(Updated below with news of the relaunch)
Six weeks after Corus Entertainment acquired Ottawa’s 106.9 The Bear from Bell as part of Bell’s Astral Media takeover, and a month after Mark Dickie, the former general manager at The Beat in Montreal was put in charge of it and Corus’s three other stations in Ottawa and Cornwall, The Bear is no more.
Visitors to the station’s website on Thursday were greeted with a message from Dickie explaining that “we have decided to take FM 106.9 in a new direction.” The full statement is below.
Corus told the Ottawa Citizen that the station will air just music and ads until the end of the month, when it launches the new format.
That new direction appears to be Fresh FM, a hot adult contemporary format that Corus is using in Edmonton, Winnipeg, London and Hamilton. Rumours about the format change surfaced in January when someone noticed that Corus had registered 1069freshfm.com as a domain name. (It currently doesn’t lead anywhere, but expect that to change soon.)
On March 31, at 11am, after annoying listeners with nature sounds for a while, the station relaunched as Jump! Ottawa, promising “non-stop hits”. Its first hour features songs by Katy Perry, Pink, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake. Corus’s press release about it is here.
You can listen to the relaunch here. It goes on forever with the nature sounds. A mission-control-themed relaunch announcement starts at six minutes in.
The change in format means a change in staff at the station. Dickie tells me that he’s had to let three people go: Scott Lear, Jay Herrington and Jon “Gonzo” Mark, whom he qualified as “great guys, great broadcasters” who just didn’t fit with the new format. (Scott McCord had already announced he got another job in Edmonton.) The others are staying on with the new format or have moved to Boom 99.7, and there will be other hires to fill announcer positions. In fact, he says, they’ve already been hired. This includes on-air people, but also people in other positions, since Astral Media put big hires on hold while the whole Bell-Astral acquisition was going through the regulatory process, which took almost two years.
Some of the on-air personalities made jokes or gave thank-yous on Twitter after the announcement:
It has been a honor and a priviledge serving Ottawa & the Bear Tribe @THEBEAR1069 for the past 5 yrs. Gonzo is a Free Agent now. Be well
— Jon Mark (@gonzo_jon) March 6, 2014
Anyone know of any decent, LOCAL sweat shops? My kids have VERY tiny hands and I'm agonna need them to start pulling their weight.
— Jay Herrington (@Herringboner) March 6, 2014
— AMY VOLUME (@amyvolume) March 6, 2014
Good bye, old friend. We had some wickedly fun times! http://t.co/amBIvko0so
— Wendy Daniels (@WendyDanielsFM) March 6, 2014
Change is inevitable. Thank you all for the ride over the last 20 years. Rock on, be well. KCCO. My next chapter starts now,
— Scott Lear (@ScottLearRadio) March 6, 2014
Needless to say fans of the station are hearbroken. The station’s Facebook page is getting hundreds of comments from upset listeners. There are also lots of comments on Twitter. A petition asking Corus to reverse its decision has more than 200 signatures already, but it’s highly unlikely to make a difference.
If you look at the numbers, a change makes sense. The latest BBM report from Ottawa shows The Bear (CKQB-FM) far down with only a 3.8% market share among anglophones. That’s far behind CHEZ 106, the other rock station in the city, whose share has been between 4.4 and 7.0 in the past two years.
But this isn’t the first time that someone has tried to ditch The Bear for something else. In 2009, when it was owned by Astral Media, the company replaced it with the Virgin Radio brand. Unlike other Virgin Radio stations, it kept the rock music format. By 2011, they decided to go back to the Bear brand.
That episode has some thinking that Corus is making the same mistake Astral did, and that within a couple of years Fresh FM will have failed and The Bear will be brought out of hibernation.
Many people online are questioning whether Ottawa needs yet another top 40 music station. It’s a good question to ask.
Here’s an idea of how the current English radio stations in Ottawa break down in terms of music format. The lines between them aren’t perfectly defined, but it should give you an idea:
Top 40/hot adult contemporary
Adult contemporary/easy listening/soft rock
- CJWL Jewel 98.5 (adult contemporary/adult standards)
- CJMJ Majic 100.3 (adult contemporary/soft rock)
- CKKL Bob FM 93.9 (Adult hits)
- CJOT Boom 99.7 (classic hits)
- CJET Jack 92.3 (classic hits) (Smiths Falls)
There are also French stations serving the market like Capitale Rock, NRJ and Rouge FM that can be added to these lists.
Based on this breakdown, you can understand why Corus might think that it should reposition the station as a hot adult contemporary format, which has a lot of young listeners, and particularly female listeners, which is good for advertisers. Combined with the Boom FM station airing classic hits, it’s a decent combination, at least from their perspective. (Though Boom FM is an Astral and now Bell brand, so that station might also undergo a rebranding at some point, even if the format stays the same.)
But as much sense as this might make for Corus, it also doesn’t really give the market anything new. It’s still 10 stations (13 if you include the French ones) serving what is basically four music formats.
I asked Dickie whether this was his call. He noted that Corus had been looking at a format change before he came on, and that the change itself was a team effort. He agreed that there had been “some slippage” in the ratings, which led to the decision.
I also asked him about Boom FM, the other station Corus bought from Bell. Boom FM is a former Astral brand, used on three other stations — one in Toronto that’s being sold to Newcap, and two French stations in the Montérégie that Bell is keeping. Surely Corus would want to replace that brand with one of its own?
Dickie said that’s not necessary. They have a licensing agreement to use the brand “as long as we want,” and he didn’t seem to be itching to change that soon.
Here’s Dickie’s full statement as posted on the station’s website and Facebook page:
The Bear 106.9 Closure
Corus Radio Ottawa is committed to providing the best possible listening experience, therefore, we have decided to take FM 106.9 in a new direction. We thank our listeners, advertisers and community partners for supporting us the past 20 years.
We are confident the new format will be a welcome addition to the Ottawa radio landscape. Your support is important to us and we invite you to listen to the station that we are certain will become an audience favorite.
Corus Radio Ottawa / Cornwall