Tag Archives: CKGM

Posted in Canadiens, Radio

TSN 690 names Dan Robertson as new Canadiens play-by-play announcer

Bell Media announced on Monday that it has selected its new play-by-play man for Canadiens games on TSN 690: Dan Robertson, who called QMJHL games for Eastlink.

Robertson replaces John Bartlett, who is leaving to be the play-by-play guy for regional games on Sportsnet.

Sergio Momesso stays on the broadcast team, doing analysis.

Robertson was one of a few people brought in to call preseason games (he did the Sept. 25 game against the Avalanche). Program Director Chris Bury tells The Suburban’s Mike Cohen that Robertson’s demo was impressive, and that the staff seemed to be unanimous in support of him.

Robertson is on Twitter, though expect his handle to change from @EastlinkDanR.

Posted in Canadiens, Radio, TV

John Bartlett leaves TSN 690 to be regional voice of Habs on Sportsnet

John Bartlett, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Canadiens on TSN Radio 690 ever since the station won the rights to the team’s games in 2011, is leaving it to join Rogers as the play-by-play man on regional Canadiens games that will air on Rogers Sportsnet East and City Montreal.

TSN host Mitch Melnick confirmed Bartlett’s departure on Thursday. On Friday, Bartlett was interviewed on Melnick’s show (where a “gag order” prevented them from saying where he’s going, but it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together). Audio from that interview is posted here.

The decision to hire Bartlett, who was the voice of the Toronto Marlies AHL team before joining TSN 690 (more on his history here at YorkRegion.com), wasn’t unanimously praised at first, with all the talent at the station who would have loved to take a crack at the dream job and the bad optics of not only bringing in an import, but one who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm team. But as Melnick explained on his show, Bartlett quickly earned the respect of staff and listeners who are now sad to see him go.

I met Bartlett only once. It was at a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Montreal. Just his presence there said a lot about how much this guy cares about hockey.

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Posted in Radio

Radio ratings: Best book ever for TSN Radio 690

We're number one! ... Well, number five, but who's counting?

We’re number one! … Well, number five, but who’s counting?

The ratings for March, April and May in Montreal were released by BBM Canada last week. And in general they show no real difference from the previous report that came out in March. On the English side, CJAD remains the most popular station by share of listening hours, followed by The Beat, Virgin, CHOM, CBC Radio One, TSN Radio 690 and everyone else.

But while TSN 690 remains in last place among the five commercial stations, its ratings are the best it’s ever seen with 364,000 listeners a week, a 5.2% market share overall (up from 3.6% in the spring) and a 7.7% market share among adults 25-54, up 36% from last winter.

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Posted in Sports, TV

TSN to expand to five channels, install cameras at TSN Radio stations

TSN Radio 690's new studio on René-Lévesque Blvd. You may start seeing it on TV soon as TSN looks for more daytime programming for its additional channels.

TSN Radio 690’s new studio on René-Lévesque Blvd. You may start seeing it on TV soon as TSN looks for more daytime programming for its additional channels.

Even though it won’t have a lot of NHL hockey games to fill them with, TSN is planning to expand from two to five channels this fall to allow it to broadcast more sports programming.

Along with that move comes a desire for more programming, and in addition to more live sports and different time zones for SportsCentre, they’re going to add “local hockey programming generated by production expansion at TSN Radio stations in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton.”

TSN tells me that this will mean installing television cameras at those TSN Radio stations. “We will announce specific programming details later this summer, but we are looking to build on the success of our TSN Radio programming and integrate new content on TSN channels,” said Greg McIsaac of their PR department.

Currently, TSN2 airs televised versions of the Mike Richards morning show and Dave Naylor afternoon show from TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto (at least when it doesn’t have live events that are more important). After the expansion to five channels, we could see similar things done to Montreal’s TSN shows like Mitch Melnick’s afternoon drive show, or the morning show with Shaun Starr, Elliott Price and Rick Moffat. The details won’t be announced until later, so we don’t know if this will be a daily thing, or weekly, or maybe just Habs pregame shows. Lots of possibilities are in the air. But what we do know is that TSN Radio 690 personalities should expect to see their faces on TV more often.

TSN’s need for additional channels became clear during the first round of the NHL playoffs, when it had a Raptors game and two NHL playoff games airing simultaneously. The Raptors were the priority, pushing the Boston-Detroit game to TSN2. The New York Rangers-Philadelphia game, which was originally scheduled to air on TSN2, had no place to go, so TSN cut a quick deal with Rogers to air the game on Sportsnet 360. Once TSN expands to more channels, this won’t be necessary.

Of course, TSN loses NHL playoff games starting next season, but as its president tells the Globe and Mail, there are hundreds of hours of programming in other sports that it can’t air live because it doesn’t have the space. Sports like tennis are particularly hard, because in early rounds you might have one or two feeds showing big stars, then one or two others showing Canadians. Channels quickly fill up.

The big question will be about carriage. Most major distributors have added TSN2, but some still don’t have it. And putting three more channels, all in HD, takes up a lot of bandwidth that is in short supply these days. We can assume that Bell will be quick to add the extra channels, and maybe Shaw as well, but for cable providers like Rogers, Cogeco and Videotron, the decision might be harder to take.

The addition of more channels with more content will also likely coincide with demands from TSN for higher wholesale fees from distributors. According to CRTC data released last week, TSN gets an average of $2.57 a month from its 9.07 million subscribers (this includes TSN and TSN2), which is a very high fee for a specialty channel. In 2009, it was $0.87 per subscriber per month on average. As its deals with distributors come up for renewal, it’s demanding much higher subscription fees. And distributors will pass those costs along, either by raising their rates overall or by pushing TSN into premium packages that will start costing a lot more.

In other words, TSN is getting better, but we’re still the ones who are going to have to pay for it.

Posted in Radio, Sports

TSN 690 picks up rights to Alouettes games for 3-4 years

To the surprise of absolutely no one, TSN 690 announced Friday morning that it has acquired the rights to Alouettes games from now sister station CJAD, completing the trifecta of Montreal major sports rights.

The deal is for three years, starting this one, with an option for a fourth, Bell Media tells me. It includes the two preseason games, all regular season games and all postseason games, including the Grey Cup. TSN said it would also air special events like the CFL draft, training camp and Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductions.

Rick Moffat and Dave Mudge will be the broadcast team, as they were at CJAD.

The station also announced that it is moving The Als This Week to Mondays at 7pm, and that Alouettes general manager Jim Popp will be a guest every week on the show.

The Alouettes’ first game is June 14.

The regular-season schedules of the Alouettes and Impact this season includes three conflicts where both teams are playing simultaneously: July 19, Aug. 16 and Oct. 18, all Saturdays. In those cases, expect Impact games to move to CJAD.

We’ll see what happens when the Alouettes conflict with fall Canadiens games. TSN has said it plans to broadcast all games from both teams.

Financial terms of the deal were not discussed on air and are usually not disclosed.

As silly as it is for TSN 690 to wrestle rights away from a station it now shares not only an office but a program director with, this deal more importantly represents a renewal of the broadcasting rights, which expired after last season.  It ensures that Alouettes games will continue to be carried on English radio through the end of 2016, and likely 2017 as well.

Posted in Radio, Sports

Impact games move back to TSN 690

In news that will surprise precisely nobody, TSN and the Impact announced today that TSN Radio 690 will pick up English-language radio broadcast rights to Montreal Impact games for the next three years.

For the past two seasons, Impact games have aired on CJAD 800, which picked up the rights to home games to help fill the gap left by the loss of the Canadiens to TSN 690 in 2011. Now that CJAD and TSN are sister stations with the Bell purchase of Astral, the two don’t need to fight over such rights, and sports is being consolidated on TSN.

The new deal calls for all regular season and playoff games to air on the radio, which marks the first time that we have all away games on radio.

Rick Moffat, the former CJAD sports guy who has since moved to TSN, and Brian Wilde, CTV Montreal reporter who sidelines as an Impact fan, will “share play-by-play duties”, and former Impact player Grant Needham will do colour commentary during the broadcasts. Program director Chris Bury confirms to me that the broadcast team will travel with the Impact.

The press release says that TSN and CJAD will share broadcasts of the games, which likely means that when an Impact game conflicts with a Canadiens or Alouettes game, it’ll move to CJAD. The Alouettes haven’t released their 2014 schedule yet, and the Impact schedule is incomplete, but we already know that the first two Impact games of the season, on March 8 and 15, will conflict with Canadiens games, so expect those two Impact games to be on CJAD.

Alouettes broadcast rights in English still belong to CJAD, but it’s a formality at this point that most of the games will move back as well to TSN, with only those that conflict with Canadiens games airing on CJAD.

In the unlikely event of a three-way schedule conflict, there’s always CHOM, which has been used during CJAD’s conflicts in the past.

The announcement is good news for Impact fans, who will now be able to access all the games on the radio instead of just the home games and a few marquee away ones. The fact that Bell is sending a broadcast team to those away games — no small expense — is also a strong indication that it believes it’s worth investing in this franchise.

This news has already annoyed some francophone Impact fans because the team does not have a French-language radio partner. CKAC Sports used to air some Impact games before it became an all-traffic station. News-talk station 98.5 FM, which carries Canadiens and Alouettes games, doesn’t seem to be as interested in Impact broadcasts.

Posted in Radio

Fall radio ratings: Any way you slice it, Virgin beats The Beat

Virgin Radio ad on its website thanking listeners

Virgin Radio ad on its website thanking listeners

Fall ratings for markets including Montreal came out on Thursday, and like they usually do, they showed nothing earth-shattering. Everything is pretty well where you expect them to be.

For the past few quarters, after the ratings report comes out, both Virgin Radio and The Beat make a big deal about how they did better than the other. This time, it was just Virgin crowing. And with good reason: by almost every metric, they have more listeners than their competitor.

Of course, with only five commercial stations, the English-language market in Montreal has plenty to go around. In any other large market, a 15% share would be enough to send champagne corks popping. But here, that’s fourth place out of five.

The numbers

Ratings period is always a penis-measuring contest, so let’s go ahead and whip ‘em out.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

Axe falls at Bell Media: TSN 690’s Ted Bird, CJAD’s Ric Peterson, Chantal Desjardins and Claude Beaulieu fired

Ric Peterson, who hosted early afternoons, is out at CJAD.

Ric Peterson, who hosted early afternoons, is out at CJAD.

A month after Chris Bury was named program director at TSN 690, in addition to the same role at CJAD, some veteran broadcasters are losing their jobs: Morning man Ted Bird has been fired from TSN 690, and mid-day hosts Ric Peterson and Suzanne Desautels have had their faces scrubbed from CJAD’s website.

My Gazette story on the changes is posted here.

“I wasn’t given a reason, only told that my services were being terminated. That’s all I can say for the record,” Bird writes me in an email. His Twitter account has disappeared as well, but he says he’ll be back “after the trolls finish their feeding frenzy.”

Desautels, who four years ago was let go from the Q92 morning show, sparking outrage from listeners, addressed her job change indirectly on Twitter Wednesday morning:

She then clarified:

She told me she will continue doing the weather for Andrew Carter’s morning show, and is taking over the Saturday morning travel show as well. That move means Sharman Yarnell is off that show and the station. “And this couldn’t have happened at a better time for me,” she tells me. “I am pursuing my travel writing career, as well as my new PR company A.C.E. (Arts, Culture & Entertainment) with Tracey Hill. This does not mean I won’t be back on radio, though!”

After a day of radio silence, Peterson posted this to his Facebook page on Thursday morning:

After more than 30 years of broadcasting in Montreal I thought my first day off the air would be one without much talking on my part. I was mistaken. I am very touched by the many phone calls and moved by the texts, emails, comments as well as the posts to my social pages. Your kind words are very much appreciated. It pleases me to know how many lives I’ve touched, thank you for listening. Some wise soul once said, “man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward” I am looking forward to sharing my future adventures with you all.

Barry Morgan, who’s filling in for everyone these days, it seems, hosted the noon to 3pm show Wednesday on CJAD.

The cuts and changes also mean CJAD sports reporter Chantal Desjardins is out of a job. She made light of the news on Twitter and Facebook:

Bell confirmed with me this afternoon that CJAD reporter Claude Beaulieu has also been terminated. Spokesperson Olivier Racette wouldn’t confirm how many jobs have been cut.

I’ve also heard from multiple sources that assistant CJAD program director Teri-Lee Walters is gone. But because she’s not on-air staff, Bell did not confirm that name. An email sent to her at work prompted an automated response saying it had been forwarded to Bury.

Bury wasn’t allowed to comment directly about the changes. All comment from the employer was filtered through Racette. Here is what he wrote to me in an email:

We are consolidating our Montréal-based radio stations in one location at 1717 René-Lévesque [E.] this week to improve operating efficiencies. We have made reductions in a number of positions that would have become redundant as a result of the move.

Additionally, the move provided the opportunity to make some programming changes, which will see the departure of TSN Radio 690’s Ted Bird and CJAD 800’s Ric Peterson, Sharman Yarnell, Chantal Desjardins and Claude Beaulieu. They are all highly-respected figures in Montreal radio and we thank them for their contribution to the success of both TSN Radio 690 and CJAD.

TSN’s move from its Greene Ave. office to the one at the corner of Papineau Ave. housing the former Astral stations took place Thursday morning at 10am. Shaun Starr and Elliott Price were the last people to broadcast from 1310 Greene.

UPDATE (Sept. 12): Word has come out that TSN has cancelled The Franchise, the weekend morning show. Host Nick Murdocco says the show will continue, broadcast 8-10am weekends on MontrealHockeyTalk.com.

His co-host, Gary Whittaker, had this to say on Facebook:

Had a great 4 year run at TSN Radio working the weekend mornings, which has now officially come to an end. I want to thank everyone for their support since we started at CJLO. Definitely not over for The Franchise…sometimes you need to be pushed out of the nest in order to fly, and this is exactly what we plan on doing…taking off to bigger and better opportunities for us to make a full time career out of it.

Racette confirmed the news, saying “the TSN Radio 690 [weekend] morning show is headed in a new direction. Details will be announced at a later date.”

UPDATE (Sept. 30): Producer Sheldon Fried is also reportedly among those let go.

Posted in Radio, TV

Wayne Bews appointed Retail Sales Manager at CTV Montreal

Wayne Bews

Wayne Bews

Wayne Bews, whose job as general manager of TSN Radio 690 was made redundant when Bell Media acquired Astral Media and CJAD’s Chris Bury was made its program director, will stay with the company.

CTV Montreal’s general manager Louis Douville confirmed that he has named Bews the station’s retail sales manager. Bews begins on Monday.

After the departure of Tony Ecclissi last month, Douville said he decided to split the position of general sales manager into retail (local) and national sales. Martin Poirier, a senior account executive for more than a decade, takes over the national sales job.

“Wayne is a very well respected person in our market, he has close relationships with many of our clients,” Douville said of his new hire, noting that he has 15 years of sales management experience.

Mike Cohen, who first reported the news, quoted Bews as describing his new job as a “very exciting new challenge.”

UPDATE (Oct. 2): Cohen follows up with an interview with Bews.

Posted in Radio

Chris Bury appointed program director at TSN 690, remains PD at CJAD

Chris Bury

Chris Bury

Everyone’s wondering about what kind of changes we’re going to see at Montreal’s two English-language AM talk stations now that they’re owned by the same company. The first step in the transformation happened on Tuesday when Martin Spalding, now vice-president of operations and local sales for Quebec radio for Bell Media, appointed Chris Bury as program director for TSN 690.

Bury is the program director at CJAD, and will retain this role, meaning he’ll be programming both stations.

The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon to staff at both stations, and Spalding confirmed it to me.

“His nomination came out today so it is a little early to start talking change but knowing him, without a doubt, he will work hard to make the best of TSN and CJAD,” Spalding told me. “It’s great that the station will have a dedicated program director, it will only pay dividends.”

Wayne Bews

Wayne Bews

TSN 690’s station manager, Wayne Bews, who was performing the duties of program director before the merger, remains in his role. “For the time being, it’s business as usual and Wayne continues to assume his current role,” Spalding said, which certainly doesn’t sound like anyone should bet on Bews’s job staying the same for long. CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio have their own program directors but not individual station managers, which would make it odd for TSN 690 to retain one after the merger is complete.

Bury also said it was “too early” to talk about programming changes.

UPDATE (Sept. 4): Bews has been named retail sales manager for CTV Montreal.

Posted in Photos, Radio, Video

TSN 690 personalities thank their fans for saving the station

Because it’s owned by Canada’s largest media company, and now Canada’s largest radio broadcaster, it’s hard to argue that TSN Radio 690 is a mom and pop shop.

And yet, just about everything about this station screams “underdog.” It has the lowest ratings of the five commercial English-language stations in Montreal. It puts out a lot of original programming on a small budget. And twice in the past year and a half, it has faced annihilation because its parent company made it clear that it valued each of the three Astral stations more than it did this one.

This underdog feeling was certainly present Thursday night at Hurley’s Irish Pub, as Mitch Melnick and other personalities from the station invited fans to help them celebrate the recent CRTC decision that not only allows it to maintain its format but guarantees it for at least seven years.

There are still changes to come. Melnick pointed out that the plan is to eventually move the station from its current home on Greene Ave. in Westmount to the Astral Media radio (now Bell Media radio) building at Papineau Ave. and René-Lévesque Blvd. There’s also the looming threat of layoffs as the consolidation of resources creates redundancy in staff. (The hammer has already fallen at Bell Media stations elsewhere in the country.) But, while it may not have been a raucous affair, there were a lot of thank-yous given out on this night.

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Posted in Media, Montreal, Radio

CRTC allows Bell to buy Astral, keep TSN 690

Astral CEO Ian Greenberg, left, with BCE CEO George Cope at May's CRTC hearing

Astral CEO Ian Greenberg, left, with BCE CEO George Cope at May’s CRTC hearing

Fans of TSN 690 are cheering now that the CRTC has approved Bell’s acquisition of Astral Media, and allowed the combined company to keep four of the five English-language commercial radio stations in this market, despite the fact that this goes beyond limits set in the commission’s common ownership policy.

You can read my story explaining the station’s future in The Gazette, read Bell’s press release announcing its acceptance of the decision, or get nerd-level detail below.

The decision makes Bell a dominant player in the television and radio markets in Montreal, owning the top-rated TV station with by far the top-rated local TV newscast, as well as the largest English-language radio newsroom and both English-language commercial talk stations.

In radio, Bell’s commercial market share reaches 76%, with the remaining quarter held by CKBE (92.5 The Beat). That might change once a new talk-radio station owned by TTP Media goes on the air, but we don’t have a date for that yet, and it could be as late as November 2014.

Perhaps even more troubling than the market share of Bell and Astral combined is what happens when you consider Bell and now-rival Cogeco. The two players will have a 96% commercial market share in Montreal’s French-language market (Radio Classique and Radio X are the only others big enough to subscribe to ratings agency BBM) and a 100% commercial market share in English Montreal.

The CRTC cited a few factors that swayed its decision to grant the exception: TSN 690’s niche format, the thousands of submissions it received asking for it to remain on the air, and the fact that the combined company would own only two French-language radio stations in Montreal.

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Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

Rogers says it’s willing to buy TSN 690

See also my story on this in The Gazette.

Could this be the future of CKGM?

Could this be the future of CKGM?

Though it had seemed cool to the idea previously, Rogers says it is now willing to make a “reasonable offer” to Bell Media to purchase CKGM (TSN Radio 690) and keep it running in its English-language all-sports format.

The revelation came through Rogers’s final submission to the CRTC dated Wednesday. Most of it focused on Rogers’s position that Bell should not be allowed to acquire The Movie Network. But it also included a proposal to solve the problem of the Montreal English radio market and the fate of the money-losing all-sports station.

The full submission can be read here. The relevant paragraphs are these:

45. Finally, on the separate issue of the radio station CKGM-AM and Bell Media’s proposal to obtain an exception to the Commission’s common ownership policy, the Bell/Astral panel indicated during the hearing that it would consider shutting the station down if the Commission did not allow Bell Media to operate 4 radio stations in the Montreal market. We understand that Bell Media was concerned that if an exception to the common ownership policy was not granted, then radio listeners in Montreal would be denied access to sports radio in that city.

46. With that concern in mind, Rogers Media is informing the Commission that it would be prepared to make Bell a reasonable offer to acquire CKGM-AM and that we would be prepared to operate it as an English sports radio service. Given our sports properties (which include the Fan 590 in Toronto) and the fact that we now have a presence in the Montreal market with our recent acquisition of CJNT-DT, Rogers Media is confident that it has the infrastructure in place to operate the station profitably.

47. If there are concerns that there would be no buyers for CKGM-AM and that Montreal radio listeners would be deprived of a sports service, we believe that our commitment to make a reasonable offer for the station should allay them.

This would seem to solve both the problem of Bell owning too many stations in the market and of wanting to keep an all-sports station here. But there are some caveats. First of all, the station wouldn’t be called TSN 690 anymore. Bell has no intention of licensing the brand, and Rogers wouldn’t want it anyway. So it would probably be called Sportsnet 690 The Fan (which would be easily confused with Fan stations at 960 and 590).

More importantly, Bell has said that if it sold the station it would not sublicense radio broadcast rights to Canadiens games, instead moving them to CJAD. And CJAD is already the broadcaster for Alouettes and Impact games. So The Fan wouldn’t start off with much in the way of local broadcast rights.

Nevertheless, Rogers is obviously aware of this, and feels it can make the station profitable, thanks to its recent acquisition of CJNT, which gives Rogers its first broadcast property in the market. Sportsnet’s existing resources in Montreal, added to those that will work on a weekly sports show on CJNT, and the national resources of Sportsnet TV and radio, will also help.

It’s unclear if Rogers was one of the two players that Bell told the CRTC had made “informal” inquiries about CKGM. We do know that the other was Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, which has licences for news-talk AM stations in English and French and is waiting for a decision from the CRTC on an application for a French-language AM sports station in the market. Tietolman has not hidden that he would be willing to acquire CJAD in particular, and possibly other stations put up for sale as well.

Rogers was asked about acquiring this station during last year’s Bell-Astral hearing. They weren’t terribly enthusiastic, but didn’t dismiss the idea either. Here’s what Susan Wheeler, Rogers’s VP of regulatory affairs, told the commission on Sept. 12:

Certainly, we would be interested in expanding our sports radio network across the country. So that’s certainly something of interest to us. Whether it’s a viable business model without the Canadiens rights I think is something that we would have to do the math on.

But I also, I guess, would question the limitations that Bell, you know, has said in previous testimony that they don’t have the rights to sub-license the Canadiens rights. So I’m wondering whether that’s something the Commission could look into further.

Bell has until May 21 to provide a final written reply to the commission on this and other issues brought up by interveners based on new information brought up at the hearing.

UPDATE (May 21): Bell says this is the first it hears of Rogers being interested in the station, and “we question the sincerity of this claim.” Bell also questions why Rogers is only bringing this up now, instead of in its original intervention or at the hearing.

The full paragraph about CKGM in Bell’s reply is here:

Rogers made a last minute claim that they would make a reasonable offer to purchase CKGM and operate it as a English-language sports service. We question the sincerity of this claim or its appropriateness at this stage in the process given the guidelines the Commission set for final Intervener comments. There is no actual evidence on the record that they would or could make such an offer or that they could viably operate CKGM as a sports service. The claim was raised for the first time in the final paragraphs of their final comments after not having even been hinted at one time in the whole course of the proceeding even though the exception to the Common Ownership Policy for CKGM has been a consistent part of our application since it was filed. Even since this surprise announcement, Rogers has not attempted to contact Bell Media about this possibility.

Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

The third option for TSN Radio 690

If you don’t want to read this really long post, you can get the short version in this story and this followup in The Gazette, and this story at Cartt.ca.

CRTC Quebec regional commissioner Suzanne Lamarre grills Bell on its plans for Montreal radio on Monday.

CRTC Quebec regional commissioner Suzanne Lamarre grills Bell on its plans for Montreal radio on Monday.

I’d thought about it. Some people had asked me about it. Others suggested it to the CRTC in their written submissions. And the CRTC asked Bell about it in a letter after it filed its application. But until Monday afternoon I didn’t think it was seriously an option that the commission might consider imposing.

Could the CRTC force Bell to keep CKGM (TSN Radio 690) and sell one of the other English-language Astral radio stations in Montreal, as a condition of approving the larger Bell-Astral deal?

Learning from the very negative public reaction from its initial proposal last year to turn CKGM into a French-language radio station, this time Bell is asking for an exception to the CRTC’s radio common ownership policy so it can keep it in English while still owning three other stations in the (currently) five-station market. This puts the commission in an awkward position if it accepts the purchase deal. Does it give the exception, giving one company control of four of five commercial stations and 75% of the commercial audience share? Or does it deny the exception, forcing Bell to sell the money-losing station to someone else who would most likely change its format? Bell convinced thousands of listeners that the former is better, putting together a Save TSN 690 petition and getting the same fans who were cursing its name months earlier to be suddenly singing its praises.

A background in common ownership

The CRTC’s common ownership policy, often incorrectly or incompletely explained, has two rules for radio:

  1. One company can’t own more than two AM stations and two FM stations in a single market
  2. One company can’t own more than three stations total in a market with fewer than eight commercial stations

French and English stations are considered in separate markets even if they share the same geographical area. Montreal’s English market, with only five commercial stations (though soon to be six) meets that second criteria, while the French market, with 11 commercial stations (soon to be 13 or even 14), doesn’t.

The policy is just that, a policy, and exceptions have been granted before. The most on-point one is one that was granted to Cogeco in 2010 that allowed it to keep three French FM stations in Montreal after it acquired most of the Corus Quebec network. This was allowed in exchange for Cogeco setting up the Cogeco Nouvelles radio news service, with CHMP 98.5 FM in Montreal as its flagship station. That station is now the highest-rated in Quebec. The second-highest-rated, CFGL (Rythme FM) 105.7, is also owned by Cogeco.

The irony here is that this request was strongly opposed by Astral Media (it even threatened legal action to stop it), it was supported by third parties because it would put Cogeco in a position to better compete with Astral, and Cogeco is a fierce opponent of the Bell/Astral deal because of increased concentration of ownership. (Cogeco hasn’t said much about the request for an exception, perhaps seeing how hypocritical it would look.)

Now Bell/Astral is using the Cogeco decision as a precedent to get the same treatment in English. Astral argues this should be an easier decision because unlike CHMP, CKGM is a money-losing station, its audience is tiny, and it’s on AM.

And Cogeco, the one company that you’d think would be most against allowing Bell to own four of the five stations in this market, is silent on the matter. Cogeco CEO Louis Audet told me on Wednesday after the company’s appearance before the CRTC that “we’ve kept away from that” and “it’s up to the commission to decide.”

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Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

TSN 690’s CRTC exemption: The pros, the cons and the misconceptions

With apologies to National Lampoon

With apologies to National Lampoon

If there’s anything that everyone can agree on, it’s that this is a passionate issue. Even Bell Media says it was taken aback last year by the outpouring of outrage over its plan to convert CKGM from TSN 690 to RDS 690 as part of its acquisition of Astral Media. Even though it was a minor related application of a $3.38-billion purchase, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission spent a great deal of time discussing the proposed change to this one radio station because of all the reaction. It was during questioning about CKGM that CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais held up a thick binder and said he didn’t have a summer vacation last year because he was busy reading all the public comments.

More than 700 people filed individual comments with the CRTC, the vast majority opposed to Bell’s proposal, and most not really caring about the larger acquisition. Three people without any financial interest actually showed up at the hearing to plead for the station, which is very rare and was greatly appreciated by commissioners.

This time around, things are different. Bell is taking the side of the fans, asking for an exemption to the CRTC’s common ownership policy to allow it to keep TSN 690 while also acquiring three of its four competitors in English-language commercial radio (including its main competitor CJAD). It started a petition and its radio personalities asked fans to fill it out (listen to Mitch Melnick explaining the situation the day the application was published), telling the CRTC why it should keep the station alive.

According to the CRTC’s website, there are now about 980 comments on this petition. You can read them in a series of PDF files posted here.

I went through a few hundred of them, and most of them are the same: heartfelt, angry, worried. These are the station’s loyal listeners, who say they will swear off radio altogether if their beloved station is pulled off the air. Many are from people in other cities who say they listen to the station online. Most argue that CKGM in its current form provides something unique to Montreal’s English-speaking community, and that alone is a reason to grant the exemption.

I’ve read at most a handful that say anything about the larger acquisition of Astral by Bell. Most couldn’t care less who owns the station or the others, as long as TSN retains its format, its personalities and its Canadiens games. Some even rant against large corporate media, which is odd when you’re indirectly supporting a mega merger of media companies. Some are even against the larger merger of Bell and Astral. One demands that Bell be forced to sell CHOM, CJAD or CJFM (Virgin Radio) instead.

But they’re all unanimous in that they want TSN 690 to be kept as is.

In reading these letters, it became clear to me that many of the writers have misconceptions about the application, about the CRTC’s intentions and about what could happen to CKGM. I hope to clear some of those up here. But first, I’ll present, as dispassionately as I can, the big reasons the CRTC should approve the exemption requested, and the big reasons it should not.

Why the CRTC should give an exemption to allow Bell to keep TSN 690

1. The format will go on: Bell has promised that, if it gets its way, it will commit to keeping CKGM as an English-language all-sports radio station for seven years, and will continue to air Canadiens games on it (as long as it continues to have the rights). This is, at least on the surface, the best possible outcome for the station’s listeners. Gone, for at least until 2020, would be the threat that the station might shut down because it’s unprofitable. And implicit in this promise is that the station’s staff would continue to have jobs (at least subject to the usual turnover that happens in radio). Plus, it would finally end all this uncertainty over the station’s future.

2. Consolidating sports on TSN: Bell hasn’t said that this would happen, but it stands to reason if it owns both CJAD and CKGM that Bell would move sports broadcasts to the latter. CJAD currently carries Alouettes games and select Impact games. CKGM could carry live broadcasts of all three Montreal teams (except where they directly conflict, which would logically see spillover go back to CJAD). Fans wouldn’t have to keep track of which station owned the rights to which franchise, and CJAD listeners who aren’t interested in sports wouldn’t have their regular programming interrupted by sports.

3. Retaining synergies with TSN: Though theoretically the station could continue if it was sold to, say, Rogers, any sale would strip the station of its branding as well as the advantages that come with being a member of the TSN family. With Bell’s claws firmly entrenched in the Canadiens, even if its ownership stake is minor, this becomes very important for an all-sports station.

4. Money for journalism and amateur sports: You could practically qualify it as a bribe, but in reality cash promises are encouraged by the CRTC and often help get things passed. Bell has promised to give $105,000 over seven years ($15,000 a year) to Concordia University for sports journalism scholarships (just what we need, more journalism students), and $140,000 over seven years ($20,000 a year) to support amateur sports in Montreal. These are not inconsiderable sums for a station that has been losing money since it launched in 2001. Though it may be pocket change for a $30-billion company, the fact that Bell is willing to spend it to keep a money-losing station on the air says something.

5. The cat’s already out of the bag: The truth is this same type of exemption has already been allowed. In 2010, the CRTC allowed a similar exemption in Montreal’s French-language market when Cogeco bought Corus’s Quebec stations. The acquisition resulted in Cogeco owning three French-language FM stations in Montreal (it already owned CFGL Rythme FM, and acquired CHMP 98.5 and CKOI). The commission said it could keep all three, despite the normal limitation, in exchange for setting up the Cogeco Nouvelles agency which would have CHMP as its flagship station. The request was billed as a way to save CHMP. Now it’s the most popular radio station in Quebec. By comparison, the CKGM request is for a station on the AM band and is for the station that’s last in the ratings.

Why the CRTC should not give an exemption to allow Bell to keep TSN 690

1. It would make Bell a dominant force in Montreal English radio: Allowing Bell to own both CKGM and the Astral stations would mean it would own four of the five established commercial English-language radio stations in Montreal, with only The Beat competing with it. The combined commercial market share would be over 70% for one company. This will be mitigated somewhat when the TTP Media group launches an English talk station at 600 AM, and when Dufferin Communications launches a low-power music station in Hudson/St. Lazare, but those will take a while to get established.

2. It would reinforce a bad precedent: Bell doesn’t have to put CKGM on the block. It could sell one of the other stations instead. But it’s forcing the CRTC’s hand by saying the sports station would be the one to go. Allowing an exemption here would be caving to Canada’s largest broadcaster by allowing it to get bigger, but also send a message to everyone that as long as you can spin a station as a charity case (even if it’s not actually losing money), you can get the CRTC to rubber-stamp an exception to its own rules.

3. There isn’t enough space for new competitors: Because Montreal is a bilingual market, and languages are counted separately in the CRTC’s policy, the airwaves are twice as saturated here as in other markets like Toronto or Calgary. Bell/Astral would actually own six stations in Montreal, with Cogeco owning five. There aren’t any more full-power FM frequencies available, and with new entrants like TTP Media and Dufferin Communications snapping up vacant AM frequencies, those are disappearing too. The more severe scarcity of channels here makes limitations on common ownership even more important.

Top misconceptions about Bell, the CRTC and TSN 690’s future

1. The CRTC wants to shut down TSN 690 / The CRTC has made a decision it is being asked to reconsider: The CRTC has not made any decision about the station, other than its decision last year to deny its request to switch to French (and that was only because the larger acquisition was denied). The request for an exemption is not being made in reaction to something the CRTC has done, but is a request from Bell to get an exception to a rule it anticipates the CRTC will apply. The fact that Bell bills this as “Save TSN Radio” may be leading to this misconception.

2. The CRTC wants to turn TSN 690 into a French-language radio station: This mistake is likely due to confusion between the two applications. It was Bell, not the CRTC, that requested that CKGM be converted from English to French in its first attempt to get approval for the Astral acquisition. It was done for the same reason, to get around the commission’s common ownership policy. In the new application, that’s gone, and there’s no threat of it coming back. Even if Bell is forced to sell the station, it would remain an English-language station unless the new owner requested a change, and that would be subject to a brand new hearing.

3. If Bell does not get an exemption, TSN 690 will be shut down: The reality of the situation may be that TSN 690 as we know it would be radically altered if Bell is forced to divest it. But it’s unlikely the station would be shut down. The 690 AM frequency is the best AM frequency available in Montreal, and another company would probably scoop it up if only for that. A company like Rogers or TTP Media might even keep the all-sports format, though there are no guarantees.

4. Granting an exemption is the only way Bell can continue to own TSN 690: The exemption is what Bell wants because it would be the best outcome for it financially. But there are two other ways it could keep the station: It could sell one of the Astral stations (or the CRTC could force it to sell one of the Astral stations), or the CRTC could deny the Bell/Astral acquisition again.

5. This is a language issue – TSN 690 can’t keep running because it’s an English station: Somewhat related to No. 2, this sentiment popped up in a lot of public comments. While it’s true that language is relevant to this discussion (because English and French stations are treated as if they’re in different markets), the rules don’t treat English and French differently. There is no Office de la langue française or official languages rule that is forcing the CRTC to limit the number of English-language radio stations in Montreal. There’s merely a rule that limits how many stations in one language in one market a company can own.

An event on Tuesday to show support for TSN 690

An event on Tuesday to show support for TSN 690

A show of support

Some of the station’s bigger fans are pushing harder to rally support to save it. In addition to the Facebook groups and blog posts, there’s a show being scheduled for Tuesday, April 2 at 6pm with some local bands. It doesn’t look like it’s official in any way, but it’s an idea of how important this station is to its small but loyal audience.

Deadline for comments is Friday

People wanting to comment on the Bell purchase of Astral, or the request for an exemption to the rules to allow Bell to own four English radio stations in Montreal, have until 8pm on Friday, April 5, to file an intervention. To do so directly to the CRTC, click here, select Option 1 and select the first application (2013-0244-7). Keep in mind that all information submitted to the CRTC this way, including contact information, is on the public record.

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