Kowch (right)

Jim Connell (centre) and Steve Kowch (right)

As far as I can tell, this group has no employees. In addition to consultants, three people were brought to the first CRTC hearing and presented as people who would be involved in these stations: broadcaster Jim Connell, who was expected to be an on-air presence on the English station and former radio executives Steve Kowch and Yves Guérard, who were expected to be program directors or station managers at the English and French news-talk stations, respectively.

Connell is no longer in the picture. Late last year he accepted a job as a control room director for Global Montreal’s morning show. He wouldn’t say why he left the project, but impatience with the progress toward launch was undoubtedly a factor.

Kowch and Guérard are still involved, but neither is in Montreal and neither is being paid. Kowch, who has been soliciting ideas about programming from radio watchers through online forums including his blog, is waiting for the word to move here and begin putting a programming plan into action. Until then he’s in Toronto and not on the payroll. Guérard, who I couldn’t reach, is apparently in Florida in a similar situation.

It just seems so odd that a group that was so impatient, so eager to spend millions of dollars on a dream, has virtually nothing to show for it two years later.

In the meantime, I’ve heard plenty of rumours. There’s a rift between the partners and they’re breaking up. One of them is buying out the other two. Or two of them are buying out the third. They’re in way over their heads and don’t know what they’re doing. They’re waiting to see if they can buy existing stations first. They’re an elaborate front for a CIA spying operation.

Okay, maybe not that last one. The truth is I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe they are in some secret crisis. Or maybe they’re right, there’s nothing wrong and everyone is just being impatient with them.

Without any evidence to the contrary, I have no reason to dismiss their official story that they just need more time for a reason that is not entirely clear, that they’re working hard behind the scenes on some super big thing that will soon be revealed.

But considering how much they’re making us wait for it, it better be pretty darn big.

UPDATE (Nov. 7): La Presse reports one of the partners might be bought out. This confirms rumours I have heard, though hasn’t been confirmed by the partners. Such a change would require CRTC approval.

18 thoughts on “What happened to TTP Media?

  1. Media Man

    Well, this is disheartening, should CJAD be celebrating or should they not rest on their laurels.?

    It would seem to make sense that 600 & 940 launch together with some fanfare and a bang, and the other station could launch alone since it has a different vocation.

    But since where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. Could one partner go it alone. Probably not.Two most likely could keeping in mind if you highly capable pros in Guerard and Kowch. Tetreault answered you back. Seeing that reading between the lines can be an art and from you write here, I defect a rift between Teitolman and Pancholy.

    Both have their specialties being the actual broadcasting and the technical side, so which of these two can be left out.

    I also remember one posting where you wrote that Teitolman had a downtown spot near another current media outlet. But you’re right here, a lot of nothing but maybe a lot of something for between the line readers..

    The danger I see here for both stations is that good people who may have wanted to be part of the new spots or maybe they have talked to potential superstar ex-employees of current outlets may no longer be available when the time comes and nobody wanting to go to a possible shaky ownership group.

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  2. Marc

    Benefit of the doubt says that they are likely working as hard as they can. This isn’t a simple undertaking and it takes the time it needs to take.

    But like you said,

    But considering how much they’re making us wait for it, it better be pretty darn big.

    Exactly.

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  3. Dilbert

    I hate to say it, but this is what failure tends to look like just before you realize it’s failure.

    My personal guess here (no insider knowledge, sorry) is that this group didn’t have a real, true business plan at all from the get go, that much of this was done basically in the impulse and drive of Paul Tietolman, who appears intent on re-creating the empire of his father. They have been taking wild swings at anything and everything that walks by, from TSN radio to just about any other chance that seems to come by. That is signs of a group with no specific plan, just a dream.

    The lack of an office, a location, or any staff goes further to show that they don’t have a solid plan. Pushing off the opening of the English station to match up to the opening of the French station(s) seems a bit weird, generally you would want to open them one after another so you could deal with technical issues on each one, rather than trying to do the triple at the same time. It looks like a lack of a plan beyond “do it later”.

    The fact that they have a license, a transmitter location (and for that matter, apparently everything set up and ready to go) means that the delay isn’t technical, it’s “business”. With nobody appearing to be working on the business side of it, this project has the pall of failure hanging over it solidly.

    At this point, in my mind, TTP is already a “dead player” in the game. They have the licenses, which they will potentially shovel off to someone else to get into the Montreal marketplace, and call it a day. Without a business and a business plan apparent, they have no hope of actually making it to the air.

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      My personal guess here (no insider knowledge, sorry) is that this group didn’t have a real, true business plan at all from the get go

      They would, of course, disagree. They presented a business plan to the CRTC when applying for each licence. That plan was criticized for being overly optimistic, but it has data behind it.

      But even if this was the case, why would it be stopping them at this stage? They haven’t really spent their money yet. And they have a bank loan in addition to their personal financial contributions, so it’s not like they’re lacking in money.

      Pushing off the opening of the English station to match up to the opening of the French station(s) seems a bit weird

      To be clear, it’s the other way around: They’ve gotten an extension on the French station. The English one has another year to launch. I can understand wanting to launch the stations simultaneously, since many of their non-programming functions will be shared. And they can make a bigger splash if they launch simultaneously. But the question remains why both couldn’t launch by now. Maybe they wanted to wait until they had the licence for the sports station, or maybe it’s some other legitimate reason. But they’re not talking.

      The fact that they have a license, a transmitter location (and for that matter, apparently everything set up and ready to go) means that the delay isn’t technical, it’s “business”.

      If by “everything” you include nothing but the transmitter towers. I don’t even know if work has been done to bring them to working condition. I can’t discount technical reasons as a possible factor here.

      They have the licenses, which they will potentially shovel off to someone else to get into the Montreal marketplace, and call it a day.

      Setting aside the issue of licence trafficking, which the CRTC frowns upon, the demand for AM licences is pretty low. The 600 and 850 AM frequencies have sat unused since 1999. And 940, a clear channel, had been vacant for more than a year before the first application for it. Add the fact that both Astral and Cogeco might have trouble convincing the CRTC to allow yet another Montreal radio station added to their media empires, and it’s hard to see another group interested in these licenses.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “They presented a business plan to the CRTC when applying for each licence. That plan was criticized for being overly optimistic, but it has data behind it.”

        Ahh, you misunderstand. A “business plan” in numbers is quite different from having a plan for your business to actually accomplish the goals. The numbers talk about what happens when the station opens, goals for ads sold, staffing, things like that. That doesn’t deal with how you get from zero to on the air, and in that area, there appears to be no business plan, or it’s getting redone regularly.

        I cannot imagine any business who would say “let’s spend all the time and money to apply for and obtain license(s) from the CRTC, get dates for operation, and then let the key players move to other companies, move out of the city, and even move out of the country, and not hire any staff or do anything to move the process forward”. It’s almost if they were more interested in obtaining the licenses than actually doing anything with them.

        “But the question remains why both couldn’t launch by now. Maybe they wanted to wait until they had the licence for the sports station, or maybe it’s some other legitimate reason. But they’re not talking.”

        I suspect they aren’t talking because they would have to admit that it’s pretty much a case of “nothing done”. If they had even a sniff of the intention of having a station on the air this year (any of them) they would have been working on studio space and such. I think they aren’t talking because they have very little to show. No staff, no key personnel, no studios, etc. The company’s address is Tetrault’s real estate company office.

        “If by “everything” you include nothing but the transmitter towers. I don’t even know if work has been done to bring them to working condition. I can’t discount technical reasons as a possible factor here.”

        This goes pretty much against what they talked about before, that the the two frequencies were close to what the towers were doing before, that there would only be a certain amount of work to do. Now, considering everything else, I wouldn’t be shocked if it turns out they have done little or nothing on them. Now that could lead to the concept that they may be looking to consolidate all of their 3 licenses to a single tower location, which would mean re-doing all the technical requirements for each station – especially if they are considering the 850AM tower location. So delay for a year to match to the english station, and then delay both almost another year to match up to 850, perhaps.

        “Setting aside the issue of licence trafficking, which the CRTC frowns upon, the demand for AM licences is pretty low. ”

        “Add the fact that both Astral and Cogeco might have trouble convincing the CRTC to allow yet another Montreal radio station added to their media empires, and it’s hard to see another group interested in these licenses.”

        I think you have said before that there are a number of companies in the Canadian market, and thus there is no near monopoly. So there are any number of companies who could be interested who are not currently in the Montreal radio market at all. Even a company like Evanov might want to pick up an extra license, right? You never know.

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  4. Dilbert

    Oh and… while I hate to say “I told you so”, consider my comments back when Radio Fierté was asking for it’s “technical change”:

    “You are correct that we do not know for sure, but the timing seems way too fishy. Want to bet TTP english is next one to show up with a revised contour map and a request for a delay for their English station?”

    TTP doesn’t even bother with a technical change, they just go straight for a delay. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen, don’t you think? I guess you have as close to a press release as you will get now.

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      TTP doesn’t even bother with a technical change, they just go straight for a delay. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen, don’t you think?

      It became pretty obvious they were going to apply for an extension when Tietolman told me a few months ago that they were going to apply for an extension.

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  5. Media Man

    Steve, have you heard any news on that La Presse story about one owner being bought out by the other two? Let’s face it, the only guy with broadcasting experience is Paul Teitolman, Pancholy is the technical guy, if you ask me, Tetreault would seem to be the odd man out based on my logic. As usual, I always like my logic!

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      Steve, have you heard any news on that La Presse story about one owner being bought out by the other two?

      No. They’re not talking to me. I hear rumours, but that’s it. We’ll find out if they actually go through with such a buyout.

      Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Their licences expires in one week. It will be interesting to see who else applies for another AM station.

      No they don’t. The English and French talk stations have until November to launch. Their licenses expire in 2018 and 2019.

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      1. Media Man

        What happens if they don’t launch and with 7-year licences ? Could they lose their licences if they don’t come up with some awfully valid reason..?

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          1. Media Man

            Is it about 6 weeks to go for the supposed launch? Can we assume that CJAD will remain complacent and without a competitor for a while yet and we still have to listen to that Tommy guy in the morning and hearing Mr. Carter tap on his table?

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            1. Fagstein Post author

              Is it about 6 weeks to go for the supposed launch?

              No. I’ll have an update shortly.

              Can we assume that CJAD will remain complacent and without a competitor for a while yet and we still have to listen to that Tommy guy in the morning and hearing Mr. Carter tap on his table?

              CJAD remains the most-listened-to radio station among anglophones in Montreal. So … maybe. If they find something better, they might make a change, but there’s a bit of if-it-ain’t-broke-why-fix-it.

              Reply
  6. Media Man

    Well your update should prove very interesting, but wondering why you disagree about six weeks or so being the supposed launch date? Unless you’ve heard of another extension to coincide with their french all sports station.

    Reply

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