Posted in Opinion, Radio

Radio host Jeff Fillion fired for insensitive use of sarcasm, emoji

Today, we learned that even Quebec City’s trash-talk radio has its limit.

Or, well, we learned that again. Because it’s happened several times before, including with the man at the centre of the issue today, the king of the format, Jeff Fillion.

At exactly 1pm on Wednesday, Bell Media and CHIK-FM (Énergie Québec 98.9) announced that Fillion, who hosted the afternoon drive show from 3-6pm weekdays, no longer works for the company. (It’s not explicitly clear if he was fired, quit or some mutual agreement was reached, but it’s clear this was more the company’s doing than his.) The station has put Maxime Tremblay in his timeslot for the time being.

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Posted in TV

TVA pulls the plug on Argent

argent-logoArgent, the only French-language business specialty channel in Canada, is being shut down on April 30, owner Groupe TVA announced on Tuesday.

The television and cable industries are in turmoil and TVA Group has concluded that, despite the marketing efforts made in recent years to support Argent, it would be difficult if not impossible to achieve the profitability to continue operating the economic and financial channel.

I’m not sure what those “marketing efforts” were exactly (I’ve never seen an ad for the channel, beyond the branded business pages of the Journal de Montréal), but questions can certainly be raised about TVA’s commitment to the channel, which for one thing was never distributed in high definition, even on Quebecor’s Videotron cable system.

After taking its usual unnecessary swipe at Canada’s public broadcaster (which doesn’t have a business news channel), TVA said the decision would affect an unspecified number of employees. La Presse reports its nine permanent employees will stay with TVA, but their shift to other jobs might affect temporary employees at LCN and elsewhere.

The channel launched in 2005.

According to data submitted to the CRTC, Argent’s financial situation has been in significant decline since 2010-11, going from $4.2 million in revenue to $2.4 million in 2013-14. (Data for the year ending Aug. 31, 2015 should be out within the next month or two.) This is largely because of a decline in subscription revenue (advertising makes up only 2% of revenue), which in turn is because of a decrease in the number of subscribers, from a high of 957,000 in 2010 to 552,000 in 2014.

In the three years from 2012-14, the channel lost almost $2 million, and nothing indicates that 2015 or 2016 would have been any different.

The news of Argent’s shutdown has interesting timing since Canada just added its second English-language business channel (Bloomberg TV Canada) and the first one, Business News Network, is still doing quite well financially, with a 40% profit margin.

And the suggestion that this decision comes out of the CRTC’s recent pick-and-pay TV decision also doesn’t jive with the fact that its financial troubles started long before then and that Videotron, also owned by Quebecor, has been offering custom channel packages for many years now.

But these days it makes more sense for a Canadian business channel to be based in Toronto than Montreal. The only place I remember seeing Argent on TV was at my local Caisse Desjardins bank. I guess they can switch to LCN.

Cuts in QMI’s investigative bureau

UPDATE (April 21): Meanwhile, there were cuts to the investigative reporting team at Agence QMI, Quebecor Media’s shared journalism outlet.

Andrew McIntosh is an investigative reporter who’s been in the business more than 30 years, working for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and National Post before joining QMI in 2010 as their top investigative reporter. His awards include three National Newspaper Awards.

You can read some of his reporting for QMI here.

The other high-profile departure is Michel Morin, who was a journalist with Radio-Canada until he became a CRTC commissioner. After his term at the broadcasting regulator ended, he joined QMI’s investigative team. You can read some of his stories here.

Posted in TV

Éric Lapointe gets no respect: A quantitative analysis of La Voix

Is Éric Lapointe the least popular coach on La Voix (TVA photo)

Is Éric Lapointe the least popular coach on La Voix (TVA photo)

If you’re at all in tune with French-language TV in Quebec this time of year (and if you aren’t, you really should be), it’s hard to miss the phenomenon that is La Voix, Quebec’s version of the Dutch singing competition show whose distinguishing feature is blind auditions.

(If you don’t care about that show, don’t bother reading the rest of this post. It won’t interest you.)

The show has an audience that hovers around 2.5 million each week, and will probably reach 3 million during Sunday’s finale. To put that in perspective, there are about 6 million people in the province that have French as their first language. And a bit under 1 million of them are watching La Voix’s direct competitor, Tout le monde en parle, on Radio-Canada. That’s half of francophone Quebec watching one of two shows on Sunday nights.

After ignoring it at first (I don’t tend to watch reality competition shows), I kinda got hooked on it a bit last year and have been following it intently this year (even watching the behind-the-scenes shows on Monday and Thursday nights). That means I’ve had my heart crushed when a contestant I liked got eliminated, and I’ve taken sides in the heated debates among fans about who is the better singer, or scandals where the public complains that popular voting has too little say in who wins or that popular voting has too much say in who wins. (But seriously HOW THE HELL DOES THIS NOT WIN? COME ON! #TeamGeneviève)

Anyway, back to those blind auditions. The way they work is the contestant goes on stage and sings for two minutes, and coaches that want the contestant on their team press a button that causes their chair to turn around. If more than one coach turns around, the contestant gets to choose their coach from among those who did so. The process continues until all four coaches have 12 singers on their team.

It didn’t take me long to notice patterns, both in how the coaches acted and how the contestants did. Éric Lapointe, in particular, would often be the first to turn around, especially if the singer was a rocker. And, it seemed, in battles between him and another coach over a contestant, he would more often lose. After I noticed someone else make a joke on TV that suggested the same, I decided to put that theory to the test, analyzing the choices made by coaches and contestants during blind auditions for Seasons 2, 3 and 4 of La Voix. (Lapointe wasn’t a coach in Season 1.)

Here’s what I found.

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Posted in Radio

Radio Shalom is no more — what happens to CJRS 1650 AM?

Radio Shalom has been shut down.

Kind of.

CJRS 1650 AM is still on the air (you can catch the live stream here), but since last Friday at 6pm it has been broadcasting non-stop evangelical Christian programming supplied to it from CKZW (not an official callsign), a Christian audio service operated by André Joly. CKZW had supplied programming for CJRS during the Sabbath, when Jewish rules prevent practicing members from operating a radio station. Owner Robert Lévy has decided, at least for now, to have them provide programming 24/7.

I explain what happened in this story for the Montreal Gazette. Basically Radio Shalom was not breaking even, and Lévy was no longer willing to fund the station by himself. Despite a public plea in December, it seems no one (or not enough people) stepped up, and despite giving extensions, he’s decided it’s the end of the road.

Though there were some goodbye messages on Facebook, the end on the air was anti-climactic. The last Jewish program was actually a syndicated broadcast from France, and made no mention of Radio Shalom going off the air. It was cut off mid-sentence during an interview, switching awkwardly to CKZW programming with some dead air.

So what happens now? I couldn’t get an interview with Lévy — I was promised a press release that never came — but others provided more detail. Joly will provide CKZW programming 24/7 (including some bilingual programming, he said) and Lévy will remain the owner to satisfy CRTC ownership requirements.

Joly said there are discussions about him buying the station (which would require CRTC approval), but that’s not a given. He suggested there still might be hope of a benefactor coming forward and bringing Radio Shalom back.

But that doesn’t look likely at this point. Despite Montreal’s strong Jewish population, the community hasn’t rallied behind this station. There are various reasons I was given for this. Among them, the French/English split was also a cultural one, between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. There was a religious versus secular split, with the former following hard-line (and sexist) rules. And the station’s insistence on its independence, refusing to become a mouthpiece for any Jewish community organization.

Plus the running joke that Montreal already has a Jewish radio station in CJAD.

And there were the kinds of problems that any small radio station faces. The AM signal was poor and hard to hear in many parts of the city, the programming was all produced by volunteers and didn’t attract many listeners, and some people at least felt it was poorly managed. (Though no one is stepping up and promising to turn things around if they’re put in charge.)

What happens now is still up in the air. Joly would like to keep CJRS and turn it into a Christian station, but that would require him and Lévy agreeing on a sale price for the station. If an agreement isn’t reached, Lévy’s options are limited, but he could shut down the station, return the licence and sell off whatever assets are still there.

The likelihood of a Jewish radio station returning to Montreal, though, seems slim at this point. There might be better hope of having Jewish-themed shows on ethnic stations — right now I know of only Radio Centre-Ville that has a regular show on Judaism, but others have had shows for that community in the past.

Posted in Uncategorized

24 Heures changes format, to be distributed as anarchist zine

Reeling from the recent loss of exclusive distribution rights in Montreal’s metro system, free daily 24 Heures announced today it will undergo a radical transformation, and as of Monday will be distributed as an anarchist zine.

The zine format, which will see the newspaper photocopied on 8.5×11″ letter-sized sheets folded in half, will give it a more edgy look, its publisher explains. The entire paper will be in black and white only, and editors will abandon the sleek digital layout tools they have been using for 15 years and instead lay articles out by hand.

“We hope these changes, combined with a new editorial focus, will help us better reach the youth market,” a note to readers explained. In an interview, the publisher (who did not want his name published) said the idea was to “be more like Vice News and other things the youth like.”

24 Heures will continue to be distributed by people on the street, particularly outside metro stations, but those distributors will change their looks. Gone will be the orange vests, replaced with black ones that have anti-government and anti-corporate stickers and pins all over them.

Distributor Marc Quenneville says he looks forward to adopting the new fight-the-man attitude. “Finally there will be a newspaper that stands up for the working man,” he said.

Monday’s first issue of the new 24 Heures will be sponsored by Subway.

Posted in Uncategorized

CBC admits it already spent $675 million in new federal money on coke-fuelled orgy

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is in hot water with federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly after admitting it already spent the promised $675-million in additional federal funding on a coke-filled orgy for top executives last month.

“We will be conducting an investigation into this incident, but I want to remind everyone that the CBC is an arms-length organization and the federal government will not dictate how it is to spend its money,” Joly explained today at a press conference in Montreal.

Details are sketchy, but it appears that some time around St. Patrick’s Day, senior executives including the board of directors and everyone at the vice-president level and above checked into an expensive hotel in Toronto and went to town on drugs and prostitutes. Cocaine was specifically referenced, but it’s believed heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs were also used, as well as “a considerable quantity” of marijuana.

Board member A. Prelfoulle is still in critical condition at a Toronto hospital being treated for an overdose.

Joly said it’s unfortunate more of the drugs and prostitutes were not shared with more front-line employees, who have also had it rough over the past few years. “I’m sure some of them would have liked this extra money,” she said, once again stressing that the government will not dictate how the corporation is to spend its money.

Posted in Uncategorized

Normand Brathwaite announces retirement as counterexample to criticisms of racism in Quebec media

Normand Brathwaite as François Bugingo parodying Uptown Funk

Normand Brathwaite in one of his last but-we-have-a-black-guy roles in Bye-Bye 2015

Normand Brathwaite, who for 35 years has proudly been Quebec’s go-to counterexample when confronted with criticisms of racism in the media, says he’s ready to hang up his token hat.

In an announcement posted to Facebook this morning, just after his latest contract with the Union des artistes expired, Brathwaite wrote that it’s time to pass the hat to a new generation of token black guys.

“In my 35 years in showbusiness, I’ve seen a lot of changes,” he wrote. “I went from being the only black guy in a room full of white people to being the only black guy in a room full of white people with a few arabs around.”

Brathwaite pointed to young black actors whose names I couldn’t recognize and said the future of making white people feel less guilty about profiting from a system that discriminates in their favour was in their hands.

But it’s expected that musician and TV and radio host Gregory Charles will take up much of the slack of being referenced by hard-line Quebec sovereignists and media executives alike in smug defiant response to people who say we’re not seeing enough diversity on television screens.

The Parti Québécois issued a statement congratulating Brathwaite for his service. “As an experienced counterexample myself, I know the amount of commitment it takes to be a perfect token, and the toll it takes on you to be constantly used in Twitter discussions between partisan trolls,” said Maka Kotto, on behalf of the entire PQ black caucus. “You should be proud, as I am, of how comfortable you’ve made white people feel for decades now.”

The sudden departure of Brathwaite has led to some scrambling from some quarters, with one Télé-Québec executive asking around if he could consider Adib Alkhalidey a black guy “or just a general ethnic.”

Posted in Uncategorized

CRTC proposes “hottie basic” rules that would offer all Canadians free TV porn

As Canadians look to new “skinny basic” packages by cable companies with a sense of disappointment, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has decided to try again to win consumers over with a new set of packaging rules.

The new proposal, to be released today, calls for all providers to offer a new “hottie basic” package that would include mandatory channels and at least two pornographic channels, at least one of which would have to be Canadian. The porn channels would have to be offered at a price of $0.69 each, CRTC commissioner Jean-Michel Rousseau said with a nudge.

Rumours of the proposal led to immediate questions about quality, and whether there would be a regulatory way to distinguish, say, Playboy TV from the kind of bland, poorly produced crap you can find anywhere on the Internet these days.

Rousseau said the commission has similar concerns, and has proposed a working group of himself and “mon chum Yannick” to personally monitor the channels offered to see if they meet the commission’s standards. “But we won’t do that together, because eww.”

If all goes according to plan, consumers could see their hottie basic packages as early as Valentine’s Day 2017.

Posted in Uncategorized

Bell makes $1.2-trillion offer for federal government

Bell parent company BCE Inc., in its most ambitious takeover move yet, has put together a hostile, $1.2-trillion offer for a majority stake in the Government of Canada.

The offer, which was just announced, would make BCE the largest company in the country, and make Canada the largest privately-owned country in the world.

“We were reaching the limits of what we could do under the current federal framework,” Bell says in a note to investors explaining the proposal. “Our board of directors concluded that the only way to continue our growth was to seek to acquire the federal government itself.”

Once the acquisition is complete, Bell would control Canada’s military, its banks, and transportation and telecommunications companies. “The increased flexibility that will come from having a controlling stake in regulatory bodies will give us the power to expand just about every aspect of our business,” the note said.

Analysts were mixed on the proposed deal. Ceci Etonpuassohn of RBC Capital Markets said BCE would be in a highly leveraged position if this deal were to go through, and he wasn’t convinced that the increased ability to levy taxes on 35 million customers would be enough to pay off the massive debt that would be undertaken. “I might have preferred a different option, like a joint deal with Shaw communications and Rogers, or maybe if they’d just started with buying a small province first, as a test run.”

If accepted by Canada’s current owner, Tim Horton, the deal would also require approval from the CRTC, since it changes its own effective ownership. This means approval would likely take another year.

Posted in Uncategorized

AM980 to adopt all-Star-Trek-talk format

Star Trek Radio

AM980, the radio station once known as Radio Fierté before the French-language LGBT format was abandoned last fall, will be reborn as NCC-980, an innovative new format devoted entirely to discussing Star Trek.

“We’re going to be the first of our kind in this part of the world,” explained Q’lolohk Nagh (born Benjamin Stankowski), who owner Evanov Radio has hired as program director for the station. “This format has cross-generational appeal, attracting a millennial male audience while also going after nostalgic baby boomers and Gen-Xers.”

Nagh said he’s already lined up a few on-air personalities, though he wouldn’t name any names. He’s also promised “bulkhead-to-bulkhead coverage” of the upcoming Montreal Comiccon in July, which has William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols and Kate Mulgrew lined up as guests. “I’m working hard to get them in studio, but nothing’s confirmed yet,” Nagh said.

While there will be the usual Kirk-vs-Picard debates, Nagh said that to fill a full 24/7 schedule, the discussions need to be more interesting than that. He plans to bring on philosophers to debate metaphysical issues (when you transport somewhere, is that really you that materializes?), have creators of fan art discuss their creations, follow the latest news about new series and movies, and of course discuss favourite episodes and movies. One show being planned will also discuss alternate-reality scenarios, a sort of what-if for various storylines.

And capitalizing on the popularity of the “rewatch podcast” format, there will be shows devoted to accompanying fans in the rewatching of classic episodes and movies.

“There’s going to be everything here for old fans, new fans and people who want to be fans,” Nagh said. “We want to be very inclusive. Not assimilated-by-the-Borg inclusive, but welcoming,” he said with a snort.

Nagh, 15, said details of the lineup and programming should be available this summer with the station launch planned this fall. And unlike the previous formats of AM980, which have included Christmas music and easy-listening music, “we intend Star Trek Radio to live long and prosper.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Jian Ghomeshi starts new podcast chronicling his search for the real assaulters


Having been vindicated in a court of law in his sexual assault case, Jian Ghomeshi spoke out for the first time since the ordeal began and announced he is starting a new podcast in which he will investigate what really happened to these women and who was truly responsible.

Called “Ghomeshi p.i.”, the independently produced podcast will come out once a week, and mainly feature Ghomeshi interviewing witnesses and experts as he investigates who really choked, slapped, punched and yanked the hair of those women over the years.

It’s kind of like Serial, but with a more personal touch, he said.

“Everyone thinks it was me,” he said. “So there’s no one who can do this but me.”

Ghomeshi said he’s trying to keep an open mind and is leaving all possibilities on the table. Early episodes will explore possibilities such as whether he has an evil twin brother, whether someone might have had their face surgically altered to resemble his, or whether it really was him, under some sort of mind control by the government or other outside forces.

“We’ll go wherever the evidence takes us,” he said. “Unlike people, the facts never lie.”

Ghomeshi said he hasn’t yet interviewed Lucy DeCoutere or the other complainants in the recent case, whose names are protected by a publication ban, but that his podcast wouldn’t be complete without giving them a chance to have their say. He suggested he may have a third party conduct those interviews because of the sensitive nature of the situation. “I don’t want to cause them any undue pain,” he said.

An episode will also go into detail about how this has affected him. “But I don’t want to dwell too much on that. This is also about the women who were abused and tricked into blaming it on an innocent man. We’re all victims here.”

The list of other staff involved in the show hasn’t been released, but Ghomeshi said he has a “cute little intern” producing for him.

Posted in Uncategorized

Toronto Star announces StarTouchTone, a new news-by-telephone service

Hot off the stellar success of Star Touch, the innovators at the Toronto Star announced today they will soon be launching a news-by-telephone service for subscribers.

StarTouchTone, which is set to launch this fall, will be a service where, using a touch-tone telephone, readers can call in to a special phone number, select stories they wish to listen to by going through a menu system, and enjoy their favourite writers reading their stories to them. Reporters and columnists like Kevin Donovan, Rosie DiManno and Heather Mallick will record themselves reading each of their stories, which the Star says will give them a more realistic feel than having them be read by automated screen readers.

It’s unclear whether there will be an additional cost for this service, or if it will be available to non-subscribers. “For now we’re worried about getting hundreds of telephone lines installed in our office,” explained publisher John Cruickshank.

Posted in Uncategorized

Rogers cancels NHL playoffs

With not a single Canadian NHL team making the playoffs this year, Rogers Media has decided it will shut down its coverage of the National Hockey League after the season ends on April 10, and it has asked the league to cancel the playoffs completely and simply hand the Stanley Cup to the team with the best record in the regular season, the Washington Capitals.

“Canadians have already moved on to other things,” explained Sportsnet spokesperson Avril F. Day, “and we’ve decided we should do the same. There are a lot of other things on our network, like Blue Jays games, that will keep Canadians much more entertained than the NHL playoffs.”

In the unlikely event that the league decides to continue with the playoffs, Day said Rogers might air the cup final “on Sportsnet One or something” unless Connor McDavid is doing something that requires their undivided attention.

Rogers, which paid $5.2 billion for 12 years of NHL games, part of which it resold to TVA Sports, said it would cost more to produce the broadcasts than they’d get in ad revenue from the “12 people who care how the Minnesota-Dallas playoff series will go.”

Instead, Rogers will find more interesting programming to air. Though nothing is confirmed yet, the company is looking at inventing another Canadian curling tournament.