Government pays for Cogeco to shut down CKAC Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Similar commentary from Stéphane Laporte.

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

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

Other coverage

21 thoughts on “Government pays for Cogeco to shut down CKAC Sports

  1. Marc

    I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I’ll say it here, too. Maybe I’m being cynical but once the Charest government is no longer in office (possibly as early as this fall) and the MTQ subsidy is cut, CKAC could be in the history books.

    Thanks, Cogeco, for killing the world’s first French radio station.

  2. Fassero

    Pathetic. I’m wondering if Quebec City does something on this. For a station owner to argue that it can’t hold a virtual monopoly on sports talk radio in the French language while it converts to a government-subsidized all-traffic-all-the-time station, is the peak of arrogance. Two solitudes, my foot. I’m totally with the French-speaking public on this one.

    Ironically, I had to call Cogeco on an internet matter. First time I was on hold for quite some time then shuffled through about four different people. Methinks, they were getting quite the beating all over the place.

  3. Shawn O'hara

    Aside from the $125,000 they will get a month, can they sell ad time? If so, its a huge money making deal. That could cover 25 salaries. Assuming the average is $60k. From a financial standpoint it is both a smart move and a sell out. Will we get any news or just traffic?
    The fall and early winter, leading up to Christmas is the peak sales time for any station. So by the time the sales start slipping in January, they should have established some sort of steady listening audience.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Aside from the $125,000 they will get a month, can they sell ad time?

      Yes. The only provisions are that the ad breaks be short (60 seconds or less) and that 25 minutes a day be given to the ministry for public service messages.

      Will we get any news or just traffic?

      They also promise regular weather information, but it will be mainly just traffic.

      1. Shawn

        And from what I am reading this morning, Cogeco claims CKAC’s financial situation was fragile. So that money to cover 20-30 salaries will go a long way.
        In any case, CKAC will immediately alienate their existing listeners. But, if you take 940 News as an example, no matter what their critics said, listeners tuned in to their traffic reports that consistently ran every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day.

  4. William Raillant-Clark

    I disagree that sufficient traffic information is currently provided by radio in the Montreal region. I used to commute from Montreal to Saint-Hyacinthe every day, and let me tell you that it was murder waiting for the traffic report to come up, constantly flicking through the stations in the hope that you’d catch one. Also – and maybe this is maybe due to my choice of profession – I kinda liked the press release! It was… energetic!

  5. AlexH

    Obviously, Cogeco saw the writing on the way with the CRTC, there was little chance that a clear channel was going to end up as a 24 hours per day traffic channel. There are already a number of good alternatives popping up for the use of 690.

    I think you are right too that if Cogeco had english AM properties still in operation, they likely would have trashed it to get the english side.

    My suggestion for them would be to get 600AM, which isn’t a clear channel but who cares for traffic. That will allow new services to come up on 690, and perhaps for TEAM990 to move onto 940, giving them a clear channel for the Canadien’s hockey games. A little more power, a clear channel, it’s a match made in heaven, if only Cogeco will sell. Retuning is returning, but I am sure Cogeco could get their 690 transmitter down to 600 without the world ending.

    1. Marc

      I’ve repeatedly stated that traffic stations should be on class-B’ers 600 and 850. When you think about it, it would be nice for the antennas in Kahnawake to once again send out a signal on 600.

  6. ATSC

    The title of your article says it all.

    From the news reports that I’ve seen, they indicate that the sports programming will move to their 98.5 fm station. So, no real loss for the sports junkies. But, the loss will be more on the news talk format that was already on 98.5 fm.

    Well, let’s all give the Quebec government a round of applause for using tax payer money to shut down CKAC-AM’s sports format. Meddling idiots.

    I hope the CRTC, kills their application for another AM frequency for the English version of this robo-traffic station. A single company owning so many stations in the Montreal market has no excuse to claim that they don’t have enough outlets to provide local traffic reports every 15 minutes.

    The CRTC should turn around and demand they sell off one of their french fm stations to somebody else. Not a station group already in the market of course.

    And as for the Quebec Ministry of Transport, perhaps our traffic problems in Montreal area would be better if they stuck to their core business, and stopped playing media smart guys who think that they can white wash our traffic problems with media gimmicks.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      From the news reports that I’ve seen, they indicate that the sports programming will move to their 98.5 fm station. So, no real loss for the sports junkies. But, the loss will be more on the news talk format that was already on 98.5 fm.

      Not exactly. The sports programming will be on evenings and weekends on 98.5, which is kind of a dead time for that station. Its daytime programming will remain the same. The impact is more on CKAC, which was all sports talk and now has to cram that into evenings when there’s no Canadiens, Alouettes or Impact games.

  7. Neil K.

    Not to nitpick, but everyone is calling this a “24-hour”traffic station. Not even. In the original proposal the idea was to sign off around midnight or 1 a.m. and stay dark until 4:30 or 5 a.m. the next morning (different operating hours will apply on weekdays and weekends). I don’t know if those plans have changed now with the CKAC flip but fours hours a day off-air means one less reporter shift. Will they run music or just static during the off hours?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Not to nitpick, but everyone is calling this a “24-hour”traffic station. Not even. In the original proposal the idea was to sign off around midnight or 1 a.m. and stay dark until 4:30 or 5 a.m. the next morning

      Not quite. It is a 24-hour traffic station, but will only have live announcers between 4:30am and 1am. During the overnight hours, they’re to run recorded information, particularly about overnight construction work and detours.

  8. Manu

    So Quebec City still have an all sports radio station, owned by Patrick Roy, and Montreal lost its French one. I’m not sure what the content of their daytime shows is at Quebec 800, but I’m sure they are talking a lot about the Canadiens and they will do so for at least the next 2 seasons, maybe forever. Montreal sport fans should listen to their Internet stream or download their podcast. And for those needing sports radio in their vehicule, maybe someone could activate a (pirate) repeater of Quebec 800 in the Montreal region.

    Or, could CKAC sports daytime content survive on a webradio ?

    Troisième solution, on demande à Denis Casavant de parler en français dans son émission du matin sur The Team 990. Je sais, c’est illégal, mais avec aucun concurrent francophone pour se plaindre, il ne risque pas grand-chose le Monsieur de Bell.

    Plus sérieusement, I got a feeling that they gonna speak much more about sports on CKOI in the morning. À suivre…

    1. ATSC

      HD Radio is the solution. When a particular radio format dies in a US market, it usually resurfaces as a HD-Radio sub-channel. If Bell had a FM station in Montreal, they could run their Team 990 on the main fm frequency, and place a RDS style french station on the sub-channel as HD2.

      If Cogeco was serious about their situation, they could arrange their CHMP-FM 98.5 as follows

      98.5-HD1 – News/Talk
      98.5-HD2 – Sports
      98.5-HD3 – All Traffic English

      They can keep the all traffic on CKAC-AM 730 that way.

      Hopefully somebody else will see the potential in Montreal radio and add HD Radio to their station.

      1. Fagstein Post author

        I don’t think this is a problem that technology can solve. It’s a market issue. Either there’s enough audience for a particular format to draw enough advertising to pay for it, or there isn’t. If there is a market for all-sports radio in French, someone will start up a station, and there’s plenty of space on the AM band.

        HD radio sounds great, but it’s not going to have the same reach as AM radio, making a business case even harder to come up with.

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  10. saul nowitz

    Back in the old days. I enjoyed the (CBC) down here in Bridgeport, Conn. But those stupid folks at the (CBC) dunoed the 940 Channel. A very stupid movie for Your country. There was great programing on 940 at that time. Give 940 back to the CBC. It is sad when folks can’t hear Canada any more. I do miss it. That was a horrible waste. I do hope when someone get’s 940 they will have there head screwed on tight. A friend from the USA.

  11. benny mardones

    Thats really a shame because as a soccer fan CKAC was miles better for soccer coverage than CKGM.
    Apart from Tony Marinaro, the talk show hosts will do barely any mentions of the Impact unless its to plug the english guys soccer show. But from 12 to 6pm when I listen and in the summer where there is nothing locally but the Alouettes and Impact, the coverage of the two teams is about 95%-5%

    Still strange than in a province where 10% of the population is english, there is a sports station (even one that runs a lot of syndicated crap…seriously, who listens to baseball coverage of random teams) in english and not in french.

    I have no problems with an all circulation station since for people who commute (you want to live off the island but work on it? Tough beans. Dont expect anyone to pity your choices.) seem to need it.
    And if its such an important help to circulation, then having the govt subsidize it is not a problem either.
    So while the result comes out the way it did, I cant blame the government for it.
    They can however be blamed for not asking for guarantees.

    its like giving child allocations check to a crack whore who then uses to buy drugs and then saying the govt paid for her drugs.
    just like your headline, it is true in a sense and makes for great headlines.

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