Posted in Radio

CRTC approves new community radio station in St-Laurent borough

Montreal’s crowded FM band is about to get a little bit more crowded.

On Tuesday, the CRTC approved a new low-power French-language community radio station serving the eastern St-Laurent borough and not much beyond that.

Realistic pattern for new station at 90.7 FM, showing interference from CKUT (purple) and

Realistic pattern for new station at 90.7 FM, showing interference from CKUT (purple) and Ottawa’s CBOF-FM (blue).

The 50-watt station at 90.7 MHz (between CKUT at 90.3 and Radio Ville-Marie at 91.3) is called La Voix de St-Lo, and already operates online. It’s run out of the Centre communautaire Bon Courage de Place Benoit.

Its signal would reach eastern St-Laurent and the Town of Mount Royal, but not much beyond that before being wiped out by CKUT or the Radio-Canada station in Ottawa.

As I explained in January when the application was published, the station’s proposed programming would be mainly one- and two-hour programs, 94% in French but a bit of English, Spanish and Arabic. Music would take up a large part of the programming, but the application says that it would have 42.7% spoken word content, including 75 minutes a week of news. It only proposes broadcasting 70 hours a week (10 hours a day) to start.

The station proposed a high amount of third-language programming, but the CRTC notes in its decision that Montreal has several ethnic radio stations, so it is limited to 15% of programming in a language other than English or French.

It has two years from today to get on the air (but can ask for an extension), and its licence is up in 2022.

Posted in TV

CTV kills Canada AM on 24 hours’ notice, will replace it with younger version

Canada AM, which for 44 years was the national morning show on CTV, is no more. On Thursday, owner Bell Media announced that Friday would be the last show.

While it gave a chance for the show to say goodbye, it wasn’t much of one. Producers cobbled together a tribute show with lots of still pictures (many of them poor-quality social media posts taken from cellphones, and almost all from the past few years) and well wishes people sent in through Facebook, Twitter and email.

The reason for the cancellation wasn’t budget cuts, or a desire to cut down on Canadian content, or an evil plan to save money by rebroadcasting CTV News Channel (Canada AM was already simulcast on CTVNC), but rather a desire to reboot the morning show format and maybe attract a younger audience.

On Monday, Bell Media announced its replacement: Your Morning, hosted by Ben Mulroney and Anne-Marie Mediwake. (Pop Goes The News had spread a rumour that the two of them would host this show when the Canada AM cancellation broke.) The show will debut in late August.

The basics are the same: Three hours each weekday morning, airing on CTV stations in Eastern Canada (CTV-owned Western Canada stations air local morning shows under the CTV Morning Live brand), and simulcast on CTV News Channel.

Mulroney and Mediwake are joined by “anchors” Melissa Grelo, Lindsey Deluce (news) and Kelsey McEwen (weather). Mulroney and Grelo will continue in their other jobs as hosts of eTalk and The Social, respectively.

The most telling detail about the new show is that it’s produced by the people behind CTV’s other daytime programs, The Marilyn Denis Show and The Social, including executive producer Michelle Crespi. So expect the new show to have a feel similar to those shows.

That also means moving, from suburban Agincourt (20 kilometres from downtown Toronto), where it shared space with CTV Toronto, TSN and CTV News Channel, to 299 Queen Street West downtown, the historic home of City TV and MuchMusic, that currently hosts CTV’s daytime programming, eTalk and BNN, among others.

The fact that CTV is calling this a new show with a new name, and not simply announcing new hosts and a new studio for Canada AM, should indicate how Bell Media feels about the Canada AM brand. The fact that it’s almost a half-century old was a source of pride, but also a problem. It’s your mother’s morning TV show. So even though it’s the same idea with the same time slot and broadcast in the same places, the new show gets a new (awful) name, a new studio and a new look.

Canada AM hosts Beverly Thomson and Marci Ien will stay with Bell Media, and Jeff Hutcheson had already announced plans to retire.

Even if we accept that ending Canada AM was a choice that had to be made, it’s unfortunate that it was on such short notice. The show could have finished out the summer and been given a proper chance to say goodbye. Or even just a few extra weeks to put together a proper tribute. It certainly would have been good for ratings.

CTV News Channel anchor Marcia MacMillan hosts the newscast temporarily replacing Canada AM.

CTV News Channel anchor Marcia MacMillan hosts the newscast temporarily replacing Canada AM.

Instead, we have CTV News Channel’s Marcia MacMillan getting up earlier, doing headlines at 6am. CTV stations without their own morning shows will rebroadcast that until Your Morning gets off the ground.

Posted in Radio

CHOI climbs back into second (or first, depending how you count) in Quebec City radio ratings

Numeris released radio ratings for diary (read: medium-size) markets recently. You can read the top-line details here, or get some deeper numbers from Bell Media Sales for stations in Quebec.

Among things of note:

  • After a disappointing fourth-place 11.1% share in last fall’s ratings report, CHOI-FM has bounced back into second with a 14.5% share in Quebec City. CJMF-FM (FM93) remains the top-rated radio station in the market. Among adults 25-54, CHOI is number one again, and among adults 18-34, it’s tied with CJEC-FM (WKND).
  • CHOI’s ratings doubled during the noon hour, pushing it into first place, thanks to André Arthur. But that wasn’t enough for him to stay on. As the ratings period ended, Arthur’s contract was terminated.
  • Radio Classique CJSQ-FM Quebec City jumped from a 2.5% share to 5.3%, closer to its average over the past few years.
  • CBC Radio One (CBVE-FM) in Quebec City still has a 0.6% share. It reaches 15,300 listeners a week in the provincial capital, but 36,000 overall through the Quebec Community Network of retransmitters.
  • Ottawa’s CFRA, which was hit hard by the Bell Media cuts last fall and then again in February, saw its share among anglophones drop from 10.9% to 8.1%. The past few years the ratings had been around 9%.
  • CKOF-FM, Cogeco’s talk station in Gatineau, jumped from 6.9% to 9.4%.
  • Regina’s CIZL-FM (Z99), while still the top station in the market, dropped more than four points, from 20.2% to 16.0%.
  • Lethbridge’s CFRV-FM (107.7 The River) lost almost five points from last fall, going from a tie for first to a distant third. CHLB-FM (Country 95.5) is top with 20%, and CJOC-FM (Classic Hits) jumped up four points in second with 16.5%.
  • In Red Deer, CIZZ-FM (Z98.9) dropped from second place to second-last, from 11.7% to 6.7%. This isn’t the first such radical fluctuation for this station in the ratings.
  • Kamloops, B.C., is really tight: Only one percentage point separates the top four stations in the market.

Coverage

Posted in Radio

CJAD’s Dave Fisher announces retirement

In the few years I’ve been writing about local media, I’ve met and talked to a lot of broadcasters and personalities. Change being a constant in this industry, there was always a hiring, firing, resignation or other major change that would make someone newsworthy and prompt a story.

I’ve never spoken with Dave Fisher. And that’s mainly because he’s been the weekend morning host at CJAD for 32 years now, which is a pretty incredible run. He’s just been there, reliably hosting some of he most popular station’s most popular shows, without much fanfare, without TV ads, without billboards showing his face, without being considered a major celebrity.

Now, finally, change is coming to him. This morning, it was announced on the air and in the Montreal Gazette that Fisher is retiring from the station this August.

The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein does a much better career obituary than I ever could, so I encourage you to read that. CJAD also has a short story, and CTV is covering it.

You can also watch, thanks to CTV, Fisher explain his retirement on the air this morning. And read Bell Media’s press release on the subject.

Fisher’s replacement on weekend mornings hasn’t been announced yet.

Posted in My articles, Radio

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.

Posted in Radio, TV

Kim Sullivan’s post-Beat career begins with The Checklist

Kim Sullivan hosts The Checklist

Kim Sullivan hosts The Checklist

It was a little more than 10 years ago, and Kimberley Sullivan, a kid from Sorel with degrees in psychology and education, wanted to do something that had nothing to do with either of those things: Be a broadcaster.

“I wanted to do media, and my father said if you’re not going to do it now, when are you going to do it?” she explained to me in an interview.

So she got a job doing traffic reports for the Astral Media radio stations in Montreal, and hosted a show on Virgin Radio. She quit her job, taking a severe pay cut, to follow her dream. Her career later took her to Winnipeg, then Ottawa, and back to Montreal, where three years ago she was hired at 92.5 The Beat, first doing evenings, then co-hosting afternoon drive with Cousin Vinny.

That gig ended this month when she was let go due to budget cuts.

But rather than spending her days shoving her face in a bucket of Häagen Dazs (though I suppose she could do that too if she wanted), Sullivan is busy promoting her new show on MAtv, about people trying things they’ve never done before but always wanted to.

It’s called The Checklist, and its official premiere is tonight at 9:30pm (though the first episode has already aired in other time slots). The 10-episode half-hour show invites a guest from the public (from among submissions sent through social media) to do something interesting, exciting and, above all, that looks good on television.

The show is similar to one she did for Rogers TV in Ottawa called “Before I Kick The…”, with the big difference being that she’ll experience these activities with someone else rather than by herself. “I wanted it to be other people, not just about me,” she said. “What I loved most about this show is seeing the emotions of others.”

Kim Sullivan jet-boating on the St. Lawrence with participant Michael Saragossi in the first episode of The Checklist.

Kim Sullivan jet-boating on the St. Lawrence with participant Michael Saragossi in the first episode of The Checklist.

Among those activities: jet boating, glass making, skydiving, riding in a helicopter, and having tea at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. There are 18 activities in all in those 10 episodes.

Sullivan said she intentionally avoided calling the show The Bucket List, partly to get away from the whole death thing (for the record, Sullivan has no plans to die any time soon, and neither do her guests), and partly because the things they’re doing in this show aren’t really “bucket list” items. “Bucket list is Taj Mahal,” she said. But this show is more about getting people to experience things around town they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

“Everybody has something they want to do and haven’t taken the time to do it,” she explained. Even her. “I live two streets down from Moishe’s, and I’ve never been. I totally thought i was the type of person who did everything I want to do, and obviously I don’t.”

The Checklist got the green light last July and started filming in August. It was too late for the fall 2015 schedule, when MAtv first launched anglo programming. The plan was to launch the show in January, but Sullivan said that was a bit silly considering how many of these activities are outdoors in the summer. So they waited until May.

Because the show is on MAtv, it’s only available to people who subscribe to Videotron cable or Videotron’s Illico Club Unlimited streaming service.

It’s uncertain if this project will go beyond these 10 episodes. Sullivan noted that she’s a “media professional”, and it’s unclear if that means she can propose and host a TV show on MAtv and have it considered as “access programming” under the CRTC’s definition. When the CRTC came down against MAtv last year, it discounted some shows hosted by professional media personalities, many of them associated with Videotron parent company Quebecor. The commission’s decision doesn’t give clear guidelines for determining whether the person proposing a show is really from “the community” instead of the industry.

The Checklist airs:

  • Mondays 3pm
  • Wednesdays 11am
  • Thursdays 9:30pm
  • Fridays 3:30am
  • Saturdays 3:30pm
  • Sundays 1:30pm and 7:30pm

Also new: Black Wealth Matters

Also debuting tonight, half an hour before The Checklist, is Black Wealth Matters, a documentary series about economic matters in the black community. It’s produced by Henri Pardo, who was also behind StartLine, a show about local businesses in food, arts and multimedia.

Black Wealth Matters airs:

  • Mondays 11:30am
  • Tuesdays 3pm
  • Wednesdays 8am
  • Thursdays 9pm
  • Fridays 3am
  • Sundays 12:30am and 7pm

Further reading

Posted in Radio

Radio Moyen-Orient complains to CRTC about CKIN-FM’s new Arabic focus

CKIN-FM 106.3, which was recently sold to a Toronto businessman, is in gross violation of its conditions of licence now that it has revamped its programming to make most of its schedule Arabic.

At least, that’s what a complaint by CHOU 1450, Radio Moyen Orient, would have the CRTC believe. And though the complainant’s frustration is understandable, I can’t find the condition of licence it’s accusing CKIN-FM of violating.

Before last year, CKIN-FM was a sister station to CKDG-FM 105.1, owned by Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio. The two stations are commercial ethnic radio stations, each required to serve several ethnic communities in several third languages. CHCR split its language offering between the two stations. It made CKDG English-language during peak hours, with the rest mostly Greek but a few other languages sprinkled in. CKIN was French-language during peak hours, with Spanish, Creole, Arabic, Romanian and Armenian in descending order of weekly airtime, plus a handful of other languages with less than four hours a week.

When Neeti P. Ray took over, there was a major overhaul at CKIN-FM, and the amount of Arabic programming increased from 8% to 68%, according to CHOU’s complaint. The station’s schedule lists it as having Arabic programming from midnight to 7pm weekdays, and all weekends except from 6 to 9am. Spanish programming airs from 7pm to midnight weekdays, and all six other languages the station is required to air get an hour each on weekend mornings.

CHOU, whose entire schedule is Arabic, is crying foul, and demands in its complaint that the CRTC order CKIN to devote no more than 8% (10 hours a week) of programming to the Arabic language, and to stop marketing itself as “la nouvelle voix arabe de Montréal.”

In its argument, CHOU cites comments that Ray made to the CRTC in applying to acquire the station:

The Applicant intends to continue this mix of languages, while maintaining CKIN-FM’s particular focus on programming directed to South Asian communities and a substantial amount of Spanish programming and related world-music programming (for which CKIN-FM is now well-known). … The principal change in programming will likely involve the production of more local and in-studio programming, particularly for South Asian audiences.

There is absolutely no reason for the applicant to change the programming mix and focus, which was recently reviewed by the CRTC and has been embraced Montrealers.

CHOU said that based on the information provided in the application, it chose not to intervene in the ownership change application. “If Mr. Ray had, in his application for transfer of assets, expressed his intention to broadcast this many hours of Arabic during the most attractive hours, we would have strongly opposed this change and would have asked the commission to deny the application,” it wrote in the complaint.

And it argues that Ray himself had noted that Montreal was not a large enough market to support two ethnic radio stations targeting the same ethnic group. (He wanted to start up a station for the south Asian community, and opposed (unsuccessfully) an application by Radio Humsafar for that reason.)

And it says that according to its analysis of a sample week, the station was short two ethnic groups and two languages in the number it is required to provide programming for in each week. CHOU says its complaint is valid regardless of the CRTC’s ruling on this particular compliance issue.

(Also unrelated is that CHOU recently got approval for a low-power FM retransmitter of its signal in St-Michel.)

What the licence says

So is CKIN-FM following its licence conditions?

The decision approving the transfer of ownership, and a new licence for the operation of the station, has conditions related to programming, requiring it to be directed to at least six cultural groups in at least eight languages. It also must ensure at least 60% of its schedule is in a language other than French or English, and at least 70% is ethnic programs.

But there are no conditions of licence setting a maximum or minimum for any given language. So legally Ray is allowed to have most of his schedule be Arabic and only an hour a week for all but two of the groups he’s supposed to cater to.

And though CHOU says Ray made commitments not to change the mix of programming on the station, the application does not explicitly state that there would be no change to the amount of programming for each language, nor does it include a sample programming grid.

The station may be ignoring the spirit of the ethnic broadcasting policy, but not the letter. At least not yet. The CRTC promised to begin a review of its ethnic radio policy as part of a three-year plan in 2014-15, then again in 2015-16, then again in 2016-17. At this rate we’re at least a year away from any policy change. But whether a minimum amount of programming should be established for each language/group might form part of that review.

Ray and CKIN-FM have not responded to the complaint. I will update this post when their response is filed.

CHOU’s complaint against CKIN-FM can be downloaded here (1.4 MB .zip). Comments about the complaint can be filed until 8pm ET on May 24. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

CKIN-FM’s reply

UPDATE (May 27): Ray has replied to the complaint, noting arguments similar to what I outline above. He also brings up that the CRTC responded to a similar complaint issued last fall (that also included Radio Shalom, CPAM Radio Union and Médias Maghreb), in which commission staff found that the increased Arabic programming didn’t break a condition of licence.

In summary:

  • Ray says CKIN-FM has complied with its licence obligations, and almost all of its programming is local
  • Ray acknowledges that for the week sampled, CKIN-FM was two languages short on the number it should broadcast. He explains this as a hiccup caused by a schedule change — Punjabi and Urdu programs were moved from Sunday to Saturday, causing both to be broadcast twice in the same week (the CRTC defines a week as beginning on Sunday and ending on Saturday).
  • Ray notes that the decision granting the ownership change explicitly states that the station is free to use whatever mix of third-language programming it wishes, provided it meets its licence requirements.
  • Ray says the station will reduce overlap with CHOU by skewing younger, and providing more music programming.

In the response, he writes:

We acknowledge that the amount of Arabic programming has increased recently. However, this increase is well justified by the size and continued growth of the Arabic-speaking population in Montre?al. The focus on Arabic programming reflects a considered business decision to place CKIN-FM on a more secure financial footing while providing a much needed improved level of service to one of Montre?al’s largest – and until now dramatically underserved – third-language groups.

This decision was not taken lightly. The Commission is well aware of the difficulties that the original owner of CKIN-FM had to maintain the station’s viability. After a lengthy and considered analysis of the needs of the Montreal market and what it would take to maintain viability going forward, it was decided to retain CKIN-FM’s substantial focus on Montre?al’s Spanish-speaking and Latino populations and to expand and update the Arabic programming offered on the station.

Originally, it had been intended to continue to offer more programming targeted to South Asian audiences. However, after a deeper analysis of the needs of the Montre?al market and the audiences already served, it became apparent that a South Asian focus would likely not provide the community with the most needed service – or offer the financial stability to support the station. … Whereas the South Asian radio market in Montre?al already had a number of radio programming options, and two new radio stations recently licensed by the CRTC specifically to target these language groups, the Arabic-language audience is considerably larger and has fewer programming options – indeed, really only one station with a substantial amount of Arabic content (CHOU AM).

In providing an increased level of Arabic programming, we have, however, been mindful of the existing radio service that is currently available to serve this population. CHOU AM offers programming that, in our estimation, skews toward a more mature audience. CKIN-FM’s programming strategy is to offer a younger format through predominantly music-based programming. This is intended to attract a younger audience and to offer that audience radio programming that is not otherwise available to them in Arabic.

Arabic is the most popular third language in Montreal, after Italian (which is served mainly by CFMB 1280), with 126,865 identifying it as their mother tongue.

Tangible benefits change

In a separate, unrelated application, Ray is asking the CRTC to reallocate funding he was required to provide as part of the CKIN-FM acquisition. Tangible benefits, a kind of tax on acquisitions imposed by the CRTC, normally go to Canadian content development funds according to a standard formula. Ray agreed to provide $41,430 of benefits to groups like Radio Starmaker Fund, FACTOR or MUSICACTION and the Community Radio Fund of Canada, plus some for other eligible initiatives at its discretion.

Rather than split up this money between these organizations, Ray is proposing to divert all of it to a scholarship program at Concordia University’s journalism department.

… given the relatively modest amounts involved, we believe that it would be of greater benefit to the community of Montréal to aggregate the annual benefit dollars and to designate a single beneficiary each year. Each of the annual amounts allocated to the different recipients is, on its own, not material within their overall operations. However, when a single recipient is selected, the amounts together can have a significant positive effect for the recipient.

It’s unclear why Ray is coming to this conclusion now as opposed to when the application was filed.

Diverting all the funding to a discretionary initiative like this not only makes for a bigger splash, but is also more self-serving. Funds like Starmaker and FACTOR obscure the source of funding, while a direct donation can get your logo plastered all over a thank-you event, with the words “tangible benefits” or “CRTC” not even mentioned anywhere in the press release about it.

Whether Ray is considering the promotional value of a donation, or just wants to save money on cheques, is unknown.

This application, which can be downloaded here (725kB .zip), is open for comment until June 15. You can comment on it here.

Posted in Radio

Rob Kemp to host weekend mornings on The Beat

Rob Kemp

Half a year after being let go from CHOM as part of a larger bloodletting at Bell Media, Rob Kemp has landed at Cogeco’s 92.5 The Beat, where he’ll be in the company of many others he used to work in the same building with.

The Beat made the announcement Friday morning, saying he’ll be hosting the weekend morning show, 6-9am, “throughout the summer.” No specific start date is mentioned, but it’s “soon.”

Shaun McMahon, who hosts that show now, will be filling in on other parts of the schedule as everyone takes vacation.

But what about after the summer, when there’s less need for vacation fill-in? No word on that. Promotions Director Stéphanie Lagacé says they’re just focused on summer right now.

Then again, since they don’t know who the program director is going to be this fall, it makes sense not to think too far ahead.

Kemp is hardly the first person to leave Bell Media Radio’s home of 1717 René-Lévesque Blvd. (or Astral’s 1410 Fort St. before it) to move to Cogeco’s HQ in Place Bonaventure. The station has a habit, it seems, of stealing or picking up people from the other guy (particularly people at Virgin Radio). Among them:

  • Morning host Cat Spencer (poached from Virgin)
  • Afternoon drive host Cousin Vinny Barrucco (poached from Virgin)
  • Evening host Kim Sullivan (Virgin alum hired by The Beat after stints in Winnipeg and Ottawa)
  • Weekend host Nat Lauzon (poached from Virgin as she transitioned to part-time work)
  • Pete Marier (took on weekend work at The Beat after a contract dispute with CHOM, now works at Boom FM in Ottawa)
  • Murray Sherriffs (hired by The Beat after CJFM let him go as part of the Mix 96/Virgin Radio transition, let go three years later)
  • Interim Program Director Martin Tremblay (was formerly executive producer with NRJ/Rouge FM in Montreal)
  • General Manager Wayne Bews (former TSN 690 GM shuffled into CTV job when that position was eliminated, hired by The Beat until that position was eliminated as well)
Posted in Radio

15 years of all-sports radio in Montreal

A wall of signatures at the former Team 990 office on Greene Ave. in Westmount.

A wall of signatures at the former Team 990 office on Greene Ave. in Westmount.

The anniversary almost went unnoticed. But 15 years ago this week, an all-sports radio station was created in Montreal. And over that decade and a half, its story has been one of stubborn perseverance, indifference by ownership, constant struggle with limited resources and a small but unusually loyal audience. It’s gone through some things no other station has, but it’s still there.

Rejected leftover of an acquisition

It began in 2000, when CHUM Ltd., owner of CKGM 990 AM (then Oldies 990) and CHOM 97.7 (formerly CKGM-FM), reached a deal with Standard Radio to swap assets in Montreal and Winnipeg. As a result of the deal, Standard Radio would own CKGM, CJAD, CHOM and CJFM (Mix 96, now Virgin Radio), all but two of the major commercial English-language stations — Q92 (CFQR-FM) and 940 News were owned by Metromedia, which was in the process of being sold to Corus Entertainment.

But the CRTC has a policy against a single owner controlling more than three stations in a market of this size. CKGM was the lowest-rated station and so it was left out of the transaction. CHUM considered selling it until it came up with a new idea: It would create a national network of all-sports AM radio stations, called The Team.

The station couldn’t have done worse than it already was. It went from being a top 40 station to adult contemporary to top 40 again, to oldies, to “talk radio with attitude” to being off the air after the 1998 ice storm to coming back as Oldies 990. There didn’t seem to be a format that worked.

A poor start

It would be nice to say that once it switched to all sports, CKGM found its footing and thrived. But that’s not even close to being true.

For one thing, it didn’t have any broadcasting rights deals for live sports. Competitor CJAD had the rights to the Canadiens and Alouettes. And the Montreal Expos couldn’t come to terms with either station on who should pay the production costs for its broadcasts.

The other problem was that the national network wasn’t just about having a common brand. Most of the programming was national, including the afternoon drive show, hosted in Toronto by Jim Van Horne and Stephen Brunt.

Pat Hickey, The Gazette, March 31, 2001:

I have reservations about the viability in Montreal of the new all-sports network that will be launched in May on what has been CKGM.

There are a couple of staples that make all-sports radio work. While there are all-sports networks in the United States with broadly based national talk and interview shows, the most successful stations, The Fan in New York, WTEM in Washington, WQAM in Miami, WEEI in Boston and WMVP in Chicago, offer live coverage of local teams and plenty of opportunity for local commentators and callers to share their opinions.

The local station has already struck out in the first regard. An attempt to wrap up a deal with the Expos collapsed because of a lingering debate over who should pay for the production costs for games. …

An Expos radio deal would have given the new station a strong presence in the community and established it as the place to go, not only for games, but baseball talk.

It was the station’s one chance to make a splash with CJAD already carrying the Canadiens and the Alouettes.

Even the morning show at launch was national, with Paul Romanuk, Brian Henderson and Mike Richards.

Sports television can work nationally because most of its content is live game broadcasts. Sports radio, especially if it doesn’t have those broadcasts, really has to be local.

Things fell into place late. Less than two weeks before launch, the station announced a deal to carry Expos broadcasts, and hired Elliott Price to do play-by-play. The first broadcast would be from San Francisco on Monday, May 7, 2001, the day of the launch of The Team 990. (The Expos lost, 6-2.)

It wasn’t until after it launched that the station finally signed a deal with its desired local morning team: Ted Blackman, the sports director at CJAD; and Mitch Melnick, who was at CIQC until it became an all-news station, and then took over an evening sports show on CJAD.

They started the next week, on May 14. But most of the rest of the schedule was still beamed in out of Toronto. And its content wasn’t exactly compelling.

Pat Hickey, May 12, 2001:

… in its quest to prove that it’s not just another Toronto radio station, The Team has taken to running stories that are irrelevant in any part of the country.

During the past week, I’ve learned more than I want to know about the Winnipeg Goldeyes minor-league baseball team, Russ Jackson’s views on Canadian QBs, Canadian stock-car racing, soccer and anything involving George Chuvalo.

A Team without a Team

CHUM pulled the plug on the concept for The Team a year later. Some stations, like CKGM Montreal, CFGO Ottawa and CKST Vancouver kept the Team brand and all-sports format, others adopted (or re-adopted) oldies or adult standards formats.

Within a couple of years, the station beefed up its local programming. Ted Blackman died in October 2002. Melnick eventually moved to afternoons, and new voices started appearing on the radio, including Tony Marinaro and Shaun Starr.

Pat Hickey, May 8, 2003:

The biggest positive change over the past two years has been the introduction of the afternoon show with Tony Marinaro and Joey Elias. It works because it’s local and because the hosts aren’t afraid to debate with each other, something that’s missing in the interaction between Melnick and Ron Francis. Elias’s occasional bawdy jokes seem inappropriate for the time slot and Marinaro fractures the English language, but the show is a welcome addition.

The station ended up getting comfortable in its niche of sports-talk, with analysis from experts, interviews with athletes and lots of talk from people who were certain they had a better idea how to coach or manage the Canadiens than the people actually in charge.

CHUM Ltd. was sold to CTVglobemedia in 2007, and CTV itself to BCE (Bell Canada) in 2010. It now had rich owners, but that doesn’t mean it made more money. And, as Bell’s only radio station in Montreal, it didn’t have the ability to share costs with sister stations in the same market. Its office at 1310 Greene Ave. in Westmount looked run-down.

As it celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011, things were looking a lot better for the station. It finally acquired rights to Montreal Canadiens games (a deal most people in the industry attributed to the fact that Bell owned the station and had a significant working relationship with the team). That fall, Bell Media changed its brand from The Team 990 to TSN Radio 990, rebuilding a national all-sports radio network but this time with much more local programming, and the CRTC approved its request to move to 690 AM, a frequency vacated by the shutdown of Corus’s all-news station Info 690. The frequency change allowed the station to move to a clear channel, which gave it an unrestricted 50,000-watt signal day and night, instead of the highly directional one they had on 990.

A year later, though, it almost came to an end.

Abandoned by Bell

July 10, 2012: “Bell Media Files CRTC Application to Create RDS Radio 990 in Montreal

Bell Media was in the process of acquiring Astral Media, whose many assets included CJAD, CHOM and CJFM, which it had bought when it acquired Standard Radio in 2007. The CRTC’s common ownership rules meant Bell would be over the limit in several large markets across the country. In most of those cities, it said it would sell stations to bring it below that limit. But in Montreal, it had another idea: It would convert CKGM from an English all-sports station to a French one.

It was an idea that made a lot of sense from a management/ownership perspective. Montreal had just lost an all-sports radio station when CKAC switched to its all-traffic format the previous fall. Switching CKGM to French would give it a larger audience, and solve the ownership limit issue because different languages are considered different markets, and neither Bell nor Astral had a French-language AM station. Canadiens games would simply move back to CJAD, which Bell would also own.

It made so much sense to the higher-ups at Bell. But from a human perspective, it was a disastrous idea.

Fans of the station, that had been loyal for more than a decade, revolted. The CRTC was flooded with angry comments from station listeners, with 774 interventions on this application alone, completely separate from the much larger Bell-Astral deal. It prompted CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais to comment that he spent his summer vacation that year reading comments from the public. Three people appeared in person in front of the commission as individuals to make a case for saving the station in some way.

The station’s staff, meanwhile, were stuck in the middle. The application was from its owner, and they couldn’t denounce it on the air. They could only speak in general terms about appreciating their listeners, and quietly offer them moral support away from the microphone. This, even though they would all certainly lose their jobs if this deal went through.

Bell tried its best to deflect blame, and listener anger was directed both at it and at the CRTC. Various demands were made, for the CRTC to make an exception to its ownership policy, for the entire Bell-Astral deal to be killed, or for some other deus-ex-machina solution to the problem.

In the end, it didn’t matter. The CRTC rejected the Bell-Astral deal, judging that Bell’s application would not benefit the Canadian broadcasting system and that it would leave too much market power in the hands of one company. Because the CKGM language change application was dependent on approval of the larger deal, it became moot and so the commission denied it.

The hundreds of comments technically didn’t matter to the CRTC. But they did matter to Bell, and to the station’s staff.

Bell-Astral Take 2

A month later, Bell announced it was trying again. But this time, it pivoted on CKGM, and used those hundreds of comments to argue for an exception to the ownership policy, allowing it to own four of the five English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal.

With Bell and the station’s listeners now on the same side (in as much as a hostage-taker and hostage negotiator are on the same side), the station helped push for hundreds more comments supporting the request.

But it was far from a done deal. As opposition continued to mount against the Bell-Astral acquisition on the grounds that Bell would still have too much market power even after its proposed divestments, competitors said letting it control 75% of Montreal’s English commercial radio market was similarly anti-competitive.

Offers, whose seriousness could easily be questioned, were made to buy the station. One, during the original acquisition process, was from a group that has since become experts in not doing things. The other was from Rogers, but came so late in the game it was hard to take it seriously.

Through all this time, the staff and fans of the station waited nervously. They organized a show of support, but otherwise could do little more than sit and wait to see what would happen.

Uncertainty continued until June 27, 2013, when the CRTC ruled Bell could purchase Astral Media and keep TSN 690 as an exception to the common ownership policy. (The same policy that prevented CKGM from being sold with CHOM to Standard Radio in 2000.)

The station’s staff was so grateful for the support of its listeners it threw a special thank-you party. One by one the on-air personalities gave heartfelt speeches about how touched they were by the support of their listeners.

New normal

Almost three years later, TSN Radio 690 has new life. The Astral acquisition enlarged the family, and the station moved from dilapidated offices on Greene Ave. to newly renovated studios at René-Lévesque Blvd. and Papineau Ave. It now shares offices and resources, including a program director, with CJAD.

With the two under common ownership, Montreal Impact and Alouettes games moved to TSN 690, with CJAD being used as a backup in case of scheduling conflicts.

The station’s ownership hasn’t stopped making decisions that enrage listeners. Casualties of cuts include general manager Wayne Bews and on-air hosts Ted Bird, Elliott Price and Abe Hefter.

Its ratings are better than when it launched, but its share of the market is still in the single digits. Station-level financial information isn’t published, but before the Bell-Astral deal Bell said it had lost $5 million in five years. The acquisition of Canadiens games and cost-cutting from sharing resources probably helped, but we don’t know if it’s making money yet.

But despite having more than its fair share of turmoil, or maybe because of it, TSN 690 has burrowed a place in the heart of thousands of Montrealers.

They say radio is about building a relationship with your audience. For the past 15 years, this station has been proof of that.

It may be a station whose programming involves a lot of complaining about minor management decisions of a professional hockey team, but to both its listeners and its staff, it’s family.

 

Posted in Radio

Tommy Schnurmacher marks 20 years on CJAD, and has no plans to retire

tommy-smile

Tommy Schnurmacher came into the studio this morning a bit disappointed. Today marked 20 years since he started at CJAD 800, but it seemed nobody but him had noticed. Maybe, he thought, they just didn’t care.

In other words, the plan went perfectly.

Schnurmacher was surprised when, at the top of his show, it was suddenly hijacked by a montage of about a dozen of his coworkers’ recorded tributes to him, and a parade of well-wishers crowding into the studio with cake and wine (both kosher) and a martini.

Continue reading