Corus shuts down AM stations Info 690, 940 Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 thoughts on “Corus shuts down AM stations Info 690, 940 Hits

  1. Franc

    I heard about that just before lunch, and on my drive home for lunch, I tuned in to both station. I was thinking “dramatic” for the intro music, but “ominous” is truly le mot juste!

    It’s sad for those who lost their jobs, but what’s ahead will be interresting! Thanks for all the info you just provided!

  2. Kevin

    I remember interning at 940, working for Albert Nerenberg, and interviewing people about the sounds of spring…
    The best part was not only convincing them to interview author Terry Pratchett — I brought along my friend John, who ended up on-air sitting next to Pterry, explaining to Albert why he should read the man’s books.

  3. Wow

    Nobody is listening. So shut them down. Or put something on worth listening to. Funny how people are running away to Sirius/XM and the internet to listen to radio. But, Montreal radio can’t put something on worth listening to. Is the problem the economy, lack of listeners, or the people running radio stations.

  4. ck

    With all the recent cuts out of CJAD & TO’s CFRB; CJAD simulcasting evenings with CFRB & some other station from Niagara with Redneck Ryan; CJAD (And I suspect, CFRB & others) playing reruns of Tommy the washed up has been with his Friday teenie boppers and valley girls & his bubble gum music clips, Kim Fraser who is hit or miss under the best of circumstances and such becoming the norm, along with syndicated stuff like Ryan Seacrest on Virgin and John TEsh on Q92.5, as well as Casey Casem’s top 40 reruns on Q92.5, Q92.5 cutting Tasso & Suzanne Desautels (not that I liked her), leaving Aaron all by his lonesome to basically spin records (If I were a betting woman, I would say that his contract won’t be renewed); and now, with the closure of 940AM and Info690, a French station, no less: I’m wondering if Am/Fm radio is simply going to become a thing of the past? Obsolete, like the turntable and the VHS Player. I can certainly see that happening to CJAD and perhaps even CHOMFM (it really has become crappy).

    Nowadays, podcasts, internet radio and satellite radio, as well as Galaxie on most digital cable networks, boasting commercial-free music are ruling these days.

  5. QCnewsmusic

    There is on point I want to make : AM has nothing to do with the failure of Info690. Corus Quebec boss do. Not the ones from Alberta, no, no, no, but M.Arcand (now with the liberals) and M.Ceccini.

    The all news format is working everywhere. NYC : WINS is #2 in the ratings. WCBS # 9. Yeah, NYC has two all news station. Toronto : 680 news is in the top 5. Philadelphia : KYW #1 in the morning. Vancouver : News 1130 is #6. Washington : WTOP #1. Take a look for yourself, except in California where the talk station KFI is a super news power, all news is working well everywhere.

    So why did 940 news and Info690 failed ? For the first one, the reason is obvious. Small anglophone market, but big competitor : CJAD.

    The reason behing Info690 showdown is more complex. First, in 10 years, I think the station had 6 General manager, it’s difficult to built a product when all GM are fired by Corus Quebec only after a couple of months.

    Except for the two firsts General manager, most of the people that manage Info690 had no knowledge of the all-news format. Some of them didn’t even know the biggest all news station in north america, like 1010WINS and WCBS. For most of us, these stations means nothing, but for a director, these stations should be and are the reference. The all news format works everywhere because they follow the same receipe. It is an easy one, but you need to follow it perfectly to get results.

    An other reason explaining the end of the all news format in Montreal is that Corus Quebec had no advantages to see Info690 succeed. Their baby is 98,5 FM and they are fighting over Radio-Canada for the best morning show. Corus Quebec had no advantages in putting energy and ressources in Info690, a station targeting an audience that want news, the same way as the one listening to 98,5 FM. CKAC was cannibalizing 98,5 FM at the time, so they closed it. Same story for Info690.

    The end of Info690 is not due to the economy, the all news format or the AM dial. These reasons are far more easy. The amateurism of Corus Quebec and the monopoly situation of the group in talk format are two big reasons.

    For journalist covering this story. Please take a look at all news radio station ratings. Put today’s sad news in context and say that all news is a strong format. Corus Quebec isn’t.

  6. Ray Stepan

    I wish somebody would be able to pick up the call letters right away and create some real news-talk competition for CJAD!

  7. Stéphane

    ” This means two clear channels (those that don’t have to reduce power to…”

    Sorry but only 690 is a clear channel, not 940 (940 is a clear channel in Mexico though :) ) I wish CFRA 580 could broadcast on a clear channel here in Ottawa because it,s the only talk radio, and I can’t hear it at night 40km away from the antenna (in Val-des-Monts).

  8. David S

    Info690 was listened to by Anglos like myself who are interested in local news, weather, business, arts et spectales, sports, etc. CJAD’s 60 second repeating news loop doesn’t cut it. Either does AD’s promoting of the Canadiens every half hour. There are other sports and teams out there. Please tell me what a good FM alternative is. CBC puts me to sleep. Good luck Stephane Zurrrbinsky.

  9. Marc

    Is the problem the economy, lack of listeners, or the people running radio stations.

    The latter pretty much nails it on the head. Put a quality, innovative product on the air and they will come. Put crap on, and they won’t.

  10. Rich

    info 690 was my personal traffic assistant. I’m on the road all the time, Info 690 was the only on the spot information channel, for weather and traffic among other things. Try to get traffic info on any other channel now.. when they are not joking around , loosing the traffic guys time, you never get anything out of it. 690 was on every 11th minutes of the hour…

    If no one takes the channel , why not have the Ministere du transport du Quebec to broadcast some continuous info in french and English in a loop. it might be a better alternative to the useless electronic panel on our highways telling you you are about to be jammed in traffic with nowhere to go (those sign are so useless… )

    Anyone that’s been in the state know there are dedicated traffic report frequencies, much less expensive then giant useless signs…

    they could use some spare time to give government information instead of paying advertising companies to send the messages on other channels…

    Anyways, just an idea…

    Good luck to all the employees, thank you Stephane Zurrrbinsky for your good work too, we will miss you!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      That’s not a bad idea, but I’d suggest a low-power channel for that, not something that’s 50,000 Watts and will carry well into New England.

      1. Rich

        Well, take it this way, there are what 5 -6 greater regions that would use this service. Gatineau, Montreal Sherbrook, Quebec city maybe Trois-Rivieres… plus all of the info on far regions that occasionally get road closure… If this frequency can cover the entire province and no one is using it!
        How long would it take to read all of the regions traffic… max 10 minutes… that means you would only have to listen 5 to 7 minutes for your local news…
        Environment Canada has this kind of broadcast on VHF, it’s been working like this for years…

        All the media closures made me think of an old song from the 80’s

        “Video Killed the radio Star”… can we say “Internet killed everything else”?

        Every generation comes with is own technology… doesn’t mean its better or more efficient, just new technology…

  11. znerol

    What alternatives are there to CJAD?

    When 940 News was around (before it was that, I’m not sure what it was, weird music all the time) radio station, I would listen to some of the shows (the morning show sucked, but so do most station’s morning shows).

    It was an alternative to CJAD. When you had Lorie and Olga bark on CJAD you could quiet switch to 940 and not be subject to that aural assault.

    I enjoyed some of the syndicated shows.

    I’d rather not pay for satellite radio, and at home listening to more and more Internet radio… wait until internet radio devices become more prevalent….. the end is near!

  12. ck

    Rich, that’s exactly right about internet killing everything else.

    There are those who claim things like TV and commercial radio still necessary because of local news and community happenings. Funny, I think the opposite: with the slow demise of local TV and no one wanting to pay for it on their cable bills, as well as radio stations going off the air more and more, it is quite evident, folks care more about what’s happening nationally, or more globally than in their own backyards. One piece of evidence of this is the fact that municipal elections tend to have the lowest turnout: I think this is true of most municipalities.

    I read comments over at CTV page regarding this story. Most missed the old talk news 940AM and the thing that they would miss the most from the last format they had was a syndicated American show, Coast to Coast.

    Folks, unfortunately, are liking all things American more and more; especially American shock jocks.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      with the slow demise of local TV and no one wanting to pay for it on their cable bills, as well as radio stations going off the air more and more, it is quite evident

      I don’t think you can conclude from this that people don’t want local programming. Local news still gets way higher ratings than national news. Local newspapers have higher readership than national newspapers. Yes, broadcasters are cutting down on local programming, but that’s more because they’re cheap. Interest has fallen, but that’s because people are getting their news differently, and traditional mass media isn’t following them.

  13. ATSC

    I think the market can support a return of two more stations. But somebody has to step up. And they need to be on FM.

    The other alternative would be for FM HD-Radio licenses. Since Corus runs CFQR-FM 92.1 (or whatever it’s marketing name is now a days) Ask the CRTC for a HD-Radio license. CFQR would stay on it’s frequency, and Corus can add a sub-channel to it. Thus allowing two program radio streams on one license.

    Or, if Corus doesn’t want to do it. Let somebody else go for a HD-Radio license amd let them offer a digital sub-channel or two as many US stations now do.

    The NPR station in Vermont does that. 107.9 fm is the regular programming. And, on HD2 they carry Classical music, and HD3 is suppose to offer BBC World Service.

    With this kinda technology, the CBC can place Radio 1, Radio 2, and Radio 3 all on one licensed transmitter. Right now they are running 3 transmitters in English while offering only 2 channels. The HD-Radio way would offer 3 channels on on transmitter. Wouldn’t that help improve the Montreal radio market?

    1. Franc

      I understand the convenience of the HD-Radio system, but I don’t understand your point. You’re saying that the best way to help ration is not only to have more stations, but also to use a technology that will require listeners to purchase a new car / home / office radio? Doesn’t make sense to me…

      1. ATSC

        Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my posting. By using HD-Radio, the costs of operations would come down. Example, Corus was running AM940 and presently running CFQR 92.1. That means two transmitters. Two electrical bills etc. By using HD-Radio on CFQR 92.1, they can have two stations on one transmitter, thus cutting their electrical costs. CFQR 92.1 would be the regular station, while CFQR 92.1-HD2 would carry a service such as the old AM940. It’s simply a solution to use new technology in order to cut some of your operational costs. And hopefully keep alive more radio choices for the listners. I’m sure many francophone listners would be very interested in keeping a all news channel much like info690 as a sub-channel to 98,5 fm. So would the employees.

        As for the need to purchase a new radio in order to receive those sub-channels, well yes, you will need to. But, people purchase Sirius/XM radios with a monthly service fee. The new AM FM HD-Radio would be a one time purchase without a service fee. And those radios cost from $50 – $300 US. Purchase what you like. Technology advances.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Your solution is interesting, but doesn’t solve the problems. These stations failed because they couldn’t get ratings. A station on a digital subchannel would get even fewer listeners than an AM station, so I don’t see the point.

        2. Franc

          Here’s the thing, though! People who purchase Sirius/XM devices are not the ones that listen to AM or FM radio. People who will NOT purchase Sirius XM are the ones to worry about, because, for sure, not all of them will pay the $50 to get a new radio, and you will lose those listeners!

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