Tag Archives: Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy

TTP Media says it’s unaffected by partner’s bankruptcy

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Nicolas Tétrault, one of three equal partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., doing business as TTP Media, declared personal bankruptcy last year, but he and company president Rajiv Pancholy insist that has no impact whatsoever on the company that owns the licenses of two AM radio stations about to launch in Montreal.

The two stations are on the air, broadcasting music (the English one at 600 just recently exited its on-air testing phase). They expect to launch some time before the end of 2017.

Because it has yet to begin operations, the company has not paid out any dividends or salary to its partners, Pancholy said.

And in any case, Tétrault said his stake in the company is protected from his creditors because he holds them through a family trust.

The trust

When it was formed in preparation of a CRTC application, 7954689 Canada Inc. had three shareholders, each with 1,000 shares. Those three shareholders were each companies entirely owned and managed by the three partners — Tétrault, Pancholy and Paul Tietolman. It’s not unusual for various legal and fiscal reasons to have an ownership structure like this, and it’s no problem for the CRTC either, just a bit more paperwork because it needs to go up the chain and determine who has effective control of the licensee.

But in 2014, Tétrault applied to the commission for a change in ownership, to sell all his shares in his company, 9225-8318 Québec Inc., to a family trust, Fiducie Familiale NT, for $100. This transaction, he told the CRTC, did not affect the effective control of TTP Media, because Tétrault is the principal trustee of the trust. The agreement of sale, filed with the commission, states that Tétrault has the power to act alone on the trust’s behalf, even though there was another trustee, Karim Dalati.

Tétrault confirms in his brief to the commission that he has 100% control over the trust. (Dalati, a fellow real estate broker, is listed as a second trustee strictly for legal reasons because Tétrault is also a beneficiary of the trust.) Tétrault said he filed the application on the advice of his lawyers.

The beneficiaries of the trust are listed as Tétrault, his wife, his father, the estate of his late mother, his sister, any of his children or grandchildren (he has two young children) and Pancholy. (Pancholy denied being a beneficiary, telling me he’s actually a trustee.)

Details about the trust itself (under what rules it can pay out benefits to beneficiaries, for example) were either not filed with the commission or not added to the public file.

The bankruptcy

On Feb. 17, 2016, Tétrault filed for personal bankruptcy. Two days later, bankruptcy trustee Litwin Boyadjian Inc. sent a notice to creditors proposing a settlement on about $2.4 million in unsecured debt. Tétrault proposed to pay $200,000 over five years, which would give creditors eight cents on the dollar. The alternative, the proposal states, would be a bankruptcy in which creditors would get an estimated 1.8 cents on the dollar.

At a meeting on March 9, the creditors rejected the offer. The Canada Revenue Agency, which together with Revenu Québec hold 70% of Tétrault’s unsecured debt, is leading the court battle over his assets.

The report of the bankruptcy trustee gives the reason for the bankruptcy as follows:

The debtor has accumulated debts, mostly resulting by the loss of an important account receivable, excessive tax assessments and the bankruptcy of his business in 2014.

The Canada Revenue Agency has been trying to get Tétrault to answer several questions about his assets and debts, including a bank account in the Cayman Islands and an investment that it estimates at between $500,000 and $700,000 in TTP Media. It says in court filings that Tétrault refused to answer those questions. It will likely be up to a court to clear all this up. The case had its last court date in March and no further one is listed.

Effective control

When I contacted him about this story, Tétrault insisted there was no story. Because his stake in TTP Media is held through his family trust, it’s protected, he said. Pancholy said the same. When I asked for further information, Tétrault suggested I talk to an accountant and abruptly ended the conversation.

So does the trust protect his stake in this company? Well, it depends.

I’ll preface this by saying I’m neither an accountant nor a lawyer, and my experience in bankruptcy law is fairly minimal. But experts on the matter, such as this one from Fasken Martineau, say that the protection in a trust comes from the structure of the trust. If you’re a beneficiary of a trust and you file for bankruptcy, your creditors can only get as much power as you have. If the trust doesn’t give you that power, your creditors can’t take it from you. So an asset protection trust should ensure that someone else that you don’t control acts as a trustee or has veto power. And bankruptcy law explicitly states that assets held in trust for someone else can’t be seized by creditors. So certainly anything held in trust for the other beneficiaries is protected.

I don’t know exactly how Fiducie Familiale NT is controlled and what the terms of the benefits are, but Tétrault has already told the CRTC that he is 100% in control of the trust.

The exercise may more academic than anything. Licensees cannot change effective control without CRTC pre-approval, for one. And TTP Media has no real value, its assets being paid for entirely out of its startup debt. Besides, Tétrault is only a minority shareholder in TTP Media.

But the whole process is undoubtedly difficult for Tétrault. As a result of the bankruptcy case, the professional order of real estate brokers restricted his licence in July, requiring him to be supervised.

CJMS

This wasn’t the first case before the OACIQ involving Tétrault. Another one also had connections to his radio venture. In 2015, the body found Tétrault guilty of violating rules governing real estate brokers because he represented the owner of land that hosted the antenna for CJMS 1040 AM while at the same time being a party interested in buying it.

Tétrault disclosed the conflict of interest to his client, but the tribunal found that this wasn’t good enough, particularly in light of the fact that he appeared to make no effort to find other buyers. It said he should have removed himself as the broker for the seller in the case. Tétrault’s licence was suspended for 30 days as a result of this.

TTP Media’s original application to the CRTC for stations at 690 and 940 AM proposed they transmit from the CJMS site in St-Constant. When TTP Media lost the 690 application and had to settle for 600 instead, it changed its plan to operate the stations from the former CINW/CINF site in nearby Kahnawake.

A separate legal case between the land owner, André Turcot, and Tétrault related to the same deal was decided against Turcot, who apparently believed he had settled a debt problem to another lender and then didn’t show up in court to defend against a suit by that lender and later tried to get a default judgment overturned. That case set the value of the real estate transaction at $1.4 million, but says Tétrault never paid the $30,000 required once the purchase deal was signed.

I hope for the sake of Tétrault, his family and the radio stations he and his partners are launching that he gets back on his feet and finds a solution to his debt problem.

Pancholy, at least, is not concerned. If he had any doubts about the viability of the radio station, he wouldn’t be carrying it on his shoulders, he told me.

CFQR 600 AM launches with hours to go before deadline

For the first time in decades, Montreal has a new full-power commercial English radio station on the air that isn’t replacing an existing one.

CFQR 600 AM, the English-language station owned by TTP Media, officially went on the air on Friday evening, the deadline the CRTC set in its final extension given to the station last fall.

Whether the station made the CRTC’s deadline hasn’t been confirmed. The station has not completed its testing phase, and is broadcasting a message asking people with reception issues to call them in. The authorization first granted in 2012 says the station must be “operational” to meet the deadline, and a licence will be issued “once the applicant has informed the Commission in writing that it is prepared to commence operations.”

But the commission probably won’t nitpick over a few days or weeks when we’ve been waiting almost five years for this station to launch on a frequency no one else has had any interest in for almost 20 years.

Like CFNV 940, CFQR is broadcasting an automated music playlist, with recorded messages promising regular programming “soon”.

Jim Connell.

The messages feature the voice of Jim Connell, the former 940 News host who appeared in front of the CRTC during TTP Media’s initial licence application in 2011 but took a job with Global Montreal while the group was getting its act together. This is a strong indication that he will be involved with the station when it launches regular programming.

The two messages, being broadcast at regular intervals, are below:

This is CFQR 600, a new English voice in Montreal. Soon, we will be offering the communities on and surrounding the island of Montreal a better blend of information and conversation on this heritage frequency. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates, and enjoy some of your favourite music as we continue building this new voice on Montreal’s airwaves.

You are listening to CFQR, a new English-language radio station serving the greater Montreal area, broadcasting at 600 kilohertz on the AM band. We are currently testing our signal and invite you to contact us toll-free at 1-833-600-1006 if you are experiencing interference because of our signal or if the signal is causing any other reception problems. Our regular programming will be starting soon. Stay tuned.

TTP Media partner Nicolas Tétrault tweeted some pictures from inside the transmission facility on Route 138 in Kahnawake, that houses the two stations.

At 10,000 watts daytime and 5,000 watts nighttime, CFQR’s signal isn’t as powerful as CFNV’s 50,000-watt clear-channel signal, but it should be good enough for Montreal and surrounding areas. The power and transmitting antennas are identical to the old CIQC, so the reception should be similar.

With the station on the air, the new focus should be programming. As I wrote previously, there are some deals in place with talent, and the group remains committed to talk programming.

As CFQR 600 AM begins on-air testing, TTP Media remains committed to launching talk stations in Montreal

UPDATE (June 30): The station says it has officially launched.

For the first time in 17 years, Montrealers are beginning to hear a local station at 600 on the AM dial.

TTP Media, which has been promising since 2010 to revolutionize the AM radio scene in Montreal, has been doing work at the Kahnawake transmitter site for the two AM talk radio stations it has licences to operate — CFNV 940 AM and CFQR 600 AM (no relation to Q92, which used that same callsign).

The work has resulted in CFNV going off the air, but also some sounds coming out at 600 AM. The CRTC’s last extension for that station, originally approved in 2012, gave the company until June 30, 2017, to launch, and made clear (for the second time) that this would be the final extension given them.

With nine days before that deadline, tones and music were first reported being heard at 600 AM last Wednesday.

Even if it does officially launch, the English-language talk station long promised to be a competitor to CJAD might not be what listeners expect at first. Both English and French stations have generic commercial AM licences, which gives them a lot of freedom when it comes to programming. CFNV has run an automated music playlist since it launched in November, just days before its last deadline.

My attempts to get TTP Media to explain the various delays in launching their stations have failed in the past few years, leaving only official correspondence with the CRTC as a source of information. But last week, TTP Media President Rajiv Pancholy agreed to an interview, and though he couldn’t answer every question about the group’s plans, he did clear up a lot of information. Here’s what he told me:

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CRTC gives TTP Media until June 30 to launch English radio station at 600 AM

For the fourth time in as many years, a group owned by a trio of Montreal businessmen has appealed to the CRTC for an extension on their deadline to launch a new AM radio station, claiming that unforeseen circumstances have caused delays but assuring the commission that they’ve been resolved and the station is months away from launch.

TTP Media’s request for an extension for 600 AM

On Wednesday, the CRTC announced that it will grant an extension, until June 30, 2017, to 7954689 Canada Inc. (TTP Media) to launch its English talk radio station at 600 AM, first authorized in 2012.

As it did with the 940 AM station a year ago, the extension was granted despite the previous extension being declared “final” by the commission. Though the previous extensions, despite being requested for only a few months, were given for a full year, this one is limited to June 30, after the group said it should have the station on air by June.

This is the first official communication from the otherwise very quiet group for a year now, so we have some information on what is causing the delays, and what their short-term plans are.

As in previous requests, Managing Partner Nicolas Tétrault blames “the consolidation in the commercial broadcasting business in Montreal,” a reference to the Bell acquisition of Astral Media that was finalized in 2013 (and did not result in any major programming changes to existing stations in the market). But here he indicates that the banks that are loaning them tens of millions of dollars needed some reassuring on the group’s business plan. (This may be, at least in part, why they abandoned plans for a third station at 850 AM, though that station is not mentioned at all in the application.)

The bigger issue has related to the transmitter itself. The group finally came to an agreement with Cogeco Media to buy all the assets of the former CINW 940 and CINF 690 transmitter site in Kahnawake, and signed a new lease with the land owner, Frances Montour. The details of the lease are redacted, but it appears to go until 2022, with clauses for renewal beyond that.

It didn’t take long after the agreements were signed in late September and early October for the 940 transmitter to be brought back to life, at first to do on-site testing, antenna tuning and impedance matching, and later full on-air testing.

The station, CFNV 940 AM, has legally launched, but a de facto launch is expected early in 2017, according to its Twitter account. In the meantime, it’s running music — currently all-Christmas music — interspersed with recorded messages every 15 minutes:

You’ll notice the station refers to itself as “La superstation”. Time will tell if it lives up to that tagline.

More work needed for 600

For the English station at 600, there’s more work needed than turning the switch back on and transmitting again. The towers that were set to work at 690 have to be re-tuned for 600, and the transmitter itself needs to be sent to the factory to be reset to the new frequency. On top of it all, parts for AM transmitters aren’t as easy to find as they used to be, and nowadays must be custom made, which causes more delays.

From Patrice Lemée, engineer at Commspec:

Concernant la station AM 600KHz, l’envergure des travaux techniques est beaucoup plus complexe. Celle-ci sise e?galement dans les anciennes infrastructures de Cogeco Me?dia Inc. ope?rant a? la fre?quence 690KHz. Par contre, un changement de fre?quence est requis afin de diffuser a? la fre?quence 600KHz. Ces changements touchent l’essence me?me du site de diffusion. L’e?metteur doit e?tre partiellement re?-expe?die? a? l’usine afin d’e?tre re-synthonise? a? la nouvelle fre?quence. Le syste?me de phasage doit comple?tement e?tre redessine? afin de diffuser a? la nouvelle fre?quence d’ope?ration. De plus, ces deux stations (600 & 940) coexistent sur le me?me site de diffusion. Ce qui entraine des complexite?s supple?mentaires quant a? la conception du syste?me.

Afin de proce?der aux diffe?rentes modifications du syste?me de diffusion de la station AM 600Khz, nous avons contacte? diffe?rents manufacturiers. Base? sur les re?ponses des soumissions obtenues, il semblerait que certains manufacturiers ont de la difficulte? a? obtenir les pie?ces requises pour effectuer la conversion dans les de?lais prescrits.

Je vous confirme cependant que les travaux sont de?ja? entame?s et que la conception est pratiquement termine?e. Par contre, la rarete? des pie?ces d’e?quipement AM est une re?alite? de nos jours. Les pie?ces sont maintenant faites sur demande et les de?lais de livraison sont beaucoup plus longs que par le passe?. Il est assez fre?quent de rencontrer des de?lais de livraison de 12 a? 16 semaines.

Suite aux informations cite?es pre?ce?demment, nous estimons qu’il sera possible d’effectuer les modifications du syste?me de diffusion du 600KHz seulement au printemps 2017. Nous demandons donc une extension de la date de mise en service jusqu’au 30 juin 2017.

The application makes no mention of administrative or on-air aspects of either stations, including launch dates, on-air talent or studio location. So we’ll just have to continue to wait.

TTP Media’s CFNV 940 AM begins on-air testing

After occasional sputters of an audible tone a few hours a day over a few weeks, 940 AM has actual audio for the first time in almost seven years as TTP Media’s first AM radio station has officially begun testing.

The programming consists of music in English and French, with a 23-second announcement about the station about every 15 minutes confirming its callsign of CFNV and asking people with reception issues to call 1-855-732-5940. It says the station will launch “progressivement sous peu” or “très bientôt” (the message varies slightly).

CFNV will be a French-language talk station when it launches, which the CRTC has said it must do by Nov. 21. The licence was first authorized in 2011, and the deadline extended three times (one more than usual).

The deadline to launch an English station at 600 AM passed on Nov. 9. The CRTC confirms to me it has received an application for an extension to that deadline (which was supposed to be final) but has not made a decision yet.

A third station, a French sports-talk at 850 AM, had its authorization expire this summer with no request for extension.

940 AM, which is assigned to Montreal as a clear channel, so this station will have a very large footprint at night, was last used by AM 940, a Corus-owned station that began as 940 News and kept cutting resources and changing formats until it finally shut down in 2010.

TTP Media comes back from the dead with weeks to go until deadline

After five years of almost nothing happening, could the mythical TTP Media be on course to get an AM radio station on the air in a month?

Though it looked this summer as if the company had all but abandoned its quest to become a news-talk radio powerhouse in Montreal, a major development suggests the project has been revived, even though there’s less than a month to go until the first final deadline to get a station on the air.

Nicolas Tétrault, one of the partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., posted two videos to YouTube last week that showed the Kahnawake transmitter site that the new stations at 600 and 940 AM are set to broadcast from. In one of them, Tétrault describes the installation as having been purchased that week from Cogeco Media.

The videos were removed shortly after they were noticed and I sent an inquiry to Tétrault about the status of the stations.

But Richard Lachance, president of Cogeco Media, confirmed to me that the transmitters, towers and other assets at the site were indeed sold. The purchase price, he said, is confidential.

Meanwhile, the ttpmedia.ca domain name that the group had let lapse was re-registered about the same time, Oct. 11. It’s a parked domain and the records don’t indicate its owner. An email sent to Tétrault’s address, which bounced this summer, seems to have gone through this time, but I don’t know for sure if he received it.

Though these signs are encouraging — the transmitter purchase would make no sense if they weren’t serious about putting these stations up — the group is up against tight deadlines.

On Nov. 9, the CRTC’s “final” deadline to launch the English news-talk station at 600 AM hits. And Nov. 21 is the “final” deadline to launch the French station at 940 AM. I write “final” in quotes because the CRTC’s first “final” deadline to launch at 940 was actually November 2015, but they changed their mind and granted another one.

Technically, the deadlines are to get the stations operational, which requires a period of on-air testing first. But it’s possible the CRTC would be lenient if at the deadline the station is at least doing said testing. This, of course, says nothing about all the other issues involved, like programming. There have been no high-profile (or even, to my knowledge, low-profile) poachings of staff from other radio stations or other announcements that would suggest they’re lining up talent yet.

A check of the 600 and 940 AM frequencies also shows no test signal on either.

It’s a small step and we know little else, since the partners still won’t talk. But the purchase of the site, even though it was supposedly being finalized a year ago but only closed this month, is a solid step forward.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said the YouTube video mentioned only the 940 station. Someone who watched it heard mention of 600 as well, so maybe my memory is faulty.

TTP Media abandons 850 AM, shows no progress on other unlaunched stations

For the past five years, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by people in the local broadcasting industry is what’s going on with TTP Media, a group of local businessmen who won CRTC licences to launch three AM talk radio stations in the city and had promised to revolutionize the market with big investments in quality programming.

Unfortunately, for years now the answer has been “nothing that I know of.” And unfortunately that continues today.

Since getting the licence for 850 AM in 2013, the group’s only on-the-record activity has been asking for extensions and technical changes from the CRTC, each time indicating that the stations were mere months from launch.

But now there’s finally some news, even though it’s not clear what it means. In June, the authorization from the CRTC to launch a French sports-talk station at 850 AM expired. Because the decision approving the station was published in 2013, and the first extension given last year, a second request for a final one-year extension should have been a matter of formality.

But that request was never issued. So on June 19, when the deadline was reached, the authority to launch the station expired.

According to the CRTC, the frequency is now available for anyone else to apply for.

I chronicle my attempts to seek comments from the partners in Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media in this story published by Cartt.ca. Paul Tietolman, whose father Jack founded the station that used to be on 850 AM in Montreal, was the only one who would talk to me, but he wouldn’t answer questions about the group’s plans, wanting to defer to his partners and not act as a company spokesperson.

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CRTC changes its mind, gives TTP Media yet another extension on AM radio stations

Le Conseil proroge le délai de mise en exploitation de ce service jusqu’au 21 novembre 2015. À défaut de respecter ce nouveau délai, l’autorité accordée dans la Décision 2011-721 deviendra nulle et sans effet. Cette prorogation est la dernière extension de temps accordée par le Conseil pour la mise en exploitation de ce service.
— CRTC, Sept. 14, 2014

This was going to be it, the deadest of deadlines, the date of no return when we can finally declare that the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media project for AM radio stations is dead and not coming back. The CRTC had promised a year ago that the first of them would not be given an extension past Nov. 21, 2015. It even bolded the word to make it clear.

But it seems the commission is willing to give this phantom company one more chance. In a decision dated last week and posted online yesterday, it has given a rare third one-year extension for the establishment of a French-language AM radio station at 940 AM, and a second one-year-extension for an English-language station at 600 AM. They now have until Nov. 21, 2016 and Nov. 9, 2016, respectively, to begin operations.

In a letter to the CRTC dated Oct. 20, managing partner Nicolas Tétrault explains that the company is finalizing a deal to acquire from Cogeco Diffusion the transmission equipment at the Kahnawake site, as well as the rights to use the land (subject to Kahnawake band council approval, which they believe is a mere formality).

Tétrault says the site is ready for transmission at 940 kHz, and requires only “minor modifications” to be ready for 600 and 850 (the latter is a French-language sports radio station first approved in 2013).

The letter requested “six to twelve months maximum”, but then again the last extension made a similar months-away promise that was never realized.

So we have another year of guessing and arguing whether this project will ever see the light of day. There still have been no announcements as far as studio location, on-air staff, management, name, callsigns or anything else.

The letter approving the third extension doesn’t give reasons for the exceptional treatment, and only states again that this will be the final extension (a similar letter says the same about the second extension for 600 AM). CRTC’s media relations offered this explanation when asked:

Usually, the second extension granted by the CRTC to start a service is final. However, in certain exceptional cases, the CRTC grants a third extension to commence a service when the justification given in the request is sufficient and that the service appears to be imminently commencing. This was the case for 7954689 Canada Inc.

I guess this means final doesn’t always mean final.

ttp-letter

ttp-letter2

TTP Media gets extension for 850 AM, plans to move transmission site

Nine months after it said it was six to nine months from launching, there’s still radio silence from TTP Media (7954689 Canada Inc.) about its news-talk AM radio stations in Montreal at 600 and 940 kHz.

But we do have some news from the company about its third radio station, a French-language sports-talk station at 850 AM. The CRTC approved that station two years ago and so the deadline to launch it passed on June 19. The company has applied for and the CRTC has approved a one-year extension to that deadline, giving them until June 19, 2016 to launch.

In a letter dated just four days before the deadline (normally the commission asks for 60 to ensure it’s processed on time), managing partner Nicolas Tétrault explains the problems 850 has had in securing a transmission site.

While the 600 and 940 stations were to use a four-tower site in Kahnawake leased from Cogeco that used to broadcast CFCF/CIQC 600, 940 News and Info 690, the site was deemed unusable for 850 and so TTP Media proposed a new site in Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot where new towers would be built, beaming a signal straight toward Montreal while meeting technical limits to protect other stations.

Tétrault explains that they got permission from the land owner, and government authorizations, but could not get the city on board because of concerns from “part of the population.” NDIP refused to grant them a permit to construct the towers.

So TTP Media went back to the drawing board, and tried again to find some way for it to work from Kahnawake. Finally, after hiring a Canadian engineering company working with “an American engineering firm ultra-specialized in broadcasting telecommunications”, they recently found a way to make it work, with modifications to the site. (This study happened a few weeks ago, which likely explains the presence of vehicles at the site reported by some observers.)

Tétrault says these modifications to allow the transmission site to broadcast on 600, 850 and 940 kHz will take “a few months” to plan and put in place.

It will also require a separate application to the CRTC to approve a technical amendment to the station’s licence.

Since the delay affects the transmission site of all three stations, it could also prevent the 940 and 600 stations from launching this summer. But the French-language news talk station at 940 must launch by Nov. 21. The last extension from the CRTC is the final one.

We’ll know by that date whether the TTP Media project has been a success or failure at even getting off the ground.

I’ve asked Tétrault for additional comment. I’ll update this if I hear back.

TTP Media says news-talk stations are six to nine months until launch

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Every now and then people ask me about the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group, which has licenses for three high-power AM talk radio stations in Montreal, the first one granted in 2011, but hasn’t made any announcements in more than a year.

Rumours abounded that something was wrong. That the group had bitten off more than it could chew. That there was a problem with the three-way partnership and that one or more partners would be bought out by the others. It’s been a year since I posted a story because people were wondering what happened to them.

Now we have some more news. On Sept. 19, the CRTC approved applications from the group for extensions on the deadlines to launch its two news-talk stations, a French one at 940 AM and an English one at 600 AM, for another year.

Because the group had already asked for an extension on the 940 station last year, this extension is the last one the commission will give. If the station does not launch by Nov. 21, 2015, its license becomes void.

The English station, which was first approved in 2012, gets an extension until Nov. 9, 2015. That extension could be extended another year if needed, consistent with CRTC precedent on these matters.

The group also has a license for a French-language sports talk station at 850 AM. That licence was granted in June 2013, so they have until June 2015 to launch it or ask for a first extension.

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CRTC filing gives reasons for TTP Media delay

TTP Media, the company of three Montreal businessmen who have three licences for AM radio stations and hasn’t launched any of them yet, remains quiet. I haven’t heard anything from them since I wrote this story in October trying to explain what happened to them.

In that story, I report that the company, officially 7954689 Canada Inc., asked for a one-year extension on their first radio station (a French-language news-talk station at 940 AM), whose deadline to launch had been Nov. 21, 2013, and that it was granted.

Last week, the CRTC finally published that request, as part of a bimonthly dump of decisions that are not subject to public comment. (The same day, it announced it would publish such decisions as they’re made instead of doing so in bulk months later.)

The application consists of a single document, a form requesting an extension. The document is undated, but the filename carries a timestamp of Sept. 16. The decision approving the request is dated Sept. 30.

Though it’s brief, the document provides reasons for requesting the extension. It specifically cites the Bell-Astral acquisition process, which caused uncertainty in the market and it says stopped the company from going forward with its plans. It also cites the licence granted to it in November 2012 for an English-language news-talk station at 600 AM, and its desire to launch both stations simultaneously. (It makes no mention of its third licence for a French-language sports talk station at 850 AM, approved in June.) And it says changes are needed to the transmitter site to make it work at 600 AM, and that can only be done in the spring.

Citing the Bell-Astral situation as reason for a delay seems a bit odd, until you remember that the group had expressed an interest in buying CKGM if Bell was forced to sell it as a result of the deal. (Buying CJAD was also something they would have been interested in.) Had they bought one of the stations, their plans would have changed dramatically.

But the Bell-Astral deal was approved in June, and it’s not clear what’s keeping them beyond that, other than the technical changes to the transmission site (the former CINF/CINW site in Kahnawake, which is currently run by Cogeco).

With this extension, the deadlines to launch both stations are now November 2014, which all points to both stations launching some time next fall.

Unless they don’t.

Here is the full text of the reasoning TTP Media gave to the CRTC in asking for the extension (I’ve added links for context):

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What happened to TTP Media?

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Over the past few months, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is what is going on with the group known as TTP Media. The group, composed of businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, has licences for three AM radio stations in Montreal, none of which has launched yet. And none of them has said anything publicly for months.

Some of those inquiries have come from people looking for jobs at these new stations, which have promised to invest heavily in local programming and local news. Others have come from radio watchers excited about having something else to listen to. And some are from people who have a beef with CJAD and want to see competition as soon as possible.

Since May, I have been trying to get answers from all three of them. And it has been proving strangely difficult. Tietolman, who had previously been very talkative about the new station, without giving away any secrets, clammed up, asking me to speak with Pancholy, who is the managing partner.

Pancholy told me he didn’t have anything to say at the moment, but that I could expect an announcement in the next four to six weeks that would answer most of my questions.

That was May 23. Despite repeated phone calls, I haven’t spoken to Pancholy since. (That’s 20 weeks ago, in case you’re counting.)

Tétrault, for his part, has at least been getting back to me. “Our group is very much alive and hard at work,” he wrote me in an email on Aug. 20. “However, we do not want to announce anything till we are fully ready. I hope you understand. We will contact you when the time comes.”

On Oct. 3, in response to another request for information as the deadline to launch the first of those three stations approaches, Tétrault said “we do not like to talk about our plans” but that he’d make an exception to tell me this:

In the current business environment, it makes business sense to launch multiple radio stations as close to each other as possible. Consequently, we had requested that our implementation deadline be extended. The CRTC has recently responded favorably to our request.

We do not have any other comments at the moment.

Tietolman had told me something similar the last time I saw him in person, during the Bell/Astral CRTC merger hearings in May. The group wants to launch its English and French news-talk stations at the same time. (The three have gone back and forth on this plan a bit, first saying they would launch simultaneously, then saying they wouldn’t have to do that, and now saying they want to do that again.)

News of this extension will no doubt fuel more rumours out there about why this group has disappeared from the public radar.

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Status report: How things are changing at Montreal TV and radio stations

Last fall, I wrote for The Gazette that there were a lot of changes going on at local TV and radio stations. This year, 2013, is turning out to be the biggest one for local broadcasting in decades, with new stations, ownership changes and other big plans.

Because of that, a lot of people have been asking me what’s going on with some of them. My usual response is either “I don’t know” or recapping a blog post I published or something I posted on Twitter.

As we hit the halfway mark of the calendar year, I figured now is a good time to give you an update on what’s going on at each of these stations, one by one.

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CRTC approves TTP Media’s French-language sports radio station at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM

Two years after CKAC abandoned the all-sports format to switch to a government-subsidized all-traffic station, Montreal is one step closer to getting a French-language all-sports radio station again.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a licence for 7954689 Canada Inc. (Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media) to operate a French-language sports-talk radio station in Montreal at 850 AM.

The station, whose transmitter would be in a field on Ile Perrot and be pointing toward Montreal, would operate at 50kW daytime and 22kW nighttime, which as the graphic above shows would pretty well cover the Montreal area and its shores.

Its format is a bit unclear. The CRTC decision describes it as “among other things, debate programs, sports news, live games, interviews and open-line programs.”

The “live games” part will be difficult, at least at first. Canadiens games air on Cogeco’s CHMP 98.5FM, and Cogeco retains Canadiens French-language radio broadcast rights until the end of the 2013-14 season. The station also airs Alouettes games. And it’s unlikely to easily give up on either.

This leaves Impact games which could be picked up by the new station. The Impact doesn’t have an official French-language radio broadcaster. And there’s plenty of out-of-market programming like tennis and golf and baseball. But the lack of other French-language sports radio stations in North America means it will have to at least translate all the coverage itself, unless it does something weird like sharing play-by-play guys with RDS.

The commission evaluates a market before awarding a licence for a new radio station to determine if the market can sustain it. In this case, the CRTC did not find any evidence that other stations could be threatened by this new one (competitors didn’t write to the CRTC to oppose this application), but did raise a concern that it “may face significant challenges when attempting to establish its presence in the market.”

But, taking into account the two existing licences and the potential for cost-savings by sharing resources, the commission felt it had a good chance and “would be a valuable proposition for listeners and small advertisers in Montreal” now that the market lacks a French-language all-sports radio station.

The CRTC has given the group exactly two years to get the station on the air, though it can grant an extension if necessary.

The 850AM frequency in Montreal has been silent since CKVL (which was started by Paul Tietolman’s father Jack) went off the air in 1999, replaced by Info 690.

TTP Media has licences for English- and French-language news-talk radio stations at 600 and 940AM, respectively. Neither has launched, but the French one at least is expected to be on the air by its deadline in November.

The group has promised an announcement within the next few weeks outlining its plans.

Statistics also released on Wednesday show that the three French-language AM stations in Montreal collectively (CKAC 730, CJMS 1040*, CJLV 1570 and CJWI 1610/1410) were back in the black for the first time since at least 2008. But that came at a price. From 86 employees when Info 690 still existed, to 47 after it shut down, it now has only 27 spread across the three remaining stations.

*CORRECTION: It turns out CJMS didn’t report financial figures, so it’s not included in the list of stations. That leaves CKAC, CJLV and Haitian station CJWI as the only French-language commercial AM stations in Montreal.

CRTC proceeds with TTP application for French sports talk at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM: day (black lines) and night (blue lines)

An application I told you about in September, for an all-sports radio station at 850AM, was published on Wednesday by the CRTC and will be considered at a hearing in March.

The proposed station would be the third AM talk station in Montreal owned by TTP Media (officially 7954689 Canada Inc.), a company formed by partners Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy. The trio’s other two stations, already approved by the CRTC but yet to launch, are for a French-language news-talk station at 940AM and an English-language news-talk station at 600AM. They are expected to go on the air simultaneously some time this year.

Here’s what the application tells us about this new 850AM station:

Programming

“Utilizing sports professionals and experienced broadcasters, AM850 will offer a locally produced, innovative brand of sports talk unlike anything heard previously in Canada. Francophone sports fans will finally have a 24 hour a day source of information covering the topics about which they are most passionate. Opinion, insight and debate sprinkled with listener interaction and lifestyle commentary will be offered up in a cutting edge fashion.” — Supplemental Brief in application to CRTC

As was the case for its previous applications, TTP likes to talk big about how it’s going to revolutionize radio with ideas no one else has tried before. This station is no different.

For one thing, there won’t be a focus on live broadcasts of sporting events. Unlike TSN Radio in English, which has things like European soccer and NFL football games broadcast live, the TTP station plans to have zero syndicated live sports programming. Instead, it will be locally-produced sports talk, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (they’re even willing to accept a condition of licence to this effect). Pancholy told me there might be some live local sports coverage, but the focus will be on discussion (which one would imagine would be mainly Canadiens-related) outside of games.

This is interesting, to say the least. Team 990 went a decade without rights to Canadiens games before it finally got them from CJAD in the hope that that would bring them back into the black (it didn’t, but the station hopes that the move to 690AM will push it over the break-even mark).

On one hand, people love to rant about their Canadiens. On the other hand, they’re more likely to do that on a station that carries the Canadiens broadcasts. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom.

Programming details will have to wait until the station is approved, but the application said they expect a total of four hours a week of hard news, and 126 hours (i.e. every minute of the week) of local programming.

The application also makes reference to “an online strategy.”:

Online is the perfect place to offer up stats plus extended commentary and analysis. Using social media is an ideal way to further engage listeners in debate and discussion. A strategic use of cutting edge technology will insure that AM850 remains contemporary, immediate and relevant.

History

The application comes in the wake of the decision from owner Cogeco to replace CKAC Sports with Radio Circulation in September 2011. That move, which came after it became clear there was resistance to a move to reactivate 690 and 940 for government-subsidized all-traffic stations in English and French, left Canada’s largest French-language market without a full-time sports talk station.

Instead, Cogeco’s news-talk station CHMP 98.5FM has adopted a hybrid format, with news and information during the day and sports talk during the evenings, including live broadcasts of Canadiens and Alouettes games. (Montreal Impact games are not broadcast on radio in French in Montreal).

Though that decision has been criticized, and CKAC’s market share is only a tenth of what it was as a sports station, CHMP’s ratings have soared, and it’s now the top-rated station in Montreal.

TTP’s application focuses on the void left by CKAC and the need for sports talk during the day.

The transmitter

The proposed frequency, 850AM, was previously used by Montreal’s CKVL (a station founded by Tietolman’s father, Jack Tietolman). That station changed frequency and was transformed into Info 690 in 1999, and 850 has been vacant here ever since.

But rather than bring the station back using its previous parameters, TTP has suggested a new setup with an improved signal. The transmitter would be located in a wooded area off Don Quichote Blvd. in Notre-Dame-de-l’Ile Perrot. There’s no transmitter site there, or towers, or anything. But it’s an ideal location for the coverage pattern they want to create.

Because it’s not a clear-channel station, it has to adjust its pattern to protect distant stations at night on the same frequency. The trickiest one is WEEI 850, a 50,000W station in Boston. This limits the proposed station’s pattern to the southeast. There’s also WKGE in Johnstown, Pa. (10kW), CJBC in Toronto (Première Chaîne at 860 kHz), WAXB in Ridgefield, Conn. (500W), as well as clear-channel stations in Denver and Alaska that are too far to be a real concern.

The station must also protect potential stations, patterns that are allocated but where no station is currently transmitting. (For the most part, these are patterns that used to be used by AM stations that no longer exist or that have changed frequency.) These include allocations in Timmins, Ont., Spaniard’s Bay, N.L., and Enola, Pa., on 850, plus adjacent-channel allocations in Drummondville (820), Brockville, Ont., (830), Rivière-du-Loup (840) and Quebec City (870).

The proposed station was originally going to be 50kW day and night, but that had to change after the Federal Communications Commission in the United States noticed that the station would interfere with WEEI. The technical application had been based on incorrect data, and the new data showed an unacceptable interference. TTP responded with the simplest solution, which is to reduce its nighttime power to 22kW, but it says it may try another solution if it comes up with something better later on.

The proposed signal also encroaches on the allocated pattern for the Spaniard’s Bay station. The community, just west of St. John’s, was served by AM station CHVO on 850 until 1990, but the allocation remains active. TTP proposed reducing the Spaniard’s Bay allocation’s contours slightly, arguing it would be better for the broadcasting system as a whole, and the advantages to the Montreal station (which would, you know, actually exist) would far outweigh the disadvantages to an AM allocation that might never be revived.

Taking all these protections into account, TTP decided the best move was to point the signal toward to the northeast (around 35 degrees). Putting the towers on Île Perrot maximizes the population inside the coverage area for a signal pointed in that direction.

The proposed transmitter setup is four towers 88.2 metres high spaced 98 metres apart, in a line pointing toward Montreal. The signal would be very directional, with the 0.5mV/m contours reaching almost to Quebec City 250km away but barely grazing towns like Hawkesbury, Cornwall and Hemingford which are only about 50km away. The signal would be excellent in the lower West Island (somewhat ironic since it’s a French station) but would cover Montreal and both shores pretty well.

Building a new transmitter site won’t be cheap. The application lists $1.5 million for transmitter setup costs, plus $63,000 in annual rent. The project could also be the subject of hearings if residents nearby object. Pancholy didn’t want to discuss details of potential hearings, but said that things were moving along well in terms of getting approvals necessary for the transmitter site.

TTP’s other two stations will use a transmission site in Kahnawake owned by Cogeco on rented land. This site was deemed inadequate technically for the 850 station.

Budget

The financing for the proposed station would, like with the others, be through a combination of personal financing from the partners and a bank loan. The application lists $5 million in total financing, which breaks down as $1 million from the owners and $4 million in debt from James Edward Capital.

But the station’s optimistic budget shows a quick profit turnaround. With $3.5 million in annual revenue, increasing to about $5 million by the end of the first seven-year licence term, the station expects to be making money by the fourth year of operation. Expenses would start at $3.6 million a year and rise to $4 million a year by Year 7.

Though TTP would argue its projections are conservative, its competitors would say they’re unrealistic.

Station revenues would come mostly through local advertising, since TTP doesn’t have any stations outside of Montreal (yet). It expects to come out of the gate with a respectable market share for an all-sports station:

“We conservatively project that by the end of the first year of operations AM will secure a 3.4% share of hours tuned for All Persons 12+ and a 6.0% share of hours tuned for males 25-54.”

Nevertheless, it expects its impact on other stations “will be negligible. The approximate 2-4 % average yearly increase of revenue coming into the market should largely offset the financial impact of minimally decreased share for these stations.”

TTP breaks down its ad revenue like this:

  1. 20% of our revenue will be derived from advertisers which do not currently advertise on existing radio services.
  2. 20% of our revenue would result from increased spending from advertisers which currently advertise on existing radio services (given this unique targeted opportunity).
  3. 15% of our revenue will come from our online/web site offerings.
  4. The remaining 45% of our projected revenues will come from existing radio services.

The application doesn’t list the number of jobs the station would create, and Pancholy didn’t want to come out with a number. Many administrative jobs would be shared among the stations.

The application makes reference to “a special intern program”, which suggests that unpaid interns might be a big part of the plan here. (Cheap and free labour is certainly a large part of the tight-budgeted TSN Radio).

Process

The CRTC has called a hearing in Gatineau on March 20 to consider this application and others. Unless there are significant objections, the commission plans for these to be non-appearing items, meaning that the applicants won’t have to appear at the hearing and there will be no actual discussions.

The public is invited to file comments with the commission on this application until Feb. 15. They can do so here (choose Option 1 and then 7954689 Canada Inc.)

After the hearing, the commission will take a few weeks (or a few months, it’s really up to them) to make a decision. Once the station is approved, it will have two years to launch, though Pancholy said they would expect it to be up within a year of a positive decision.

What do you think? Does this business plan sound plausible? Are people more interested in talking about sports than listening to live matches? Can you have a sports talk radio station without any live sports? Leave your comments below.

Other coverage

The Journal de Montréal/Agence QMI has a story on this. Its headline says there will be a decision this summer, but no source is provided for that statement, and I doubt the commission has confided that detail to the reporter. It’s a good guess, but it’s a guess. The decision could be done by the end of April, or they might still be waiting for one in October. It’s really up to the commission.