Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pillow fight this Saturday

Pillow fight at Phillips Square in 2009

Saturday, April 2 is International Pillow Fight Day, an event coordinated by the Urban Playground Movement, which includes Toronto-based Newmindspace.

Among the more than 100 locations around the world participating is Montreal. Its pillow fight is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Phillips Square, where a similar activity was held (in the rain) in 2009 and again in 2010.

The Facebook event for the Montreal pillow fight has an astonishing 800 planning to attend, plus 400 maybes. Even applying the usual 10:1 ratio of those who say they’ll come to a Facebook event and those who actually show up, it’s still quite a large number of people.

Other Canadian locations are Calgary, Kingston, London, Quebec City, Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver and Waterloo, with varying levels of planned attendance.

No way to treat your listeners

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

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

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

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

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

Cat vs. Freeway

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

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

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

PJ who?

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

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

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

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

Listeners deserve better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a shame.

STM adds St. Michel bus route starting Monday


The new bus 41 Quartier Saint-Michel/Ahuntsic

The Société de transport de Montréal does its quarterly schedule change on Monday. There are the usual minor improvements to bus schedules.

The biggest change is a whole new line, the 41 Quartier Saint-Michel/Ahuntsic (PDF), whose route is above. It links the Sauvé station on the orange line, the Saint-Michel station on the blue line and upper Pie IX Blvd. (The result is a pretty sharp U shape, which makes it unlikely people will use it for its whole length, and makes you wonder why they didn’t just split it in half at Saint-Michel and create two routes.)

Service will be weekdays excluding holidays, from 5:30am to 9pm, with departures spaced about 20 minutes apart.

In other changes to bus schedules and routes:

The next schedule change comes in June. That’s when the STM’s major overhaul of its night service (including the addition of three new routes) is expected to take effect. The changes were supposed to be approved at the last board meeting but were pulled off the agenda at the last minute.

On the South Shore, the RTL is planning its own changes the following week (starting April 4). They are outlined in pamphlets for Brossard and Boucherville.

QCNA award noms show the struggles of some

As the big guys were patting themselves on the back this week over the National Newspaper Award nominations, smaller newspapers in Quebec also got a list of nominations: for the Quebec Community Newspaper Association awards.

The full list is here in PDF format, but since we judge papers by the number of awards they are nominated for, let’s tally the numbers:

The clear winner in number of nominations is the paper with the best name: the LowDown to Hull and Back News. The Gatineau hills paper with the adorable publisher has 17 nominations and two honourable mentions. Surprisingly, Best Overall Newspaper isn’t one of them.

Others, in order:

It’s a bit silly to judge these papers strictly on the basis of these numbers, but the disappointing showings from some former QCNA stars is worth noting.

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, whose claim to fame is being North America’s oldest continually-running newspaper, was one of the few English media in the Quebec City region, and a strong community paper. But problems at the ownership level led to a fear that it would stop publishing, a fear that its fans hope is no longer necessary after a new owner came in in November.

The West Island Chronicle, meanwhile, is suffering after the departure of its editor and only reporter a year ago. The paper was among the leaders last year on the strength of their work before they left, but now it has become at best average as its young staff learns the ropes and reinvents the journalistic wheel.

(If you want some advice, by the way, having reporters paraphrase celebrity gossip rumours they found online like a poor man’s Doug Camilli probably isn’t an optimal use of limited resources, even if it’s attracting a bunch of junk traffic online.)

The QCNA awards are handed out May 27 in Vaudreuil.

UPDATE (June 1): The list of winners is out. The Suburban won five awards, including best overall newspaper. The Eastern Door won two, Your Local Journal four, The Nation three, The Equity three and Pontiac Journal two.

The Gleaner Nunatsiaq News, Westmount Examiner, Bulletin d’Aylmer, Laval News, Townships Outlet, Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph and West Island Chronicle won one each.

Hey, remember Pakistan? CJLO does

A few months ago, I visited Concordia’s student radio station, CJLO, for a feature I’m writing for The Gazette. Unfortunately, a lack of free time on my part (as evidenced also by the low amount of content coming out of this blog lately) has meant the story taking far longer than necessary to write. This is what happens when you’re not given a deadline.

I couldn’t get it done fast enough to be published ahead of (and plug) a big fundraiser that starts tonight, so as a bit of a consolation I’m plugging it here.

CJLO’s Signal to Noise is a music event over three nights at Casa del Popolo. The cost is $10, most of which goes to the station but $2.50 of which goes to Pakistani flood relief. (Pakistan? That’s so three natural disasters ago.)

Check it out, and consider helping a good cause or two.


"Supermoon", as shot from the Belvedere in Mount Royal Park

The media hype (ahem) projected something a bit more dramatic than what really was. I had to explain to a couple at the lookout that despite the label “supermoon” this was just a slightly larger, slightly brighter moon, and you really don’t notice the change.

Nevertheless, a full moon on a clear Saturday night is a fun time to take photos (and, based on my unscientific observations, cuddle up with a boyfriend or girlfriend).

CHOM drops PJ Stock, Merv Williams from morning show

It's just Chantal and Bad Pete now

Apparently unhappy at being the only anglo music radio station to not make major changes to its morning show, CHOM has decided to drop PJ Stock, the former hockey player and Hockey Night in Canada analyst who joined the station a little over a year ago.

Also being scrubbed from CHOM’s website is Merv Williams, a supporting cast member on the morning show, but one whose presence had been felt more and more. Williams also contributed to CJAD’s Trivia Show, and that too has come to an end. (Unlike CHOM, which seems to be pretending like he never existed, the Trivia Show made it a point to note Williams’s departure on air, as you can hear from this clip (MP3).)

The reasons for the move aren’t known. Williams politely declined to comment, Stock couldn’t be reached for comment, and Program Director Daniel Tremblay hasn’t responded to an email sent over the weekend (I’ll update this if he does, but I’m not holding my breath).

UPDATE (March 15): The decision to can Stock hasn’t exactly caused a lot of commotion. No newspaper articles, no Facebook protest campaigns. The fact that Stock would join the crew only after 7pm, and often not at all because of commitments to Hockey Night in Canada and others, meant he was more of a part-timer on the morning crew than anything else. A lot of people, of course, just didn’t like the guy, and thought he was a poor choice for a radio host (the man he replaced, Ted Bird, isn’t among them – Bird suggested Stock be invited to be part of the show even before he resigned from it).

But the disappearance of Williams is being felt, despite not being a marquee name. Aside from the on-air tribute on the Trivia Show above, Williams also got a public shout-out from Bird on Twitter and Facebook, the latter prompting dozens of comments.

Team 990, where “nothing fucking works”

I wasn’t listening at the time, but enough people were at about 12:50pm Thursday during the Tony Marinaro show on CKGM when an advertising break seemed to go wrong. Very wrong.

Two ads play simultaneously, then they’re followed by dead air. Marco Campagna struggles to get things running, but he’s run into an apparently common computer problem and he lets out a string of obscenities, not realizing that a microphone in the studio is picking up his frustrated yells and is broadcasting them along with the ads.

After the break, according to those listening, cohost Randy Tieman apologized on behalf of the station for the tirade. Campagna, reportedly, feels horrible about what happened.

I feel for the guy. It’s one of those worst-nightmare scenarios for anyone in radio broadcasting. And computer problems can be the most frustrating at times, especially when you’re in an every-second-counts situation like live radio.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel so bad that I’m going to keep the audio off the Internet. A listener caught the minute-long incident and created an audio file. I’ve made a video with captions and uploaded it to YouTube CTVglobemedia, which owns CKGM and apparently doesn’t have a sense of humour, has filed a copyright infringement notice with YouTube, which has disabled the video.

Considering the sound of an announcer blurting out a bunch of F-bombs has no commercial value to the station (what are they going to do, sell it on iTunes?), I think a clear fair dealing case can be made for this.

Rather than play the game with YouTube and other video hosts, I’ll just post the MP3 audio here: F-bombs on The Team 990

Enjoy. And just be glad it wasn’t you.

UPDATE (April 4): The clip was played on the Howard Stern show today. Here’s the audio: Team 990 F-bomb on Howard Stern show (MP3)

Métro turns 10

March 1 marked the 10th anniversary of free daily newspapers in Montreal. It was 10 years ago that a partnership between Montreal-based Transcontinental and Swedish-based Metro International SA launched Métro in Montreal, replicating in French what they had done in English in Toronto the previous year.

Eight-page special issue in Tuesday's Métro

To celebrate the anniversary, Tuesday’s edition of Métro had an eight-page special insert – there’s also a website with the same content – about itself. Included in this are:

Plus the video, seen above, that makes the 10th anniversary of a newspaper seem like a Steven Seagal movie.

Aside from that, the press release includes a PDF of profiles of newsroom employees, who look a heck of a lot younger than the people in my newsroom.

Another anniversary coming

It was only days after Métro’s first appearance that Quebecor launched a competing free daily. Montréal Métropolitain had its first edition on March 12, 2001, and it would later be renamed 24 Heures.

From the beginning, that newspaper was distributed by hand outside metro stations (Quebecor fought but later lost a court challenge to Métro’s monopoly inside the metro – and recently outbid Métro for that same exclusive distribution right). Its readership numbers have always trailed Métro’s, but the gap has narrowed in recent years, and the distribution agreement with the STM could see 24 Heures finally pull ahead.

I haven’t seen any plans yet from 24 Heures to mark its anniversary.

UPDATE (April 5): There was an anniversary paper on March 28 with a small special insert, accompanied by a press release.

Can they last?

Looking back at some archives from 2001, it seemed clear that a lot of analysts didn’t hold out much hope for these papers. The consensus seemed to be that Montreal’s francophone market could maybe support one free daily like this, but not two.

It’s clear, 10 years later, that not only have both survived, but they’ve flourished, perhaps largely because of the fierce competition from each other. Both greatly increased the amount of original reporting by hiring more journalists (though 24 Heures’s decision to do so is seen in a somewhat negative light because the work of those journalists was then used to feed the locked-out Journal de Montréal). Both are now thicker and have more news than they did 10 years ago, while the paid papers are getting thinner in both size and content.

Expansion to Quebec City?

Also this week, Metro Canada announced that it would launch in two new markets: Winnipeg and London, Ont., bringing their distribution to nine cities.

With the addition of these two, Metro now serves nine of Canada’s 13 most populous metropolitan areas. Of the four it doesn’t serve, three are in southern Ontario (Hamilton, Kitchener, St. Catharines), between Toronto and London. The fourth, Number 7 on the overall list, is Quebec City.

Barring any unusual impediments unique to that area, expansion to Quebec City makes sense. There are no free dailies serving the city, leaving all the readership to Le Soleil and the Journal de Québec. And because there’s already a Métro in Montreal, much of the content – and even the design – could be shared between the two papers. Métro would only need to hire some local reporters and editors and arrange for distribution.

For that matter, it might be worth looking at whether it’s worth starting up an English version in Montreal. A quick calculation shows the Montreal anglo market to be about 750,000, which is about the same as Quebec City and Winnipeg and larger than London and Halifax.

If there’s an argument against it, it’s certainly not a question of numbers. Perhaps English Montrealers are already picking up the French Métro, or they’re too concentrated in the West Island where there isn’t any metro service. Or maybe there’s a worry about people getting confused seeing two newspapers that look alike. Or maybe there’s worry that there could be political fallout if another English newspaper were to launch in Quebec.

Or maybe they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Transcontinental* had the option of launching an English Montreal paper back in 2001, but hadn’t made plans to do so.

*Transcontinental is the major partner in Montreal’s Métro, while Torstar is the major partner in the seven editions west of here, including the new ones announced this week. Both companies are co-owners of Metro Halifax.

UPDATE: Bill McDonald, president of Metro (English) Canada, says that “at this point, we have no specific plans for future expansion.  However, I can assure you we are not done yet.”