Tag Archives: CFQR

Posted in Montreal, Radio

The Beat is on – but is 92.5FM* any different?

New logo for CFQR "The Beat"

Commercial radio stations spend all sorts of money on focus groups, surveys, branding specialists, PR firms, promotions and consultants to find ways to connect with audiences, target demographics and maximize their ratings (and, hence, advertising revenue).

But as CFQR* general manager Mark Dickie tells it, The Beat owes much of its new brand’s success to random thoughts from Program Director Leo Da Estrela.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

Aaron Rand moves to CJAD afternoons

Aaron Rand's ID card from 30 years ago, unearthed by Rob Braide in May. (I've blurred out his social insurance number so you don't identity-theft him)

When your goal is to get a job as a radio host at a commercial English-language radio station in Montreal, your choices are rather limited.

Aaron Rand left CFQR (the Q) in May after more than 20 years when it became clear management wasn’t eager to renew their contract with him. At the time he wasn’t sure where he would go, but he knew he wanted to stay in Montreal, he wanted to stay in radio, he didn’t want to work at a station like K103 and he wanted to have some editorial freedom wherever he ended up. With the Cogeco door slammed pretty tight behind him, the only game left in town was Astral, and he was hoping for something at either CHOM or CJAD (the latter being the better choice because it would mean more talk time and less of being a DJ).

Now it seems Rand has gotten his wish. He won’t be reunited with his former partner Paul (Tasso) Zakaib, but he will have a show on a popular radio station. Rand announced on Facebook and The Gazette published an article about the same time, both saying he is taking the weekday afternoon slot at CJAD, 3 to 7 p.m., starting Sept. 6 (the day after Labour Day). Note that this puts him directly opposite Mitch Melnick on Team 990.

The CJAD timeslot Rand is taking over is currently held by Ric Peterson, and there’s a bit of musical chairs as people are shuffled into new slots. The details, according to The Gazette and other sources:

  • Ric Peterson moves to 12-3pm, the latter two hours of which will be with Rand’s former cohost Suzanne Desautels. This replaces Kim Fraser’s show and the first hour of Dan Laxer.
  • Kim Fraser moves to weekends, 1-4pm, which replaces Anne Lagacé Dowson on Saturdays and a few shows on Sundays.
  • Dan Laxer loses his weekday afternoons gig but keeps his Sunday trivia show from 9am-12pm. He writes on Facebook that “I won’t lie, I am disappointed, and I will miss weekday afternoons. Having my own radio show on CJAD has changed my life in so many ways, and opened so many doors. I’m hoping to nudge them open just a little bit wider and see where they lead.” But he says he isn’t leaving CJAD.
  • Barry Morgan gets a new show 7-10pm weekdays, bumping Dan Delmar. He’ll also contribute sports news to Rand’s show.
  • Dan Delmar writes on his blog that he’ll stay at CJAD as a daytime programming producer, and says the change is bittersweet, because he loses a show he’s worked very hard on, but at the same time he’s not “a radio guy” and will enjoy having more free time. He also writes that he’ll be hosting two weekly shows, details to come later.
  • Anne Lagacé Dowson, the former CBC radio host and one-time NDP candidate, loses her weekly gig. She still has a column in the new Hour magazine, and will be on the Tommy Schnurmacher show’s Gang of Four, plus other stuff, she tells The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein.
  • Legal Lounge with Christopher Dimakos, Ann Shatilla’s Hollywood Trend Report and the Dr. Schwarcz Show, which are on Sunday afternoons and being displaced by Kim Fraser, will find new homes on the schedule. “All those shows will remain part of our line-up”, says Brand Director Chris Bury. A final schedule is expected within a few days.

Rand’s Facebook fans are thrilled, and the positive reaction to his return to the airwaves easily drowns out those who are disappointed by Laxer, Delmar and Dowson losing their shows. (On the Radio in Montreal discussion group, moderator Sheldon Harvey is a bit skeptical, suggesting that people might not be sufficiently prepared for a switch from music to news/talk programming)

It’s disappointing that young talent has to suffer to bring back a star, but as many people in the industry have told me: That’s the business of radio.

UPDATE: Video of Rand’s interview with CJAD’s Andrew Carter is online.

Meanwhile, at Rand’s old home at 92.5, changes are afoot for the same day. Cat Spencer takes his job as Rand’s morning-show replacement, and the station is rebranding itself “The Beat”, less than two and a half years after rebranding itself from “Q92″ to “92.5 the Q”. It’s unclear what kind of format change will come along with the rebranding, but there’s speculation that the station will try to be more like CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) in order to steal some of the No. 1 station’s audience and give Montrealers even less choice in music selection on the radio.

John Bartlett to be voice of Habs for Team 990

It’s probably a coincidence, but competing AM station Team 990 also has a Thursday announcement that was leaked to The Gazette. John Bartlett, formerly the announcer for the Toronto Marlies (the Leafs’ farm team) will join CKGM as play-by-play man for the Canadiens. The station won the rights to Canadiens games away from CJAD this summer.

Bell Media says colour analysts (they used the plural) will be announced in the coming weeks. The Gazette’s Hockeyinsideout.com has an interview with Bartlett, which appears in Thursday’s paper.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Nat Lauzon jumps to the Q

Nat Lauzon is too cool for weekdays

It won’t get the same attention as Terry DiMonte, but another veteran Montreal radio personality is on the move. Nat Lauzon, who has been at CJFM since 1999 (though it seems like forever) is moving to CFQR to take over a weekend gig there.

She’ll be doing the noon to 5 p.m. shift starting in October. She remains at Virgin Radio until then, where she does the weekday late morning show that is No. 1 in its timeslot with a 38% commercial market share, far ahead of its competitors.

So why leave a No. 1 weekday show at the No. 1 station to do a weekend shift?

Lauzon says she’s heading in “a new direction” and wants to focus on her other two passions – her freelance voice-over work and her Montreal Dog Blog (she’s got a thing for the puppies).

As for why this new schedule requires switching stations, well, she won’t comment. So let’s speculate irresponsibly. I’m thinking she just can’t bear to be at a station that doesn’t have Cat Spencer.

Meanwhile, Astral has posted her former job, weekdays 9am to 1pm. Minimum three years experience.

UPDATE (July 25): Virgin has hired Andrea Collins of 99.9 BOB FM in Winnipeg (a Bell Media station), to replace Lauzon in the 9am to 1pm slot. She starts Aug. 15.

Lauzon has written a blog post about her departure, in which she states that “my departure is all on good terms”.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

No way to treat your listeners

"Freeway" Frank Depalo was introduced to Montreal at the St. Patrick's parade with co-host Lisa Player the day before he debuted as morning co-host on CJFM

The past month has seen a lot of staff changes in the Montreal radio scene. All three anglo FM music stations are seeing morning hosts leave, and at least two are introducing new faces to replace them.

Aaron Rand got the ball rolling by announcing he would be leaving CFQR’s Q Mornings show at the end of April. Rand has been hosting this show for two decades, so you can imagine how listeners reacted to the news. He’s got a lot of new Facebook friends and a lot of people posted messages to the Q’s Facebook page.

Though Rand himself reached out to listeners and communicated with them, the station’s management was silent. Mark Dickie, its general manager, didn’t return my phone calls or emails, and provided The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein with a pathetic quote that sounds like it came out of a fill-in-the-name-here press release.

As if to underscore a lack of respect for this dean of local radio, Rand’s seat wasn’t even cold before it was announced that Cat Spencer would be leaving CJFM to take his place … in September. (Maybe before, if the two stations can work out a deal on his contract.) This is still months away, yet for some reason they couldn’t wait 24 hours to make the announcement. What little coverage of this story appeared in local media had to be about both Spencer and Rand instead of just the latter.

Cat vs. Freeway

Learning that Spencer would be leaving, some Virgin Radio listeners also spoke up on its Facebook page. At least there, a few brief replies from the nameless Facebook page administrator saying Spencer had decided to leave. But otherwise, the station has been pretty silent about it. Program Director Mark Bergman hasn’t made any public statements that I’m aware of.

That contrasts, of course, to all the publicity it’s generating about its new star, “Freeway” Frank Depalo, who debuted on Monday as Lisa Player’s cohost. (You can read an interview Depalo did with Mike Cohen on his blog, and a story in The Gazette by Kathryn Greenaway.)

The same day “Freeway” started on Virgin Radio, the Q launched a new contest where it gives away $1,000 daily to people who listen to the morning show. It promoted it like crazy, including an ad wrap around the front section of Monday’s Gazette (hope some of that ad money trickles down to me).

PJ who?

And then there’s CHOM, who yanked PJ Stock and Merv Williams from their morning show. Perhaps it was unrelated to the other changes, or perhaps the station decided it needed to freshen up while its competitors are changing things up. We don’t know, because CHOM Program Director Daniel Tremblay isn’t talking.

Again, fans complained. Not on the station’s official Facebook page because it doesn’t have a wall. But there were comments here and elsewhere, most more upset at the loss of Williams than the part-timer Stock.

The same day the news became public, there was a flurry of activity from the morning show’s social media outlets, its Twitter feed (which had been dormant for more than two weeks) and its blog. Neither had any mention of Stock or Williams. Instead, we heard about Alouettes cheerleader tryouts and other ridiculousness.

As far as CHOM was concerned, it was easier to pretend these people never existed than to even briefly acknowledge and explain its reason for terminating them.

Listeners deserve better

Program directors aren’t under any obligation to talk to me. I’m just some guy on the Internet. But their own listeners deserve explanations of these kinds of changes.

Radio stations go through a lot of effort to build familiarity with their hosts. Just look at what Virgin Radio is doing with Freeway Frank. Listeners become attached to them and, if the branding effort is really successful, they become loyal to those hosts, even if they’ve never met them in person or heard them off the air.

And then, when the usual turnover in radio causes that familiar voice to leave, the station expects listeners to instantly forget about them, to not ask questions.

It’s a giant insult to the intelligence of those listeners. They understand how broadcasting works. They understand that people leave jobs that are no longer fulfilling for them (Rand), leave for better-paying competitors (Spencer), or leave because they’ve been fired (Stock and Williams). Simply coming forward and explaining yourselves to listeners would be a simple, albeit uncomfortable, experience.

I don’t have 24/7 logs of these stations, so I can’t say for sure about what statements have and haven’t been made on air, but if the social media sphere, the websites and the lack of communication with media is any indication, the strategy seems to be to sweep bad news under the rug and hope nobody notices it, even though it’s beyond obvious that they are.

Each of these three radio stations has gotten on the social media bandwagon, highlighting their Twitter and Facebook pages, and putting blogs on their websites. Listeners are using those forms of communication to try to seek answers.

They won’t get answers, because CHOM, Virgin Radio and the Q are being antisocial.

That’s a shame.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Cat Spencer to replace Aaron Rand at CFQR

Aaron Rand

Mere hours after veteran host Aaron Rand announced during Friday’s morning show that he will be leaving CFQR (92.5 the Q), news emerged that CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) morning host Cat Spencer has been tapped to replace him.

Staff at CFQR were informed of Rand’s decision on Thursday after the morning show was over. On Friday at 10am, a meeting was reportedly convened at Astral Media to announce that Cat Spencer would be leaving CJFM and moving to CFQR in September.

Rand says he was completely unaware of his employer’s decision to hire Spencer until he was called into his boss’s office after Friday’s show. During the show, Rand said he would stay on for a few more weeks (officially until the end of April) so his station could find a replacement, but now that it seems they’ve found that replacement, Rand says he’s not sure how long he’ll still be there.

Reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, Rand was clearly unhappy about how his bosses handled the situation, concealing from him their decision to hire Spencer and allowing him to give a statement in which he “looked like an idiot” by saying the station hadn’t found someone to replace him when in fact it had.

Still, the decision to leave is Rand’s, both technically and realistically. He says he met with his bosses last week as negotiations were set to begin for his contract renewal (his contract ends Sept. 1), and it seemed immediately apparent that management was not particularly excited about improving his contract, nor was he particularly excited about staying.

He said he was trying to be as honourable as he could, a stark contrast to his former co-hosts Suzanne Desautels and Paul “Tasso” Zakaib, who were fired without being given a chance to say goodbye on air (though Rand put Zakaib on air via telephone and a few months later hosted a party in their honour). It all went fine until he found out about Spencer. Not that he has a problem with Spencer, or the hiring, or even the timing of such. It’s the fact that he wasn’t told that’s left him pissed.

Rand’s enjoyment of the morning job went down significantly after long-time partner Zakaib was turfed in 2009 (they had been hosting the morning show at CFQR for almost 20 years, and had co-hosted together before that for other stations since 1984). He told The Gazette in 2009 that he felt “survivor’s guilt” afterward.

The format change that came with the firings also didn’t work so well for Rand. The station wanted “more music” in an effort to boost ratings, so Rand’s time at the mike was significantly reduced as the station began to sound more like a juke box than live radio. “I’m not a DJ,” Rand told me.

In all, Rand’s career on the Montreal airwaves spans 26 years, notably with CKGM, CFCF and CFQR, but during his early years he had jobs with CJFM, CHOM and CJAD.

The announcement of Rand’s departure comes less than a month after CFQR was officially acquired by Cogeco Diffusion as part of the huge purchase of Corus Quebec, though there’s no indication of any direct link between this decision and the change in ownership. Rand himself says linking the two is “pure speculation.”

My attempts to reach management at CJFM and CFQR for comment have so far proved unsuccessful. Spencer also hasn’t gotten back to me yet. But Mark Dickie, the Q’s general manager, took time out of not returning my calls to tell The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein that “Aaron Rand has been the cornerstone of this station for years and has consistently delivered us great radio. We wish him only the best.”

The announcement

The following was said on air by Rand shortly before 7:30 Friday morning:

I have decided that I’m going to be leaving the radio station and my job here as host of the morning show. After almost 26 years of sitting down to start my day by telling a couple of stories and sharing some laughs with you, my time here is coming to an end. It’s never an easy decision to make, but as the expression goes “when it’s time, it’s time.” And now is that time.

It’s been a great run. I’ve been blessed to work with some really talented people, not the least of whom was my partner for most of those years, Tasso, who I told about my decision yesterday. And I’m also proud of the fact that as a native Montrealer I was lucky enough to work at a job I love in a city I love for my entire career. That’s truly special to me.

As far as what’s next, I don’t really know. I do know I’m not ready to retire yet, so I’m going to spend the next little while thinking about what I’m going to do next, and sleeping in. But I promise to keep you updated through my Facebook page and let you know when I know exactly what’s next. In the meantime, I’ll still be here for the next few weeks while the station goes about the business of finding someone new to fill my seat.

I want to sincerely thank everyone I’ve ever worked with on the show over the years. Talented people like Patrick Charles, Leo Da Estrela, Murray Sherriffs, Suzanne Desautels, Glenn Repas, Melody Pierson, Sandy Weigens and Pierre Arcand. And most of all, I want to thank you. You who listen every morning, especially those of you who have been loyal listeners for longer than I care to remember.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of entertaining you for so many years. Please believe me when I say the pleasure has been all mine.

Thank you.

You can listen to audio of this announcement in MP3 format here.

Rand said the text of the announcement was given to management beforehand, and had he known about Spencer’s impending hiring he would have deleted the sentence about sticking around as the station finds someone new.

Shortly after the announcement aired, Rand got a call from his mother (in reality, it was Zakaib, performing one of the many popular characters he brought to the morning show). Rand said the bit was a way to take the tension away after such a serious announcement.

It was good thinking. He just surprised thousands of people by telling them he’s breaking up with them after 20 years together.

Last of his era

If this seems like more than just a simple case of a long-time radio personality hanging up the mike (he’s pushing 60, but he said he’s “not ready to retire”), it’s because Rand is one of the few remaining people in commercial music radio in Montreal’s anglo market who isn’t afraid not to sound like a marketer sometimes. Where the standard procedure might have been to pretend his departed co-hosts never existed, Rand granted interview requests, spoke highly of them, gave Zakaib a chance to say goodbye on air and even organized a party in their honour for long-time listeners to attend.

Talk radio still has some true personalities, people like Mitch Melnick and Tommy Schnurmacher. Maybe it’s inevitable that the music side can no longer afford the same kind of broadcasters, and hosts across the schedule at CHOM, CFQR and CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) will all become interchangeable parts without real personalities or even last names. If people are constantly pushing for “more music”, maybe they don’t care what voice tells them what song was just played and what time it is.

If that’s true, you can hardly blame the stations for moving in this direction.

Stopped being fun

Though Rand’s departure was clearly more amicable than was Ted Bird’s from CHOM last year (Bird has since taken a job at K103 Kahnawake), there are similarities in the motivations, as hinted by Rand himself shortly after Bird’s departure:

When I read about Ted Bird (who I know only in passing) and his reasons for leaving, I was struck by one central theme. Not the fact that big corporations now control the business (it’s been that way for awhile), not that they seek to, as he said, take the craft out of the hands of the craftsmen (which naively maybe I choose not to believe) but by the fact that it stopped being fun for him. And in a business where translating that fun you feel into fun an audience can share, once you’ve lost that feeling, it’s time to move on, I respect Ted for that.

I still get up every morning (at 4 not 3) and look forward to going to work. Yes, I miss seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the friends I shared that studio with for what seems like forever, but I’m a realist. You can’t help but see and feel the business changing, and the choice is to either embrace that change, or be left behind by it.

Is it the right thing to do, am I still being true to myself as a performer by staying? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m willing to at least give it a shot and then make that decision with a bit of perspective to reflect on. The truth is, I still have fun doing what I do on the radio every morning. The only difference is now I’m working with other talented people who offer new perspectives, a different outlook, and maybe, a glimpse into what the future of this business will become.

It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different, But it’s still fun. The day it no longer is, I’ll walk away too.

On Friday, Rand agreed that a lack of fun was a big reason for leaving. “It became more and more obvious that there was less and less for me to do,” he said. “You feel at some point that you’re just spinning your wheels. It’s time for a new challenge.”

So what’s next? Rand says he would like to stay in Montreal, and would like to stay in radio, but even though having creative freedom is more important to him than money right now, obviously his options are limited. K103 already has a big-name morning man (besides, Rand jokes, he doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t want to cross the Mercier every day). Like Bird, he highly doubts the CBC would be interested in his talents. So that leaves the Astral-owned stations: CHOM, CJFM and CJAD.

Rand said he has had some discussions with Astral, but nothing has been set yet. CJAD might be a good fit for a radio host with a talent for humour, but CHOM would also work if it would be willing to give him enough freedom. The question is whether either of them is in a hiring mood.

One thing is for sure, Rand doesn’t want to retire. “I’m not for a second thinking I’m done,” he said. “I can’t imagine sitting around all day doing nothing.”

Coverage

The Gazette posted a brief based on information above, and Bill Brownstein wrote a story for Saturday’s city section.

CTV Montreal takes the story a step further and reports about a source saying Cat Spencer is quitting Virgin Radio and coming to the Q. Christine Long mentions the news during the noon newscast almost as an aside to a CHOM FM bikini parade.

Reaction

It didn’t take long for Rand’s colleagues in the Montreal radio industry to comment.

Friend of the blog Terry DiMonte comments via Facebook and Twitter that Rand, a competitor for many years, is “a class act”. DiMonte, you’ll remember, also left Montreal’s music radio market after finding it wasn’t fun anymore.

From CHOM’s Rob Kemp: “The Montreal radio landscape will never be the same. … Good luck Aaron…you are an original pro.”

From co-host Murray Sherriffs: “I sitting not 2 feet from you and my resistance to get off my chair and go over an hug is waning, you big lug.”

From former Q92 program director Ted Silver: “Aaron, You are the man. The best revenge will be the big numbers you put up at your next station. All the best my friend!. … Aaron, You had a long run as the TOP morning show. This was not by accident. The station declined and you became a scapegoat. I don’t know how things would have been if I was still there, but I do know that I would not have dismantled an iconic morning show. Keep in touch!”

From radio listener Sheldon Harvey: “I personally believe that when the history book is written on Montreal English
radio, Aaron Rand will probably deserve a chapter of his own. I feel that his ground-breaking afternoon drive show on the old CFCF/CIQC 600 is still one of Montreal radio’s shining moments in broadcasting.”

From the public, the reaction so far is supportive, but sad. Though there are some who are still ticked off that Tasso was given the boot.

Those wanting to express themselves to the Q about Rand’s departure can do so on their Facebook page (though the station has shut that down in the past to clamp down on negative commentary becoming public) or by calling or emailing management. There’s also Rand’s own Facebook page, which he plans to keep using.

Meanwhile, in other radio staffing news

The Rand and Spencer show obscured another shifting of personalities in the anglo radio sphere on Friday. Sonali Karnick, a longtime member of the CBC Daybreak team – most recently as its sports reporter – is leaving for Toronto to be a national sports reporter for CBC. Friday was her last day on Daybreak.

And similarly, it didn’t take long for a replacement to be announced. Mitch Melnick announced on his Team 990 show on Friday afternoon that his colleague Andie Bennett is heading to Daybreak to fill that void.

UPDATE: Mike Cohen reports that Freeway Frank, who used to be the morning guy at CHUM’s Kool 101.5 in Calgary, will be Spencer’s replacement at CJFM and will cohost the Virgin Radio morning show with Lisa Player.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Welcome to the Cogeco radioverse

It’s official. Despite an after-the-fact plea from Astral to overturn CRTC approval and block the purchase, Corus Quebec’s radio stations officially became part of the Cogeco family on Feb. 1.

The new owners wasted no time imposing the new order, escorting previous bosses out the door (assuming they didn’t quit) and appointing a new executive team.

As part of the agreement with the CRTC, Cogeco can continue to own three francophone FM stations in Montreal (98.5FM, Rythme FM 105.7 and CKOI 96.9), but has to sell some stations in other regions:

  • CKOY-FM 104.5 (since renamed CJTS-FM) in Sherbrooke, which operated under the CKOI brand
  • CFEL-FM 102.1 in Quebec City, also a CKOI-branded station
  • CJEC-FM 91.9 in Quebec City, under the Rythme FM brand

If you’re interested, feel free to bid. It’s unclear what will happen after the sales are complete (will they be able to keep the same brand? Will they want to?), but for now it’s business as usual.

Another station that was part of the Corus network, CKRS in Saguenay, was sold separately to local investors.

On the anglo side, the only affected station is CFQR 92.5 “the Q”, which switches from Corus to Cogeco. Astral Media owns the other stations, CHOM, CJFM “Virgin Radio” and CJAD. There’s no word on any changes to management or programming or anything else at that station so far.

Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

CRTC caves in to Cogeco

The CRTC, which sets rules regarding concentration of ownership in broadcast media, decided it could simply ignore them in a ruling on Friday that gave Cogeco the right to buy almost all the assets of Corus Quebec.

Specifically, Cogeco would buy 11 stations for $80 million, including Montreal’s 92.5 the Q (formerly Q92), CFQR-FM.

In Montreal:

Elsewhere:

  • CJRC-FM Souvenirs Garantis 104.7 in Gatineau
  • CIME-FM 103.9 in St-Jerome
  • CHLT-FM Souvenirs Garantis 107.7 in Sherbrooke
  • CKOY-FM 104.5 in Sherbrooke
  • CHLN-FM Souvenirs Garantis 106.9 in Trois-Rivières
  • CFOM-FM Souvenirs Garantis 102.9 in Quebec City
  • CFEL-FM (“CKOI”) 102.1 in Quebec City

The biggest problem with the acquisition is that it would violate a CRTC rule that says one company can’t own more than two stations in each language on each band in each market. Cogeco was willing to get around this by selling stations in Quebec City and converting one in Sherbrooke into a retransmitter of Montreal’s CKAC sports station.

But it wanted an exception in Montreal. CHMP 98.5 is the flagship station of the Corus talk radio network, and Rythme FM (CFGL) and CKOI are the No. 1 and No. 2 music stations, making them a whole lot of money. Cogeco said that a requirement to sell one of those stations would torpedo the whole deal (CKOI alone represents half the cost of the acquisition), and promised that in exchange for this special consideration they would hire journalists throughout Quebec and create a talk-radio news agency.

And the CRTC caved. Well, mostly.

They didn’t buy the idea of turning Sherbrooke’s CKOY FM into a retransmitter of Montreal’s CKAC sports station, and gave Cogeco a year to find a buyer for it. They also made a strict condition that Cogeco’s plan for a news agency continue, so they can’t pull a bait and switch.

That part is good news. The idea of Cogeco Nouvelles sounds good. At least the part about them hiring 33 full-time journalists and spending $3 million a year on news sounds good. The part about sharing content sounds a lot like the regional stations will all take the majority of their content from Montreal and insert a bare minimum of local stories just to justify their license.

But still, considering how little actual journalism comes out of private radio in Quebec, on the whole this is good.

There are also a few additional incentives to sweeten the deal, like this: Cogeco will “provide its services free-of-charge to groups operating fewer than three French-language radio stations in Quebec’s small markets as long as they agree to supply COGECO Nouvelles with news from their markets. The service’s content will also be available free-of-charge to community radio stations.”

Oligopoly

But as nice as all that is, and I hope Cogeco Nouvelles succeeds, the problem of radio competition remains. Instead of three players in the Quebec francophone (popular) music scene in Montreal, there would be two, representing an astonishing 95% of advertising revenue in the biggest market in Quebec. And that’s true for both the French and English-language markets in Montreal. If you discount jazz, classical and CBC/Radio-Canada’s stations, the two will own all seven music stations (four francophone, three anglophone) in Montreal.

Much of the debate at the CRTC seemed to be about Astral Media, which owns the NRJ and Rock Détente networks and is seen as a major player in the regions. But rather than acknowledge that there’s a serious problem with Astral Media owning stations that should be competing with each other (this is particularly true in Montreal’s anglophone market, where Astral owns CHOM 97.7, CJFM 95.9 Virgin Radio and CJAD 800), the CRTC decided that the best response was to create an even bigger behemoth in Cogeco.

With the acquisition, Cogeco stations would have an astounding 46.6% market share in the Montreal francophone market and 22.4% in the anglophone market, or 41.3% total. Astral, meanwhile, has a 31.4% share in the francophone market and a 55.4% share in the anglophone market. Note that all these numbers don’t exclude CBC/Radio-Canada stations. When you consider just commercial stations, or as a share of ad revenues, those numbers are even higher.

The suggestion that this would somehow “restore a competitive balance” is silly.

The Montreal-less network

There’s also a problem that isn’t being considered very well here: While Cogeco argues that regional talk-radio stations need the resources and “expertise” of Montreal’s 98.5 FM, it also plans to sell stations in the regions to a third party that won’t be able to setup a Montreal station if they want to build a network.

For example, CKOI is a brand network in Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City. As part of the acquisition, Cogeco will have to sell the Sherbrooke and Quebec City stations in this network, but not the Montreal one. And there isn’t exactly a lot of extra space on the dial for someone to setup a new francophone music station in Montreal. So not only would anyone who wants to buy these stations have to change their brands (along with the Rythme FM station in Quebec City), but they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of whatever efficiencies Astral and Corus/Cogeco think they have found with multi-region brands.

Personally, I think music radio stations can do fine without needing to belong to a Montreal-network (some names are already popping up as potential buyers). But it’s funny that Cogeco puts such a strong emphasis on the need for a Montreal flagship station for its talk radio network but has no problem with other people having radio stations in the regions without a Montreal-based moneymaker to keep them afloat.

In conclusion: Good for radio, bad for radio choice

I’m happy that the CRTC handled some of the issues I brought up in my criticism of Cogeco’s plan. And I’m happy that Cogeco is planning to setup a regional radio news network and hire journalists.

But this is a step backwards for radio diversity in Montreal, at a time when the city desperately needs more competition in commercial radio.

The CRTC should review its rules for media concentration, particularly because the public seems to be abandoning the AM band and because Montreal’s numbers suggest that commercial music stations aren’t strictly segregated on the basis of language.

Montreal has seven commercial radio stations that all play popular music that sounds a lot alike. It should have more than two companies running them.

More coverage in:

UPDATE (Jan. 12): Almost a month after the CRTC’s decision, and weeks before the transaction is set to close, Astral decides to appeal to the federal court to overturn it, saying it was “arbitrary and unreasonable” to change the rules at the last minute just for Cogeco. VP Claude Laflamme makes the point in the statement that “the sudden lack of predictability in the application of the CRTC policy penalizes all broadcasters which in the past decided not to pursue business opportunities in order to abide by the policy as formulated and as consistently applied.”

La Presse quotes Cogeco as counter-arguing that Astral controls 75% of the anglophone market (they own CJAD, CHOM and CJFM, but that doesn’t violate the CRTC’s rules), and they shouldn’t be pointing fingers about media concentration.

Note that while Astral suggests that Cogeco should have been forced to sell one of the music stations, it doesn’t have its eyes on them because it already owns two francophone FM stations in Montreal (CITE Rock Détente 107.3 and CKMF NRJ 94.3)

UPDATE (Jan. 14): Corus says it will, of course, fight this appeal, and that the Cogeco deal is still set to close on Feb. 1.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

CFQR gets license renewal – and a slap on the wrist

This week, the CRTC gave approval for a license renewal to CFQR-FM, commonly known as Q92 (but who prefer to refer to themselves now as “92.5 the Q”). They can keep broadcasting until Aug. 31, 2014.

The approval is considered “short-term” because CFQR was in violation of one of its conditions of license, a minor one that requires that 20% of music from the jazz and blues category be Canadian. (The station exceeded its requirements for Canadian content overall.)

The station blamed this on improper labelling involving a new program:

Our non-compliance related solely to the introduction of a new three-hour program on Sunday evenings called Chill. This program is a showcase for Canadian smooth jazz. We experienced a problem with the labelling of songs in this three hour program block. The result was that we could not correctly identify individual selections as to whether they did or did not qualify as Canadian content. This in turn led directly to the compliance question raised by the Commission.

We deeply regret our failure to comply with the category 34 requirement. We take our responsibilities seriously and understand the importance of meeting our regulatory obligations. The non-compliance was not intentional and it was for a short duration.  It only related to this program feature.   We want to assure the Commission that it will not happen again.

This isn’t the first time CFQR has gotten a slap from the national regulator. The last time their license was up for renewal, the commission noted that the station was not in compliance with a condition of license requiring no more than 49.9% of music broadcast be hits. (You know, so it doesn’t sound too much like CJFM AM radio.</sarcasm>)

The CRTC has also renewed the license of CKLX-FM, Planète Jazz 91.9, even though the station was in non-compliance on its financial obligations.

Posted in In the news, Montreal, Radio

Cogeco to buy Corus Quebec radio stations

Pierre Trudel thought it was Quebecor, but Quebecor had it right: Cogeco, a cable provider in Ontario and parts of Quebec, which also owns the Rythme FM radio network and used to own TQS before that went into bankruptcy, has announced that it will acquire Corus Quebec’s radio network, pending CRTC approval.

The transaction, valued at about $80 million, includes:

In Montreal:

Elsewhere:

  • CJRC-FM Souvenirs Garantis 104.7 in Gatineau
  • CIME-FM 103.9 in St-Jerome
  • CHLT-FM Souvenirs Garantis 107.7 in Sherbrooke
  • CKOY-FM 104.5 in Sherbrooke
  • CHLN-FM Souvenirs Garantis 106.9 in Trois-Rivieres
  • CFOM-FM Souvenirs Garantis 102.9 in Quebec City
  • CFEL-FM (“CKOI”) 102.1 in Quebec City

It’s hard to tell from a simple press release what this all means. Cogeco has experience in radio, so I wouldn’t expect any major overhauls immediately (except, I guess, having to rename “Corus Nouvelles”). But CFQR would be Cogeco’s first anglophone radio station, for what that’s worth.

On the francophone side, this would mean a loss of competition. Instead of three major players (Astral Media is the other, owning the NRJ and Rock Détente networks), there would be two. CKOI and CFGL would come under the same owner, working together instead of competing with each other for music listeners.

In Sherbrooke, it’s worse: Three of the four five commercial music stations, CKOY, CHLT and CFGE, would all be owned by Cogeco, leaving CITE-FM-1 Rock Détente 102.7 and CIMO-FM 106.1 NRJ in nearby Magog as the only competition.

In Trois Rivières, it would be two for Cogeco, two for Astral. Same for Quebec City, though there’s more competition there from independents.

It’s also worth noting that this sale comes mere months after Corus cut local programming at Souvenirs Garantis stations CJRC, CHLT and CHLN.

What about CKRS?

CKRS 98.3FM in Saguenay, the fourth Souvenirs Garantis station that got its morning show cut to be replaced with Paul Arcand, is not part of the transaction. Corus has been looking to get rid of that station, and the deadline for bids was yesterday, and the new owner (if there is one) should be known soon.

UPDATE: Nathalie Collard also has some thoughts on the matter.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Podcast Plan B: David Tyler Unleashed

Podcast Plan B is a blog series about four Montreal radio personalities that have begun independent podcasts over the past few months. It’s an expansion of a Gazette article I wrote on the topic, explained here.

David Tyler Unleashed logo

David Tyler

David Tyler

I’ll start this series with an apology: Sorry David Tyler, I had to cut you out of my story. I thought I could fit in a lot more in the 750 words I was assigned, and I just couldn’t fit everyone in. The story was about podcasts as independent business ventures, and David Tyler Unleashed was more of a just-for-fun thing. It isn’t as regular as the other ones, and it’s only guaranteed four episodes so far, while the others have long-term plans for the new year.

Still, I feel bad not only because I spent an hour on the phone with Tyler, but because he has the best story about being fired from radio.

“The program director at the time, Chris Kennedy, called me into his office,” Tyler told me. “I was showing him the renovations on my house that I just started. I was showing him the pictures on my brand new iPhone. And suddenly he had this look on his face.”

While Tyler was dreaming of home renovation in August 2008, Kennedy and management at Corus’s Q92 were thinking of going in a new direction, doing something different (and other similar euphemisms). They’re be redoing the weekday midday, and David Tyler wasn’t part of their plans.

Continue reading

Posted in Montreal, Radio, Web design

CFQR adds to website

925theq.com screengrab

925theq.com

Only eight months after they rebranded themselves from “Q92″ to “The Q”, CFQR has opened up its website to more interesting content.

New features include:

There’s also a schedule, which has scrubbed the name of Tammy Moyer from her late-morning show. She hasn’t been fired, says Program Director Brian DePoe. Rather, she’s “taken a leave from the Q to deal with some personal life issues.”

As they await more “clarity” on the situation, the show is being hosted temporarily by Chris Reiser.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Murray Sherriffs joins CFQR morning show

Murray Sherriffs

Murray Sherriffs

Proving once again that when you leave Corus, you join Astral, and when you leave Astral, you join Corus*, Murray Sherriffs, the popular morning man on Mix 96, who was canned from the station when it rebranded as Virgin Radio in January, will return Monday as the morning news anchor on CFQR 92.5 the Q (formerly Q92). (via RadioInMontreal)

Sherriffs’s departure caused a lot of negative reaction from listeners, who saw it as the biggest mistake of the rebranding.

Sherriffs will join morning host Aaron Rand, who has been riding solo since fellow hosts Paul “Tasso” Zakaib and Suzanne Desautels were ditched in August. Another move that caused a lot of protest from listeners.

Also joining the team is fellow Astral castoff Sarah Bartok, whose previous job was at Astral’s CISL AM 650 in Vancouver. She’ll be the traffic reporter. She replaces Shaun McMahon, who moves from traffic to show producer.

*See DiMonte, Terry; Charles, Patrick

UPDATE: The Gazette has a story, with reader comments.

Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

Aaron Rand, the last DJ

The days when commercial radio DJs were given the freedom to program their own shows has long passed. Playlists are set by corporate bigwigs who are more interested in what’s popular than what’s good. The DJs, if you can still call them that, sit in the studio and fill the space in between songs with light banter, trying to seem personable without having too much of a personality.

If you listen to them, it seems their attitude has shifted from being music critics to being publicists. The hosts (a better term for them than DJ) deliver advertising messages, plug upcoming shows or contests, and they do so seeming as happy and excited as they could possibly be.

This happiness extends to major changes. When Mix 96 became Virgin Radio 96, that resulted in more syndicated programming and less local voice. But the employees put on an excited face about their new station, wearing T-shirts bearing its logo and plugging it in any way they could on Facebook.

This everything-is-happy-no-matter-what philosophy doesn’t mesh well with inevitable firings. Nobody likes to see people lose their jobs, and listeners rarely like to see hosts get booted to the street, especially when there’s nobody to replace them. So what tends to happen is that the on-air personalities will do their best to minimize these staff changes, emphasizing the new arrivals and hoping listeners forget about the departures. Beyond a short goodbye, in many cases their names are never spoken again. Their blogs and bios are quietly deleted from the station’s website, and it waits until the recently departed become the not-so-recently departed so they can be fully forgotten.

Aaron Rand

Aaron Rand

Aaron Rand is not this type of on-air personality.

When Rand learned (along with the rest of us) in August that his morning co-hosts on CFQR, Paul (Tasso) Zakaib and Suzanne Desautels, were being dismissed, he was devastated. Aaron and Tasso had been a fixture on Montreal radio for decades, and now they were being split up. And for some reason, Aaron had been left as the sole survivor.

Most people in this situation would have laid low for a while, refused requests to talk to the media, and done everything in their power to not join his friends on the unemployment line. You don’t want to rock the boat, to bite the hand that feeds you, to let the world know that your boss was an asshole for what he did. You want to keep your job, and that means staying quiet about your feelings.

Rand didn’t do that. Instead, he talked to his listeners, talked to The Gazette, and even answered critics online. While Tasso and Suzanne kept quiet (to this day they haven’t said anything publicly), Rand had to speak for them.

And yet, he had to speak for the station as well, which made everything awkward. He couldn’t trash-talk the station or its decision, but he couldn’t hide his feelings either. He talked about how sad he was, how hard it was to get through his first solo show, and yet how these kinds of on-air changes are how commercial radio works now. He didn’t like the decision, but it wasn’t his call. So he had to live with it and accept it.

A month later, the public outrage has died down. The Q has reopened its Facebook page to discussion after shutting it down to prevent the flood of negative comments. The station apparently believes enough time has passed for people to forget.

Not Rand. He’s organizing a party, inviting fans of the show to join him (and presumably Tasso and Suzanne) at the Mount Stephen Club downtown on Oct. 20. It’s not a gathering to protest CFQR’s decision to fire them, but a thank-you gathering to celebrate their careers and give listeners a chance to say a proper goodbye.

The Mount Stephen Club is a classy joint, which only seems appropriate for this classy move. (Admission is free, but space is limited, so reservations are requested at aaron@925theq.com, first come first served.)

In a post on the Radio in Montreal group online, Rand explained his attitude thusly:

I felt the textbook approach should give way, to a real, human, caring approach. People, especially long time listeners, have been calling and e-mailing, voicing their opinions on what happened, and now, asking if both Tasso and Suzanne are okay. That’s not a question for management to answer.

I felt it would be cold, callous, and disrespectful of me to ignore their queries, especially given the fact that we were a team. This was not just a situation where someone had left after a year or two for greener pastures, this was about the breakup of the heritage morning show in their market. Listeners, in my estimation, are owed an explanation, an update, call it what you will, and that explanation can only come from me. I think management understands and accepts that.

I hope they do. And I hope they understand that if local radio had more people like Aaron Rand, they might care a bit more about local radio and fewer of them would be leaving in droves for iTunes and podcasts.

Posted in Radio

Tasso, Suzanne leave CFQR morning show

Tasso: gone

Paul "Tasso" Zakaib

After 20 years in morning radio in Montreal, Aaron and Tasso is just Aaron.

CFQR a.k.a. 92.5 the Q a.k.a. Q92 Program Director Brian DePoe announced on Wednesday that two thirds of its long-running morning trio would be leaving the station: Paul Zakaib (aka Tasso Patsikakis) and Suzanne Desautels. No reason was given beyond a vague statement of making changes.

The Aaron and Tasso show began on CFQR in 1989, but their collaboration began years before that when they worked at CKGM and CFCF radio. The CFCF partnership ended in 1987 when management decided Tasso was no longer a good fit for the ratings-stalled show hosted by Aaron Rand. Later, when they were teamed up for Q92′s morning show and the ratings skyrocketed, the powers that be learned their lesson, and Aaron and Tasso stuck together throughout the 90s and most of this decade.

Considering the revolving doors of morning shows at the competition CHOM, CJFM and even CJAD, it’s astonishing that they stuck around for so long, cementing their names into the city’s consciousness. (I remember one morning a while back when a woman got a surprise call from the CHOM morning show – the hosts asked if she knew who they were, and she said “Oh, it’s Aaron and Tasso!” There was a bit of an awkward silence after that, but it demonstrates how they were the most recognizable of the morning teams.)

Suzanne Desautels

Suzanne Desautels

Desautels also hails from the old days of CFCF radio, where she started off as an intern in the early 80s. But she spent most of her career at CFCF television, as a weather presenter and co-host of its Travel Travel program. In 1999, when the budget axe fell there, she moved to CFQR as a news reader and has been there since, eventually moving to morning traffic and then recently as a full partner in the morning team.

So far, the plan is to keep Aaron Rand going solo, with a scaled-back morning show (less talk, more music). I can’t help but wonder if that may be an indication that the two-men-one-woman morning crew format we see on Montreal’s anglo music stations might be a bit excessive on the talent for these belt-tightening times.

Those who want to express their opinion on the dumpings can do so on the station’s Facebook page or by contacting management directly. (UPDATE: The station has shut down the discussion forums on its Facebook group page after being swarmed with comments about the programming change. Listeners are being asked to email PD Brian DePoe directly, presumably so negative comments are kept out of public view)

UPDATE: Coverage from CTV Montreal and The Gazette, both of which have been flooded with comments about the move.

Neither The Gazette nor CTV (nor I) have gotten any comment from the two fired personalities. Instead, Aaron Rand has been stuck in the unenviable position of explaining the decision of someone else to fire a good friend.

UPDATE (Aug. 21): Some insightful comments from radio buff Sheldon Harvey.

UPDATE (Aug. 25): Comments from Aaron Rand, who says he’s passing along people’s thoughts to Tasso and Suzanne, even while the two of them remain silent.