Tag Archives: CINF

Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

CRTC hears applications for 690 and 940 AM

In what is believe it or not considered an expedited process, the CRTC begins hearings Monday on five applications for the vacant frequencies of 690 and 940 kHz for commercial radio stations.

This story, in The Gazette on Saturday, gives the skinny on what the CRTC will be deciding. (Bonus points if you correctly point out that the file photo attached to the story is of the Mount Royal tower, which has no AM transmitters. Now get a life.)

Quick history lesson: These frequencies belonged to Radio-Canada (690) and CBC radio (940) for more than half a century, until both stations moved to FM (95.1 and 88.5, respectively) in 1998. A year later, what was then Metromedia launched Info 690 and 940 News on those frequencies. Both stations struggled, 940 in particular, for the next decade. Two format changes (news-talk with “940 Montreal” and then automated music with “940 Hits”) later, then-owner Corus put both out of their misery, shutting them down. They’ve been silent ever since.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and Cogeco, which bought Corus Quebec – including the unused transmitters – announces a deal with the Quebec government to run all-traffic stations in French and English, to the tune of $1.5 million per station per year. The deal requires the stations to be running by Oct. 31.

The CRTC application was supposed to be a simple thing, with approval easily acquired by the deadline. The frequencies had been unused for a year and a half, and it had been a year since the licenses for CINW and CINF were revoked, but there were no applications to use them. While the FM band is saturated in Montreal, there are plenty of AM frequencies that sit silent (600 and 850 are two other examples) because nobody wants them.

But the CRTC got quite a few interventions demanding an open call for applications. The CRTC agreed, and set a hearing date for Oct. 17.

Judging that far too late, Cogeco shut down CKAC Sports and replaced it with their French all-traffic station on Sept. 6. They subsequently withdrew their application for 690 AM, figuring they’re unlikely to be awarded a fifth French-language radio station in Montreal.

That leaves five applications for the two frequencies. You can download and read the applications from the CRTC’s website. Here they are in brief:

For 690 kHz:

  • Radio Fierté, a French-language music and talk station targeted at Montreal’s gay community, owned by Dufferin Communications/Evanov Communications, which runs PROUD FM in Toronto.
  • TSN Radio, currently at 990 kHz. The Bell Media all-sports station wants to change frequency to improve its coverage, particularly at night, when it has to modify its signal to avoid interference with other stations on that frequency. Bell says the former Team 990 has never been profitable, and probably won’t unless it gets better coverage.
  • 7954689 Canada inc., a company formed by businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, which wants to start a French-language news-talk station. Tietolman (the son of CKVL/CKOI founder Jack Tietolman) and Tétrault (former city councillor and PQ/BQ candidate) unsuccessfully tried to present a counter-offer to Cogeco’s $80-million purchase of Corus Quebec, and part of their offer would have been to revive 690 and 940.

For 940 kHz:

  • 7954689 Canada inc., a corresponding English-language news-talk station with what is so far a nearly identical format.
  • Cogeco’s English all-traffic station, which it says would be operational by “mid-winter” if approved.

The agenda for the meeting has presentations from all these applicants on Monday, and support/opposition debates on Tuesday.

Scheduled to appear are, among others:

  • For Bell Media (TSN Radio), General Manager Wayne Bews, host Denis Casavant, Ringside Report host Dave Simon Bell Media Radio Engineering Director Dave Simon* as well as Bell Media Radio president Chris Gordon and Bell Media regulatory affairs bosses Mirko Bibic and Lenore Gibson
  • For Tietolman/Tétrault/Pancholy, the three owners, representatives of Léger Marketing as well as former CJAD program director Steve Kowch and morning host Jim Connell
  • For Dufferin Communications (Radio Fierté), Proud FM operations manager Bruce Campbell, sales manager John Kenyon, Evanov sales VP Ky Joseph, Proud FM announcer Bob Willette, Dufferin VP marketing Carmela Laurignano, Evanov VP finance Michael Kilbride, and lawyers Chad Skinner and Andrée Wylie
  • For Cogeco (Metromedia CMR), Richard Lachance, VPs Yves Mayrand, Daniel Dubois, and Mélanie Bégnoche, 98.5/CKAC assistant GM Michel Lorrain, The Beat 92.5 GM Mark Dickie and consultants Serge Bellerose and Maurice Beauséjour

On Tuesday, the presentations will get responses, mostly from the other applicants. (Astral Media, which owns CJAD and four music stations in the city, is certainly following this, but isn’t appearing at the hearing.) Radio Fierté and TSN Radio each have four supporters offering testimony to the hearing.

You can read all 226 interventions (many are repetitive, thanks to campaigns by TSN Radio, Cogeco and Dufferin to have people write to the CRTC, in many cases using form letters). All are on the record even if the writers aren’t appearing at the hearing.

The only intervenor appearing independently is Sheldon Harvey, the moderator of the Radio in Montreal group. Harvey submitted multiple interventions, supporting the applications by Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy and opposing those of Cogeco and Dufferin (he didn’t submit an intervention regarding TSN Radio). Harvey deemed the 50,000 watt clear channels “overkill” for an all-traffic station, and proposed Cogeco operate CKAC 730 bilingually instead. He also said a clear channel was “overkill” for Radio Fierté, and recommended they use another vacant frequency.

The deadline for interventions passed weeks ago, so the CRTC won’t be hearing any new opinions on these applications, but

The hearing takes place Monday and Tuesday, starting at 9am, at Delta Centre-Ville, 777 University St., room Régence AB. Audio from the hearing can be streamed online via the CRTC website. You can listen to the direct floor audio here or an English translation here.

*CORRECTION: Dave Simon of Ringside Report emails me to say it’s not him who’s appearing at the hearing. It’s actually another Dave Simon who works at Bell Media Radio. That is, unless there’s a third Dave Simon associated with TSN Radio. Only Cogeco provided titles for the people appearing with them (Tietolman/Tétrault/Pancholy has what companies they work for), hence the possibility of confusion in case there are other cases of people with the same name.

Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

Government pays for Cogeco to shut down CKAC Sports

Following two days of rumours (thanks mainly to Pierre Trudel), Cogeco this morning confirmed that it is switching formats for CKAC 730AM, Montreal’s only major commercial French-language AM station. It will go from being an all-sports station to an all-traffic station effective Tuesday morning. After the announcement, Cogeco immediately pulled the plug on sports broadcasting, and is running music until then, interrupted every half hour by a three-minute announcement by Cogeco VP Richard Lachance.

Listen to the announcement running on CKAC during the weekend (MP3)

Live sports broadcasts will be carried on Cogeco’s news-talk 98.5FM, and some (but not all) personalities will move there as well. Lachance tells LCN that seven employees will be affected, four of whom will find new functions at 98.5. Michel Villeneuve and Ron Fournier, notably, will have shows on 98.5, in the evening (when the station currently rebroadcasts shows from earlier in the day).

In a bitter and ridiculous press release, Cogeco mainly blamed its competitors, who opposed a fast-track process for Cogeco’s all-traffic licenses to be approved by the CRTC. It complained that nobody was interested in the vacant 690 and 940 frequencies formerly held by Corus’s all-news stations and purchased by Cogeco when it bought Corus Quebec, without addressing the claims by competitors like Bell Media that Cogeco was unwilling to negotiate selling the former stations’ transmission towers and other facilities.

But mostly it stresses that it had to establish an all-traffic station by the day after Labour Day, when supposedly the fall traffic season will begin. Waiting until October (or later) would be unacceptable. It’s “urgent” that it has to be up by September, Cogeco says. People relying on traffic reports every 10 minutes just isn’t enough.

What’s not said in the press release is that this is all about money. Cogeco’s not in a rush to get this all-traffic station on the air because it cares about Montreal drivers. It’s in a rush because it cares about the $1.5 million subsidy from the Quebec government. The agreement between Cogeco and the Ministry of Transport says the stations must be operating by Oct. 31, but the contract actually begins Sept. 1. (It doesn’t make clear what happens if Cogeco misses its deadline.) Once that happens, the station begins collecting $125,000 a month from the government to pay its staff.

Thankfully Cogeco doesn’t own a popular English-language AM station, so it can’t shut that down to turn it into an all-traffic station. Instead, it will wait for the CRTC to decide on 940AM, and is asking them to hurry in making a decision (they are hurrying, and had already tightened deadlines for applications for that frequency).

When this all-traffic station idea was announced in May, I panned it as a waste of $9 million of government money over three years for something that just about every radio station already provided for free ad nauseam. Cogeco’s competitors agreed, and demanded an open call for applications for those frequencies, which the CRTC granted.

Now it seems even more obvious how bad an idea it is. Cogeco has compared its $1.5-million subsidy against the ad revenue from CKAC and decided it would rather the government subsidy. The Quebec government is essentially using public money to push Cogeco into shutting down a popular all-sports radio station and replace it with something that is redundant to every other station in the market.

(One might ask if Cogeco didn’t want to shut down CKAC, why not apply for an all-sports radio station on 690AM and bring it back? The press release is silent on this.)

It’s a sad day for Montreal radio, and an even sadder day for common sense and government spending.

CKAC 730AM will go all-traffic Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 4:30am. The CRTC hears applications for 690 and 940AM (Cogeco has withdrawn its application for 690) on Oct. 17.

UPDATE: Similar commentary from Stéphane Laporte.

A Facebook page has been setup to protest the decision. CKAC Sports’s Facebook page has a brief note from the station: “Merci à chacun d’entre vous de nous avoir suivi, lu, et d’être venu commenter ainsi que partager votre passion pour le sport”, followed by a lot of angry comments.

You can also watch video of CKAC’s empty studio while listening to Céline Dion and other awful music.

Other coverage

Posted in Montreal, Radio

The Team 940? Bell proposes frequency swap

Cogeco’s CRTC application to bring two Montreal AM radio stations back to life has prompted interventions from the owners of the other AM stations in the city – Astral (which owns CJAD) and Bell Media (which owns CKGM/The Team 990) – as well as Paul Tietolman, who has been trying for some time to start up his own AM station at 940 kHz.

The interventions (two are opposed to the application, while Astral is negative but not quite so categorical) are based on these main points, which have been responded to by Cogeco:

  1. Concentration of ownership: The interventions point to the fact that Cogeco asked for and received an exemption to a CRTC policy that forbids any owner from having more than two stations on the same band in the same language in the same market. This allowed them to purchase all of Corus Quebec’s radio assets in Montreal, adding CKOI and CHMP 98.5FM to CFGL Rythme FM, giving them three French-language FM stations. Now they want to add two more stations to their empire, giving them five French-language stations (they also own CKAC) and two English-language stations (with CFQR). Cogeco responds by saying that exception was, well, exceptional, and that owning two French-language AM stations would not be a further exception to CRTC policy. Cogeco also says it doesn’t believe an all-traffic station (even one that solicits advertising) would be a significant competitive threat to existing broadcasters.
  2. Use of clear channels: The interventions agree with me and other radio watchers that 50,000 watts and a signal pattern that stretches into the Maritimes and northeastern Ontario is overkill for a Montreal traffic station. They say that if the application is approved, it should be for two frequencies that are not clear channels. Cogeco responds that the frequencies have been vacant since June 2010 (when the CRTC announced it had revoked the licenses) and no one has applied for them.
  3. Unfair competitive advantage: The interventions question the entire point of a publicly-funded all-traffic station. And while there’s nothing the CRTC can do to change how the Quebec government spends its money, the incumbents object because the funding would give the traffic stations an unfair competitive advantage. The funding “will allow Metromedia (the Cogeco subsidiary that owns the stations) to aggressively sell advertising in the marketplace, potentially offering lower rates than what is offered by the incumbents. This potential strategy will only serve to further undermine an already weak market,” writes Bell Media VP Kevin Goldstein in his intervention. Cogeco responds by quoting news articles demanding better communication about road conditions from the government and says they only expect about a quarter of its advertising revenue ($600,000 for the first year) will come at the expense of their competition.
  4. Guarantee of format: The interventions say there’s no guarantee that their all-traffic format would be maintained once the contract with the Quebec government runs out. Cogeco responds that it would accept a condition of license making such a guarantee.
  5. No public bidding: The interventions feel this project should have been open to a public bidding process. Cogeco responds that any broadcaster could have responded to the notice from the transport ministry that it intended to award this contract to Cogeco, but none ever did. The lack of demand meant the government did not have to open bidding on the project.

Here’s where the intervention from Bell gets interesting: They state that they have been trying, since Corus shut down CINW (940 Hits) and CINF (Info 690) in January 2010, to purchase the transmitter and antenna from them, to no avail. Bell says that if the CRTC wants to approve this application, it would be prepared to perform a frequency swap, taking either 690 or 940 kHz and taking up a clear channel that allows them to broadcast 50,000 watts day and night.

Propagation patterns for CKGM (Team 990AM) in red (day) and black (night) vs. CINW (940AM) in purple and CINF (690AM) in blue, as provided in Bell's CRTC intervention

As Team 990 gains broadcast rights to Canadiens games in the fall, nighttime propagation becomes more important. As a Class B frequency, 990 requires the transmitter to modify its signal at night, reducing its coverage. Switching to 940 would give CKGM a much larger coverage area.

The idea makes a lot of sense. Montreal sports teams – and the Canadiens in particular – are going to have a lot more interest in the outlying regions than Montreal traffic information. It makes sense for that station to have a larger coverage area. And, of course, most people interested in traffic will listen to the radio in their cars, which should not have trouble picking up a giant transmitter just a few kilometres away.

But Cogeco responds by criticizing Bell’s suggestion that it would have been too expensive to retune its existing transmitter and antenna from 990 to 940 kHz. It quotes an engineering expert it hired that said in the worst case scenario of having to replace everything, it would cost less than $250,000.

We’ll take them: Tietolman

Tietolman Tétrault, in its intervention (PDF), suggested the stations use frequencies of 600 and 850 kHz (formerly of CIQC and CKVL, respectively) and said the 690 and 940 frequencies should be open to applications. It said it would be willing to apply for both:

Tietolman Tétrault Média est déjà prêt, intéressé et apte à appliquer pour l’obtention de ces fréquences. Nous avons en main un plan d’action que nous estimons bénéfique pour la diversité radiophonique nécessitant ces deux fréquences-clés. Évidemment, ces deux fréquences seraient en ondes peu de temps après l’obtention des licences.

Tietolman, whose family once owned CKVL, had tried to offer a competing $81-million bid for Corus Quebec, including 690 and 940. They’ve indicated for a while now that they’d like to bring back 690 and 940, though they haven’t said what kind of format the stations would have.

Other interventions

A few other smaller groups and individuals also filed interventions in this application.

Jacques Blais of S.O.S. Québec Radio filed a handwritten note (PDF) - he wrote that he had computer problems – in which he called the project useless and a waste of public money, and appealed to common sense in rejecting it. He also repeated that 50,000 watts was too much for this station, and said the 690 and 940 frequencies should be reserved for French-language stations only, because the French language is threatened in Quebec.

That last part is kind of funny because his supporting documentation was my previous blog post and an article from The Suburban.

Marc St-Hilaire of the Syndicat général de la radio union said (PDF) endorsed the new station but said it was worried that Cogeco would deduct the number of people it hires for these stations from its commitment to hire journalists for its Cogeco Nouvelles news agency. Cogeco made the commitment as part of the deal that got it to own three francophone FM stations in Montreal.

Chantale Larouche of its parent union the FNC expressed similar thoughts in a separate intervention (PDF).

Cogeco says each station would have six full-time announcers, plus a full-time traffic journalist, and that these would be in addition to the commitments they already made for the creation of Cogeco Nouvelles and the hiring of journalists.

Finally, Miguel Therriault of Quebec City filed a very brief intervention (HTML), saying, in its totality: “Les coûts sont outrageusement exagérés. De plus ce service est complètement inutile. Les stations de radio actuelles répondre très bien à la demande. C’est une dépense inutile.”

You can read the interventions here:

The hearing to discuss Cogeco’s application was supposed to happen next Monday, but the CRTC announced last week that the items have been withdrawn from the agenda and will return as part of a later hearing. No explanation was given and no date has been set yet.

UPDATE: An open call has been issued for the two frequencies, with a deadline of Aug. 29. Cogeco maintains it still wants to setup all-traffic radio stations and will go through this process if necessary.

Posted in In the news, Montreal, Opinion, Radio

All-traffic radio: A $9-million waste

Coverage map for CINW 940AM at 50,000 watts, as submitted to CRTC

Last week, news came out that Cogeco and the Quebec government have reached a deal that will see the creation of two new all-traffic AM radio stations in Montreal set to open in the fall. The project will cost taxpayers $9 million over three years.

It’s the most ridiculous use of $9 million I’ve seen in a while.

The history of 690 and 940 AM

Montreal has had two giant holes in its radio spectrum since January 2010. Both frequencies – 690 and 940 kHz – started out as CBC stations. CBM (CBC Montreal) moved to 940 and CBF (Radio-Canada Montreal) moved to 690 in 1941. They were among Canada’s oldest AM radio stations and each had clear-channel status, meaning that they could operate at 50,000 watts and did not have to reduce power overnight to avoid interference.

Clear-channel status is highly sought – or at least it was. There are only about a dozen such stations in Canada (CKAC is the only active one in Montreal), and the clear-channel status means they can be heard from very far away with a good enough antenna.

Despite this seemingly huge advantage, CBC decided in the late 90s to move its AM stations in Montreal to FM – 88.5 and 95.1 MHz – where they remain today as CBC Radio One and Première Chaîne). The argument was that FM provided better quality audio and the signal would be easier to capture in the city. The tradeoff – that the signal would no longer be carried by skywave to neighbouring provinces and territories – didn’t seem to be such a big deal. It was a controversial move at the time, particularly for CBC Radio listeners who had better reception with AM than FM.

In 1999, the decades-old CBC transmitters were shut down and the frequencies vacated. Métromédia (later Corus Quebec), which owned CIQC 600 AM and CKVL 850 AM, wasted no time in snapping the clear channels up, and moved those two stations to the vacated frequencies. They were reborn as all-news stations CINW (940 News) and CINF (Info 690).

We all know how that turned out. The anglo all-news station didn’t work out financially, so they changed it up into a news-talk format in 2005. When that didn’t work either, they fired everyone and started played music in 2008. (Info 690, meanwhile, kept going with their news format). Then, in January 2010, Corus pulled the plug on both stations and gave up. They returned their licenses to the CRTC.

Since then, the frequencies have remained vacant. Clear AM channels that it seems anyone could have had just by asking. But no takers.

In 2010, Corus agreed to sell its Quebec assets to Cogeco. This included the transmitters for CINW and CINF, even though they were inoperative and had no broadcast license. The deal was approved in December, giving Cogeco the equipment (and a lease on the transmitter site in Kahnawake until 2021) but no idea how to use it in a way that could make it profitable.

And here’s where the Quebec government comes in.

Congrats, Cogeco lobbyists

According to documents they submitted to the CRTC (you can download them yourself from here), Cogeco found out about the Quebec transport ministry wanting to improve the way it communicates information about traffic disruptions to the public. With all the construction work expected to come (the Turcot Interchange, for example), they wanted to minimize the pain to drivers by keeping them as well informed as possible.

Cogeco went to them and proposed a … let’s call it a partnership. Cogeco would provide the transmitter, the programming, the staff. The government would provide access to traffic information and lots and lots of money.

The government thought it was a great idea, and on April 14 they published their intention to award a contract to Cogeco. The deal was finally announced last week by the government and Cogeco (PDF) and the CRTC announced it would hold a hearing on the proposal to give the licenses back to CINW and CINF. News coverage was brief, most just regurgitating the press release:

The station, which according to the deal must be operational by Oct. 31 (though the target date is Sept. 1 pending CRTC approval), would broadcast live from 4:30am to 1am weekdays and 6am to 1am weekends and holidays. This information includes:

  • Traffic status on highways and bridges
  • Road conditions
  • Information on road work sites (it’s unclear if this is just those run by the transport ministry or all municipal sites as well)
  • Highway safety tips
  • Weather conditions

In other words, the kind of stuff you’d expect from any traffic information radio station. Missing from this list is an item about providing information on public transit service. It’s unclear why both sides left this out of their press releases, but it’s contained in their CRTC submission and in the contract between the government and Cogeco, and I would imagine the intention is to include such information in their broadcasts.

The deal also includes promotion of the station by Cogeco and 25 minutes a day of airtime for the ministry.

Cogeco says it plans to use CHMJ in Vancouver (owned by Corus) as a template. That’s also an all-traffic radio station, but with one major difference: It’s not funded by the government.

You could also compare it to The Weather Network and MétéoMédia, which provide all-weather programming, funded mainly by subscriber fees that all cable subscribers must pay for the channels.

Why this is a bad idea

I appreciate that the ministry wants to improve communication about traffic and road work. But they’re doing this by getting into the broadcast business. The figure of $3 million a year might not be much, but it represents about three-quarters of the stations’ proposed budgets. Cogeco also predicts that figure will rise if the contract is renewed beyond three years (the CRTC asks for seven-year projections for a station’s finances) to $3.3 million a year for the next three years.

Put simply, this is a solution to a problem that does not exist. I mean, seriously, is the biggest complaint about commercial radio that there aren’t enough traffic reports? Just about every station does traffic reports every 10 minutes during rush hours. CJAD does it all day. All this without any specific funding by the government to do so. Even CBC Radio One does traffic reports, including public transit updates. (The CBC is funded by the federal government, but that funding doesn’t come with a requirement to do traffic updates. CBC Radio does traffic reports because it knows that’s what rush-hour listeners want to hear.)

This isn’t to say an all-traffic radio station wouldn’t make sense. CHMJ is trying that format. And it’s a good idea for AM radio, because most portable music devices these days can’t receive AM radio, but most cars can. But if there’s a demand for it, then it can be done without government funding. And if there isn’t a demand for it, why bother?

Cogeco’s own submission to the CRTC says there are about 1.3 million vehicles travelling in the Montreal area during the afternoon rush hour (less in the morning), which means more than $2 per vehicle per year spent on these stations. They expect their market share will be 1.5% for the anglo station and 1.6% for the francophone station. Based on their estimated total weekly hours of listening, the English station would expect about 1,000 listeners on average (more, obviously, during rush hour) and the French station about 3,000 listeners.

And CRTC submissions are usually pretty optimistic.

Why this is overkill

The other thing that bugs me about this is the choice of channel. Cogeco wants to put both these stations on clear channels, and have both running 50,000 watts day and night. The reach of these stations, as you can see from the map at the top of this post, is not just the greater Montreal area, but as far as Gaspé, Moncton, southern Maine, Kingston, northern Ontario and even Labrador. The vast majority of its listening area couldn’t care less what happens on the Champlain Bridge.

Then again, if nobody else wants the frequency, I guess it’s better to do that than nothing at all. But surely we can find a better use for such a powerful signal than traffic reports for one city.

There are also some strange proposals, like having a roving reporter patrol the city to report from the scenes of major traffic events. Compare this to the private sector that has helicopters flying overhead to report on traffic and other issues. It’s a government employee doing a job that the private sector is already doing better.

What the government should spend its money on

In the grand scheme of things, $9 million isn’t a lot of money. But rather than spend it on duplicating a service the private sector already does for free, how about the transport ministry use it more wisely. Spend it on adding more traffic cameras, providing better real-time information to traffic reporters, better ways of getting information to smartphones and other portable devices, improving the Quebec 511 service. Create a database of road work (both provincial and municipal) that can be integrated into Google Maps and used to suggest better routes to drivers.

Or, you know, they could use it to improve the province’s highways. At least repave the kilometre or two closest to the Ontario border, which will give the most psychological bang for the buck and end those silly anecdotal cross-border comparisons.

The CRTC will be hearing the two applications for all-traffic radio stations on July 18 in Gatineau. Comments and interventions are being accepted until June 20. The contract is contingent on CRTC approval and would be cancelled if CRTC approval doesn’t materialize before Oct. 31.

UPDATE (May 31): A Gazette piece says that there was a call for bids in this deal. That’s not entirely accurate. On April 14, the transport ministry published its intent to give a contract to Cogeco (a document that starts off by saying “this is not a call for bids”), and gave competitors 10 days to indicate that they could provide a competing offer for the deal – something that if accepted would have led to a formal call for bids. After the deadline passed, the ministry gave the deal to Cogeco.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Corus shuts down AM stations Info 690, 940 Hits

At 10 a.m. today, Corus ended programming on two AM stations in the city: CINF 690 AM (Info 690) and CINW 940 AM (940 Hits, formerly 940 News). Both are currently looping messages from station managers (with ominous intro music) explaining that the “current economic climate” has made continued operations impossible:

The shutdown cuts eight jobs at CINF, and two jobs (announcer Jim Connell and one technician) at CINW. The Corus Nouvelles newsroom, which laid off a dozen people a year ago, will continue operations, mainly feeding the talk station CHMP 98.5 FM. Three journalists, two traffic reporters and three operators will lose their jobs, while five journalists and three traffic reporters will move to CHMP.

Both stations began in December 1999, when they were owned by Metromedia. CINF began as CKVL in 1946, and spent half a century at 850 AM, before changing callsign and frequency and taking an all-news format. More details at the Canadian Communications Foundation.

CINW began as XWA in 1919, eventually becoming CFCF (the television station’s call letters were taken from the radio station’s, which stood for “Canada’s First, Canada’s Finest”) and then CIQC in 1991. It spent just shy of 80 years on the same frequency. Its experiment in all-news was tweaked in 2005 with the adoption of news-talk format similar to CJAD and the hiring of hosts who were branded as opinionative like Aphrodite Salas and former CBMT anchor Dennis Trudeau. It failed completely in 2008 with the firing of almost all its staff and the switch to all-hits programming. Since then the station has been dead-last or close to it in the ratings. More details at the Canadian Communications Foundation.

Both stations ceased transmitting at 7:02 p.m. No fanfare, no countdown, not even a national anthem. They just stopped.

Coverage at CTV MontrealLCN, Radio-Canada, The Gazette, CBC, or Corus Nouvelles itself (which copies a Presse Canadienne story). Blog posts from Maxime Landry and Sophie Cousineau.

Corus employees won’t be making any public statements about the shutdown, instead referring people to a PR agency. Still, one disgruntled employee emailed me, complaining that a very small number of companies own far too many broadcast outlets, and the CRTC needs to step in.

UPDATE (Feb. 1): Jim Connell, the on-air personality laid off as a result of 940′s closing, was on CFCF News at Noon today, lamenting the death spiral of AM radio.

So what now?

The release says Corus will surrender its licenses for the two frequencies to the CRTC. This means two clear channels (those that don’t have to reduce power to avoid interference at night, meaning their signals carry much farther) are up for grabs. (Both frequencies were used by many years by CBC Radio – 690 in French and 940 in English – before both moved to FM and the all-news stations took up the channels). According to Wikipedia’s list, the only other clear channel in Montreal is CKAC. A decade ago this would have been a huge opportunity. Half a century ago station managers would kill for even a chance at getting one of these.

But in the current media environment, the question is more whether anyone would bother.

Various theories are being brought up on the local radio discussion group, including:

  • CJAD should move to 940 from 800 to take advantage of the clear channel. This was brought up last time the channel was available, but CJAD dismissed the idea, preferring its spot on the dial, which it considered easier to find.
  • CBME-FM (CBC Radio One) should simulcast on 940 AM to reach more listeners. CBC dealt with the coverage issue by setting up a network of FM repeaters, including 104.7 FM in NDG. It’s unclear if there are enough people having trouble receiving the station to warrant the expense of running an AM transmitter.
  • Rogers, which owns a chain of all-news AM radio stations including CFTR 680News in Toronto, could setup a station here.

Other stations, especially those in the extended AM broadcast band like CJLO 1690, would definitely benefit from moving to the lower frequency and increasing their power. Or some new player (Rogers, perhaps?) could come in and setup a new AM radio station.

But the future of AM radio in particular doesn’t prompt much optimism. New portable media players, if they have radio receivers at all, only do FM. AM radio has a smaller bandwidth, meaning the sound is less clear, and it’s more susceptible to interference. Even the CBC realized that when it moved all its Montreal stations to FM.

As for the all-news format, I think there’s definitely room for something coming up on the French side, with CKAC concentrating on sports, CHMP doing talk (and simulcasting a lot of CKAC, including Habs games) and leaving Radio-Canada alone on news. But on the English side, CJAD and CBC will be tough competition for any new entrant. One will take away any serious news listeners, and the other will take away the rabid angryphones who want to call in constantly to complain that there’s too many potholes.

We’ll see what kind of interest there is when the CRTC puts the two channels on the block.

Until then, the shutdown gives a rare opportunity to listen to far-away stations without interference from local frequencies. I got lots of stuff late at night from both newly created holes, stations overlapping each other to the point where I couldn’t really understand any of them. The best I could hear was WEAV 960AM in Plattsburgh, which was carrying Sean Hannity when I tuned in.

UPDATE (June 10): The CRTC has revoked the licenses of CINW and CINF.