Because it’s owned by Canada’s largest media company, and now Canada’s largest radio broadcaster, it’s hard to argue that TSN Radio 690 is a mom and pop shop.
And yet, just about everything about this station screams “underdog.” It has the lowest ratings of the five commercial English-language stations in Montreal. It puts out a lot of original programming on a small budget. And twice in the past year and a half, it has faced annihilation because its parent company made it clear that it valued each of the three Astral stations more than it did this one.
This underdog feeling was certainly present Thursday night at Hurley’s Irish Pub, as Mitch Melnick and other personalities from the station invited fans to help them celebrate the recent CRTC decision that not only allows it to maintain its format but guarantees it for at least seven years.
There are still changes to come. Melnick pointed out that the plan is to eventually move the station from its current home on Greene Ave. in Westmount to the Astral Media radio (now Bell Media radio) building at Papineau Ave. and René-Lévesque Blvd. There’s also the looming threat of layoffs as the consolidation of resources creates redundancy in staff. (The hammer has already fallen at Bell Media stations elsewhere in the country.) But, while it may not have been a raucous affair, there were a lot of thank-yous given out on this night.
Is “why don’t you go suck a dick?” inappropriate for a family newspaper? It’s a question I had to ask myself while writing the lead of a story for The Gazette about Abby Howard, a (temporary) Montrealer who gained thousands of fans online and raised more than $100,000 for a project she’s working on after she was a contestant on a reality series produced by Penny Arcade.
It was a story I really enjoyed writing, and enjoyed researching. And like many such stories, it’s very long (by newspaper standards) and there’s tons of information I couldn’t cram into it. Thankfully the Internet has no limit on story size, and my blog imposes on itself no limit to how much detail I can get into.
I’ll start off here by introducing you to the series, and inviting you to watch it. Because suspense is a big part of the fun, I won’t spoil it for you until later in this post.
I recently discovered that Concordia University’s television club has posted to YouTube a 10-year-old documentary called Student Politics. Directed by Sergeo Kirby, who would later produce other documentaries including Wal-Town, it tells the story of a student election at Concordia University in 2003. I appear a few times in the film giving somewhat incoherent commentary.
The time from 2000 to 2004 was a crazy one for Concordia and its student political bodies, and I was fortunate to have spent that time as a student journalist covering student politics. My first year, there was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving the VP finance writing 50 blank cheques to herself, and then a war between the student government and the student newspaper that resulted in the latter being shut down over a summer. My second year, an unprecedented popular impeachment campaign fuelled mainly by a post-9/11 backlash against radical activism, and an executive by-election that was derailed after a bribery scandal and ended in the election result being annulled. My third year, a controversial visit by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that triggered a riot, a very controversial moratorium on free speech related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a rush to the ballot box to replace radical left-wingers with a more moderate mainstream in the student executive.
Student Politics tells the story of that third year, about the heated battle between left and right (though it’s simplistic to describe the two factions in such terms), and the dynasty change that came after thousands of students from the apathetic majority finally decided they’d had enough. (That dynasty, which turned out to be no less corrupt than the leftist one, would stay in power for several years. By the time it disappeared, the left-right divide had largely faded away or been replaced by other pressing political divides.)
Highlights of the film include a point at the 22-minute mark that shows the campaigns, gathered in the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall building on de Maisonneuve Blvd., rushing through the building at midnight on the first day of campaigning to plaster every wall they can find with their posters. It’s an absurd indication of how seriously both sides took their campaigns back then.
(It’s also not the first time that year that I ran up that set of escalators in a panic trying to avoid a stampede.)
Other documentaries were made about that year at Concordia, though this was the only one to focus on student politics specifically. The other two focused on the Netanyahu riot and the conflict between students supporting the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Middle East conflict. I wrote about them a few years ago. There was Discordia, which is on he NFB’s website, which told the personal stories of the people behind this campus conflict. And there was Confrontation at Concordia, a heavily biased anti-Palestinian rant that aired on Global television. (It was originally posted to Google Video, but that no longer exists. A few minutes of it can be seen on YouTube.) The latter led to complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which found that although it obviously had a point of view, it didn’t engage in unethical practices or violate any broadcast standards to express it.
Student Politics isn’t the best documentary in the world. It was the effort of a first-time filmmaker. And I can’t really evaluate how well it tells a story I already know so well. But it’s a nice trip down memory lane to a time when the pettiness of student politics reached its peak.
And also a sad reminder of how much my hairline has receded in the past decade.
It’s not just me who’s been talking to English-language broadcasters in Montreal. Italian community magazine Panoram Italia has been profiling members of its community who have jobs in the media in Montreal. The magazine’s December/January issue is devoted to it, with CBC’s Sabrina Marandola and CJAD/CTV’s Laura Casella on the cover.
Going through the list, you can see how prolific they are here. Morning show hosts, weather presenters, journalists. Good thing they come in peace (and pizza).
- Sabrina Marandola (CBC) and Laura Casella (CJAD/CTV)
- Natasha Gargiulo and Freeway Frank Depalo (Virgin Radio) (Gargiulo was also profiled in 2011)
- Cousin Vinny Barrucco (The Beat)
- Frank Cavallaro (CBC)
- Rick Campanelli (Global’s ET Canada)
- Terry DiMonte (CHOM)
- Tony Marinaro (TSN 690)
- Mose Persico (CTV)
- Davide Gentile (Radio-Canada)
- Franco Nuovo (Radio-Canada)
- Marianna Simeone
The No Pants Subway Ride, an annual event organized by New-York-based Improv Everywhere but which has since expanded around the world, came to Montreal again last weekend, though it received fairly little media attention (which is probably for the best, at least until after the fact).
In this slickly-produced video shot by Étienne Marcoux and edited by Vincent Laurin, dozens of participants take the metro with no pants on in the middle of January and act as if that’s perfectly normal, prompting odd expressions from hapless bystanders.
Montreal has seen other such rides in the past, with mixed amounts of success. Nice to see the tradition kept alive.
And happy holidays, to everyone no matter who you are or where you call home on this tiny blue ball (or above it).
Well, okay, maybe not everyone.
Are Montreal anglos well served by local television? There are three stations with daily local newscasts, and a fourth could be coming within months. By this time next year Montreal could have two English-language TV morning shows. But what about the rest? What about the entertainment shows, the talk shows, the music shows, the cooking shows and everything else that we used to get on local television?
We get some of these things as part of the news (or, in the case of Global’s Focus Montreal, a weekly program set in the news studio). But their very nature limits them in terms of length and format.
It was this lack of non-news programming that led to Mitch Melnick starting up an online video talk show in 2009, which didn’t last long.
Now, someone’s trying something like this again. His name is Dimitrios Koussioulas, and the show is called Parc Avenue Tonight. It’s a very-low-budget (like, $2,000 a season) weekly talk show about Mile End, with videos so far between 10 and 17 minutes long.
The show looks promising from the three episodes posted so far. It has a nice intro theme, and seems to be well edited. Koussioulas is an engaging host. About the only thing that I don’t like about it is all the smoking, which seems almost as if it was put in there to seem cool, like this was the opposite of an after-school special.
But could this make it on regular television? The answer depends not only on whether the advertising it could generate would offset its costs, but whether the profit it generated would be higher than whatever programming CTV or Global would put on the air instead of it.
Canada has tried commercial entertainment talk shows in the past. Remember Mike Bullard? But nowadays all that’s left in Canada is fluffy daytime programs like Cityline and Marilyn Denis, and stuff imported from the U.S. Primetime talk shows are limited to the one subsidized by the CBC and the one subsidized by its host. And none of this is local.
Sadly, with most local television owned by big national vertically-integrated companies, there’s little incentive to change. Even putting a show like this in a low-rated spot like Friday nights at midnight would be asking too much of local commercial television stations.
Which is a shame, because given modest means, something like Parc Avenue Tonight could turn into quality programming that attracts a small but loyal audience.
Thankfully there’s the Internet, where anyone can do something like this on their own, and if it’s good enough it will attract enough eyeballs to make it financially viable.
We’ll see if Parc Avenue Tonight is good enough to make it past one season.
You can watch Parc Avenue Tonight with Dimitrios Koussioulas at ParcAvenueTonight.com.
It’s fun the kinds of things you can do with data.
Montreal’s transit agencies, including the STM, STL, RTL and AMT, have made their trip data public through a standard called General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). This allows the data to be sucked into applications like Google Maps, making it easier for people to plan their trips. The time of every stop of every bus is a set data point.
In this video, published a few weeks ago on YouTube, someone has taken this data and created an animation of every bus trip during the average weekday in the Montreal area. STM, STL and RTL buses are represented by little dots that race along their routes.
It’s an interesting way to visualize the activity involved in public transit. The animation, which is presented as a 1:600 timelapse (every second represents 10 minutes), starts at 4am with just the night buses on the island of Montreal. After about 6am, it expands into the morning rush hour, and you can see a clear bias toward downtown from all directions. Some thoroughfares like Henri-Bourassa Blvd., Sauvé St., Parc Ave. and Côte des Neiges Rd. emerge as lines because they see so much bus traffic during this time. The traffic dies down a bit after the morning rush hour, though not as much as I expected. After about 3pm there appears to be a general bias away from downtown as the evening rush hour begins. After 7pm, it noticeably dies down, more so after 11pm and 12:30am, and after 2am it’s back to just the night buses.
Each of those dots is a bus with a driver in it. Some could have just a few passengers on board, while others could be so packed they’re not stopping to pick up more.
It’s an expensive system, and a complicated one. But without all those little dots, the city would grind to a halt.
If you’re interested in trying to figure out other cool ways of manipulating transit data, you can download the STM’s GTFS data yourself. Data from the RTL and STL and AMT are also available. (The AMT data includes commuter trains, its express buses and data from smaller transit agencies like the CIT du Sud Ouest and CIT La Presqu’île.)
It’s never not awkward selling yourself. It feels so vain, so self-important. And at times it can feel like you’re kidding yourself, giving yourself too much credit for minor accomplishments.
I take the humble route. When people praise me and my blog, I pretend they’re exaggerating. (But deep down we all know this is the greatest blog to have ever graced the Internet. Right?)
Anyway, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel in which some local radio people are selling themselves like they’re on an awkward video dating service. I don’t want to make them feel too embarrassed about it, but it’s too funny not to post:
Peter Anthony Holder
Andrew Peplowski (see him in action selling a USB drive)
(Note to KEMEdia: If you’re selling people as voice-over talent and yourself as a video production house, maybe don’t have their pitch videos done in the echo chamber of doom.)
One of the advantages of living where I do is that I happen to be in the Papineau federal riding. It’s apparently the smallest geographically in Canada because of its high residential density.
But more importantly, it’s the riding currently being represented by Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party superstar and the closest thing this country has to a political prince, making him an easy target for harmless fun.
Being a constituent apparently gets me one free calendar every year. This year’s came last week in my mailbox – almost four weeks into the year, far beyond the point when calendars in stores enter liquidation pricing. I don’t know if it’s a party expenditure (since it has the Liberal Party logo on it) or if it comes from his MP’s budget (since it has his parliamentary contact information on the back).
What I do know is that, like last year’s calendar (this is apparently his third), it’s filled with pictures of Trudeau, in most cases more than one on each page. As you can see in the video above, I count 33 pictures of Trudeau in his calendar, which is the same as I counted in last year’s. Some photos are captioned as “Justin”, others “Mr. Trudeau”, others are written in the first person, and the rest don’t have a subject.
But that’s not interesting. Nor is it interesting that his welcome message spends more time bashing the Conservatives than talking about his family. What’s interesting is that someone thought it didn’t look silly that a calendar with 12 months has 33 pictures of Justin Trudeau in it, and a year later decided that shouldn’t change.
There are some things at CHOM that will always be constant: The name, the format, the listeners complaining that the same songs get played over and over, and every decade or so the program director deciding to shake things up by putting Terry DiMonte back on mornings.
DiMonte began his first shift back at Montreal’s Spirit of Rock on Monday, and I managed to score an invitation to see it from the studio (even if it meant pulling an all-nighter after a late shift at work). This is the story of that day.
I’m not a music critic. I couldn’t dissect a song to tell you what parts of it are good and what parts are bad. That’s why you won’t see me writing about music a lot.
But this is an exception.
The above is United State of Pop 2011 (World Go Boom) by DJ Earworm. It’s a mashup of the 25 most popular songs of 2011, including songs by Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, LMFAO, Rihanna and Adele. It was uploaded to YouTube on Christmas Day.
And it’s awesome. But I expected it to be.
To describe it as a “mashup” seems unfair. In reality, this is a song created from little bits of other songs, a masterpiece of musical editing that is as awe-inspiring by its complexity as it is catchy in its melody.
If you haven’t heard of this before, you need to listen to the previous years’ versions:
Each is just as impressive. And for added awesomeness, each can be downloaded free as an MP3. Just follow the link in the YouTube description to DJ Earworm’s website.
Last month, I gave a talk to some student journalists from Ontario and Quebec who gathered in St. Henri as part of a regional conference of Canadian University Press.
I occasionally get asked to talk to students, and like most professional journalists I’m happy to do so, because it gives me a chance to help others and because it totally inflates my ego to see so many people look up to me.
As it happens someone was there with a camera and recorded the whole thing.
About half of the talk (which is in English but has questions answered in English and French) has been posted to YouTube in three parts (keep in mind I was low on sleep and didn’t have enough time to prepare a script or even a list of talking points, so you’ll hear a lot of “uhh”s and awkward pauses – the question period is better):