Monthly Archives: September 2012

Why OpenFile failed

It was early 2010, and the state of journalism was bleak. The effect of the global recession was around its peak, advertising revenue was low and looking like it would never return (it did eventually bounce back a bit). Some fantastic people were out of work (briefly, anyway). Montreal lost two radio stations and at least one online journalism experiment. Jobs were disappearing nationwide.

So media watchers in Canada met with hope and some skepticism a new venture by journalist Wilf Dinnick. He proposed something called “community-powered news”, a structure that would marry the democracy and people-power of crowdsourcing and the reliability of professional journalism. Unlike many startup news websites, it promised to pay freelance journalists competitive rates.

It got a lot of attention, from American media watchers like PBS MediaShift and the Nieman Journalism Lab, as well as Canadian media like the National Post and the Globe and Mail. Earlier this year, its founder was named J-Source’s Newsperson of the Year.

And yet, the skepticism continued. For one thing, there didn’t seem to be an obviously sustainable source of income. And despite all the hoopla, there weren’t many major stories being broken by this project. Occasionally, a quality freelancer would put out something that turned heads, but a lot of the stories seemed to be little different from what you’d find on any other local collaborative blog. It got a reputation as a website that Storified the news rather than reported it. For every interesting story about an important issue, there was lots and lots of curation, re-reporting what had been reported elsewhere.

Not that curation is a bad thing. But we already have a blog that curates local news. And lots of people go straight to newspaper websites for their news, or follow what they see on Twitter or Facebook. While I think curation makes a lot of sense for blogs about specific topics, doing it for generalist local news makes less sense because most local media try to match each other’s big stories anyway.

The system

When it launched, OpenFile promised to change the way people think about how news stories are created. It proposed that its workflow differ from mainstream news organizations in two major ways:

  1. Story ideas would originate from users, not assignment editors. People would be able to add comments while the story was being developed.
  2. Stories would never be “finished” – they would continually evolve, with back-and-forth between the journalist and the public

In hindsight, neither of these ideas worked out very well. The first was based on the idea that there would be a steady supply of new story ideas from readers, stuff that the big mainstream media wasn’t interested in reporting on. OpenFile failed to build enough community engagement that would encourage people to bring their ideas to them. Instead, what few original ideas people would come up with would either be shared on social media, fed to individual journalists or shopped to the largest media outlets.

The second part failed in part because OpenFile employs freelancers, and freelance journalism isn’t really compatible with stories never being done. And in practice OpenFile followed up on stories much in the same way mainstream media does, by writing separate follow-up stories. In other cases they would update the original stories by writing updates on top of them, but those stories always ended up difficult to read because they no longer had a narrative flow.

OpenFile also promised to be more local, right down to the street level. That sounds cool, but there’s a limit to how hyperlocal you can get before you narrow your audience to a handful of people.


Now, don’t misinterpret me here. I liked OpenFile. They republished a few of my blog posts (and paid a small fee for that privilege, even though I never quite got how that was a good use of money). I even wrote an original story for them last year about a dangerous intersection (a year later, nothing has been done about it). I was encouraged to contribute more, but I didn’t mainly because I had other outlets for professional reporting, in addition to this blog. I wasn’t really sure what kind of stories I could write for them.

Nevertheless, I certainly appreciated how OpenFile paid freelancers properly for their work, and the opportunities they offered to good young journalists.

When I first heard a rumour last week that the whole project would be shutting down soon, I was disappointed but not surprised. Now that they’ve announced a not-shutdown, I’m more confused than anything else, wondering why they need to suspend operations for such a short amount of time, and whether this isn’t just that last gasp of desperate hope that gets shot out before an organization in denial finally bites the dust. I hope not.

But I do think that OpenFile, if it continues, needs to really think about its business model and ask itself what it’s doing. If it’s a user-generated news site, that’s one thing. If it’s a general local news site, that’s another. But it can’t go up against the big guys by trying to do the same thing, and it can’t put all its hopes on the possibility that someone will file a fantastic idea that it can pounce on.

The best way for small media to make a difference is to find a niche and own it. To be the go-to source for … something. OpenFile needs to find something it can be good at, something that other media isn’t doing, and focus on that. Maybe then it can be truly successful. But trying to apply a new model to a generalist news site won’t work if you’re not producing enough generalist news.

Here’s hoping OpenFile can find its purpose before Wilf Dinnick loses any more money on this venture.

And here’s hoping that journalists like Dominique Jarry-Shore and Sarah Leavitt can find other sources of income if they can’t just go back to OpenFile in “a week or two.”

UPDATE (Oct. 1): J-Source has a story about OpenFile, in which Dinnick hints that the new OpenFile would involve increased user participation, but otherwise doesn’t offer much detail about its future.

CFRA Ottawa gets power boost toward Montreal

Comparative map of existing (red) and proposed (black) night contours of CFRA Ottawa. (Click for larger image)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission today approved a nighttime power increase and pattern change for CFRA 580AM in Ottawa. The change will significantly improve the station’s signal, particularly toward the East, putting Montreal inside its 0.5mV/m contours at night.

Like most AM radio stations, CFRA is required to protect other stations on the same frequency at night, when AM radio signals carry much further. Specifically, it was required to protect the following 580AM stations, all of which have now moved to FM (and all of which are private commercial music stations):

  • CJFX in Antigonish, N.S. (at 98.9 and 102.5 FM exclusively since 2003)
  • CKPR in Thunder Bay, Ont. (at 91.5 and 93.5 FM since 2007)
  • CHLC in Baie-Comeau, Que. (at 97.1 FM since 1996)

The result is a speech-bubble-shaped pattern pointed heavily toward the north, northeast and northwest (the transmitter site is due south of Ottawa).

With these stations gone from this frequency, and no expectation that anyone would try to reactivate them in these small markets where there are still FM frequencies available, Bell Media Radio successfully convinced the CRTC that it should allow CFRA to increase its nighttime pattern to have better coverage toward eastern and western Ottawa suburbs at night. The fact that no one objected to the application also convinced the CRTC that this was a good idea.

Under the approved technical parameters, CFRA will drop from 50kW to 30kW at night (instead of from 50 to 10). The pattern shape will also change slightly, still speech-bubble-shaped but a bit less directional toward the north, improving its signal toward the southeast and southwest.

According to the broadcast engineer’s contour map, the 0.5mV/m contour, which under the current signal goes through Deux Montagnes, Rigaud and Alexandria, will now cover all of Montreal, Laval, the north shore and Châteauguay and Valleyfield regions. It’s hard to translate that into actual receiving abilities (which are dependent on the type of radio and local interference sources), but it will be an improvement.

According to a story on CFRA’s website, “CFRA Chief Engineer Harrie Jones says the technical work will begin soon, and he’s hopeful the affected listeners should hear a difference within a month.”

Rogers proposes two television stations to replace CJNT

Back in May, when Rogers and Channel Zero announced that they had reached an agreement to buy CJNT from the latter and turn it into a Citytv-branded station (with it becoming a Citytv affiliate in the meantime), it was unclear whether it would remain Montreal’s only ethnic television station. Rogers Media President of Broadcast, Scott Moore, couldn’t be pinned down either way on what, if any, amendments to the station’s licence the media giant would propose as part of the purchase.

On Sept. 5, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission published the application for transfer of ownership, and we learn that, in fact, Rogers is asking to change Citytv from an ethnic station into an English one, or at least to relieve it of a condition of licence requiring 75% of programming from 8pm to 10pm be ethnic in nature (a condition that previous owners have tried and failed to have relieved).

But this request comes with a twist: In exchange for turning CJNT into an English station, Rogers proposes to support a brand new television station in Montreal whose programming would be almost entirely ethnic in nature. The new station, which would be the 10th over-the-air television station in Montreal, would be run by an independent group and would include some of the same programming that used to air on CJNT.

During this week, I’ll be speaking with the principal parties involved (Rogers, Channel Zero and the independent group proposing the new station). In the meantime, here’s what the applications themselves say.

Citytv Montreal

“The acquisition of CJNT-TV and its conversion to an English-language commercial television station will allow RBL to establish an over-the-air television presence for Citytv in Montréal. This is a key step towards making Citytv more competitive with CTV and Global in terms of programming and our ability to access network advertising revenues.”

Rogers has made clear its intention for a more national footprint for the Citytv network, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this week. Advertisers treat Citytv, which has no stations east of Toronto, as a small regional player, and Rogers wants that to change. So it signed an affiliation agreement with three small-market western stations in the Jim Pattison Group, and acquired Saskatchewan educational network SCN, rebranding it Citytv Saskatchewan. And it acquired CJNT in Montreal.

The network still isn’t complete. There’s no station in Atlantic Canada, and only a retransmitter in Ottawa. But these moves have increased the network’s reach about 27%.

Being a national advertising player is a priority for Rogers, so much so that it’s willing to lose a lot of money on a Citytv station in Montreal:

“In terms of revenue potential, Citytv has a very limited ability to sell network advertising. National advertising buyers want access to top quality programming on national networks with extensive audience reach to meet their clients’ needs in the most efficient way possible. They naturally look first to CTV and Global for network buy opportunities, as these networks have the national reach that they are seeking. Citytv network buys may be considered to fill the gaps, but only after the buyers have exhausted their advertising opportunities with the large national networks.”

Purchase price

The application lists a purchase price for CJNT: $10.3 million. That breaks down as about $550,000 for the actual assets (mostly transmission assets, as Rogers isn’t interested in the existing studios or programming rights), and the rest for the licence itself. When Channel Zero bought CJNT in 2009, it was in a package deal with CHCH in Hamilton for $12, along with commitments to cover the stations’ liabilities.

If we consider a $6 purchase price and a $10.3 million sale price, that’s a 171,666,667% return on investment in just three years for Channel Zero, or 57,222,222% a year. That’s about 10 million times the rate on my RRSP.

From the Rogers application, we also learn a bit about Channel Zero’s motives, including the fact that it took the station mainly so it could get CHCH:

Channel Zero’s primary consideration was the acquisition of CHCH-TV; however, it was clear that the stations were being sold as a package and Channel Zero was enthused by the opportunity to acquire an ethnic station in one of Canada’s greatest cities.

Channel Zero has invested just under $500,000 on technical upgrades to the CJNT-TV facility including converting the transmission facilities to digital. It has also created new office facilities and has funded operating losses which are expected to total $1.5 million by the end of the current broadcast year.

This is consistent with criticisms that while Channel Zero has invested a lot of time, energy and money into programming at CHCH, it has all but ignored CJNT. (Though, the application also correctly points out that if Channel Zero had not bought CJNT in 2009, the station would likely have been shut down.)

The big question, though, is why Rogers is bothering with this when it could just apply for a new licence for a new television station, and leave CJNT to remain ethnic. The CRTC asked the same question, and here is Rogers’s response:

Montreal, as a major English-language television market, remains a key part of our expansion strategy. As such, we have looked at number of options to monetize Citytv’s programming in this market including applying for a new licence, applying for a rebroadcast transmitter, negotiating broad distribution and simultaneous substitution with local distributors and available acquisition opportunities.

The purchase of CJNT-TV was the most attractive of these options as it represented the fastest and most predictable entry into the market and would allow us to start monetizing our programming in the upcoming broadcast year.

The other point made is that if Rogers tried to start a new station, Channel Zero and CJNT would probably be first in line to oppose it.

It’s through the related application presented for this CRTC hearing that we learn that Channel Zero had originally planned to ask the CRTC to convert CJNT from an ethnic station into an English station, similar to what Rogers is proposing now. Channel Zero and the group behind the new ethnic station project came up with this joint proposal in order to allow CJNT to become English without depriving Montreal of its only ethnic television station.

If the Rogers acquisition is denied, Channel Zero is apparently still interested in converting CJNT into an English station. From Rogers’s application:

In the event the Commission denies the proposed transaction, 2209005 (the licensee of CJNT) intends to apply to the Commission to convert CJNT-TV into an English-language television station as it does not believe the station is viable, on a long-term basis, as an ethnic station based on its current business model. RBL (Rogers Broadcasting Ltd.) has also been informed by 2209005 that should the Commission deny the proposed transaction that it will strongly oppose any applications for a new English-language television station to serve Montreal, as 2209005’s intention is to apply for an English-language television station in Montreal.


Proposed Citytv schedule for CJNT (PDF)

As previously stated in May, Rogers’s plan for CJNT would not include a daily evening newscast, since Montreal already has three of those (CTV, CBC and Global). Instead, most of a Montreal Citytv station’s local programming would come through a local morning show called Breakfast Television Montreal, which would run from 6am to 9am weekdays. This is consistent with Citytv’s other (non-Toronto) local stations, which also rely on Breakfast Television for most of their local programming.

The application describes the proposed morning show as “a mix of local news, information and entertainment programming focused exclusively on the Montréal market.” It also touts the “community” focus of the shows, covering everything from cultural events to fundraisers.

The other local show would be a weekly sports show, which in its application Rogers calls “Connected Montréal”:

RBL will also launch a weekly half-hour sports program, to be known as Connected Montréal, dedicated to covering the best in professional, amateur, university, CEGEP, and junior league sports in the Greater Montréal area. Currently, there are no programs on television that showcase the talented athletes and coaches that make-up this rich and diverse sporting community. We intend to focus on the positive influences sports bring to young people, community building, and the historical and cultural fabric of Montréal.

This show will include a mix of game highlights; team, athlete and coach profiles; and analysis from a wide variety of local sporting events. This program will be uplifting and motivational, providing Montréalers with the opportunity to celebrate their city’s athletic achievements.

The proposed programming grid lists a one-hour program called “The Fan” that would air Sundays at 6pm and repeat Mondays. The half-hour option seems to be the more recent of the two. It’s not clear at this point when exactly the show would air, but likely on weekends with at least one repeat, Moore tells me.

With 15 hours for the morning show and half an hour for the sports show (repeated once), the station would produce 15.5 hours of original local programming a week, and air 16 hours including the repeat.

Citytv Montreal would also air Citytv network programming as it does now, including Cityline and programs like The Bachelor Canada.

But the big thing is U.S. programming. The reason Rogers wants more local stations (as opposed to distant-signal carriage on local distributors) is to benefit from simultaneous substitution. The real losers here aren’t CFCF or CKMI, they’re WPTZ, WFFF, WVNY and WCAX, who will lose a big chunk of what non-substituted primetime programming it has left.

Plan B: An ethnic station

Rogers’s application proposes an alternative if the CRTC decides against turning CJNT into an English station:

“RBL would be prepared to respect the current licensee’s commitment to provide 14 hours of local ethnic programming each week, provided that the word “original” is deleted. We would be prepared to accept the revised commitment as a (condition of licence) in the licence to be issued for CJNT-TV as an ethnic station.”

But more importantly, Rogers needs the requirement that 75% of programming from 8 to 10pm be ethnic to be removed, as well as another similar condition requiring that at least 50% of programming between 6pm and midnight be ethnic. Without those licence changes at minimum, Rogers says it will walk away from the deal.

“Without these changes to CJNT-TV’s licence our purchase of the station no longer has any strategic value to our broadcast group.”

If the CRTC doesn’t buy the two-station plan, Rogers may have a tough time convincing the CRTC to move forward with this change. The CRTC has already twice denied previous owners’ applications to have this condition removed.

It’s not clear at this point what Rogers would do as far as local ethnic programming in case CJNT remains an ethnic station under its control. But it would not air an English morning show if the station remains ethnic.


Rogers’s proposed five-year budget for an English-language CJNT shows it would lose between $6 million and $7 million each year as an English station, and in fact it would get worse rather than getting better. The largest expense, about half its total, would be for the acquisition of American programming. Less than half of that, about $3 million a year, would be spent on Canadian programming, including its local shows.

Under the second proposed scenario, where Rogers buys CJNT but it remains an ethnic station (relieved of its obligation to air 75% ethnic programming from 8 to 10pm), it would spend only about $1 million a year on Canadian programming and about $6-7 million on U.S. programs, but would lose slightly less money every year.

Technical parameters

No changes are being proposed to the technical setup of CJNT. It would remain on digital channel 49 (virtual channel 62.1), transmitting from a small tower on the roof of the CTV/TVA transmission building next to the Mount Royal tower, with 4 kilowatts effective radiated power.

Rogers proposes its licence for CJNT expire on Aug. 31, 2016, which is when CJNT’s current licence expires.


ICI (International Channel / Canal International) is a project of Mohammad Nowrouzzahrai and his family, who want to bring Montreal’s ethnic television station back to its roots. Nowrouzzahrai produced a Persian program for Télévision Ethnique du Québec, which was a public access cable channel and became an over-the-air broadcaster in 1997 as CJNT. It was sold to WIC in 1999, and became a Canwest station when Canwest bought WIC.

Mohammad’s son Sam, who worked for him in the TEQ days, runs the day-to-day operations at Mi-Cam Communications, a production company owned by his father which created programs for CJNT in its early days. According to the application, Sam Nowrouzzahrai, aka Sam Norouzi, would continue in this role at ICI.

Because the ICI project predates the announced sale of CJNT to Rogers, the plan does not consider Rogers’s involvement locally. And with the announcement that Rogers is buying CJNT, the plan doesn’t change much. But there’s an additional bonus for ICI, in that Rogers has proposed to use the tangible benefits package of $1 million (10% of the $10 million purchase price) to help fund the ICI station and offset its losses. This is additional money that ICI’s original plan hadn’t considered. (If the ICI station is denied, Rogers plans to put the money to other uses.)

Because it gets funding from Channel Zero, the ICI application is dependent on the sale of CJNT to Rogers. Otherwise, the two would both be ethnic stations competing with each other.

But the group behind ICI insists that it is not contingent on Rogers converting CJNT from an ethnic station into an English-language one. Though it admits that the business case becomes a lot tougher (particularly if it doesn’t get that $1 million in benefits money), it feels that it could continue while competing with CJNT. ICI’s plan does not involve OMNI programming, which CJNT currently airs a lot of as a Citytv affiliate.

Rogers, however, is less convinced that Montreal could support two ethnic TV stations:

“…we believe there is increased potential for brand confusion and audience fragmentation as a result of having two ethnic stations in the market. Based on the above, and given CJNT-TV’s financial history, it is not clear to RBL that there is room for two ethnic stations in the Montreal market.”

It’s hard to imagine the CRTC ruling in such a way that we get two ethnic stations, considering the precarious history of the existing one. If ICI is approved, expect Rogers to get its wish for a fully English station.


The channel would be run by 4517466 Canada Inc., a company owned 90% by five members of the Nowrouzzahrai family (specifically, Mohammad Nowrouzzahrai, his wife and three children). Another 5% would be owned by Marie Griffiths, who used to own part of CJNT and is the controlling owner of Groupe CHCR, which runs Montreal ethnic radio stations CKDG (Mike FM) and CKIN-FM. The other 5% is “to be determined.”


The group would be financed by up to $1 million from Channel Zero’s Movieola subsidiary, as well as about $1 million in benefits from Rogers (over five years) that come from the tangible benefits package from its acquisition of CJNT.

The station would have an operating budget of about $3.5 million for each of its first seven years, with programming in the news, music/variety and entertainment magazine formats. There would also be about 14% of its programming budget spent on non-Canadian programs.

Its revenue, entirely through local advertising, would start around that level and eventually increase to $6.5 million by the end of its first seven-year licence term. The station would be profitable by the third year, and making almost $2 million in Year 7.

That sounds incredibly optimistic. To put it in perspective, according to the same application, the English stations combined received about $8 million a year in local advertising in the six years up to 2009, and $10 million in 2009-10. And CFCF currently has about 100 times the audience of CJNT.


According to the application, the station would operate as a producer’s cooperative. This means the producers of individual shows would be responsible for their own budgets, and for selling their own advertising. The application explains the structure this way:

Ici proposes a channel that will operate very much like a co-operative in that each of the individual language producers will be able to shape their program as their own business within the overall business structure that ici will create. Each of the producers will own the advertising inventory within their own programming and therefore be in a position to generate revenue through the sale of advertising to the community that they know best. The producer’s will in turn provide a share of these revenues to ici in exchange for the services which ici will provide.

This makes sense, in that the individual producers are closer to their communities than any central ad sales staff could be. But it also means that more of the risk would be on the shoulders of the individual producers. Many would probably end up producing their shows on a volunteer basis.


Proposed programming schedule for ICI (PDF)

Programming for ICI would originate from a small studio (74 square metres) on Christophe Colomb Ave. in Ahuntsic, at the home of Mi-Cam Communications.

The programming would be in 15 languages and directed to 18 ethnic groups, including:

  • Italian
  • Latino
  • Arab (including: Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, Algerian)
  • Portuguese
  • Greek
  • Haitian
  • Polish
  • Armenian
  • Persian
  • Romanian
  • African (French)
  • Russian
  • German
  • Afghan
  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Chinese

The largest chunk of programming would be Italian (31%, including most of the weekday afternoon schedule), followed by Arabic (10%), Spanish (8%), Greek (3%) and Mandarin/Cantonese (2.5%).

Some of the programs previously produced for CJNT would find a new home on ICI. The application includes signed letters from hosts and staff of Chinese, Bangladesh, African and Egyptian programs that aired on CJNT, as well as potential producers of other programs, that are willing and excited to sign on to this project.

In all, the programming grid proposes 33 shows of half an hour or an hour in length, almost all of them locally-produced weekly shows. Shows appearing more often include a one-hour yoga show weekdays at 7am,, and a Hellenic show and a Greek show that would each be produced twice a week. Most shows would be repeated at least once on another day.

Monday and Thursday evenings, from 7pm to 11pm, the channel would air Teleritmo, which consists mainly of music videos in Spanish.

Despite the involvement of Rogers, which came after the original application for this station was submitted, there are no significant plans for OMNI programming on ICI, even if CJNT is stripped of its ethnic station status. “We do not envision OMNI programming being a significant portion of the ici schedule,” the application says.

Also unlike OMNI (and CJNT under Canwest, Channel Zero and as a Citytv affiliate), the ICI station would not air significant English-language programming during primetime (or at all, really). It says this is because of the way the industry has changed in the past decade. Rather than each station in a market acquiring programming, the large players (Bell, Rogers, Shaw) buy U.S. programs on a national basis, leaving little room for small broadcasters. So instead of trying to put some high-profit U.S. programs in primetime (and take advantage of simultaneous substitution to steal some ad revenue), the station is abandoning this practice and focusing entirely on ethnic programming. It does leave open the door to airing some U.S. programs, however, particularly those that are acquired by other independent stations like CHCH in Hamilton.

Though there are no definitive plans for programming synergies with Rogers, the application does expect Rogers and Ici to collaborate on national ethnic ad sales if CJNT becomes an English station.

The revised application also suggests news gathering resource sharing between ICI and Citytv, much like OMNI and City share resources in other markets, with the same visuals being used by both but with different reporters in different languages.

Master control would either be shared between Rogers and ICI, or if that doesn’t work, ICI says it is prepared to rent master control facilities from other broadcasters.

Conditions of licence

The ICI application proposes to replicate most of CJNT’s current conditions of licence, namely:

  • At least 60% ethnic programming between 6am and midnight
  • At least 60% ethnic programming between 6pm and midnight
  • At least 75% ethnic programming between 8pm and 10pm
  • At least 55% Canadian programming between 6am and midnight
  • At least 50% Canadian programming between 6pm and midnight
  • Ethnic programming directed at at least 18 ethnic groups and in at least 15 languages each month
  • 100% closed captioning of programming, including all advertising in English and French by Year 4
In addition, the station proposes, like CJNT, to have a minimum of 14 hours of local programming a week. The actual proposed programming grid would, in fact, be double this, not including repeats. Including repeats of local programming, more than half its broadcast day and almost all of primetime would be locally produced. If they could pull this off, it would put Montreal’s private English broadcasters to shame.

Proposed transmission pattern for “ICI” would be directional, with a triangular shape.


ICI would operate on Channel 47 (it had originally proposed Channel 51), with a transmitter on the Bell tower on Mount Royal (just west of the main CBC tower). That’s the same tower CFCF used when it was operating a temporary digital transmitter (also on Channel 51). Because the plan for this new station began before CFCF left that channel, they decided to move to Channel 47. Industry Canada also has a moratorium on issuing new broadcasting certificates for Channel 51.

The transmitter would put out a maximum 5,500 watts ERP at a height of 196 metres. This puts it about on par with CJNT’s current signal, for those wondering if they’d be able to capture it.

Unlike CJNT, which is carried by many distribution services, ICI expects it would not get satellite carriage, and so would rely solely on local cable systems (which are required by law to carry all local over-the-air stations). About two-thirds of Montreal’s English population and 80% of the francophone population either get cable or rely on over-the-air reception, according to the application’s estimates.

The CRTC is considering these two applications at a hearing to begin Nov. 7 in Gatineau. The deadline for comments is 8pm Eastern Time on Oct. 5. To submit an intervention, click here, choose Option 1, then choose “2012-0756-4: Rogers Broadcasting Limited” (for the CJNT application) and/or “2012-0175-6: 4517466 Canada Inc.” (for the ICI application).

TTP Media applying for 850AM, wants to buy CKGM and CHRC

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

The group of three Montreal businessmen who want to revolutionize radio broadcasting by putting money back into it don’t yet have their first station on the air, but already they’re looking to expand their growing empire from two news-talk stations to up to five AM radio stations in Quebec, including sports-talk stations in English and French, I’ve learned. And that expansion includes an as-yet unpublished application to start a new radio station on a frequency with a lot of history for one of these partners.

7954689 Canada Inc. is the official name of the company founded and controlled by Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault an Rajiv Pancholy, and known as Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media (you can read more about them here). It was founded a little more than a year ago to apply to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for two AM radio stations in Montreal, which would both have run on a news-talk format – one in English, the other in French. The French station was approved last October for 940 kHz, but since the other clear-channel frequency of 690 was given to CKGM and other frequencies were considered undesirable for the group, the commission turned down the application for an English station. The group has re-applied for an English station at 600 kHz, the former home of CIQC radio. The application was technically part of the hearings last week in Montreal that focused on Bell acquiring Astral Media, but since it did not provoke any opposition, there were no oral presentations about this application. Barring some unforeseen problem or change of heart, expect it to be approved quickly.

With two big-power AM stations set to launch soon, possibly in early 2013, perhaps more realistically by the fall of 2013 (they have until October 2013 to launch the French one unless they ask for an extension), you’d think they’d have their hands full. But they’ve already set their sights on getting bigger.

The group has taken part in two open calls for applications for new FM stations: one in Calgary for a hit music station and the other in Toronto for a news-talk station. Both had heavy competition and the group lost both times (decisions came for Calgary in May and for Toronto last week).

But that’s not all. They’re also looking to expand here.

Buying CKGM? “Absolutely”

Tietolman has previously said that his company might look to acquire existing radio stations as a result of the Bell-Astral acquisition that might force the divestment of an English radio station in Montreal. He has his sights on CJAD, but Bell said at last week’s hearing that if anything it would be CKGM (TSN Radio 690) that would be sold or shut down. Asked about the possibility of buying that station instead, Tietolman said “absolutely.” Since they already have an English news-talk station in the pipeline, this new one would probably maintain its sports-talk format.

During the hearings last week, Tietolman was seen having brief conversations with executives at Bell, but whether these are of any consequence, I don’t know.

New application for French sports-talk at 850AM

When I asked the TTP group for their plans regarding sports radio, they were reluctant to share details, which I found odd for people who are normally very forthcoming with information. Was something in the works that hasn’t been made public yet?

Turns out there’s at least one thing: the Industry Canada radio station database lists an entry for a Class B station at 850 kHz, dated Aug. 20, 2012 (updated Aug. 22), with a transmitter whose coordinates show it to be in the middle of a forest in Île Perrot. The company listed with that entry is 7954689 Canada Inc., or TTP Media.

Applications for new radio stations have to meet approval of both the CRTC and Industry Canada. The latter handles the technical aspects of transmission, ensuring that the proposed station’s technical parameters meet regulations and do not interfere with other stations. An engineering report filed with Industry Canada is a step in the application process for a new radio station, but an entry in the database does not mean a station is authorized to begin transmitting. It’s merely a provisional entry, and it’s the CRTC that will decide if the proposed station will be given a licence.

The CRTC tells me that indeed there is an application from 7954689 Canada Inc. for a radio station at 850 kHz in Montreal, but until it is published they cannot confirm any details about the application. A commission spokesperson said they could not say when a public notice about the application might come.

Asked about this application, Tietolman confirmed that his group is applying to start a French sports-talk station at 850AM. The station would be 50,000 watts day and night, with a signal pattern that would cover the region but still provide protection for WEEI in Boston.

Tietolman said the process began a year ago, when Cogeco announced it would move CKAC radio from sports-talk to all-traffic and well before Bell’s proposal to turn TSN 690 into an RDS radio station became public. Tietolman said they first tried buying another existing station (he wouldn’t say which one) to convert to sports-talk, but when that fell through they had their engineers find an unused frequency and signal pattern that could cover the region for a new application.

It’s interesting that the frequency they came up with is 850 kHz. That channel has been silent since CKVL became CINF (Info 690) in 1999. CKVL was a major French-language commercial radio station for decades. It was started in 1946 by Corey Thompson and Jack Tietolman. The name is no coincidence: Jack Tietolman was Paul Tietolman’s father.

Asked about getting back a frequency that used to belong to his family, Paul Tietolman said there wasn’t any sentimental value to the frequency, and it really was just the best one available.

Quebec 800 too

That’s not all. Tietolman also confirmed that TTP Media is also interested in acquiring CHRC in Quebec City, whose owners announced last Friday that they would be shutting the money-losing station down. Tietolman wouldn’t go into detail about what his group would do with the station, but expect it to be a sister station to the news-talk station being built in Montreal.

Bell Media is also reportedly interested in acquiring the station, the last AM station in Quebec City. They would likely turn it into a sister station to RDS Radio, should the CRTC approve its application to put it on 690 in Montreal.

Can TTP make sports radio work?

I asked Tietolman how he thinks his group can make sports talk radio successful without rights to game broadcasts. He replied that play-by-play rights to live sports games like Canadiens and Alouettes have only a marginal impact on a sports-talk station’s overall profitability. It’s more of an image and brand thing than anything else, he said, and he said he was confident that they could make it work even without rights to those games.

In English, Canadiens rights are held by Bell Media (which airs them on CKGM), while Alouettes and Impact rights are held by Astral Media (which airs them on CJAD). If the application by Bell to acquire Astral is approved, Bell would move Canadiens games to CJAD, and presumably Alouettes and Impact games would stay there.

In French, Canadiens and Alouettes rights are held by Cogeco Diffusion, which airs them on CHMP 98.5. There is no French-language radio broadcaster for Impact games, which means either RDS Radio or a TTP sports-talk station could quickly pick up rights to Impact play-by-play.

Thinking big

Those who considered TTP’s plans for their original two stations to be unrealistically optimistic will think this new expansion to up to five stations is just lunacy, an insane money-burning exercise that will leave the company bankrupt within two years. Those who think these three guys are going to save the radio industry will consider this great news.

Expect the CRTC to be very skeptical about business plans once the 850AM application and any transfer of ownership applications come before them, just as they were when TTP’s original applications were heard last year.

But don’t count out these little guys with a bit of money and big dreams, either.

CJAD and Bain: Calmez-vous

It seems everyone was up in arms on Thursday after hearing that CJAD radio had given Richard Henry Bain, the man accused of killing a man at Metropolis on the night of the election, a 40-minute interview in which he was given free reign rein to spout his political views, and on top of that deciding to schedule the interview to coincide with the same moment that Pauline Marois was announcing her new government.

Of course, much of the previous paragraph isn’t true, but that shouldn’t stop us from being outraged, right?

What happened

Here’s what happened on Wednesday, based on what we’ve heard from station management and CJAD staff during interviews since then:

Just after 9:30am on Wednesday, the CJAD newsroom received a phone call. Trudie Mason, who does morning newscasts, took the call. The man at the other end at first wouldn’t identify himself, but eventually said he was Richard Henry Bain and that he was calling from the Rivière des Prairies detention facility. By this point, Mason was recording the phone call.

Mason and the main identifying himself as Bain spoke for 38 minutes. Mason repeatedly asked him to comment on what happened the night of Sept. 4, when Denis Blanchette was shot dead and Dave Courage severely injured in what some suspect may have been a politically-motivated attack on premier-elect Pauline Marois. But the man wouldn’t answer questions on that subject, instead preferring to discuss his political views, including his opinion that Quebec should be split up into its sovereignist and federalist regions.

Throughout the day, CJAD worked to verify that the man speaking was, in fact, Bain. They held on to the story while they tried to verify the caller’s identity. In the meantime, there was a significant amount of discussion – more than Mason said she has ever had in her career on an issue like this – about how to handle the story. Newsroom staff checked the caller ID and asked people who knew Bain to identify the recorded voice. Eventually the confirmation came, from Bain’s lawyer, a bit before 3:30pm: The man in the recording was, indeed, Bain.

The next newscast being at 4pm, CJAD decided to break the story then. Care was made to restrict the amount of audio that went to air. In the end, less than a minute of audio from that 38-minute conversation was broadcast, and 10 seconds of that is just Bain saying his name and where he’s calling from.

There was a very basic discussion of Bain’s political views – and by that I mean there was about enough time to read out the slogan on a bumper sticker. Details were cut out and not aired. The first airing of the news story was immediately followed by a discussion between Mason and Aaron Rand on his show, that went into the process of reporting this story. You can listen to that discussion on this podcast, beginning around the 16-minute mark.

At the same time, a written version of the story was posted on CJAD’s website, with a timestamp of exactly 4pm. The written version includes no direct quotes from Bain, and no link to audio.

CJAD’s sister stations at Astral, NRJ and Rouge FM, also used French-language clips from Bain in their newscasts. You can hear their news story here and an excerpt of audio about a minute long of Bain talking in French.

Blind outrage

Unfortunately, most of this nuance never reached the Twittersphere. All many heard was that CJAD had aired an interview with the man accused of a politically-motivated killing. And so the condemnation was quick and severe. There was even a new hashtag created for the occasion, #NouvelleÉmissionCJAD, in which heinous criminals discuss subjects that their victims would no doubt find highly offensive.

But reading much of those comments, it was obvious how many of them came from people who had not heard the news story. (Many said so when I asked, even adding that they didn’t want to and should not have to hear what was aired in order to judge it wrong.) Comments on social media said the decision to air the interview was a slap in the face to victims, that it was dangerous, and even that it was intentionally scheduled to air at the same moment Marois was presenting her new cabinet as part of some vendetta the anglophone community has against the PQ leader. From the information presented, it’s very hard to come to either conclusion.

Far too many of those comments came from people who should know better than to condemn something they had not witnessed.

The outrage caused Astral to send out a press release Wednesday afternoon re-explaining itself.

It’s called journalism

There are some, when challenged on their outrage about this, who say that affording even 10 seconds of airtime to Bain is wrong, that people should not be hearing his political views. I’m sympathetic to that argument, and clearly CJAD was as well.

But the problem is that Bain’s motivations (assuming he’s guilty of what he’s accused of) are, in fact, very important and newsworthy. The man is already being described as an anglophone, even though he has what sounds like a francophone accent and seems to speak French well enough. And people assume this was an attempt on Marois’s life, even though there’s no evidence yet to suggest this.

It may be distasteful for journalists to interview (presumed) bad people, whether they’re convicted murderers or third-world dictators. But what they think does matter, even if we think those views are dangerous. They should be treated with care, perhaps even sanitized and heavily censored, but they should be reported.

So much of what makes this story important is based on the presumed motivations of the man accused of this killing. What the man accused of it says about his views becomes important as a result.

CJAD couldn’t pretend Bain never called them. It had to report the story. It did so carefully and deliberately. I might hesitate to say it was done “with restraint” as Dan Delmar tweeted, since the station did promote the story and slapped an all-caps EXCLUSIVE label on it when it was published. But what actually made it on air was tame.

Unanswered questions

There are some serious questions to ask about this case. The main one is how a man who is sitting in a detention facility had access to a phone for more than half an hour. It was a question that CJAD itself asked on air right away.

And there might be questions to ask of CJAD as well, about whether it was right to air even short clips of Bain’s political views rather than just explaining that Bain called the station and leave it a that.

But if you’re going to criticize them for something they did, please make sure you first have a clear idea of what it is exactly that they did.

Because, like with the shooting itself, context is everything.


Unfortunately, I can’t find audio of the actual news story on CJAD’s website. But in addition to the Rand show link above, you can also hear about this from this podcast of the Andrew Carter morning show from Thursday morning.

CBC late local newscast expands to 30 minutes

Correction: An earlier version of this post said the Sunday night newscast will continue from 10:55 to 11:05pm. While it stays 10 minutes long, it will actually be 11 to 11:10pm, starting next Sunday.

Nancy Wood is excited, again

This weekend was the start of CBC television’s fall season, but its biggest effects will be felt starting today, as talk show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight moves to 7pm and the late local newscasts expand from 10 minutes to half an hour.

Nancy Wood, who took over anchoring the late local news this spring, only to learn shortly thereafter that her on-air time would be tripled, tells me she’s excited but anxious about the debut.

I was curious about what kind of changes we could expect with this new newscast. Wood told evening anchor Debra Arbec that they would have two reporters working evening shifts to file reports between the two newscasts.

The biggest change one would expect for the expansion of a late newscast would be in sports coverage. Aviva Herman of CBC Montreal communications tells me there won’t be a specific sportscaster or sports reporter for late night, at least for now, but “Nancy will be reading sports highlights from a local and national perspective.”

Previously, the late local anchor would provide a voice-over recap of games involving Montreal teams, but there wasn’t a larger sports highlight package. This led to strange situations like the “ update” during the NHL playoffs that spoke about upcoming games without saying what happened that night.

We’ll see what this new format has in store.

The biggest change, though, will be in timing. The previous 10-minute newscast was sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, running from 10:55 to 11:05pm. This meant anyone watching something other than The National at 10pm would miss the first half of the newscast, and anyone wanting to watch something different at 11 would either miss the first five minutes of that show or cut out halfway through their local news.

Now, with the start at 11pm and running a full half-hour, it fits schedules better. It also goes head on against Global Montreal’s low-rated late local newscast and the high-rated CTV National News. Those wanting to be in bed by 11:30 and preferring local to national and international news might decide check out CBC.

The illusion of a set disappeared for a few seconds behind Nancy Wood during her first 30-minute late newscast

How it went

The late newscast is still very focused on local news, since it follows The National. No filling of time with packaged reports from other cities, at least not for now.

Other features taking up all that extra time:

  • Three weather segments, which have different graphics but seem to present the same information. On the first show, weather segments with Frank Cavallaro lasted 3:51 total.
  • The Update is now done as a national package of a minute and a half, rather than voiced by the local anchor. Local sports news (including Canadiens/Alouettes/Impact highlights) are still presented separately.
  • There’s a next-day news look-ahead, teasing the stories that will make news the next day. It includes both a local and national component.


People like me who really disliked the awkward anchor throws to George Stroumboulopoulos promos in the middle of the newscast will be relieved that they’re no longer doing it that way. The promos still exist (even though they’re now teasing a rebroadcast of a show from earlier in the night), in the middle of the newscast as a self-contained promo ad, and at the end where the anchor says to stay tuned for Strombo.

Though it’s an improvement, I remain very uncomfortable with newscasts being used like this for advertising, even if it’s self-promotion.

Technical growing pains

Minor and moderate technical problems continue to plague the late newscast. It would be easy to dismiss this as the kind of mistakes that happen when you’re doing something new, but it happens too often, to the point where I’m now starting to expect such errors at 11pm.

The first show saw the virtual set disappear for a few seconds, as you see above, removing any illusion that there’s a futuristic blue set that in no way resembles their evening news set. (On Day 2, they pulled away the green screen and went with the real control-room background you see on weekends or in some reporter debriefs. Wood says a new backdrop should be coming in a week or two.)

The larger mistake happened when the first packaged report was played again in place of the second, forcing reporter Alison Northcott to ad-lib.

The second show went smoother. The worst thing I saw, besides some timing issues, was a graphic with a typo (“Tobacco trial” became “Tobacco trail”)

CBC News: Montreal at 11 airs weeknights from 11 to 11:30pm. The late Sunday newscast retains its 10-minute format from 10:55 to 11:05pm, but starting at 11pm instead of 10:55pm.

Last AM radio station in Quebec City to shut down

CHRC, Quebec’s oldest – and only – commercial AM radio station, is shutting down.

The owners (the Quebec Remparts hockey club) made the announcement on Friday, surprising few people but disappointing many, that they would pull the plug on the money-losing station at some unspecified time (probably within the next few weeks). UPDATE (Sept. 30): The station is being shut down at midnight on Sept. 30.

CHRC started in 1926, and spent most of its life as a talk station, notably the home of André Arthur (who expressed his thoughts to Radio-Canada). In 2005, it became Info 800, a sister station to Info 690 in Montreal. Then it was taken over by the Remparts and Patrick Roy. Its current format is mostly sports talk, with Quebec Remparts (QMHJL) and Laval Rouge et Or university football games (both of those will move to Cogeco’s FM93) and Quebec Capitales baseball games.

It’s not terribly surprising that such a station wouldn’t find a way to work, especially since there’s no other AM radio in the region and so little reason for anyone to even switch over to the AM band.

There’s still some hope that someone else might step in to buy it. And there are a few options. Cogeco probably won’t want it if it can make news and sports work on FM93. Astral is in existential limbo at the moment. Bell might be interested, but it doesn’t know yet if its RDS Radio project is going to get off the ground. The Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group is another possibility, if they want to make a sister station to their Montreal French AM talk station.

If the station does end up going off the air, it would probably be good news for CJAD, which operates on the same frequency. At least, the station’s coverage toward the northeast would improve, with no interference from the Quebec City station. A possibility exists that CJAD could apply to change its signal pattern to be better toward the northeast, though how that works procedurally I don’t know.

UPDATE: There was no last-minute miracle. The station shut down at 6pm on Sunday, Sept. 30. Its final moments are a montage of messages from the station’s employees. Its final word: “merci.”

Three pleas to save TSN Radio 690

According to the CRTC’s website, 774 interventions (comments in favour, opposed or neutral) were filed related to a proposed licence change replacing CKGM (TSN Radio 690) with a French station. Of those, only six were scheduled to appear at a CRTC hearing at the Palais des congrès this week to present their case in person.

Of those six, only three showed up.

And yet, that’s three more than appeared as individuals to comment on the $3.38-billion purchase of Astral Media by BCE.

Rahul Majumdar: Willing to go further

Rahul Majumdar was the first. He’s a big sports fan and a fan of the station, but he has no other stake in this game.

“I’m not a professional intervenor nor do I play one on TV,” was his opening line, eliciting chuckles from the commissioners and the small audience. He may be inexperienced, but his presentation was professional, earning him specific praise from the commission.

“Eliminating TSN 690 may help Bell-Astral satisfy CRTC ownership rules, but the price will be a further erosion of Montreal’s sports broadcasting scene,” Majumdar said in his opening statement. “If the CRTC accepts Bell’s proposal, you will deprive Montreal of an important local sports media presence, and deny its rightful place within a national radio network.”

“Montreal is a bilingual, multicultural city and I believe that its sports fans must be served in both of Canada’s official languages.”

Bell’s proposed compromise of moving sports programs and Canadiens games to CJAD didn’t sit well with him. He said doing so would take away from CJAD’s core purpose, which is news and information.

Majumdar has harsh words for Bell: “I am dismayed at the manner in which Bell neglects, downplays and outright dismisses its English clientele and English Montreal sports radio.”

When I spoke to him after his presentation, Majumdar said he had been listening to CKGM for years, but when it first became a sports radio station “I wasn’t completely into it.” He cited nationally syndicated programming as part of the problem. But when it grew to be more local and gained its own personality, he became hooked.

At first he hadn’t planned to go beyond sending a written statement. But “you got to ask yourself: ‘Am I willing to go further?'”

So he did.

His proposal is that the CRTC reject the language switch, if only because Bell obtained the 690 frequency by saying it needed better coverage to reach the West Island anglophone community.

“At the very least, Bell should be ordered to surrender the frequency in order to allow another party to bring sports radio to Montrealers,” Majumdar’s statement reads. “Even so, it will take months or years for a competitor like Rogers, Cogeco or another Montreal media entrepreneur to essentially reinvent the wheel.”

“Mr. Chairman, in all honesty, does this specific application really make sense?”

It always looks funny when people appear in front of the CRTC without lawyers or executives by their side, sitting alone at a table meant for six (with another table behind), and introducing themselves as individuals without titles. But Majumdar’s presentation impressed other national journalists and interested third parties who came here to talk about Bell and Astral.

As for Majumdar himself: “I thought I did a decent job.”

Sheldon Harvey: No coincidence

Sheldon Harvey was the second presenter. He’s a radio enthusiast, moderator of the Radio in Montreal forum and co-host of the International Radio Report on CKUT. He’s about as tapped in to the radio scene as you can get.

Harvey also presented at last year’s hearing, in which Bell asked for CKGM to move from 990 to 690 to improve its signal. Harvey didn’t support or oppose that application directly, though he said he was skeptical of CKGM’s reported signal problems and even accused the station of not respecting its obligations to adjust its signal at night to protect distant stations.

Here, Harvey was extremely critical of Bell.

“I think it is more than coincidence that Bell began broadcasting on the 690 kHz frequency just 10 days prior to these hearings commencing,” his opening statement reads.

“The word on the street, in the radio business circles in Montreal, was that it was always the intention of Bell Media to get into the French sports radio business, piggy-backing off their successful RDS television service, particularly when Cogeco closed their CKAC 730 sports station in favour of government financed Radio Circulation. 690 would be the best frequency for them to accomplish this.”

Harvey’s right that Bell has wanted to launch RDS Radio for a while. It even hinted at that publicly at the hearing last year. But there’s no evidence (beyond the circumstances) that Bell was acting in bad faith or had ulterior motives when it applied to move CKGM to 690.

Harvey continues: “It appears that both Bell and Astral really don’t seem to care about their listeners. CJAD has an incredibly loyal listenership and is currently Montreal’s only commercial news/talk English option. How will their listeners feel about having approximately half of CJAD’s broadcast day dedicated to sports? Nobody is bothering to ask.”

“There is a level of arrogance and cockiness that has so many members of the public concerned about the power and strength of Bell and their attitude that ‘we are Bell and we will do and get what we want.'”

Finally, Harvey points to “corporate-level instructions” that Bell gave to TSN Radio staff not to discuss the station’s future on the air. This order, which Bell and TSN Radio have never denied, seems to contradict what Bell told the commission earlier in the week, that the company has never issued orders to its staff (meaning, for the most part, journalists) on how to discuss this hearing.

Harvey wants the CRTC to have to reapply to use 690 through an open application process, because a French station would be “a completely separate entity” from the English one. Commissioner Suzanne Lamarre called Harvey on this suggestion, asking what would happen. CKGM can’t stay on 990, because that frequency is already licenced to another broadcaster. Opening 690 up would mean turning in CKGM’s licence, and putting TSN Radio off the air.

“I threw everything at them that I could,” Harvey told me after the hearing. He’s particularly critical of the fact that Bell did not bother asking for an exemption allowing it to keep the station in English. “I think that would have been something to try at least,” he said. “It might not work, but at least try. Show you believe in your property.”

Harvey doesn’t know what the ideal solution is for CKGM, particularly if the Astral takeover is approved. A forced sale would mean the station losing not only its TSN branding and Canadiens rights, but other resources associated with TSN. It would be starting from “square one,” Harvey said, even if someone like Rogers or Cogeco came into the picture.

“They’ve painted the whole organization into a corner.”

David Birnbaum: Just wants the station saved

The last presenter to show up was David Birnbaum. He’s the executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association, but made it clear he’s here as an individual.

“I love the station,” Birnbaum said. “It’s really intelligent radio.”

Birnbaum spoke as if a man here representing the anglophone community, even though that wasn’t his role here. But he invoked this idea that the community would be harmed if this station were allowed to change language, and that the CRTC has an obligation to protect minority-language services like this one.

His solution seems to be to allow Bell an exemption from common ownership rules. “My preferred position remains getting an additional frequency for a French-language sports station,” he said. “I would hope the CRTC would have said ‘yes we are the watchdog about media concentration, but we’re also a watchdog for the needs of Canadian consumers, particularly those in minority language situations.”

He understands the need for ownership concentration rules, but feels the need to keep English radio should be more important. “I would expect one rule to be trumped by another.”

How it’s solved isn’t his major concern. “Bottom line is to keep TSN 690 on the air,” he said.

Asked about a possible sale to Rogers or others, Birnbaum was, like Harvey, skeptical of how much that would set the station back. “You’re starting over,” he said.

All three presenters made it very clear they have no objection to a French-language sports station with the RDS brand. And, in fact, all of them welcome the eventual return of sports-talk radio to Montreal’s French community. They just don’t want it at the expense of TSN Radio.

“Francophones should have a sports station,” Majumdar said, “but it should not happen through the back door of a zero-sum game.”


Three interventions might not seem like much, but they’re quite rare for the CRTC. Commissioners have repeatedly expressed disappointment that more individuals are not interested in the commission’s processes. (We can have a whole other discussion about why the excessive bureaucracy of the commission is preventing more participation.) So commissioners, and particularly chair Jean-Pierre Blais, repeatedly expressed to the individual presenters a great deal of gratitude for taking the time to make their views heard.

Whether those three make the difference for the commission is unknown. They might be given more importance than statements by interest groups, or they might not. But the commission certainly won’t ignore them. Neither will they ignore the hundreds of written statements sent in by people who wouldn’t or couldn’t appear in person, though Blais said those who do appear in person have a stronger impact.


While the first and second days of the hearings received a great deal of coverage, there wasn’t much local interest in these three interventions today. In fact, Global Montreal was the only media to cover these appearances specifically.

The hearings continue on Friday, with the last of the intervenors in the Astral purchase. Then Bell will get a chance to respond to them, as well as to the comments about the CKGM application.


People have asked me how I think this will end. I can’t predict that. The CRTC has a new chair, these applications have little precedent, and the commissions decisions aren’t always that predictable. The commission was definitely very skeptical about both applications Bell presented, but also grilled some competitors about their stances as well. Bell has a hard road to climb here, but not an impossible one. If I had to guess, I would say a compromise situation is most likely. But what that entails is hard to guess.

A decision will come in a few months. How many is unknown. The timing is up to the CRTC. It could be done by October, or it might not be done until January. It’s entirely up to them.

Bell’s response to critics of CKGM language change

This was actually published by the CRTC in late August, but hasn’t been publicized much. It’s Bell’s response to comments filed with the commission against its application to transform TSN Radio 990/690 from an English station to a French one to meet its common ownership limits after the purchase of Astral Media (which owns CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio in Montreal).

There were hundreds of comments filed, many from individual listeners (so much that the CRTC put up a special link on its home page to guide people through the process), but Bell responded to three.

To summarize:

  • Why didn’t Bell request an exemption to keep four English stations? Bell doesn’t answer this very well, repeating that it has to follow the common ownership policy. But, of course, the point of an exemption is to get around that policy. It would be more sensical to point out that an exemption would give Bell four of the five English commercial radio stations in Montreal, and the commission is unlikely to grant that without a very good reason.
  • Why can’t Bell run a bilingual station? The CRTC wouldn’t allow it, Bell says. And they’re right. For various reasons, the commission does not licence bilingual English/French commercial stations.
  • Why doesn’t Bell sell the station? They could. They’re doing that to 10 other stations in markets where they’re going over the limit. But since they want an RDS radio station, they’re trying this so they don’t lose that key frequency. The official response is that “there is no certainty that a purchaser would commit to the all sports format over the long term; nor is there any way to enforce such a commitment, even if made, as the Commission does not regulate radio formats.” This is true, though it’s also true that Bell itself would not be committed to such a format.
  • Shouldn’t 690 be reserved for an English station? There’s nothing tying this frequency to a particular language. It was the Radio-Canada station for decades, then Info 690. Last November, the CRTC issued a decision turning the historically French channel English and the historically English channel of 940 French. The two are coveted clear channels, with no special restrictions on nighttime power. The only other such channel here is 730, being used for all-traffic at CKAC. That said, Bell’s application to move CKGM from 990 to 690 was based in large part around how poorly the signal reached its core West Island anglo audience at night, when the Canadiens games are on. The commission could decide that this, combined with the fact that the other two clear channels are French-language, would be enough to either reject the application or issue an open call for applications to use this frequency.

The entire response is republished below. Bell makes its presentation in the CKGM licence change Tuesday at 8am in Room 518 of the Palais des congrès, at which point it will release a separate document making its case for the change. The commission will hear from intervenors in favour and opposed until Friday, and then a response from Bell.

The hearing is streamed live at, and on the CPAC TV channel as of 10am.

2012 08 20

To: Mr. John Traversy

Secretary General

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Subject: Application 2012-0573-2 – CKGM Montréal (the CKGM Application)

Dear Mr. Traversy,

This letter is filed by Bell Media Inc. (Bell Media) in response to the comments by Messrs. Pacetti and Scarpaleggia, the MPs for Saint-Léonard/Saint-Michel and Lac-Saint-Louis, respectively, and by Dufferin Communications Inc. (Dufferin) (collectively referred to as the Interveners).

In the CKGM Application, Bell Media seeks the Commission’s authorization to convert our English-language AM sports talk radio station (currently operating as TSN 990) into a French-language sports talk radio station (to be known as RDS Radio). As set out in the Supplementary Brief filed with the CKGM Application, this Application is dependent on the Commission’s approval of the application filed by Bell Media for the acquisition of control of Astral Media Inc. (the Astral Application). In the event the Astral Application is approved, the CKGM Application is the necessary means by which Bell Media will ensure that it is fully in compliance with the Commission’s Common Ownership Policy.

Before addressing the concerns of the Interveners, Bell Media would like to thank the many groups that filed interventions in support of the CKGM Application. As described in their comments, these interveners recognize that the conversion of CKGM from an English- to a French-language sports radio station will result in several distinct benefits to the Montréal radio market. With the Commission’s approval, CKGM will become Montréal’s Francophone sports authority, offering fans a radio option not currently available in the Montréal market.

In his intervention, Mr. Pacetti, the MP for Saint-Léonard/Saint-Michel, asks the CRTC to permit Bell Media “to operate both a Francophone and Anglophone all sports radio station simultaneously” or “allow for the possibility of creating a bilingual station” so that “one community’s loss should not be another community’s gain”. While we sympathize with Mr. Pacetti’s desire for two sports radio options in each official language, this is simply not possible given the strict limits set out in the CRTC’s Common Ownership Policy.

The Common Ownership Policy imposes a strict cap on the number of stations that Bell Media may own in Montréal and the conversion of CKGM is the means by which compliance with the policy can be ensured in light of the Astral acquisition.

Another potential option would be the divestiture of the station to a third party. However, in a divestiture scenario, there is no certainty that a purchaser would commit to the all sports format over the long term; nor is there any way to enforce such a commitment, even if made, as the Commission does not regulate radio formats.

Under these unique circumstances, we believe that transforming CKGM into a French-language sports talk radio station is the best option available to Bell Media at this point in time, as it will ensure that the Montréal market has the benefit of at least one all sports radio station, rather than leaving both the francophone and anglophone communities in Montréal without a sports talk radio station. It is also important to highlight that Montreal’s anglophone community will continue to receive coverage of sports in English as sports programming shifts from TSN Radio 990 to CJAD.

Mr. Scarpaleggia, the MP for Lac-Saint-Louis questions why Bell Media has not applied to the Commission for an exemption to the Common Ownership Policy, noting that the English-speaking community’s interests are better served by having CKGM serve anglophone communities in Montréal.

As set out above, Bell Media’s decision to convert CKGM from an English-language to a French-language sports talk radio station is required to ensure that Bell Media is in compliance with the CRTC’s Common Ownership Policy, which set outs very clear, unequivocal caps on the amount of radio stations that can be owned in one market. In the past, exemptions have been granted very sparingly.

In its intervention, Dufferin argues that approval of the CKGM Application would call into question the integrity of the Commission’s licensing process with respect to the use of the 690 kHz frequency, which was awarded to Bell Media in 2011.

In Decision 2011-721, the Commission approved our application for a technical amendment to move CKGM from 990 kHz to 690 kHz as a means of addressing severe reception problems caused by a defective signal. The primary purpose of the 2011 application was to rectify a severe signal problem by eliminating the need for CKGM to switch to a low-power night-time contour, which significantly reduced the signal’s coverage area. The technical amendment that was granted rectifies the signal problem, regardless of the language or format the station operates in. Thus, approval of the technical amendment, followed by a change in the station’s language of operation does not, in our submission, call into question the integrity of the Commission’s licensing process.

We note that following approval of the technical amendment, CKGM could have changed formats and there would have been no basis for claiming that such a change affected the integrity of the Commission’s process. Moreover, should the Commission approve the CKGM Application, French-language listeners in Montréal would benefit immensely from the enhanced night-time coverage and signal quality that will be realized as a result of the previously approved technical amendment, especially in light of the fact that there are currently no French-language radio stations dedicated to sports news and information in Montréal. Thus, regardless of the outcome, Montréal listeners will benefit from CKGM moving from a defective to a clear signal.

To support its position, Dufferin argues that approval of the CKGM Application and the Astral Application would allow Bell Media to operate six radio frequencies in Montréal and that this substantial concentration of ownership would redefine the playing field envisioned by the Commission in Decision 2011-721. We note that under the Common Ownership Policy, Bell Media is permitted to own the six commercial radio stations that would result from approval of the Astral Application and the CKGM Application. Thus the conversion of CKGM is entirely in compliance with the Common Ownership Policy and it is disingenuous for Dufferin to claim that ownership of a number of stations that is expressly permitted under the policy somehow constitutes excessive concentration of ownership. In fact, one party could technically own seven stations in Montréal (four French and three English) and still be in compliance with the policy.

Dufferin also argues that approval of the CKGM Application would result in a major financial impact on the Montréal radio market. This claim is simply not credible. As is evident from the financial projections filed with the CKGM Application, Bell Media is projecting that it will experience a cumulative loss of over $12.6 million over the first licence term if the CKGM Application is approved by the Commission. Further, as set out in the Supplementary Brief filed with the CKGM Application, a comparison of the total retail sales and radio advertising revenues in the Montréal and Vancouver CMAs indicates that Montréal radio is underperforming relative to retail sales. Thus, there is upside potential for radio advertising sales in the Montréal French-language market if more radio format choices are offered. Therefore, contrary to Dufferin’s assertion, the CKGM conversion would not have a major financial impact. Instead, all indications are that it would have a stimulative effect on the French-language radio market by increasing hours tuned to radio.

The decision to convert CKGM from an English-language to a French-language sports talk radio station has been a difficult one. Unfortunately, the limits imposed by the Commission’s Common Ownership Policy are such that the conversion of CKGM appears to be the best option available to Bell Media at this time, as it will ensure at least the ongoing presence of a sports radio format in Montréal. We are committed to continuing to provide Montréalers with a dedicated sports radio station and creating a vibrant Montréal radio market, while working within the parameters of the Common Ownership Policy.

We trust this responds to the Interveners’ concerns. A copy of this letter has been served on the Interveners, in accordance with the CRTC’s Rules of Practice and Procedure.

Yours truly,

Kevin Goldstein

Vice President – Regulatory Affairs

UPDATE (Sept. 11): Bell presented its case in person to the commission Tuesday morning. You can read its prepared notes here (PDF), and my story summarizing the hearing for The Gazette here.

Proud to be human

Here’s me holding my keys. Among them is my Bixi key. It’s scuffed up, and is now completely useless. And I couldn’t be happier.

As the CRTC was in the middle of an odd three-hour break on Monday, I headed out to grab some food and head to CBC for a radio interview. I took a Bixi to a Belle Province on Ste-Catherine Street, and had a quick bite. When I got out, I went back to the Bixi stand, but I couldn’t find my keys. Not in the usual pocket, not in the other pocket. Nowhere. They weren’t back at the resto. But I had to have had them when I got the Bixi at the Place d’Armes metro station.

My conclusion: I must have left the keys in the Bixi stand at Place d’Armes.

The Bixi key isn’t a problem to replace. Call them, they deactivate the old one and charge you $5 to send a new one by mail. The other keys are more annoying to replace. One of them I’m not even sure there’s a double for, plus I would need someone to let me into my apartment.

A hurried cab ride (I never take cabs) back to Place d’Armes confirmed the keys were no longer there. I went to the interview, walked back to the Palais des congrès and continued my day, stressing about how I would get into my home that night and how I would replace all those keys.

I got a phone call, which I ignored because I was in the middle of a hearing. Then I saw a tweet a minute later: Someone had found my keys, called Bixi and left their number.

The young man, who lives in the Plateau, was happy to return my precious bits of metal, and gave me his address to pick them up. He hesitated when I offered a small reward, to the point where I literally had to shove it in his face. I asked him to do something enjoyable with it, and after trying again to refuse he said he’d put it toward his trip to Quebec City.

Unlike a wallet or a cellphone, those keys are pretty useless to anyone who’s not me. It’s not like it’s easy to figure out what they open.

Nevertheless, my faith in humanity is heightened today. And I’m left with one less thing to stress about. (Which is okay, because there are plenty more things.)

Big thanks to the man who found my keys, and to Bixi, which not only processed my request to have the key deactivated in a matter of seconds, but went above and beyond in reuniting me with my keys later.

Bell plans French all-news channel

As part of an expanded benefits package presented to the CRTC in its proposed purchase of Astral Media, Bell on Monday said it would create a French-language all-news specialty channel based in Montreal that would compete with LCN and RDI.

You can read more in this story I wrote for The Gazette. Nothing is set in stone yet. They haven’t even applied for a licence, and will wait until a decision comes on the Astral purchase to do so, since this would be contingent on the CRTC accepting the purchase.

But Bell’s plan, should the CRTC accept it, is to put $20 million of its tangible benefits package toward the creation of this channel. Bell Media President Kevin Crull clarified that the funding put into the network would be far higher than that, particularly at first.

The network would be the third French all-news channel in Canada, behind RDI and LCN. That alone has some wondering if the market can support it. Bell made it clear at the hearing that it had no plans to do this before Astral came into the picture. Apparently it was Astral’s idea, in fact.

Crull said that the channel might launch some time in 2013. Considering the delays involved, I would suspect no earlier than fall 2013, and even then I think that’s optimistic.

Good for CTV Montreal?

No plans are set as far as things like how many bureaus there would be or what kind of equipment they would have. We just know it would be based in Montreal. Either way, the addition would be good for CTV’s Montreal news operation if the two sides share resources like Radio-Canada and CBC do. The ability to get video from Quebec’s regions is one of CBC Montreal’s main advantages over CTV.

But this is all speculation at this point. If the CRTC rejects the Astral purchase, this project dies. And it’s not a given that CTV and this new channel would do resource-sharing, even if that would make a lot of sense.

Good for V?

This news also brings up some interesting thoughts about Bell’s future in Quebec. Bell was asked at the hearing how it would compete with Quebecor’s TVA, whose strength is in conventional television, if they don’t own conventional over-the-air TV stations in French Quebec. Bell said the line between conventional and specialty television is getting blurry.

A Bell takeover of the V television network, which is currently owned by Remstar as an independent player, might make sense with this new channel. The two could also share resources or even be co-branded, and V could go from being a non-factor in local news to being a serious competitor for TVA and Radio-Canada.

Bell potentially buying V has been rumoured and speculated for a while now, particularly since V started showing a profit. But Bell might be hesitant trying to justify another major acquisition before the CRTC.


Bell/Astral CRTC hearings: Day 1

This is it, folks. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission begins hearings at 9am into Bell’s proposed $3.38-billion purchase of Astral Media, and a related application to convert CKGM (TSN Radio 690) from English to French.

The hearings will be broadcast live at and even covered live on the television channel as well. The CRTC also has its own audio feed of the hearings. Each is offered in both languages.

And, of course, I’ll be covering them as well. Stay tuned here for updates as they happen. Follow me on Twitter. That’s easier.

In the meantime, you can read my piece in Saturday’s Gazette about the war over specialty channel carriage contracts, and my other piece setting up the hearings.

Murray Sherriffs being let go from The Beat

Murray Sherriffs

Almost three years after joining what was then 92.5 the Q, Murray Sherriffs is about to be unemployed again.

Sherriffs said he was told on Sept. 1 that the station was looking for a “different sound” and that he was being let go. His last day is Friday, Sept. 14.

It’s unusual that an on-air personality (particularly an opinionative one like Sherriffs) would be kept on for two weeks after being told he’s being canned. I don’t know if it speaks to the professionalism of Sherriffs or of management at Cogeco that he’s being allowed to work these two weeks (and, presumably, will get a chance to say goodbye). Sherriffs says he and Beat program director Leo Da Estrela are friends, the departure is being handled with all professionalism.

Sherriffs joined the station that became The Beat in 2009, after he was similarly let go from CJFM as part of its rebranding from Mix 96 to Virgin Radio.

Give Sherriffs a shot

I can understand the reasoning that Sherriffs’s deep authoritative voice might not fit in with the cheery, up-tempo sound of The Beat. But his voice is unique enough that he really should have a voice in radio somewhere. It’s bad enough Pete Marier is still looking for a job.

Unfortunately, the lack of competition in Montreal English radio limits Sherriffs’s options. Once Bell takes over Astral (and if its plans for CKGM are approved), there will be only two players in town in commercial English radio, and Sherriffs has been let go from both, apparently merely because his sound didn’t fit.

There’s hope on the horizon with an application in front of the CRTC for a talk radio station at 600 AM by the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group. That application is being considered at the CRTC hearing that begins Monday (it’s a non-appearing item, so there won’t be discussion of it). It will be weeks, perhaps months before it’s approved (though approval is likely), and not until 2013 that it begins operation. And there are just so many out-of-work veterans from other stations they can pick up.

Beat program director Leo Da Estrela confirmed that Sherriffs is leaving on Sept. 14 and that they’re looking for someone to replace him, but didn’t give any further comment.