The Beat loses three key managers

The Beat's general manager Mark Dickie, left, and program director Leo Da Estrela at the station's one-year anniversary party in 2012. Both are leaving the station.

The Beat’s general manager Mark Dickie, left, and program director Leo Da Estrela at the station’s one-year anniversary party in 2012. Both are leaving the station.

When word started to spread that the top two people at The Beat had resigned, many came to a quick conclusion: Cogeco is cleaning house, maybe in response to unsatisfactory ratings, or because, one rumour went, they were planning to sell the station.

As it turns out, everyone involved says it’s just a coincidence. Really bad timing.

Last Friday, general manager and general sales manager Mark Dickie informed his bosses that he was resigning in order to accept a position as a manager of multiple radio stations at Corus Entertainment. Because he was leaving for a competitor, even though it wasn’t in the same city, his three weeks’ notice was waived and he was asked (politely) to leave the building, though neither he nor Cogeco Diffusion have any hard feelings. Staff were informed of his departure on Monday.

Leo Da Estrela, the program director, has been named interim general manager. But he, too, is leaving. He actually informed his bosses in September that he wanted to leave, but he was asked to stay on until December. With Dickie’s departure, he’s been asked (and accepted) to stay on until April to ensure a smooth transition to new managers.

At the same time, promotions director Linda Fraraccio is also leaving The Beat. This Friday was her last day at the station, and she starts a new job at CTV Montreal as manager of creative services, marketing and community relations, on Monday.

I write about the three departures in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette. It includes comments from Dickie, Da Estrela and Cogeco Diffusion President Richard Lachance.

Here’s some more detail about what’s going on:

Mark Dickie has been with The Beat and Cogeco since 2004. Actually, wait, neither of those things are true. Because he was actually hired by Corus in 2004, and it owned two English-language stations: Q92 and 940 News. Dickie was general manager at the latter when it was shut down in 2010. And he stayed on after Q92, along with all the other Corus Quebec radio stations (CKOI, CKAC, CHMP 98.5 and their sister stations in other cities) were sold to Cogeco in February 2011. That fall, he led a team that transformed “The Q” into The Beat, which they called an entirely new radio station (even to the point of changing its callsign), even though it was still operating under the same CRTC licence, on the same frequency, with the same staff, from the same location.

“I think we did a lot of great things, worked with a lot of great people,” he said, looking back. “It was tough to walk away from all that. We’ve got a really, really good team at The Beat.”

But going one more step up the ladder of corporate success, from managing one radio station to managing a “cluster”, as they call it, has been “something I’ve wanted for a long time,” he said. With his son graduating from McGill this May, he said now was a good time to make a move.

Dickie wouldn’t say where he’s going, being coy even about what city he’s moving to. But his colleagues said he’s moving to Ottawa. This makes sense if Corus’s plan is to put him in charge of the two FM stations that Corus is acquiring as part of the Bell/Astral divestment process. Corus’s acquisition of those stations (CKQB-FM 106.9 The Bear and CJOT-FM Boom 99.7) has not yet been approved by the CRTC (though it is expected next week), and it would be premature to make such an announcement publicly. Both those stations list Greg Orr as “interim general manager.”

Corus also owns two stations in nearby Cornwall, Ont., which don’t currently have a general manager. It’s likely Corus could put Dickie in charge of all four. Its TV and radio stations in Peterborough, Kingston and Oshawa share a general manager, as do its three stations in Toronto, its three stations in Barrie and Collingwood, and its 11 stations in southwestern Ontario (Hamilton, Kitchener, Guelph, London and Woodstock).

UPDATE (Jan. 30): With the acquisition of the Ottawa radio stations approved, Corus has made Dickie’s appointment official. He starts Feb. 3 as GM of the two Ottawa stations and the two Cornwall ones. Rumours, meanwhile, circulate of impending rebranding at the two Ottawa stations.

Dickie leaves a station that, he said, has seen a significant increase in revenue, and a successful reorientation of its target audience (one of the main reasons for switching from Q92 to The Beat was to appeal more to women 35-44, who saw the Q92 brand as their mother’s radio station). But outside of that tight demographic, the station continues to fall behind rival Virgin Radio.

“We’re much further today than we would have been if we’d stayed Q92,” he said. And with “the foundation” set, he believes “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” the station climbs above its competitor.

I imagine Mark Bergman and the people at Bell would disagree.

Leo Da Estrela doing his thing (though I'm not sure what thing he's doing) at the most recent pumpkin drop.

Leo Da Estrela doing his thing (though I’m not sure what thing he’s doing) at the most recent pumpkin drop.

Leo Da Estrela has been program director at Q92/The Beat since 2010. Before that, he was a producer on the station’s morning show. But for the past few years he’s been living a double life.

He’s partners, with two others, in a business called Couture Media. It’s a company that provides custom radio stations — or music/audio streams, if you will — to businesses. Rather than just pipe in a radio station (like The Beat) or a CD into the store loudspeaker or as hold music in the phone system, the business can hire Couture to provide them with a custom playlist, complete with custom advertisements or other pre-recorded messages. Da Estrela also points out that, since Couture Media handles music rights, it’s less of a headache than putting on a CD and hoping the music licensing people don’t stumble on your store.

Couture started in 2008, and has grown to have 10 major clients. But it’s growing, and Da Estrela said he promised his partners that he would devote more time to the business.

He said he told his bosses in September that he wanted to step down, but that they convinced him to stay on until December. Now, with Dickie leaving, that’s been extended to April. Once new management is in place, he’s leaving.

But will he miss it?

“You hear there’s isolation that sets in, and you miss the camaraderie at work,” he said. “The day-to-day will be tough.”

“The salary I’m going to miss,” he added with a laugh.

He hasn’t closed the door completely to continuing to be involved, though that’s not in the plans yet. I point out that something similar — a radio-related side business that took off — happened to Nat Lauzon, who downgraded from full-time at Virgin Radio to part-time at The Beat so she could devote more time to her voice-over business (as well as her dog blog).

“If they need me to be around for anything, we could possibly look at me still being involved,” he said.

Da Estrela’s mandate as PD is highlighted mainly by hiring decisions made around the time Q92 became The Beat. The morning show lost the second half of Aaron and Tasso when Aaron Rand left. He was replaced by Cat Spencer, who was stolen from Virgin Radio. Da Estrela then hired Lauzon to do weekend afternoons. She was also stolen from Virgin Radio. In 2012 he let go of AJ Reynolds and hired “Cousin” Vinny Barrucco, who was also stolen from Virgin Radio. (Notice a pattern here?) Add in Kim Sullivan, who was also at Virgin but left for Winnipeg and Ottawa before coming back to Montreal to join The Beat, and almost half the schedule is filled with people who used to work for the other guy. (Not that it’s a one-way street — Rand and Suzanne Desautels are now at CJAD.)

As popular as those poached personalities are, they failed to bring their ratings along when they switched, and The Beat still trailed in audience measurement.

Finding a new PD for the station will be a challenge, Da Estrela said. “The hardest thing is finding a PD who’s either from Montreal or is familiar enough with the French culture,” he said.

If you have any ideas for one, he’s all ears.

Linda Fraraccio worked at Global Montreal and CJNT before taking the promotions director job in 2009. She returns to that medium as manager of creative services, marketing and community relations at CTV Montreal.

“We are thrilled that Linda is starting with us,” said Louis Douville, CTV Montreal general manager.

Fraraccio replaces Gerry Dixon, who is retiring. Dixon has been in the position since 2011. Before that, his jobs included being the executive producer and director of the Don McGowan show Travel, Travel in its final years.

Fraraccio’s tenure is highlighted by all the ways the station tried to promote itself with the new brand. From contests with tickets to big concerts to giant pumpkin drops and more, in addition to the everyday things like handing out Beat bags or organizing a presence at the St. Patrick’s Parade.

Her final day began with a prank call from the morning show, where a man masqueraded as a MasterCard employee checking up on her company credit card and discovering some odd charges. “I’m such a sucker,” she said of having fallen for one of her own station’s gimmicks.

“Today’s your last day and we just wanted to say goodbye in a special way,” said Cat Spencer.

“Yeah, you scared the crap out of me,” she responded. “Very special.”

Fraraccio also has a business on the side. She’s the co-creator of PenMyPoem.com, which sells custom greeting cards. She took the opportunity to write one about her departure, which she posted to Facebook:

This is the tale of a little station

That was due for a major transformation

In order to stand on its own two feet

It needed to move to a different beat

So we de-branded, then we re-branded

Then we branded, branded, branded, branded!

The mission statement was very clear

Montreal had to know us within a year

I’m not sure what we could have done better

Soon “Q” became nothing but a letter

It was time to start building loyalty

So we treated our listeners like royalty

We gave them cash, we gave them trips

If we could, we would give them a lunar eclipse

First Enrique, then Usher in Cancun

Stars on the beach under a golden moon

Then hot JT in NYC

And in T.O., Katy and 1D

The one and only miss Rihanna

Shone bright like a diamond in Punta Cana

Madonna in Rome, Pink in Boston

Just thinking about it is exhaustin’

We gave free gas, we gave free cars

We almost gave a trip to Mars

The only ones with tix to the Grammys

Listeners texted in their jammies

We did all we could to make people feel good

We showed them that we understood

We challenged them for 30 days

Helping them to mend their ways

We made them chuckle, just for a laugh

They felt like they were part of our staff

We showed up at hundreds of events

Proudly displaying our flags and tents

Parades for Santa, St. Pat’s, Canada Days

Festivals for the Italians and the gays

Singles events and hot firemen nights

Had ladies defending their equal rights

We froze our toes and died of heat

Beat bags, Beat bags all over the street

Before we dropped those pumpkins I prayed

You’ll forgive me for being a little afraid

We smashed it up, mashed it up

With Sean Kingston and Massari, we bashed it up

We pampered with mani-pedis, hold the Brazilian

Darn, we almost gave away the million

So thank you all, it sure has been sweet

There’s no way I can ever forget The Beat

“The success of The Beat doesn’t fall on one person,” said Richard Lachance, president of Cogeco Diffusion. It was a sentiment echoed by Da Estrela, and by Dickie. The station will go on, with new management.

Lachance said he respects that the three of them have found better opportunities, and was “very happy” with their work.

Looking forward, the process to find a new general manager is already under way, applications have already started coming in, and we should get word of a hire in the next few weeks. A similar process will find a new program director.

There’s a possibility that the structure of management could change, though there’s no indication that they’re moving in this direction. The Beat is the only English-language station owned by Cogeco Diffusion, so it needs to be managed by itself. But whether the next general manager is also the general sales manager, like Dickie was, or whether the responsibilities of sales, programming, promotions and management are redistributed in some other way will depend on the candidates they receive, Lachance said.

Meanwhile, for listeners, little changes. No on-air staff are leaving (or if they are they haven’t told anyone), and no major changes are foreseen in the short term.

New management could change that, of course, and Da Estrela thinks that’s a good thing. You need new ideas, he said. Otherwise you’re just repeating the same ones, like giant pumpkin drops and million-dollar snowfall contests.

UPDATE: The Beat’s staff has been sharing its love on social media.

Nat Lauzon, on Facebook:

Excellent bosses – but more importantly, great people.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with this rare and talented group of management the past few years. They dusted off that old-school, fun ‘magic of radio’ feeling for me. They made radio fun and inspiring for me again at The Beat of Montreal – navigating that fine line between management, co-worker and pal – with ease.

At the end of the day, radio is a business like any other. But business will always blossom when you foster an environment where individuals feel heard, valued and important. The not-so-secret formula? The bottom line is key – but employees are how you get there. Morale is a top priority in every work environment – and these three knew how to make it work very well. That’s a crucial – but all too rare quality.

Sorry to see them go – but you just can’t fault a follow-your-heart decision! A pleasure to work with ’em – and wishing them nothing but the best on their new adventures! Thank you Mark Dickie, Leo Da Estrela and Linda Fraraccio!

(Lauzon insists the comments aren’t meant to be taken as a negative portrayal of her previous employer, Virgin Radio.)

Sarak Bartok, on Facebook: “bad for us, but good for them. Following dreams! We will miss them all.”

20 thoughts on “The Beat loses three key managers

  1. Marc

    Well, this experiment known as “The Beat” has been a failure. Time to restore its vocation to filling a major void in the city – an English AC station. Enough being a carbon copy of CJFM and going after the same audience. And get that CFQR callsign back.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Well, this experiment known as “The Beat” has been a failure.

      I guess that depends on how you define success. If it’s by ratings alone, switching it to AC will only cause them to go down compared to Virgin.

      Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          But the huge boost in ratings they hoped for didn’t happen… They didn’t become king of radio.

          I don’t know if “king of radio” was a reasonable goal, but sure, they didn’t beat Virgin, and they’re undoubtedly disappointed by that, despite the optimism that it’ll happen some day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a bad idea to rebrand the station.

          Reply
  2. Dan

    Virgin keeps losing numbers steadily. It’s been quite a bit so look at the numbers before you make any assessments. I don’t think The Beat is changing anything. If anyone who will make changes to their programming it is Virgin otherwise they’ll keep slipping as they have.

    Reply
  3. adma

    The truth is and everyone in the industry knows it, the new format, name and on-air changes have been a dismal failure. Whether they are good people or not is not the point. Both managers have failed to deliver their mandates and that was to BEAT Virgin Radio.

    Reply
  4. Brett

    If they should revert back to an AC station like Marc is suggesting, I feel that they ratings would suffer. If anything and they really want to shake up the radio market, why not go into a format that has never been used in the city.

    An English AC station would just cause them to lose what they been working so hard to build. Before going from Q92 to The Beat I would never listen feeling that the station didn’t play the music I enjoy. Now that they re the beat it plays all the music I love including some old school hip hop. I feel that if they really want to beat Virgin Radio in the ratings they must look at what’s popular in the city. I feel that Hip Hop and R&B is popular as it gets played at CKUT 90.3 FM. CJLO 1690AM, 94.7 Hits FM CISM 89.3 FM CKRK K10.3(after 10pm) and to a small point them selves when they play a few tracks from the 90’s and the r&b they play such as Drake.

    Reply
  5. Dilbert

    The Beat is a great idea, but they do suffer in part with having to serve the musical requirements of their license, which means that they cannot be exactly what Virgin is, no matter how good the market. Unless the CRTC changed their license requirements, they are still bound to play certain types and percentages of music that may not appeal.

    What that may mean in some cases is that someone who enjoys the station during the day (example) may not listen to it in the evening, because the music type isn’t exactly the same. So instead, they turn back to the other station, and the next morning they forget to turn back to the Beat. Actions like this could clearly account for why they peaked well at first, but have been sliding since.

    It’s actually a similar problem that CJAD faces these days with Tommy Schnurmacher. As soon as Andrew Carter goes off the air, listeners tune out as fast as they can to avoid another round of Anglo Angst and arrogance. So what happens is that the ratings drop off significantly, which creates a big deficit to overcome for whoever gets the noon time post. The ratings only pick up again a bit at the end of the day with Aaron Rand, which gets people back on the station with the radio set for the next day’s commute.

    Sometimes the answer isn’t right where the problem area manifests itself, it’s often a question of building up the listenership. CJAD could like do much, much better if their 9 to noon section had a more agreeable, more positive outlook show, or one that at least wasn’t talking down to the audience.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The Beat is a great idea, but they do suffer in part with having to serve the musical requirements of their license, which means that they cannot be exactly what Virgin is, no matter how good the market. Unless the CRTC changed their license requirements, they are still bound to play certain types and percentages of music that may not appeal.

      Virgin and The Beat both have standard commercial licenses. Neither have any special conditions concerning music.

      It’s actually a similar problem that CJAD faces these days with Tommy Schnurmacher. As soon as Andrew Carter goes off the air, listeners tune out as fast as they can to avoid another round of Anglo Angst and arrogance.

      Or because they just got to work. If CJAD was experiencing an abnormal ratings drop strictly because listeners don’t want to listen to Schnurmacher, he wouldn’t be on the air anymore. I haven’t seen any data suggesting that the dropoff in listeners after the morning show is more pronounced than what you’d expect from the drop-off after rush-hour.

      In any case, discussion of CJAD’s ratings is irrelevant to three managers leaving The Beat.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “Virgin and The Beat both have standard commercial licenses. Neither have any special conditions concerning music.”

        Then I am mistaken the CKBE (as it was as CFQR) is required to play a certain percentage of music from certain sub categories, one of which is “non-vocal”? When did that requirement disappear?

        “If CJAD was experiencing an abnormal ratings drop strictly because listeners don’t want to listen to Schnurmacher, he wouldn’t be on the air anymore. ”

        When you compare the drop off to the drop off at 98.5, it’s significant. As the only real “english talker” in the past, Astral didn’t feel the pinch as much if people are just tuning over to their other owned stations, and now Bell owns another station in the market making it even more likely people stay listening to the company stations. It’s one of the nice benefits of holding a huge percentage of the market, people generally tune out of station A to station B, and still stay in your grasp.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Then I am mistaken the CKBE (as it was as CFQR) is required to play a certain percentage of music from certain sub categories, one of which is “non-vocal”? When did that requirement disappear?

          I believe the requirement you’re referring to was deleted in 1992.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            sorry, responded in the wrong place:

            “Decision CRTC 88-583 noted that, with a 65% level of vocal music, the station would remain “within the authorized parameters of a Group I station”, as defined by the FM policy in effect at that time. According to that policy, a station operating in an easy listening format was required to broadcast a minimum level of 50% instrumental music. As an adult contemporary station, however, CFQR-FM was not required under that policy to broadcast a weekly level of instrumentals any greater than 35%.”

            35%, right?

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Umm… right, but the standard policies in place in the 1980s aren’t in effect anymore, and there are no “Group I stations” anymore. The standard conditions of licence for FM stations are outlined in this 2009 policy.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                The CRTC’s website is pretty poor when it comes to tracking down changes. Are you saying that the beat is absolutely free to use whatever format it wants, and it is not restricted like Radio X is with jazz format?

              2. Fagstein Post author

                The CRTC’s website is pretty poor when it comes to tracking down changes. Are you saying that the beat is absolutely free to use whatever format it wants, and it is not restricted like Radio X is with jazz format?

                This is correct. CKLX-FM (Radio X Montreal) is licensed as a specialty music station, which means its licence requires it to air music in the jazz/blues category. CKBE-FM (The Beat) is licensed as a general commercial station, so it can change format at will.

  6. Mario D.

    It will only get worse for the Beat and it is a well deserved fate cause it shows a lack of efforts from radio managers. Some say that the Beat has to deal with Virgin for the same market but in the Montreal area they also have Energie,Ckoi,Rythme-fm and Rock detente in the same musical piece of estate. And they all play the same 40 damn songs over and over.

    I just cannot believe that they cannot do better with the musical spectrum they chose. Playing what was once called middle of the road music gives you a pretty large choice…But no ! Always the same musical format and the same blah blah blah -15 degrees downtown Montreal blah blah blah…

    Even if they have all the same licence issued from the CRTC they all could do better if they had a little imagination and musical knowledge. They are stuck now because they chose to go for the same listeners that Ckoi and Energie had that make them the king of the hill but those two are strugling now cause this generation got older and went elsewhere and/or left radio as a prefered media.

    Expect more damages cause now that records sell less and less the radio business with the record producers is changing and they do not rely as heavily on radios as they used to so to build an audience you will have to work hard, create a unique sound and aim for a mature audience.

    Reply
  7. Mario D.

    Steve,

    In La Presse friday jan 24 th there is an excellent paper on CHOM fm and it`s revival. It is exactly the suggestions i had in mind in my previous post for the stations that are in survival mode. Does not take much and since the audience is more mature now, you cannot fool them with teenage content and must keep them tuned in with intelligent yet entertaining stuff .

    Reply
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