Monthly Archives: October 2011

Coming soon: A reborn (and legal) KKIC Radio

Saturday’s Gazette features an article by yours truly about new radio station KKIC.

KKIC owner Brian Moon at the microphone

KKIC (Kahnawake Keeps It Country) was born out of frustration: Montreal is the largest market in North America without a (full-time) country music station. And while that style of music might not be that popular among the hip urbanites of Quebec’s métropole, it’s very popular among the closely-knit population of the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake.

It began as a pirate radio station in December 2009 on 106.7 MHz, the frequency formerly occupied by Aboriginal Voices Radio‘s Montreal station. Its goal – then and now – is to fill the need for country music in the region but in the Kahnawake community in particular.

Montreal has only two other stations that carry country music: CJMS 1040 AM, a French station that is mostly talk during peak hours, and CKRK 103.7 FM, Kahnawake’s community station, which plays country music only on the weekends.

The latter helped raise KKIC’s profile in 2010, when it followed up on the hiring of Ted Bird by bringing on board CJAD castoffs Laurie and Olga on the weekends and ditching country music. The decision was more financial than anything else – there wasn’t advertising with the country music, and K103 hoped Laurie and Olga’s following would bring in some ad money on the weekends. And it did, at first, with the Bar B Barn remaining loyal to the long-time on-air duo.

But killing country ended up backfiring, with the community up in arms about the disappearance of country music. Many were driven to KKIC, even if it was mostly automated and broadcast with less power. There was even a “passing of the country music torch” from K103 to KKIC.

By the end of 2010, the outrage drummed up sponsorship for country music weekends on K103, and Laurie and Olga were out the door.

Still, for Moon, weekends weren’t enough. KKIC would keep on.

While K103 was experimenting with more lucrative programming, Industry Canada had taken interest in the pirate transmitter on 106.7 MHz. An inspector was sent in January 2010 to take readings, and though there are conflicting stories circulating about what exactly happened, the parties involved (Moon, the Peacekeepers and Industry Canada) all say there was full cooperation afterward. KKIC, which says it had no intention of operating as a pirate station, was guided through the process of obtaining a CRTC license and proper authorization for broadcasting.

Politics in Kahnawake being what they are, Moon at first approached the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake instead of the Canadian government for authorization, and in the initial CRTC application Moon asked for an exclusion from its Canadian content requirements because Kahnawake doesn’t treat international borders the same way the Canadian and U.S. governments do.

In the end, Moon relented and accepted the 35% CanCon minimum (he wants to spotlight local artists in particular, so he expects to easily meet this requirement), as well as a change in frequency from 106.7 MHz to 89.9 MHz, and the CRTC approved the license on Sept. 29.

The approval came the day after I visited the station on Route 207.

KKIC occupies a house, with its transmitting antenna (left) on a tower in the back yard.

It’s a house. Or at least, that’s what it used to be. Nobody lives there anymore, and Moon, with partners Don Patrick Martin and Patrick Periard, plan to reconfigure it for use as a radio station, including setting up a studio where live performances can be recorded.

The transmitter sits in a small rack next to the computer desk in the living room. The songs are stored on the computer, and there’s a sound board and some professional microphones. It’s usable as a radio studio, even though it feels like you’re in someone’s home.

The antenna is on a freshly-installed tower in the back yard. According to the Industry Canada database, it’s 26 metres high, and when it begins operating on its assigned frequency it will be running with an average effective radiated power of 360 watts. That’s about three times what it has now, and even a bit better than K103, but its coverage area will still be limited to the reserve and neighbouring communities (including, they hope, neighbouring areas on the island like Lachine and LaSalle).

Switching frequencies requires installing a new transmitter, and Moon confirmed this week that it’s on track to launch on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Their callsign will be CKKI-FM.

Morning hiccup

KKIC has big plans for the station. It’s still going to be mostly music, and a lot of it will be animated, but they’re adding people to the schedule. Cornbread Country on Sundays. A weekly show tied with the Eastern Door newspaper. Not much, but others are planned.

The big thing to start Nov. 1 was supposed to be a new morning man, Lance Delisle, who used to work at K103. But the deal with Delisle fell through, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Moon said Delisle had decided on a better offer elsewhere. Delisle made a somewhat cryptic remark about how the station still had some things to work out first but that he wished them the best.

Moon says the station will still relaunch on Nov. 1, even if he has to be the one doing the morning show himself.

Can Kahnawake afford two stations?

For a community of only about 8,000 residents, its seems astonishing that they would have not one but two radio stations. But Kahnawake has plenty of media, some in more competition than others. I’m not sure if it’s a sign of a healthy commitment to supporting not only local media but diversity in local media, or if it’s a bad sign that anything designed to bring the community together will inevitably drive it apart.

For what it’s worth, KKIC doesn’t see itself as competing with K103. It’s a commercial country music station, while K103 is a community station. Each has its role, and the two complement more than they clash.

The proof will be in whether the station can stay on its feet financially. Periard, whose fancy shirt, styled hair and BlackBerry was just about the opposite look of Moon’s long hair and T-shirt when I met them at KKIC’s studio last month, sees them hiring about a dozen people, including ad salespeople, who he thinks can help the station break even, particularly if it develops an audience just across the river. In any case, airing mostly music (“we get calls and emails from our listeners when we talk too much”, Moon says) means their overhead is low.

The group wouldn’t get into their finances much, except to say they have private investors.

I’m a bit more skeptical about their chances for financial survival. K103 isn’t exactly drowning in cash, and this second station is going to divide the community’s advertising budgets even further. And even at 300 watts KKIC has a long way to go before being considered a powerhouse in the region. Even mostly automated, there’s a lot of overhead for a radio station.

But it’s nice to see someone try.

CKKI-FM (re)launches Nov. 1 at 89.9 MHz FM. You can also stream it live at

Montreal, where data is becoming free

This post has also been published at

The City of Montreal has jumped on the open data bandwagon, setting up a website with raw data available for download.

There isn’t that much there right now (a full list is available in their press release), but the fact that the city even acknowledges the use of this is a huge step forward, and means we should expect much more in the months to come.

The idea behind open data is that information be made publicly available in its purest form. Instead of charts or long reports, the actual spreadsheet tables or map files are posted online so that application developers can find new and interesting ways of presenting information for public consumption.

For an example, here’s a Google map of the city’s major construction projects currently under way.

Now, this map doesn’t include highway projects that are done by the Ministère de Transport du Québec, or bridge projects under federal jurisdiction. But if those organizations had similar raw data available, a mashup of them together would be trivial. That information could then be used by GPS devices or trip planners to plan around construction sites. Or they could be used by radio station traffic reporters, or by investigative journalists, or by FTQ union thugs.

The best part is that the best use of this data might be something the people who put it online never even considered. The limits are not technological in nature, but merely the limits of the imaginations of thousands of computer geeks.

Another example: This XLS file of bike path counters. A few seconds in the spreadsheet and I find the busiest day for cyclists so far this year was Tuesday, June 21. And the top 25 days are all between May 30 and July 10. Without the raw data, I would have needed to wait for some bureaucrat to create an annual report, if they even bothered at all.

The STM should follow this example

One organization that I think could substantially benefit from an open data policy is the Société de transport de Montréal. Somewhere, it has a huge database of thousands of bus stops and schedules. It uses that data to feed its website, to give to Google Maps, and to create its printed schedules. But the data isn’t available directly to developers. So independent apps that help people know when the bus stops have to scrape the STM’s website for the information.

Giving the data away could help significantly in making these applications better, and in finding new ways of getting information to people that would encourage them to take public transit.

I look forward to seeing what data gets released through this website, and particularly how developers can take that data and do interesting and useful things with it.

If this kind of thing interests you, by the way, Montréal Ouvert is holding a hackathon on Nov. 19. Hopefully the city can put some more stuff online by then that can be played with there.

UPDATE: A congratulatory post from Montréal Ouvert, and more coverage from:

And here’s Projet Montréal shitting all over it because it’s not transparent enough for their liking.

UPDATE (Nov. 1): The city is launching the portal on Nov. 15. And a new iPhone app, NaviCone, is already making use of the city’s construction site mapping data.

Star 92.9 takes out attack ad on The Beat

Ad from Star 92.9 in this week's Suburban

Well that’s a bit more direct than you normally see. This ad is from Star 92.9 WEZF, a station based in Burlington, Vermont, that targets the Montreal audience even though it’s not incredibly easy to pick up here if you’re not in a car.

In case you can’t tell from the references to Aaron, Tasso, The Q and 92.5, the ad is a direct attack on The Beat (CFQR, now CKBE) and its programming changes.

I get the plan to profit from the format change, but the direct attack seems a bit much. Though there are still people bitter about Tasso and (later) Aaron getting the boot, I haven’t heard much negative about changing from The Q to The Beat. It’s too early to get an idea of ratings, but The Beat General Manager Mark Dickie says he’s encouraged by early numbers in their target demographic.

But I guess going outrageous is part of their marketing plan. It got me talking about them.

Star owner ad salesman Tim Martz spoke with The Suburban’s Mike Cohen recently (makes you wonder if the timing of the story and the ad are a coincidence).

The death of Cyberpresse



When I heard last night about how was being transformed into today, I started planning a post in my head, about how the last great example of the “portal” concept from a decade ago had finally fallen, following in the footsteps of and, who for years forced its papers and other brands to be mere sections of the portal instead of having their own websites with their own domain names.

But … that doesn’t seem to be what has happened here. At least not yet. Instead, they’ve changed the name and the branding (one that has existed for more than 10 years), but not the concept, and for now anyway all the Gesca newspapers still share the same online brand.

Continue reading

Yearning for local television

Last month, CBC television aired a half-hour special program called Secrets of Montreal.

The show, hosted by evening news anchor Debra Arbec, talked to some figures in the anglo Montreal cultural community about some of their cultural “secrets”. The guests include some pretty big local names, like comedian Sugar Sammy, filmmakers Jacob and Kevin Tierney, chef Chuck Hughes and musician Melissa Auf der Maur. They talk about restaurants, bars, urban spaces and other things they love about this city.

This, all in high definition (actual HD, not the fake HD we see on the newscasts). I actually can’t think of another program produced for a local audience by any of the three anglo broadcasters in this city that was done entirely in HD.

Secrets of Montreal host Debra Arbec

It’s not the greatest half hour of television ever (that soundtrack gets annoyingly repetitive after a while, for one, and some people have noted the Travel Travel-esque vibe), but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to see more of: local programming that isn’t confined to a newscast.

Even though Montreal has three local English-language television stations (four if you include the multiethnic CJNT/Metro 14), none of them air original local programming that isn’t either confined within the schedule blocks of their newscasts or done from their news sets. Not to take away from the quality of local news being produced by these stations, but there are some things we’d like to see that can’t be converted into a two-minute news package or six-minute sit-down interview.

Seeing this show was a breath of fresh air, a sign that maybe the CBC was starting to rediscover the idea that its programming should reflect not only the national culture but the local one as well. And I was hopeful that this was a sign the local stations were getting more control over their programming schedules and/or budgets, being able to work on special projects like this.

But I was disappointed somewhat when I discovered through Google searches that this idea didn’t come from CBC Montreal. “Cultural secrets” shows were produced across the country: Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and apparently other places as well. All were done to coincide with “Culture Days” and the CBC’s 75th anniversary. All followed roughly the same idea, and all aired Sept. 29th at 7:30pm, in the timeslot normally reserved for Jeopardy. (In fact, for Videotron illico users, the show was listed as an episode of Jeopardy, and remains labelled as such on my PVR. This may have resulted in many potential viewers missing the show.)

What bugged me about this national congruence was that it reminded me how much of what happens locally at the CBC is actually decided nationally, imposed on the regions in a cookie-cutter fashion.

It reminded me of Living [insert location here], the regional lifestyle show duplicated across the country that was cancelled during the big round of budget cuts in 2009. At least that was regular programming instead of a one-off show.

When I start giving more serious thought to proposals of radical changes at the CBC, this is one of the reasons why. The other stations are doing daily local newscasts (and, unlike CBC Montreal, they don’t take the weekends off). If this network is going to be funded mainly through government financing, shouldn’t it offer something different?

I’m aware of – and sympathetic to – the budget constraints faced by CBC and its Montreal television station. But English Montreal (and, for that matter, English Quebec) is a linguistic minority, and one would think the CBC would be a leader in giving this community a voice. Lately, it’s seemed more like an also-ran, which is particularly outrageous considering how little is done outside of news at CTV and Global.

Secrets of Montreal, directed by Vincent Scotti and Filippo Campo, and starring Debra Arbec, can be viewed in its entirety on the CBC website.

The CBC/Quebecor misinformation war

To understand the ongoing war between Quebecor and the CBC, you have to understand a bit how television works in Quebec.

In English Canada, the conventional television networks make money by buying popular American series, running them during prime time and selling commercials. It takes little effort, and brings in a lot of reward. The CBC, meanwhile, does its best to produce original series, but few of them have a chance competing against the big American shows, so CBC falls significantly behind in the ratings. (Actually, overall CBC is No. 2 in prime-time behind CTV, thanks to powerhouses like Hockey Night in Canada.)

In Quebec, things are different. Francophones here like to watch things in their own language, so American shows aren’t as popular as home-grown ones. (Generous government subsidies helps here too.) While the networks do bring in American shows, have them dubbed and aired during prime time, the big shows are original productions. So Radio-Canada television can be commercially competitive and very Canadian at the same time.

In Quebec, the two big players in television are Radio-Canada and Quebecor’s TVA network. Télé-Québec and V, the other conventional networks, fall in with specialty channels like RDS, Canal Vie, Canal D, etc. in a secondary tier.

So when TVA looks at the competition, it looks at Radio-Canada. And there’s this annoying little fact at the back of its mind when it takes that look: Radio-Canada has a competitive advantage given to it directly by the government.

Billion-dollar leg-up

Radio-Canada, along with the CBC, gets $1.1 billion annually from the Canadian government, as the public broadcaster. That money is spent on all sorts of things, but particularly radio and television programming. Because both CBC and Radio-Canada sell advertising for their television stations, the giant subsidy effectively covers the loss they incur by spending much more on production than they get in ad revenue.

Imagine being in any other business where your biggest competitor is handed a truckload of money from the government every week. Imagine that business then lowered its prices to below cost, and had the government cover that loss.

I’m not saying I agree with the organized campaign against CBC and Radio-Canada being put together by Quebecor’s media outlets. For one thing, I’m not crazy about a bunch of journalists working for one company engaging in a campaign against their employer’s competitor.

But I do understand the basics of the argument: The CBC is at an unfair competitive advantage compared to private television networks. It’s an argument that doesn’t really work in the rest of Canada because the CBC doesn’t really compete with CTV and Global. But it does work in Quebec, because Radio-Canada and TVA compete directly with each other.

The “CBC sucks” Network

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, Quebecor has been targetting the CBC. Journalists at Sun Media file tons of access to information requests against the public broadcaster – an average of more than one a day in 2007, so much that the CBC asked the government to step in because so many requests were coming from the same source. Columnists attack the CBC at the slightest whim, while staying silent on anything negative about Quebecor.

Sun News Network has been particularly vicious. “CBC Money Drain” appears in the generic opening of one of its prime-time shows, and segments about media criticism focus mostly on the CBC, which it refers to as the “state broadcaster”, despite how ridiculous that comparison is. Sun News has repeatedly called for privatization or shutdown of the CBC and Radio-Canada.

The public broadcaster has so far reacted in kind of a mixed way. It defends itself, but politely. It calmly explains its role as a public broadcaster to those who ask. It responds to a flood of access-to-information requests from Quebecor media outlets by posting all the documents online. It sends letters to the editor correcting bad facts and incorrect assumptions.

In recent months, there has been a bit more directed directly at Quebecor. Sarcasm, for one. Or taking its case to third parties, like this letter sent to The Gazette, which the CBC accused of falling for Quebecor’s misinformation. (UPDATE: Quebecor’s Serge Sasseville emails me to point out his response to that letter, also published in The Gazette)

The gloves come off

It’s only this week that the CBC has, in the words of some of its defenders, taken the gloves off and fought back hard against the Quebecor machine. It released a statement on Wednesday attacking their anti-CBC talking points. That got attention from such news outlets as the Globe and Mail, and lots of play on social media.

It also prompted an angry response hours later from Quebecor, taking on the anti-talking-points point by point. (UPDATE Oct. 21: A second press release from Quebecor, threatening legal action if the CBC page isn’t taken down)

This was a day before Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau appeared before a committee looking into the CBC’s refusal to disclose information requested by Quebecor journalists. There, Péladeau denies waging a war against the CBC, but says it has to be accountable. (See coverage from Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen)

So who’s right?

While many people who instinctually love the CBC and hate Quebecor cheer at the Mother Corp fighting back, I find myself a bit disappointed. It feels like the CBC is sinking down to Quebecor’s level, and many of the facts they put out have the same problems when it comes to lack of context or oversimplification.

Let’s take a look at the arguments from each side individually:

Quebecor Media is waging a coordinated war against the CBC: Péladeau denies this. But he does so in sort of a self-contradictory way. Péladeau claims that his journalists work independently, without anyone telling them what to do. But then he says his journalists have never sought journalistic sources. How does he know this? How can he pretend to speak for his media empire if he says his journalists act independently?

It’s obvious that Quebecor’s outlets, particularly Sun News, Sun papers and the Journals, have a beef with the CBC. Whether that’s because of corporate edict or just because those outlets hire like-minded people as journalists is up to the public to decide.

Quebecor’s access-to-information requests seek journalistic sources: I’ve yet to see a proper accounting of exactly what requests Quebecor have filed that have been denied, so I can’t answer this question. I suspect it’s more subtle than this, and the problem comes down to a matter of interpretation. The CBC can deny requests for information about its “programming activities”, for example, but how far does that go? Is Rick Mercer’s expense account fair game? Don Cherry’s employment contract? The CBC’s deal with the NHL? Quebecor denies it is asking for the identities of the CBC’s Deep Throats, but compares its requests to asking for lunch receipts of senior executives, information which is already posted online.

The CBC is using taxpayer money to hire lawyers to fight transparency: Well, yes. Specifically, they’re fighting the access-to-information commissioner, arguing that only a judge should be able to determine what information should be released. I don’t agree with this, but the argument that the CBC shouldn’t use lawyers because they’re taxpayer-funded is ridiculous. The alternative would be to cave in to every demand, no matter how damaging.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finkenstein has called for the access-to-information law to be clarified. The CBC also says it is trying to clarify the rules, rather than admit they’re fighting them.

“Quebecor has received more than half a billion dollars in direct and indirect subsidies and benefits from Canadian taxpayers over the past three years, yet it is not accountable to them.” The CBC links this statement to a presentation (PDF) that breaks down that figure. By the CBC’s own numbers, more than half of that “half a billion dollars” is their calculation of how much Quebecor “saved” in the last spectrum auction because it bid on frequencies that were set aside to new entrants into the wireless market. The figure is based on the assumption that if Bell, Telus and Rogers were not prevented form bidding for those frequencies, that they would have gone for as much as the frequencies not set aside for new entrants were sold for. That’s a big assumption. And even if we accept that, calling this a “subsidy”, even an “indirect” one, is a big stretch.

The rest of those subsidies are things like the Canada Media Fund, the Local Programming Improvement Fund, and government tax credits for TV production. All of these are things that CBC programming is also eligible for, and is above the $1.1 billion annual subsidy from the Canadian government.

Plus, the CMF and LPIF are funded primarily by cable and satellite companies like Videotron, not by the federal government. Quebecor points out that Videotron pays slightly more into the media fund than TVA takes out of it, which means Quebecor is subsidizing the CMF, not the other way around.

I get the point that Quebecor receives public money too, but the CBC’s figures are exaggerated.

Quebecor complained to the prime minister that CBC wasn’t taking out ads in its newspapers. Quebecor said it was “false” to say they’ve complained about the lack of advertising, then proceeded to complain about the lack of advertising. Péladeau testifed on Thursday that in fact a letter was sent to the prime minister complaining about the lack of newspaper ads. (UPDATE Oct. 21: A similar strange reasoning appears in the legal letter Quebecor sent CBC: Saying the statement is false and then repeating it in different words. Maybe there’s a difference I don’t understand?)

The truth is that both Quebecor and the CBC are engaged in a boycott of each other. There are no ads for the Journal de Montréal on Radio-Canada either. It’s not absolute, but there’s a big difference in advertising buys when you compare TVA to Radio-Canada, or La Presse to the Journal de Montréal.

Quebecor Media is also owned by the government. This logic is based on the fact that the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the government’s investment arm, has a 45% stake in Quebecor Media, dating back to when Quebecor bought Videotron. This is a big stake, but still a minority one, with Quebecor Inc. having the rest. The big distinction here is that the Caisse is an investment organization that puts money in companies expecting a healthy return. The government isn’t funding Quebecor Media as much as Quebecor Media is funding the government through its profits.

The Quebecor war machine

It’s funny how all the big public media wars in Canada involve Quebecor. It’s at war with the CBC over access to information. It’s at war with Bell over specialty channel carriage (even though Bell has gotten a major competitor to vouch for its fairness). It’s at war with La Presse over the secret deal it imagines Gesca has with the CBC. It’s at war with Transcontinental over community newspapers.

If I was paranoid, I’d think Quebecor just likes picking fights.

Paul (Tasso) Zakaib, Patrick Charles to do afternoon show on Mike FM

Paul Zakaib (aka Tasso Patsikakis, left) and Patrick Charles (photo: Mike FM)

While I was busy yesterday at CRTC hearings for AM frequencies, Mike FM was announcing its new afternoon show stars, and give them points for scoring recognizable names. Paul Zakaib, the Tasso of Aaron and Tasso, will join Patrick Henry Charles (formerly of both CFQR 92.5 and CJFM 95.9) as the afternoon drive hosts starting next Monday.

Tasso, as we all know, was unceremoniously dumped from Q92’s morning show in August 2009 along with co-host Suzanne Desautels, leaving Aaron Rand in an uncomfortable position for almost two years until he finally left in May. Tasso has barely been heard from since (a notable exception being a guest appearance on Rand’s show to say goodbye).

Charles worked for seven years at Q92 until he jumped to CJFM and then was dumped from its morning show into a lower-profile job until he left completely last month. He also contributes a pop culture segment weekly on CFCF’s noon newscast. He’s known mostly for his musical parodies, and even created one for this announcement.

As The Gazette notes, Tasso’s timeslot will put him in a competing position with his long-time partner Aaron Rand, who is now doing afternoons at CJAD.

I asked Rand about this. He’s not taking the bait that this is some epic war. He writes:

Above all I’m happy for Paul, and glad to see he’s going to go back to work. I know it hasn’t been easy for the past couple of years.

As for being “pitted” against each other, I’m not sure what the format there is going to be, but I’ll go out on a limb and guess it’s not news/talk.

Now, you might be wondering: What the hell is Mike FM?

It’s a legitimate question to ask. The station, CKDG-FM 105.1, launched in 2004 after being on cable radio for decades. It is technically licensed as a multilingual station, and is limited to only having 35% of its broadcast hours in English or French. Still, it brands itself as an English station with English morning and afternoon programs, with Greek taking up most of the rest of the schedule. (I guess that makes a name like Tasso Patsikakis a good fit here.)

It has an average effective radiated power of 141 watts, which is tiny when you compare it to, say, The Beat’s 41,400 watts. It also broadcasts from a lower height on Mount Royal, from the Bell tower on Remembrance Road (the same one used by CFCF television’s temporary digital transmitter).

Current (inner circle) and proposed (outer circle) contours of CKDG-FM (Images from REC Networks maps)

The station has applied to the CRTC to improve its signal. The antenna would remain at the same place, but the station would change frequency from 105.1 to 106.7, the one formerly used by Aboriginal Voices Radio. It would also increase its power from 141 watts to 407 watts. This would put inside its contours areas like the West Island, east end and north and south shores, but would still be far from commercial rivals and very difficult to capture with cheap portable radios.

Even though the deadline for comments was more than a year ago, the CRTC hasn’t yet made a decision. One complication is that 106.7 is being used by pirate radio station KKIC in Kahnawake. That station has been given an actual broadcast license for 89.9FM, but hasn’t switched frequencies yet.

Paul Zakaib and Patrick Henry Charles begin on CKDG-FM 105.1 on Monday, Oct. 24. Their show runs weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. A Facebook page is already setup. The station streams live via

CRTC hears applications for 690 and 940 AM

In what is believe it or not considered an expedited process, the CRTC begins hearings Monday on five applications for the vacant frequencies of 690 and 940 kHz for commercial radio stations.

This story, in The Gazette on Saturday, gives the skinny on what the CRTC will be deciding. (Bonus points if you correctly point out that the file photo attached to the story is of the Mount Royal tower, which has no AM transmitters. Now get a life.)

Quick history lesson: These frequencies belonged to Radio-Canada (690) and CBC radio (940) for more than half a century, until both stations moved to FM (95.1 and 88.5, respectively) in 1998. A year later, what was then Metromedia launched Info 690 and 940 News on those frequencies. Both stations struggled, 940 in particular, for the next decade. Two format changes (news-talk with “940 Montreal” and then automated music with “940 Hits”) later, then-owner Corus put both out of their misery, shutting them down. They’ve been silent ever since.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and Cogeco, which bought Corus Quebec – including the unused transmitters – announces a deal with the Quebec government to run all-traffic stations in French and English, to the tune of $1.5 million per station per year. The deal requires the stations to be running by Oct. 31.

The CRTC application was supposed to be a simple thing, with approval easily acquired by the deadline. The frequencies had been unused for a year and a half, and it had been a year since the licenses for CINW and CINF were revoked, but there were no applications to use them. While the FM band is saturated in Montreal, there are plenty of AM frequencies that sit silent (600 and 850 are two other examples) because nobody wants them.

But the CRTC got quite a few interventions demanding an open call for applications. The CRTC agreed, and set a hearing date for Oct. 17.

Judging that far too late, Cogeco shut down CKAC Sports and replaced it with their French all-traffic station on Sept. 6. They subsequently withdrew their application for 690 AM, figuring they’re unlikely to be awarded a fifth French-language radio station in Montreal.

That leaves five applications for the two frequencies. You can download and read the applications from the CRTC’s website. Here they are in brief:

For 690 kHz:

  • Radio Fierté, a French-language music and talk station targeted at Montreal’s gay community, owned by Dufferin Communications/Evanov Communications, which runs PROUD FM in Toronto.
  • TSN Radio, currently at 990 kHz. The Bell Media all-sports station wants to change frequency to improve its coverage, particularly at night, when it has to modify its signal to avoid interference with other stations on that frequency. Bell says the former Team 990 has never been profitable, and probably won’t unless it gets better coverage.
  • 7954689 Canada inc., a company formed by businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, which wants to start a French-language news-talk station. Tietolman (the son of CKVL/CKOI founder Jack Tietolman) and Tétrault (former city councillor and PQ/BQ candidate) unsuccessfully tried to present a counter-offer to Cogeco’s $80-million purchase of Corus Quebec, and part of their offer would have been to revive 690 and 940.

For 940 kHz:

  • 7954689 Canada inc., a corresponding English-language news-talk station with what is so far a nearly identical format.
  • Cogeco’s English all-traffic station, which it says would be operational by “mid-winter” if approved.

The agenda for the meeting has presentations from all these applicants on Monday, and support/opposition debates on Tuesday.

Scheduled to appear are, among others:

  • For Bell Media (TSN Radio), General Manager Wayne Bews, host Denis Casavant, Ringside Report host Dave Simon Bell Media Radio Engineering Director Dave Simon* as well as Bell Media Radio president Chris Gordon and Bell Media regulatory affairs bosses Mirko Bibic and Lenore Gibson
  • For Tietolman/Tétrault/Pancholy, the three owners, representatives of Léger Marketing as well as former CJAD program director Steve Kowch and morning host Jim Connell
  • For Dufferin Communications (Radio Fierté), Proud FM operations manager Bruce Campbell, sales manager John Kenyon, Evanov sales VP Ky Joseph, Proud FM announcer Bob Willette, Dufferin VP marketing Carmela Laurignano, Evanov VP finance Michael Kilbride, and lawyers Chad Skinner and Andrée Wylie
  • For Cogeco (Metromedia CMR), Richard Lachance, VPs Yves Mayrand, Daniel Dubois, and Mélanie Bégnoche, 98.5/CKAC assistant GM Michel Lorrain, The Beat 92.5 GM Mark Dickie and consultants Serge Bellerose and Maurice Beauséjour

On Tuesday, the presentations will get responses, mostly from the other applicants. (Astral Media, which owns CJAD and four music stations in the city, is certainly following this, but isn’t appearing at the hearing.) Radio Fierté and TSN Radio each have four supporters offering testimony to the hearing.

You can read all 226 interventions (many are repetitive, thanks to campaigns by TSN Radio, Cogeco and Dufferin to have people write to the CRTC, in many cases using form letters). All are on the record even if the writers aren’t appearing at the hearing.

The only intervenor appearing independently is Sheldon Harvey, the moderator of the Radio in Montreal group. Harvey submitted multiple interventions, supporting the applications by Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy and opposing those of Cogeco and Dufferin (he didn’t submit an intervention regarding TSN Radio). Harvey deemed the 50,000 watt clear channels “overkill” for an all-traffic station, and proposed Cogeco operate CKAC 730 bilingually instead. He also said a clear channel was “overkill” for Radio Fierté, and recommended they use another vacant frequency.

The deadline for interventions passed weeks ago, so the CRTC won’t be hearing any new opinions on these applications, but

The hearing takes place Monday and Tuesday, starting at 9am, at Delta Centre-Ville, 777 University St., room Régence AB. Audio from the hearing can be streamed online via the CRTC website. You can listen to the direct floor audio here or an English translation here.

*CORRECTION: Dave Simon of Ringside Report emails me to say it’s not him who’s appearing at the hearing. It’s actually another Dave Simon who works at Bell Media Radio. That is, unless there’s a third Dave Simon associated with TSN Radio. Only Cogeco provided titles for the people appearing with them (Tietolman/Tétrault/Pancholy has what companies they work for), hence the possibility of confusion in case there are other cases of people with the same name.

Nat Lauzon back on the air with The Beat

Nat Lauzon, the former daytime DJ at Mix 96/Virgin Radio until she left to join what was then called the Q, began her first shift as the weekend afternoon host Saturday on CKBE, 92.5 The Beat.

The first day of one of Montreal’s biggest (and yet perhaps most underrated) radio personalities was remarkably low-key. Her first words on air, just after noon, sounded like thisAnother few words at 12:37pm, but otherwise it was all about the music, following The Beat’s 10-in-a-row-to-start-each-hour thing.

Off air, she announced the new job this morning on her Twitter account and her Facebook page, and got a congratulatory tweet from fellow-Virgin-to-Beat-turncoat Cat Spencer, along with a bunch of messages from fans (some only finding out now that she’s switching stations).

Part of the low-keyness was necessary, Beat General Manager Mark Dickie said this week, because Lauzon’s contractual obligations to Astral expired only at midnight, exactly three months after her last day at Virgin (that’s why she’s only starting now when the “new station” launched more than a month ago). So the station couldn’t put her on air or do much to advertise her before today. Even the web page for her show isn’t done yet.

Dickie promised he won’t let her go unnoticed though, and said a marketing campaign featuring Lauzon will begin on Monday. Combined with the one-woman Lauzon marketing machine that is her mother, we expect people will be seeing that adorable face around over the next little while.

As previously reported, Lauzon left Virgin on good terms, mainly because she wanted to devote more time to her other passions, her freelance voice-over work and her Montreal Dog Blog. Dickie jumped at the chance to hire Lauzon when he learned of her desire for a part-time job, and though he said he’s spending far more on her than he planned to for a weekend DJ, he has absolutely no regrets about doing so.

Let her talk

UPDATE: I listened to Lauzon’s first show as I did errands on Saturday afternoon (why oh why did I choose then to do grocery shopping?), and I was struck with one thought: Why am I not hearing her talk?

I know there’s a difference between talk and music radio. And I know there’s a lot less talking during the day than during morning shows when you need to throw in news, weather, traffic and contests. But Lauzon’s on-air bits were short and infrequent. Maybe a minute and a half each hour.

I’m hardly one to complain that there’s too much music. But why spend money hiring someone like Lauzon for such little on-air exposure? I just don’t get it. (Now I do, see below.)

I’m reminded of the experiment that this same station did with Terry DiMonte in 2008, not long after he moved to Calgary. DiMonte went to work for a Corus station, Q107, and since Corus also owned Q92 at the time, they figured they’d make use of his following in this city and give him a noon-hour show here that he’d do from there.

It made sense, but it was stopped after less than a year for the simple reason that Q92 was paying DiMonte a lot of money to talk for just six minutes a day. His connection to the Montreal audience is important, but if you’re going to hire him, have him actually work instead of just sitting around during non-stop music marathons.

Lauzon has far too much talent for the amount of airtime she has, if that first show is any indication. Hopefully The Beat can find a formula for it that allows Montrealers to hear her voice and appreciate her quirky sense of humour without making it feel like talk radio. Even just a few seconds between every couple of songs can go a long way toward making the audience feel like they’re listening to the music with someone.

UPDATE (Oct. 17): Lauzon responds to me thusly about her talk time: “[It] was my choice to keep it simple. Getting used to new software/equipment and I really wanted to just keep ‘er on the rails and keep it simple while I get my bearings. Things will widen up over time (that’s what she said).”

That’s good to hear. We need more time for crude jokes like that on weekend afternoons.

Dickie confirms Lauzon will get more airtime, saying we should expect to hear her voice on The Beat as much every hour as we heard her on CJFM.

I personally think there could have been a stronger first impression, maybe a better introduction on her first show, but having a soft launch instead of a hard one isn’t going to discourage people from listening to her.

Lauzon has posted on her blog about her new job, and is asking listeners to take pictures of themselves next to billboards of her that are going up, and email those pictures to her.

Nat Lauzon hosts Feel Good Weekends from noon to 5pm Saturdays and Sundays on CKBE 92.5FM The Beat.

The contradictory stock photo

I find it funny how the lady in the Sun News Network promo complaining about how “political correctness has run amok”:

is the same lady promoting government assistance to old people in Quebec:

(Click on the photos to get links to where they come from)

This is, of course, a stock photo. I tracked it down to German photographer Martina Ebel, who sells it through various stock photo sites. She confirmed the photo was hers, though she didn’t give me information about the model, who appears in dozens of other photos taken by Ebel.

I’d be willing to put money on the assumption that this nice-looking old lady is not Canadian, has never requested financial assistance from the Quebec government, and has never watched the Sun News Network.

But that’s not important, right? What’s important is the illusion that this photo represents an actual person we can relate to, and who are news media or the government to dispell us of the false impressions they planted in our minds?

Besides, it’s so heartwarming that right-wing media blowhards and left-wing government money wasters have at least one thing in common: the same taste in generic old women.