Category Archives: Navel-gazing

TTP Media abandons 850 AM, shows no progress on other unlaunched stations

For the past five years, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by people in the local broadcasting industry is what’s going on with TTP Media, a group of local businessmen who won CRTC licences to launch three AM talk radio stations in the city and had promised to revolutionize the market with big investments in quality programming.

Unfortunately, for years now the answer has been “nothing that I know of.” And unfortunately that continues today.

Since getting the licence for 850 AM in 2013, the group’s only on-the-record activity has been asking for extensions and technical changes from the CRTC, each time indicating that the stations were mere months from launch.

But now there’s finally some news, even though it’s not clear what it means. In June, the authorization from the CRTC to launch a French sports-talk station at 850 AM expired. Because the decision approving the station was published in 2013, and the first extension given last year, a second request for a final one-year extension should have been a matter of formality.

But that request was never issued. So on June 19, when the deadline was reached, the authority to launch the station expired.

According to the CRTC, the frequency is now available for anyone else to apply for.

I chronicle my attempts to seek comments from the partners in Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media in this story published by Cartt.ca. Paul Tietolman, whose father Jack founded the station that used to be on 850 AM in Montreal, was the only one who would talk to me, but he wouldn’t answer questions about the group’s plans, wanting to defer to his partners and not act as a company spokesperson.

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Elliott Price joins Sportsnet, kinda

Elliott Price, right, with co-host Grant Robinson in the CFMB studio.

Elliott Price, right, with co-host Grant Robinson in the CFMB studio.

It was a bit of a head-scratcher of an announcement: Elliott Price is now part of the Sportsnet Network. But what’s the Sportsnet Network?

I asked the parties involved for a story that appears in Monday’s Montreal Gazette, about what Price has been up to since he was let go from TSN Radio 690 last November.

Basically, it’s an agreement for cooperation. Price gets access to Sportsnet’s branding and personalities he can interview on his show, plus Sportsnet’s website hosts his podcast. On the flip side, Sportsnet’s radio stations in Toronto and Calgary get access to Price to give a Montreal perspective on sports stories, and Sportsnet has a “presence” in the market, a benefit that is less tangible.

I could not get them to either confirm nor deny that money is changing hands as part of this deal, but Dave Cadeau, program director of Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto said the deal isn’t financial in nature. Price is not a Sportsnet employee, and he maintains his editorial independence. Price’s show (which has been renamed Sportsnet Tonight with Elliott Price) also carries some Sportsnet-related advertising, including spots for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

It was Price that got the ball moving on this deal, and he said he had been working on it since the beginning. Unlike TSN Radio, which has eight stations in five provinces (in every NHL and CFL market except Calgary and Regina), Sportsnet has only stations in Toronto and Calgary, and so needs some help to cover other major sports markets.

So does this mean we could see other deals like this in the future?

“Could I see it? Sure. Are we thinking about it? No,” Cadeau says. “This is all that is planned.”

Price’s situation is pretty unusual. CFMB is licensed as an ethnic radio station (it is required to broadcast programming in 16 languages for 16 ethnic groups, but there’s no particular limit on the amount of non-ethnic programming it can broadcast otherwise), and so is only sports for 10 hours a week.

The likelihood of Rogers starting a full-time all-sports station in Montreal is virtually zero while TSN 690 is on the air. Outside of Toronto, the market for sports-talk simply isn’t robust enough for more than one station. (Rogers did suggest it might be willing to buy TSN 690 during the Bell-Astral hearings, but it’s unclear how serious that offer was.)

So this represents the next best thing. Sportsnet gets a presence in the city that it doesn’t have to pay for, and Price gets to look a lot more professional and get lots of expert guests by associating himself with this big brand.

Price also is now a regular panelist on Sportsnet Central Montreal, the weekly sports talk show that airs on City Montreal.

Is Price’s show viable?

I asked Price whether he thinks he can get enough advertising to make his show break even. The initial response from advertisers has actually been quite impressive. Since it started as a one-day-a-week show on CFMB, the show has had several local sponsors. He said it was enough that the Sunday show paid for itself, but with the expansion to five days a week (making this a de facto full-time job for Price and co-host Grant Robinson), the advertising demands are greater. He guesses he’s about halfway there, though.

CFMB's main studio.

CFMB’s main studio.

This was my first visit to the new studios of CFMB since the Evanov Radio Group bought the station and moved it to new offices on Papineau Ave. in Rosemont. The building, which doesn’t have any exterior signage, has newly renovated offices on several floors (and half-floors). Upstairs are the studios of sister station AM 980.

The new studio is clean and reflects a the new reality of radio, and the big windows will expose hosts to a lot more natural light than the basement studios the station vacated in Westmount.

CFMB's ground-floor studio on Papineau Ave.

CFMB’s ground-floor studio on Papineau Ave.

UPDATE (Aug. 11): Price is interviewed on Breakfast Television Montreal about his new show.

The Beat drops Sarah Bartok

Sarah Bartok, left, and Kim Sullivan representing The Beat at this year's St. Patrick's Parade on March 20. The station has since told both of them it no longer requires their services.

Sarah Bartok, left, and Kim Sullivan representing The Beat at this year’s St. Patrick’s Parade on March 20. The station has since told both of them it no longer requires their services.

Seems the cost-cutting at 92.5 The Beat isn’t over.

Shortly after dropping program director Sam Zniber and afternoon drive co-host Kim Sullivan, the news dropped this morning of the highest-profile dismissal yet: Sarah Bartok, co-host of the morning show, is no longer at the station.

She made the announcement on Facebook in a since-deleted post.

Sarah Bartok won't be waving this flag any more.

Sarah Bartok won’t be waving this flag any more.

Her name was being scrubbed from the station’s website on Wednesday (I’m told by a source in the know that she’s still an employee until her contract ends at the end of August), but already fans are sending messages to the station on social media, outraged at the cut, with some vowing to boycott. (It would not be the first time people have made such a threat against a Montreal radio station for firing a well-liked host, and will probably have the same effect.)

I wrote a short story about the decision for the Montreal Gazette, which has prompted more than 100 comments on Facebook.

The Toronto-born Bartok joined the morning show six years ago, when the station was still The Q and her co-host was Aaron Rand. It was also after it dropped Tasso and Suzanne from its morning show, a decision that also prompted outrage.

Bartok was profiled last year by the Montreal Gazette’s Phil Carpenter as part of his Before Dawn series:

UPDATE (June 3):

Meanwhile, this is how The Beat is responding to dozens of angry posts on its Facebook page:

I don’t know what “circumstances outside our control” is supposed to mean.

UPDATE (July 25): Another Facebook post from Bartok:

UPDATE (Aug. 2): Bartok has moved back to Toronto and now has a website as she looks for her next gig.

10 things that might disappoint you about skinny basic and pick-and-pay TV

It’s March 1, 2016, which means the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s new rules about TV packaging take effect.

To explain it, I wrote this piece for Tuesday’s Gazette, which also lists exactly what you’ll find in a skinny basic package in Montreal.

But in hearing people talk about the new rules, it seems there are some misconceptions or assumptions that people have that will cause disappointments when they actually try to take advantage of the new rules. Here are the ones I can explain so far:

1. In Quebec, not much changes

Videotron, the market leader here, has offered a small basic package and build-your-own bundles for many years now. And until December, when it has to offer almost all channels à la carte, they really don’t have to change how they operate.

Videotron’s new $25 a month basic package is pretty similar to the old one, with a few exceptions:

  • RDI is not included. CBC News Network is, because of an order that news networks be distributed in minority language communities (at reduced prices). Outside Quebec, it’s the reverse: RDI is mandatory, CBCNN is not.
  • Stingray music channels are not included
  • Some out-of-market over-the-air channels are not included. The CRTC rules say stations from other cities can only be included if there are fewer than 10 local stations, and even then can be added to reach a total of no more than 10. That means Montreal’s basic package loses CJOH (CTV Ottawa, included for historical reasons because the station’s transmitter in Cornwall reached into western Quebec), Granby and Sherbrooke lose Canal Savoir, and Gatineau loses most Montreal stations. Videotron asked for special permission to keep these stations, but was denied.

2. The $25 maximum doesn’t include set-top box rental, installation fees or taxes

The CRTC is clear that the $25 price is for programming only. Renting a set-top box will cost between $5 and $10 a month depending on provider, and if you’re not already a customer you’ll need to pay extra for installation.

3. Providers aren’t offering special deals or discounts on skinny basic

It’s very clear that none of the major TV providers are really promoting this new package. CBC even found out about Bell ordering its customer service representatives not to discuss it unless asked, even though that’s a clear violation of the CRTC’s rules.

Other attempts to downplay are more subtle. Most providers list the package at the bottom of web pages. Shaw calls it “Limited TV”, Rogers calls it a “Starter package” as does Bell Fibe. Telus calls it “Lite”.

But even if the CRTC forces them to offer the same amount of visibility, they aren’t obligated to offer the same deals. Free equipment rental, new customer discounts, customer retention discounts, even bundle discounts don’t apply to this package (though Telus offers it at $5 off if you bundle with other services).

New IPTV providers are more aggressive, however. Zazeen, which is used by Distributel in Quebec, offers an Internet-based basic package for $10 a month if you prepay for 12 months. VMedia (which isn’t available here yet) offers it for $18 a month.

4. The channels you want to add will be the most expensive

If all you care about are TSN and Sportsnet, because everything else you can watch online, well I have bad news for you. The wholesale prices for those channels averaged $3 per subscriber per month in 2014, and they’re going up. Those costs are being passed on to you. To get them on Videotron you need at least the basic + 10 channels package, which is $50 a month. Shaw customers can add them for $8 each or $12 for both.

While the retail cost of the basic package is regulated at $25 a month, the cost of add-ons isn’t regulated at all. And nothing requires all channels to be offered at the same price. You could be charged $5 a channel or $20 for a pick-your-own package with a lot of exceptions.

5. No, you can’t get HBO for 1/5 the price of The Movie Network

While most channels will be available à la carte, in some cases there are multiple channels tied to a single licence. That’s the case for TSN, the four main Sportsnet channels, and The Movie Network. If you spend $15 a month for TMN and its five channels, you won’t be able to get just HBO Canada for $3 a month.

The CRTC is reviewing its rules for multiplexed channels and will remove the requirement that they be sold as one unit. But don’t expect HBO Canada to be offered anywhere near that cheaply.

6. It’ll probably be cheaper for you to keep your current package

If you’re interested in more than a couple of channels, chances are you’re better getting a big bundle, even if it might have some channels you don’t care about. It’s in the providers’ interest, and the broadcasters’, that as many people subscribe to as many channels as possible to spread the cost around. Simple economics will encourage you to buy more, just like a grocery store encourages you to buy in bulk.

7. Some channels will die

This is particularly true of independent channels like Vision, OUTtv and iChannel, that don’t have free advertising on CTV, Global or TVA. Some CRTC rules encourage providers to carry them, but if their number of subscribers goes down, they’re in big trouble financially.

8. Many channels will try to generate maximum demand at minimum cost

Consider a channel like AMC or FX. They’ve got some expensive must-watch shows during primetime, but the rest of their schedules are largely filler, with old movies or reruns. Expect a lot of channels to have one or two high-quality shows to get you to subscribe, but not much else for the other 22 hours of the day.

9. It’s competition, not regulation, that will really bring prices down

Part of the problem with TV service in this country is that because very few places have more than one incumbent cable company, there’s little competition (there’s satellite TV, but that has technical limitations). Bell and Telus are doing their part building up their fibre-optic networks to allow them to offer IPTV service.

But what would really make a difference are more independent third-party IPTV providers like Zazeen, VMedia and Colba.net. Those are still in their infancy and lack the kind of channel selection and quality the big guys have.

The CRTC has been doing a lot to make it easier for these guys to start up. New TV providers, even those operating in big urban centres, don’t need to have a licence until they reach a large enough subscriber base. Such exempt services also don’t have as many rules to follow. Plus they can use existing telecommunications infrastructure, similar to the way independent Internet providers do. And new rules about how the big broadcasters negotiate carriage will create less headaches for independent providers when signing carriage contracts.

But we’re still a while from these independents creating real competition for established TV providers.

10. No one really knows what the TV market will look like after this

We know that it will be more expensive to buy a set number of channels individually than in a bundle. We know that skinny basic will make less money for providers if they don’t have lots of add-ons. But how the economics will look exactly isn’t known.

Will we see channels go high-quality and expensive, like HBO, TSN and Sportsnet? Will they go cheap to maximize the number of subscribers? Will we see an explosion in the number of channels as the big guys try to maximize subscription revenue by splitting up their most in-demand programming? Will free previews be more or less common? Will this encourage more over-the-top offers for specialty channels wanting to bypass TV providers all together?

We’re not following the U.S. here, even though politicians there are trying to push for more consumer choice. So we’ll have to wait and see.

But it’s still a good idea

Skinny basic and packaging choice are good things. There are a lot of channels out there (*cough*BookTV*cough*) that survive almost solely on being included in large packages and have had nothing new to offer for years. Those deserve to reform or die.

But TV providers are going to do whatever they can to protect their bottom lines so long as they don’t have to worry about competition. So, unless you only want a few channels, and you don’t like sports, don’t expect to save too much under these new rules.

Instead, be happy that the money you pay is more likely to go toward channels and programming you care about than zombie services that profit from resistance to change.

UPDATE (March 1): I had a discussion with CBC Radio’s Q about the changes and what they mean for consumers.

Canada’s TV industry still needs to get its act together on streaming

Want to watch the Super Bowl tonight online or on mobile? No problem. You just have to prove you’re subscribed to CTV through a participating TV provider.

Now, that might sound a bit ridiculous, since CTV is a free-to-air television network and doesn’t collect subscription fees, but it’s nevertheless true. Bell Media is streaming the Super Bowl only on its CTV GO app, and that application works only if your TV provider has a contract with Bell Media to provide it.

Unfortunately, while English Canada’s big providers — Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Eastlink and of course Bell itself — are participating providers, Videotron and Cogeco are not. It doesn’t matter how many RDS or TSN channels you subscribe to, you can’t get mobile access to the Super Bowl or other Bell Media sports content until they make a deal. And there’s no word on when that’s going to happen.

I explore this frustration a bit in this business story, which appears in Saturday’s Montreal Gazette. It quotes Videotron saying they’re negotiating, and noting that they have Global GO, TMN GO and some other services, but that’s it.

There are gaps all across the compatibility chart. I can’t find one cable provider that offers all TV everywhere products, nor any broadcaster that’s available on all cable systems.

Quebecor seems to be the worst offender on both sides. Videotron subscribers don’t have access to most Bell Media, Rogers or Corus applications. Meanwhile TVA Sports has live streaming available only to Videotron and Cogeco subscribers.

Why is it like this? Because as Canada’s vertically integrated media companies get bigger, they’re more able to play hardball. Negotiations for carriage become more complicated, and a company like Quebecor trying to hold out for a better deal for itself and its customers ends up getting left out.

(Of course, since negotiations are secret, we have no idea which side is being unreasonable in its demands.)

Online streaming isn’t regulated directly by the CRTC, but vertically integrated companies have been told to play nice on TV everywhere products linked to licensed channels. The problem is that a deal can be considered “commercially reasonable” and still be a bad deal.

TV everywhere compatibility has gotten a lot better over the past few years, particularly as Bell, Rogers and Shaw signed deals to make their programming available on each others’ systems. But if the industry wants to show the CRTC and the government that the free market works better than government regulation, if it wants to show customers that cable is still better than over-the-top streaming, it needs to grow up, sit down together and make this work.

TV everywhere should work everywhere. If it doesn’t … well, just remember how easy piracy is these days.

Another sad day at Postmedia

I don’t have much to say about the announcement Tuesday that Postmedia is cutting more than 90 jobs, particularly in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, the three markets where it owns both subscription daily newspapers.

Not because it’s not important. But because (a) Postmedia is my employer, which puts me in a conflict of interest, (b) I don’t have anything really to add that hasn’t been written by the Globe and Mail and others, and (c) aside from the details, it’s the same story that has been written about double-digit and triple-digit layoffs at large media companies over the past decade.

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A community television renaissance in Montreal

You ever tried pitching a local TV show to a local commercial station?

Don’t bother.

It’s not that they wouldn’t love the idea. But over-the-air television isn’t what it used to be. Their audience isn’t as captive, their advertising revenue not as robust. Their owners keep them going by centralizing as much as possible, including programming, to keep costs down.

But there is a place that might accept your proposal. In fact, there are two. Both Videotron and Bell now run bilingual community television services in Montreal, offering money and resources to people who want to create shows that reflect the city and its various communities. A third independent community TV service was recently given a licence by the CRTC to operate on independent providers, and its plan is to offer some English programming too in a couple of years.

I wrote about these community TV services and the issue in general in a recent story for the Montreal Gazette. But I collected far more information than I could cram into that article, so here are some additional things I’ve learned.

MAtv (Videotron Channel 9/609)

Those of you following the MAtv saga might remember that it had planned to launch a separate English channel, and Videotron asked the CRTC to double the money it could deduct from its required payments for Canadian programming and redirect to community television. The CRTC said OK to the second channel, but no to the additional money (even though it said yes to a similar request from Bell). So Videotron decided to just add English programming to MAtv.

In September, it launched that programming: Five shows, of which two are English versions of MAtv-produced French shows (Montreal Billboard, hosted by former Global anchor Richard Dagenais, consists of interviews with people from local organizations, and is a French version of Montréalité; and City Life, hosted by former CJAD staffer Tina Tenneriello, is a current affairs show modelled after Mise à jour).

Of the other three shows, two are actually from the same group, though that fact is disguised a bit in the promotional material. There’s Living 2 Gether, a series hosted by Vahid Vidah that lets amateur filmmakers explore the social fabric of the city, and StartLine, hosted (kinda) by Henri Pardo, that profiles small businesses. StartLine was submitted by Gregory Vidah, Vahid’s brother.

To understand how they got involved in this, you have to learn about a guy I didn’t have room to talk about in the Gazette article: Ely Bonder.

Bonder worked at CFCF-12/CTV Montreal for 35 years as a video editor until he retired in January. But he’s had projects on the side for most of that time. In 1984, he was part of a group headed by Roger Price that proposed a youth-oriented television channel to the CRTC. It was later withdrawn because of a lack of funding, the CRTC decision says. In 1987, the commission would finally give a licence to a new specialty programming service called YTV.

Bonder went on to create an organization called Youth eMage Jeunesse, which helped young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, get access to video equipment to create their own productions. It was one of several organizations to get financial benefits — $200,000 — from the transaction that saw Quebecor buy TVA in 2001.

Fast-forward to last year, and Bonder is at an event called Je vois MTL, which is designed to get people involved in proposing and launching innovative projects that make Montreal a better city. “There I met Vahid, who was coming up with a concept of empowering artists,” he said. “We put our heads together and talked.”

This is where I appear in the story. They came across articles I’d written about Videotron’s MYtv project. “Lo and behold the opportunity fell from the sky to do TV,” he said. They met with MAtv people, and “they suggested that we pitch a couple of shows.”

They came prepared, more so than MAtv anticipated. With the help of Collective Community Services, they reached out to volunteers, and got so many people interested they had to turn many of them away.

“You could tell there was a real sense of community that needed to be fulfilled,” Bonder said.

“We walked into the office of the general manager of MAtv and we wowed them,” Vidah explained. “They ate us like cupcakes.”

As a result, this group has two shows on the air, with a third slated for winter.

“I’m not a TV producer, I’m a musician and a social activist,” Vidah says. “I see myself as a social aggregator.”

Vidah, the son of an African father and French-Canadian mother, has a kind of hippie look at society, but that isn’t in any way insincere.

“We have so much things in common, that it’s kind of useless for us to focus on differences,” he says.

Bonder was so impressed by Vidah that he decided to give him the company. “I felt that he should actually own the entity that he was working for for free,” he said. “I got my freedom and he got the company.”

Vidah is resurrecting it as Zenzoo.TV.

The other independent production is The Street Speaks by Paul Shore. It’s an extension of a project he started online called Quelque Show (he changed the name Quelque Show was used by CBC Montreal back in the day and “I didn’t want the CBC to send me a cease and desist order”).

Ask him about the show and he’ll tell you that when he asked people on the street when was the last time a journalist asked their opinion about something, “97 out of 100 said never.”

The Street Speaks is a kind of everyman’s soapbox, in which people on the street give their opinions about issues. But unlike the man-on-the-street interviews you see on the nightly news, these discussions are more open-ended, about bigger issues than the divisive political issue of the day. “I don’t talk to people about news or pop culture, ever,” he explains. “I don’t have canned questions. I’m not looking for sound bites, I’m looking for people to have the opportunity to express themselves.”

Shore conducted long interviews with his subjects, and broke up their responses into themes to create 12 episodes of 28 minutes, with two themes per episode.

“It wasn’t that hard to get people to talk to me,” he explained. “I gave people the opportunity to express themselves even though they didn’t know they wanted one. Everyone has such rich stories to share.”

He does the interviews himself, without a production team. “It’s much easier for me to get really authentic interviews when I’m one on one with them,” he explains. The professional help comes in the postproduction process, particularly editing.

MAtv has changed a lot since the slap on the wrist from the CRTC. It makes much clearer now that it’s a place for people from the community to pitch programming, and airs a short intro before each episode of an access program pointing out where it came from. It has also launched a programming advisory committee, with input from many communities.

“I’m impressed with what we did over the past few months,” said Steve Desgagné, MAtv’s general manager, at the September programming launch. “We did the job and we’re really happy with the result.”

But there’s still a long way to go. The CRTC highlighted MAtv’s deficiency in presenting programming for an aboriginal audience. Desgagné said a project is in the works, but “we don’t know if it’s going to happen” yet. It all depends on the group that proposed it.

Even English programming was a bit hard to attract. He said they got “maybe 20 or so” submissions for English shows, while there are hundreds of proposals for French shows every year.

“We have to make more of an effort. The response was not what we expected,” he said. But “the projects we got are quality projects.”

The issues aren’t limited to programming, though. Videotron still faces a lawsuit from a group called ICTV that proposed its own grassroots community TV station to replace MAtv, which it successfully argued to the CRTC wasn’t respecting its mandate. In the meantime, ICTV isn’t proposing projects to MAtv, and MAtv hasn’t reached out to ICTV.

TV1 (Bell Channel 1)

Bell beat Videotron to the punch on English programming, mainly because Videotron’s application was stalled for a year by ICTV’s complaint.

Unlike MAtv, TV1, launched as Bell Local, is a video-on-demand channel instead of a linear one. Since Bell Fibe has no analog subscribers or other legacy issues to deal with, it can exploit the system’s technology to its full potential. This also means that episodes don’t have to fit into half-hour blocks.

Some of the shows it’s produced so far:

TV1 also has shows with obvious Bell Media tie-ins. A show about Amazing Race Canada auditions, an eTalk TIFF special, and a 24CH quiz show. Those don’t count as community access.

Discussing with Nicolas Poitras, VP Residential Services at Bell, who’s the big boss of TV1, the word “quality” came up a lot.

“There’s a perception that community TV is of lower quality,” he said. “Our desire was really quality. Our first preoccupation was to make sure that the quality was there.”

Poitras said Bell surveyed its customers and determined four broad themes that they wanted programming on: food, people, places and events. But if there’s quality stuff that doesn’t fit into those categories, they’ll still go for it.

“The only criteria is: Is it going to make interesting TV?”

While MAtv prefers series with 10 or 12 episodes, TV1 is much more flexible. Some are one-offs, some have just a few episodes, and others already have multiple seasons done. And because there’s no weekly schedule, deadlines aren’t as tight.

“We load assets when they’re ready, and people can consume them when they want,” Poitras said.

Another difference between Bell and Videotron is that the former gives more freedom to the producer to do what they want with the content. “We pay for the production and once we’ve aired it, the content is theirs, so they can broadcast the content on other channels,” Poitras said. Many producers have taken advantage of that to put their shows on YouTube (TV1 also puts stuff on YouTube, but it’s segments, not complete episodes.) MAtv, meanwhile, demands exclusivity for two years.

Both TV1 and MAtv are exclusive to their subscribers, and don’t offer full episodes online. That means for someone without a cable TV subscription, it’s easier to watch the latest episode of a hit U.S. drama than a community television show.

Télévision Communautaire Frontenac

There’s a third player in town. In August, Télévision Communautaire Frontenac was approved as Montreal’s first independent community television service. According to CRTC rules, all licensed terrestrial TV providers (cable or IPTV) must now offer TCF unless they have their own community channel.

So far this means only two small providers: Colba.Net and Distributel (Zazeen), both telecom companies that have recently added IPTV service in some areas of the city.

TCF dates back to 1995, and its home is in an office that was very clearly designed to be an apartment on the ground floor of the Tours Frontenac, a nonprofit housing complex across the street from the Frontenac metro station. It’s as bootstrappy low-budget as you can get, with only seven people on salary (not all of them full-time) but producing 200 hours a year of original content, soon going up to 300.

“We put money on the screen,” explains program director Louis-Martin McArdle.

Recently, an empty commercial space was given to the station to use as a studio, but before then it shot all its studio programs inside its cramped offices. For much of its life, TCF served only the towers of the complex, though that’s still about 800 units, or 2,000 people.

“There are community television services in Gaspésie that have fewer subscribers than there are people here,” McArdle said.

TCF eventually became the official community channel of VDN, a cable provider specializing in large apartment complexes. When VDN was bought by Bell, that came to an end, though there was an arrangement to share programming with Bell’s community channel.

TCF is distributed as an analog service inside the building (it’s watchable through cable boxes by choosing the channel reserved for building cameras), though it produces content in high definition and recently updated its editing equipment. It also posts content online.

McArdle said they hope to be running on Colba.Net and Zazeen in the coming weeks. The plan is to add English programming in the third year of operation, 2017-18.

A change in policy?

The fact that Videotron and Bell subscribers can’t access each other’s community programming is one of the things about the CRTC’s community television policy that irk independents.

Soon they’ll have an opportunity to change that. The CRTC is in the process of reviewing its community television policy, in a hearing to take place in January. Community TV, and certain aspects of local TV, were carved out of the recent Let’s Talk TV process so they could be dealt with separately.

Though the fact that community and local TV are being lumped in together also irks Cathy Edwards, executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). She’s worried that community TV concerns will be overshadowed by debates over local commercial TV.

Edwards wants to take community TV away from the cable companies and give it to independent groups.

“Canada is the only country in the world that recognizes a community media sector where it’s not defined automatically by nonprofit citizen media ownership,” she told me earlier this year.

“I get complaints all across the country we can’t get on our community channel or our community channel is closed.”

The fact that community channels are tied to cable companies is more historical than anything else. Back when cable was analog and there was only one cable company for every region, that was the only technical way that made sense.

But now, distribution isn’t the problem. People can use YouTube for that. What matters more is access to equipment and funding. And besides, the introduction of new competitors to cable means there isn’t just one company offering pay TV anymore.

A grassroots system like Edwards has in mind would be a challenge to set up. Not every community has a group ready to take the reins of a TV station. And even with money from cable companies, it still requires a lot of volunteer work. But the CRTC could start by requiring community TV services in a local area be carried by all providers in that area, and breaking down the silos that limit community programs to the cable company that funded them.

Comments on the CRTC’s local and community television review are due by 8pm ET Nov. 5 Nov. 6 (it was extended again). More than 1,100 comments have already been filed. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information submitted, including contact info, will be made public.

Submissions for new programs on MAtv and TV1 are welcome. Start by going to their website and filling out a form.

14 quirks about the Canadiens’ schedule and NHL on TV and online

The Canadiens begin their 2015-16 regular season on Wednesday night. And I’m told that among the most requested things of the sports department is a schedule of what games will be on what TV channel during the season.

So in Wednesday’s paper, I’ve replicated a chart I did a year ago that lists all 82 regular-season games, and an accompanying story explaining to Quebecers how to watch the Canadiens on TV or online.

There’s also a separate story, online only, explaining to people who live outside the Canadiens’ broadcast region how they can see all 82 games.

I’ll let you read those stories to get all the details (if you have any more questions, let me know). The gist of it is that there haven’t been many major changes for this year — still 40 national Canadiens games in English and 22 in French, and you still need five channels in English and two in French to watch all of them.

In researching these stories, and through a series of emails with Rogers PR, I’ve learned a few bits of trivia about NHL TV rights and the Canadiens’ schedule in particular.

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CROP poll of how anglos and francos drink is garbage, based on sample of 30 people

Breakdown of results of CROP poll show sample size of 31 for anglo Montrealers.

Breakdown of results of CROP poll show sample size of 31 for non-francophone Montrealers.

This morning, Éduc’alcool, an organization devoted to moderation in alcohol consumption, released the results of a poll it commissioned from polling firm CROP related to how people in Quebec drink.

The results were offered to the media under embargo yesterday, and stories appear today in the Journal de Montréal, La Presse, Métro, Rouge FM, Radio-Canada, CJAD and elsewhere that focus on interesting results outlined in the organization’s press release: that there’s a significant difference in how francophones and non-francophones in Montreal drink. Francophones drink more and more often than the rest of the city.

You won’t find a story about this in the Montreal Gazette, despite how relevant this kind of information is to its readership. It’s not because there wasn’t a journalist to cover it — a story was written about it and was set to be given good play in today’s paper. But I had it killed last night.

Well, actually the city editor is the one who made the call, but I’m the reason why, and it sounds cooler to say “I had it killed” than “I noticed something and brought it up to an authority figure”.

The reason is simple: All that data about how non-francophones in Montreal drink is based on sample sizes of 30-40 people, which is laughably small for any survey. None of the conclusions on the difference between language groups could be taken seriously, and without that data there’s really no story here.

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That Weird Al concert was fantastic, despite the rain

Weird Al Yankovic performs Canadian Idiot (because obviously) at Place des Festivals on Tuesday night.

Weird Al Yankovic performs Canadian Idiot (because obviously) at Place des Festivals on Tuesday night.

(TL;DR version: I like Weird Al, and I reviewed his show for the Gazette.)

I was looking forward to Tuesday night’s concert before I knew it existed.

It’s no secret that Weird Al Yankovic is my favourite musical artist. By simple quantitative measure, I have more of his songs than songs by any other. And I enjoy listening to them.

So I was excited when he announced his Mandatory World Tour in January, until I looked through the list of tour dates and couldn’t find Montreal on it. Surely this is a mistake. He’s performing in London, Ont., and Halifax, and Burlington, Vt., but not Montreal?

Super sleuths noted that his schedule had some holes in it around late July and early August. Perhaps he was booked for Osheaga, whose lineup hadn’t been announced yet.

But then Osheaga unveiled its lineup, and he wasn’t on that either.

Maybe Just for Laughs? He’s been here before, and the timing would be about right. Maybe he’d host a gala, or have a solo show at one of the big theatres, or even the Bell Centre. I didn’t care how much it would cost, I’d be there. I’ve never seen this man perform live before (I missed his last appearance at JFL in 2011), and I was determined to do so this year.

So you can imagine my shock when Just for Laughs announced that not only is he coming here, he’s performing a free show at the Place des Festivals.

It might not seem so shocking to hear of a free show during festival season, but these are usually done for the Jazz Festival, or Francofolies, or Pop Montreal. Just for Laughs has outdoor activities, but not big international names.

But Weird Al is both a comedian and a musician, so if anyone’s well suited to this, it’s him.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the entertainment editor at the Gazette. She asked me to review the show for the paper. I hesitated at first, because I’m not a music critic, and I’m hardly objective about Weird Al. But she wanted me because I’m a fan and I know his work.

Reviewing a concert for deadline is a challenge. The show started at 9pm, and the story for the early edition had to be filed by 9:30, only a couple of songs into it. Not nearly enough to provide a proper picture of what happened.

I spoke with Robbie Praw, the Just for Laughs vice-president of programming, to get an idea of why this was made into an outdoor show. His comments provided the bulk of the copy for the early edition. He said they wanted to make a “big statement” and create buzz for the festival. They were booking him for an indoor show, but decided the chance to put him outside was too big to pass up.

Praw said he didn’t lose any sleep over keeping me in suspense for several months about Weird Al coming here.

He also mentioned that his first involvement with Just for Laughs was seeing Al in concert at the Old Port in 1996. That was the last time he did a solo show here. (He came in 2011 to host a musical comedy show featuring other artists, but he only performed a few of his songs there.)

VIP treatment

A half hour before the show, I had to make a decision. I was hanging out with a couple of friends about 20 feet from the stage. The view was great from there, but the crowd was getting more dense. Would I seriously be able to sit down and write on my laptop in the middle of this concert with people dancing all around me?

On the other side of the plaza, a VIP section had been set up for JFL bigwigs, invited guests and media. From there, I was much further from the stage, but I could see the crowd, and I had a chair and a table. Even though part of the reason my friends came was to see me go nuts at a Weird Al concert, I had to abandon them for the sake of work.

It turned out to be the better decision, because a few minutes after I got to the table, the skies opened up. I cowered beneath my umbrella with my laptop, hoping it would pass.

Eventually the organizers set up a tent to shield us from the rain. We ended up watching the show with a partially obstructed view. But I can’t really complain, because I got to see Weird Al live for free from a VIP section.

(I’ve always resented VIP sections and other forms of special treatment. If I hadn’t been filing a story for deadline, I wouldn’t have taken advantage of it.)

Amazing Al

I don’t go to those big Bell Centre concerts, so I don’t know what the standard is for those things these days. I know Taylor Swift had that big elevated rotating stage thing during her show, and she and others have regular costume changes between songs.

Weird Al had those too, donning costumes similar or identical to those he used in the videos for them. He had a giant purple octopus costume for Perform This Way, a dark suit and sunglasses for Party at the CIA, a tool belt for Handy.

But it was his outfit for Fat, one of his first big hits, that impressed me most. Not only did he don the fat suit from the video, but he also had a prosthetic fat face on. I wasn’t close enough to really judge the quality of the makeup, but from a distance it looked incredible for something that was done in under five minutes.

Yankovic played his classic hits from the decades, and several songs from his latest album (but not Tacky?). You could tell which ones were the crowd favourites.

Speaking of which, the crowd wasn’t the biggest this town has ever seen for a free show (I’m guessing it would have been much, much larger had it not rained), but it was dedicated. Every downpour was met with a cheer and chants of “Weird Al” before the show. Many came in aluminum foil hats, referencing his Lorde parody Foil. Many came in garish Hawaiian shirts. One guy looked like he walked right out of a Weird Al lookalike contest.

But did I like it?

What impresses me most about Yankovic and his band is how versatile they are. They can perform rock songs, pop songs, country songs, rap songs, and of course polka, and they all sound good. Some songs are straight-up parodies with nearly identical music. Others are style parodies, that sound like a particular artist or style but don’t copy a particular song. And others are straight-up originals. And though they weren’t as present during the show, the more original songs are the ones I like the most.

I can’t say it was an ideal concert. The rain didn’t help matters as far as crowd enjoyment, and having to write a story was a distraction. But Yankovic himself was fantastic. He’s 55, and he can still kick over his head. His energy was infectious, even though he’s in the middle of a gruelling tour schedule that has shows almost every night.

My biggest complaint about the show, the one that left me actually disappointed emotionally, was that it ended. They could have done another half hour before they would have been forced to shut it down by the city. They could have performed more of my personal favourites.

And then Al and I could have chatted afterwards and become best friends.

Maybe that’s asking too much, though. I had a lot of fun, he put on a great show, and it didn’t cost me a nickel.

Thanks, Al. And come back soon.

Set list

(This is based off my notes, not any official source, so I may have missed a song or two)

  1. Now That’s What I Call Polka!
  2. Perform This Way
  3. Dare To Be Stupid
  4. Fat
  5. Foil
  6. Smells Like Nirvana
  7. Party In The CIA
  8. It’s All About the Pentiums
  9. Handy
  10. Bedrock Anthem
  11. Another One Rides the Bus
  12. Ode to a Superhero
  13. Gump
  14. Inactive
  15. eBay
  16. Canadian Idiot
  17. Eat It*
  18. I Lost on Jeopardy*
  19. I Love Rocky Road*
  20. Like a Surgeon*
  21. White and Nerdy
  22. Word Crimes
  23. Amish Paradise
  24. Yoda (encore)

* These songs were performed to the tune of other songs. Eat It was done to the tune of Eric Clapton’s Layla (the acoustic version). Others to a more jazz-y melody.

The difference 10 years makes

Did they know what they were getting into?

Did they know what they were getting into?

This week marks 10 years since I walked into an office building at 1010 Ste-Catherine St. W. and began a career as a professional journalist.

It was the day after the Journée nationale des patriotes, and I began an internship as a copy editor at The Gazette, a newspaper owned by the Canwest media empire.

Through the decade, the path hasn’t been easy or always positive. I was laid off three times, the second one resulting in more than a year of unemployment in which I tried doing some freelance writing and started a blog for fun. But thanks to hard work on my part, and some managers who for whatever reason thought I was worth it, they always brought me back. And now with a permanent job, I don’t have to worry (as much) that I’ll be let go because not enough people got pregnant.

In those 10 years, I’ve made many mistakes, and learned from them. I’ve grown, matured, relaxed, and become more of an adult. I went from someone who had only a passing knowledge of sports to someone who can talk with some insight about the latest news (even if I really have no opinion on what to do about the power play or what position Alex Galcheyuk should play). I went from a green newbie who had no idea of the paper’s history to one of those veterans who brings out a “Back in my day…” during intern season. Plus, of course, I have a lot more money than I did 10 years ago.

But my employer has changed, too, and in much more dramatic fashion.

The Gazette added the word “Montreal” to its name, its parent company is now Postmedia, and it has no relation to Global TV (though we still share the same building). The paper has been radically redesigned, it’s smaller in both page size and thickness, it publishes only six days a week, it has colour on every page, and some features and regular columnists have disappeared, with other new ones taking their place.

The website no longer looks like this. Instead of stories being posted automatically by a machine importing them from that morning’s paper, stories are written directly into WordPress and then copies are made for print.

A bunch of ideas were tried, some of which were successful, others not so much.

We went from editing pages in QuarkXPress 3.32 (which was already nine years old when I started) on a Power Macintosh G3 to editing stories in a web browser using brand-new MacBook Air (reporters) and MacBook Pro (editors) laptops, with a stop in between when we used PCs.

And the team is much smaller than it used to be. I took out a schedule from 10 years ago, and it listed 34 copy editors, including myself, on the news desk, and a further 13 on the features desk, or 47 total. And all of them worked for the print paper. Today, there are 20 copy editors split between four platforms. The person who first hired me no longer works there. Neither does my first boss. Or her boss. Or his boss. Or his boss. Or the CEO.

Many of the print jobs have since been centralized, as Canwest and then Postmedia decided it was more efficient for stories that appear in different papers across the chain to be edited once. Others — including the Gazette’s entire printing plant — were eliminated as the company decided to outsource various functions it considered non-core.

There are changes I agree with, and those I strongly disagree with. There are changes that made things better, and changes that made things worse. There are changes the union has fought (and is still fighting), and there are changes everyone has accepted or welcomed. I’ve heard all the complaints, and I agree with many of them. But I also know it’s a struggle to produce quality journalism when no one wants to pay for it. And if no one finds that magic business model that saves newspapers before it’s too late and they all die, then at least I’ll have done my part to keep its heart beating one more day. Because despite everything, newspapers like the Montreal Gazette expose stories that would not otherwise be exposed. And that’s something we need as a society.

Through it all, I remain grateful, to the organization and its employees past and present who helped me grow, who gave it their all even while they worried about their future or complained about things they didn’t like, and particularly those who thought this Steve Faguy guy was worth keeping around.

 

How local is Global’s plan for local news?

Shaw Media calls it innovative and transformative. Critics and the union calls it cost-cutting at the expense of local programming. What the CRTC calls it might become an issue.

Earlier this month, Global announced changes to the way it does local news across the country. The biggest one is that 11pm and weekend newscasts will no longer be anchored locally. Instead, an anchor or anchors in Toronto will produce local newscasts for the various local stations, customized for those stations and containing local news.

I get into the details of what’s changing in this story for the Montreal Gazette.

This is a step beyond what they did in 2008, when they centralized newscast control rooms in four broadcast centres (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto) so that one team could produce several newscasts in a day instead of just one or two.

What we’re left with are newscasts that feature reports from local journalists and are presumably lined up by local staff, but where the anchor, weatherman, director and just about all technical staff are in another city. Can that really be considered local programming?

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month. (File photo)

There are also changes to the morning show, which will soon feature eight-minute segments every half-hour produced nationally that will be identical for all markets. As a result, the morning show is losing three employees, including co-host Richard Dagenais.

The promises

The union representing Global Montreal employees isn’t happy. It sent out a press release last week (later corrected) that condemned the loss of local programming. Except for a couple of tweets, no one paid attention.

CUPE/SCFP tells me they will be watching the new shows with a stopwatch to see if Global is meeting its obligations to the CRTC, and will complain if they’re not.

Like all commercial television stations, Global Montreal has to ensure a minimum amount of local programming is aired. For stations in large markets like Montreal, that’s 14 hours a week.

Shaw also made a separate promise to create morning shows at least two hours long when it purchased Global from Canwest in 2010, and to keep them running until at least 2016-17, contributing $45 million to that cause ($5 million for Montreal). Because that’s a tangible benefit as part of a major acquisition, those 10 hours a week have to be in addition to the usual 14 hours a week of local programming.

If we consider Morning News, Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal as local programming, including their repeats and best-of shows, Global is meeting that obligation of 24 hours a week.

But are they really local?

As far as I can tell, the CRTC only really got around to establishing a definition of local programming in 2009, when it established the since-terminated Local Programming Improvement Fund. In Paragraph 43, it decided on the following definition:

Local programming is defined as programming produced by local stations with local personnel or programming produced by locally-based independent producers that reflects the particular needs and interests of the market’s residents.

Are these late-night newscasts produced by local stations? Do they use local personnel? It depends how you define “produced” and “personnel”, I guess.

When Global first outsourced technical production in 2008, the unions complained then too, saying these newscasts were not really local. The CRTC didn’t see it that way,

In 2009, the commission decided that there was no evidence that Global was contravening its licence requirements by outsourcing production of local news. It confirmed this later that year in renewing the licences of Global stations, but said it “will continue to monitor the situation.”

There’s also a separate definition of “local presence”, which has three criteria:

  • providing seven-day-a-week original local news coverage distinct to the market;
  • employing full-time journalists on the ground in the market; and
  • operating a news bureau or news gathering office in the market.

Global’s new plan fits all three of these criteria, though the first might be arguable depending on how distinctive the newscasts really are.

Global points out that it’s not unprecedented to anchor local newscasts outside of the local market. Its New Brunswick newscast is anchored out of Halifax. Other small stations owned by Global and CTV have their local news produced out of neighbouring markets. And the CRTC hasn’t seemed to have a problem with that.

The CRTC will be reviewing its local television policy in the coming year, and this could become a central issue.

What the new Global Montreal will look like

So how will this affect what actually goes on air? Here’s what we know:

  • The 6pm newscast is unchanged. It will still be anchored locally by Jamie Orchard, and produced out of Edmonton with a weatherman in Toronto. Its news will still be local, since it’s followed directly by Global National at 6:30.
  • Focus Montreal is also unchanged.
  • The late-night and weekend newscasts will have a Toronto anchor, and 11pm newscasts will be expanded to a full hour.
  • The morning show will have more nationally-produced content.

Many details are still unclear, but here’s some things I’m predicting will happen:

  • The morning show will have national news, world news and entertainment segments that are nationally produced, but still have the local anchor doing local news. There may be a temptation to do sports nationally, but unless they do something like City where the national sports segment is customized to the local market, it would probably be better to leave that local. We might also see some national lifestyle segments produced for all markets, or special all-markets broadcasts like we’ve seen on City.
  • The quality of the morning show will decrease thanks to its staff cuts.
  • Late-night weeknight and weekend newscasts anchored out of Toronto will no longer be live. Which is fine because they’ll be mainly rehashes of the 6pm news anyway, with maybe a report from an evening reporter thrown in. The hour-long 11pm newscast will be heavy on national segments, including some sports content. The ability to make late changes because of breaking local news will be significantly diminished.

One thing that’s unclear is who will be running the show locally nights and weekends. Global says it will commit to having a local person exercising editorial control over those newscasts, but setting aside how hard it is to effectively use that control when everyone is in another city and there’s enormous pressure to not be different from other markets, who will be the person doing this?

Under the current system, the only person in the newsroom for most of the night or weekend is the anchor. They’re handling assignment duties, lining up the newscast, and even calling the cops to get updates. Will there still be a reporter doing this? And if so, why not just have that person still act as anchor?

Global’s plan is clearly to focus on content over its container. But I think the company is underestimating the contributions that anchors make to their newscasts. It’s not a job that involves only 30 minutes a day of work.

How will the viewers react? Well, when your late-night newscast gets a couple of thousand viewers, you might ask if it even matters. And will they even recognize that their anchor is in Toronto, with little or no knowledge of the city he’s describing every night?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, TV newscasts are so 20th century. And Global is looking toward the future. Its plans for Global News 1, which ironically involve hiring a bunch of staff instead of laying them off, is a similar blend of national and local where the local resources are all gathering news instead of producing newscasts. But we’re still waiting for the CRTC to publish the application for that proposed service.

Other reading

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.

radioratings

* 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.

CBC holding its first public consultation for English-language minority in Quebec

The CBC wants to hear from you, not just because it wants to, but because it’s required to by a condition of licence.

In fact, it’s the very first condition of licence for CBC’s English and French-language services in a new CRTC licence approved in May 2013: The public broadcaster has to consult with minority-language communities: Francophones in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada and the North, and anglophones in Quebec. It has to happen once every two years and it has to be reported to the CRTC.

As CBC Quebec Managing Director Shelagh Kinch explains in this story I wrote for the Montreal Gazette, this is merely a formalizing of regular consultations the CBC did with anglophone community groups in Quebec and collection of audience feedback.

The consultation takes place Tuesday (Feb. 24) from 6:30pm to 8pm at Salle Raymond David of the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal. You can also tune in via live webcast and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCconsults.

In addition to Kinch and a panel of local journalists (All in a Weekend/Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick, C’est la vie host and political columnist Bernard St-Laurent, Shari Okeke and Raffy Boudjikanian, plus travelling journalist Marika Wheeler), there will also be two bigwigs from CBC who can make a real difference: Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News (who is also responsible for local radio across the country) and Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC Television. (Sadly, there isn’t anyone from national CBC radio, nor is CEO Hubert Lacroix on the panel.)

The CRTC imposed this condition of licence among several changes in the last licence renewal to ensure CBC is fulfilling its mandate toward minority language communities that aren’t large enough to have commercial broadcasters catering to them. And while Montreal is big enough that we have four English TV stations and several commercial radio stations, the rest of Quebec is pretty underserved. The only major broadcaster catering to them directly is the CBC Radio One station in Quebec City.

So if you have some beef with CBC’s programming, or feel as though it needs to better reflect your reality, whether you live on the Plateau or in Gaspé, this is your chance to make yourself heard.

And yeah, the just-shut-down-the-CBC suggestion has already been made.

The Facebook event for the discussion is here.

I can’t make it because of a meeting I have to be at, so I won’t get a chance to ask why our public broadcaster took a pass on the only English-language Canadian scripted drama series that’s actually set in Montreal.

The Jewel in Hudson hires Ted Bird as morning show host

Ted Bird

Ted Bird

Three months after it began on-air testing, The Jewel 106.7 (CHSV-FM) in Hudson/St-Lazare is getting ready for a launch in early March and has hired its morning man: Ted Bird.

I have some details in this story in the Montreal Gazette’s Off-Island section.

With the hire, Bird gains his fifth employer and fifth station in five years. He left CHOM in 2010 over “creative differences” with management and months later landed at community station K103 in Kahnawake. In 2012, he left K103 and joined what was then TSN 990. In the fall of 2013, after the Bell/Astral merger put his old CHOM bosses in charge of TSN, he was let go, and joined KIC Country 89.9 in Kahnawake. His last shift at that station was on Friday.

Bird also freelances as a sports commentator. He had a regular segment on CTV Montreal, and recently started doing the same thing for City’s Sportsnet Central Montreal.

Evanov Radio, which owns The Jewel, confirms that it has hired Bird as the morning show host.

“We have also hired a sales team which consists of three representatives to start and are looking to add our sales manager shortly,” says Evanov vice-president Carmela Laurignano.

There’s no word yet on other talent, but we’ll know that in the coming weeks. I’ve heard of a few names familiar to Montreal radio listeners that have tried out.

The Jewel is licensed to serve Hudson and St-Lazare, and its signal also covers Vaudreuil, Rigaud, Oka, Île Perrot and the western part of the West Island. Its programming will be mainly easy-listening music, but will have news and information specific for the Hudson/St-Lazare community (its application promised four hours and 22 minutes a week of news, of which half would be local to that community). Evanov told the CRTC in applying for the licence to the station that this community of should be considered a separate market from Montreal. (According to the CRTC’s measure, Hudson and St-Lazare alone have about 22,000 anglophone residents.)