The Beat beats Virgin: a fluke, or a turning point?

The quarterly radio ratings haven’t interested me much in a while, mainly because there’s few stations owned by even fewer owners, and the ranking never changes. People talk about a few extra listeners here and some demographic shift there, but overall it’s always the same: CJAD has the highest market share*, Virgin is No. 1 with adults 25-54, CHOM does best with men, and we ignore the fact that all three of those stations are owned by the same company.

This time though, there was a noticeable change. And it made a big difference. The Beat 92.5, which had been slightly ahead of Virgin Radio 96 in most reports the past two years but behind in the key demographics, shot ahead under both measures. Instead of them fighting it out at around 16% or 17% of the audience, The Beat had 20% and Virgin was under 15%.

That was enough to write a story for the Gazette and get the program directors on the record.

That wasn’t easy, mind you. Sam Zniber, who was hired last August at The Beat, flat-out refused to tell me what he thought contributed to the ratings increase, fearing his competitor would find out and copy him. He would only say it’s a team effort.

Mark Bergman at Virgin, meanwhile, did his best to put a positive spin on the ratings, pointing out that the station has a larger reach, and saying that because the measured period included December, the numbers biased in favour of The Beat.

That’s half true. Virgin’s market share does go down in the winter ratings period, but The Beat’s doesn’t spike during that period. And it wasn’t nearly this bad last winter, so it must be something else.

I listened to The Beat, trying to figure out what changed. Was it the announcers? No, because their lineup has been stable for the past year. Was it the amount of music? Anne-Marie Withenshaw’s lawsuit suggests a shift toward less time on air for announcers, and I’ve noticed that many breaks are very brief — like seven seconds brief. But studying the “recently played” lists of Virgin and The Beat, they play about the same number of songs per hour (about eight during peak hours when they have contests, traffic and other stuff, and about 13 an hour during off-peak hours).

The type of music played seems to have changed. Instead of just Katy Perry pop, it’s got more R&B, more dance. Its slogan “Montreal’s perfect mix” and describing itself as airing a “variety” of music make it seem more and more like The Beat of today is the Mix 96 of a decade ago.

Or maybe it’s a combination of factors — a new program director bringing in some new ideas, an experienced on-air staff (many of whom used to work at Virgin) keeping the audience loyal, a more popular mix of music, lots of contests and stunts to keep people engaged, a better-than-expected boost from Christmas music season, and a bit of luck.

We’ll know in three months (or maybe six) how sustainable this lead is. I suspect it won’t last long, but the trend (at least among 2+ audience) has clearly been in The Beat’s favour since it relaunched in 2011.


* An earlier version of this post said CJAD had the “most listeners”. As a reader points out, if you count everyone who listens for at least a minute during a day or a measuring period, Virgin has more listeners. I’m more interested in the average, but for clarity I’ve referred instead to market share.

Wayne Bews let go from The Beat

Wayne Bews, hired only a year ago as general manager of The Beat, filling the role vacated by Mark Dickie, has once again fallen victim to corporate management deciding that a station doesn’t need its own general manager. Cogeco tells me that the position has been eliminated and his functions taken over by other people within the company.

Bews left his job at TSN 690 for similar reasons in the fall of 2013, though at least that time Bell got him a job at CTV Montreal.

Charli Paige is Virgin’s new evening announcer

Meanwhile, a new face at Virgin. Tony Stark’s old evening show has been given to Charli Paige, who comes from 101.3 The Bounce in Halifax, where she was Jillian Blinkhorn. Her show airs 6-11pm Mondays to Thursdays.

Stark, meanwhile, is in the middle of a contest at The Jump in Ottawa to find a morning co-host.

13 thoughts on “The Beat beats Virgin: a fluke, or a turning point?

  1. Dilbert

    There are a few things interesting in the numbers,one of which may in fact be the greying of the Montreal listening audience. You can see clearly that while both CHOM and Virgin are seeing longer term declines, CJAD has reached a peak they have never hit before. That may in part be attributed to at least making the station slightly more in tune with the 40-60 year old demographic with more of the music they would know used as bumpers, more on air people that match that age range as well, and so on.

    CHOM is a pretty big disappointment. All of the market share picked up in 2012 and 2013 has been given back and a bit more beyond that. It’s not like Virgin, but it’s not a great sign.

    Virgin, well, you can start to play taps for the Virgin branding. My guess is that this time next year 95.9 FM won’t be Virgin anymore. Ignoring slight ups and downs, they have given away 25% of their marketshare in a very few years. The more modern Beat seems to have picked up most of it. The best solution would be a rebrand, possibly going into the fall season. You can look at other Virgin stations in Canada (such as Edmonton and Toronto) to see that perhaps the brand and style isn’t working out.

    The Beat, as much as the new guy doesn’t want to say what’s up, the answer is simple: let the music do the talking. Add to that a music mix that has a bit more of a wider appeal, and they pretty much are hitting it out of the park. You are right, they are quickly getting into the range that Mix96 was in a decade or so ago, when they weren’t just popular with their listener base, but also considered the least objectionable by everyone else so more likely to be turned on at the office or work.

    Now, could the Beat actually catch up to the might ‘AD? I think it’s actually possible. I think that the newJewel station may nibble away at the West Island listeners of CJAD’s morning and afternoon shows, and in turn the Beat’s more music less yapping formula might continue to take listeners away from both Virgin and a bit from CHOM. It’s not out of the realm of the possible here to have a book with topline numbers of 23 for CJAD and the Beat. This could especially come into play if Virgin rebrands and shifts formats and loses listeners short term.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Virgin, well, you can start to play taps for the Virgin branding. My guess is that this time next year 95.9 FM won’t be Virgin anymore.

      I doubt it. Bell just added another Virgin station in Vancouver. It hasn’t been a phenomenal success, but it hasn’t been a colossal failure either.

      I think that the newJewel station may nibble away at the West Island listeners of CJAD’s morning and afternoon shows

      Why? One is a talk station, the other is music.

      1. Dilbert

        Adding a station in Vancouver is no indication that they will keep Montreal as is. Having given up 20%+ market sharing in a couple of years, it’s really looking like a brand change or station renew may be in the cards. Quite possible, to “out beat the beat” and leap frog over their playlist even further. Do you think hot adult contemporary with an urban twist would fly?

        “Why? One is a talk station, the other is music.”

        Well, in the mornings, the difference appears to be a bit less. Clearly Jewel is not a talk station, but they are certainly banking on their on air morning talent to tip the scales. When it comes to music, they are aiming at a sort of 50 plus crowd, which is a big part of the core of CJAD listenership. It’s pretty logical to conclude that they could score some listeners from CJAD. Not everyone wants to spend their morning listening to Andrew Carter bang his pen on the desk.

      2. gazoo28

        Ted Bird at The Jewel may give Andrew Carter’s tired show a run for the money.
        Carter’s stick with John Moore and Tommy (my opinion is the only one that counts) Schnurmacher has gotten.

  2. Brett Morris

    Might have to do with The Beat sounding like the old Mix 96 that most people in Montreal loved. I always loved Virgin 96 till The Beat stared to go in the sound of Mix 96. Now all I listen to is The Beat.

  3. adma

    Since Virgin came on the air, they have destroyed the Beat in all the key demos. So, now the Beat beats Virgin once in 6 years and you’re calling for a Brand Change? Stick to your career and let the Radio people do radio. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read on here.


    1. Brett Morris

      I agree Virgin 96 had always been the popular station since re branding from Mix 96. Why change after falling behind The Beat once. Virgin Radio branding seems to be doing well across Canada if The Beat in Vancouver was re branded to Virgin Radio.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      It appears as if Mr. Zniber is either gone from The Beat or has been promoted, as Cogeco is now looking for a new program director:

      According to Zniber, neither of those things is true. They’ve posted the position because they have to, but he plans to stay on.

  4. Pingback: New ratings book shows The Beat’s surprise gains disappear | Fagstein

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