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 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 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.”
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.
It’s good to see three people standing up and saying it in front of the CRTC panel. Perhaps the level of public interest in those one might sway them, even if the messages were mixed at best.
Sheldon missed the best answer possible for CKGM, which would have been to forfeit the 600AM frequency for now (clear channel) and for the CRTC to work with Bell to short term assign another frequency to them in the interim, which would not be a clear channel. There are a number of channels available on AM, such as 600 that could work on at least an interim basis, as there is enough of a stink of impropriety in the application to move to 690, given the direction Bell wants to take.
They could then make application for the 690 frequency for a French sports station, along with any other parties who might be interested in offering a radio service on this precious clear channel.
Forcing CKGM off the air is not an option – but allowing them to do a bull through the china shop of the public airwaves is not a very agreeable option either!
It’s interesting to see if in fact the tide will turn on this deal. Certainly with individuals taking the time to show up and present, the CRTC has to wonder why the public is seemingly so against it.
This sounds really improvised, and not something the CRTC is about to do. Its responses to this application need to be “yes” “no” or “yes, but with conditions”. It can’t really be “no, and also we’re taking away your frequency.”
Bell is free at any time to apply for a new French station on AM. But it has a licence for an English station on 690, and unless this application is approved, its options are to keep it English or turn in its licence.
Scratch 600 off that list. The CRTC is considering an application as part of this same hearing for a station there, and approval is very likely.
You don’t think that the application for 690AM for TSN radio wasn’t a “yes, but with conditions”? It seems they are not going to need 690, considering they aren’t aiming for the anglo market that they were worried about getting coverage in.
Seeing that they are not fulfilling what they stated they will do in the application, it would seem that they are pretty much out of line here.
Anyway, my feeling is that a very likely outcome of all of this is that the Montreal anglo stations get broken up, possibly back to the way it was “back in the day” with Bell getting TSN radio and CHOM, and someone else taking over the former standard broadcasting assets. It seems a reasonable way to fix what really is an ugly situation – and at the same time to help create a little competition in the marketplace.
I would also say, as a side line, that I have a real problem with Bell’s involvement with the Montreal Canadians. That adds another angle on all of this that is very disturbing.
The CRTC didn’t set any special conditions on CKGM’s move to 690, beyond what you would expect for a radio station changing frequency.
They’re moving to 690. That’s what their application says. The CRTC doesn’t regulate format. It does, however, regulate language, which is why Bell is before the commission with this application. They’re not out of line, but it’s up to the CRTC to decide whether their proposal will be accepted.
I don’t know how likely that is. The CRTC’s policy is that one owner can have three stations in a market like this, and I don’t see why they would deviate here.
“The CRTC didn’t set any special conditions on CKGM’s move to 690” and “The CRTC doesn’t regulate format. It does, however, regulate language, which is why Bell is before the commission with this application.”
The thing is, the 690 move was approved because it was going to be an anglo station. That Bell now wants to make it a franco station would appear to be directly against the original application to move to the clear channel. You don’t think that Bell didn’t rush the move to 690 ahead of the hearings to give the CRTC a “fait accomplis” rather than giving them the opportunity to say “we need to review”?
“The CRTC’s policy is that one owner can have three stations in a market like this, and I don’t see why they would deviate here.”
At this point Bell has so many entries into this market, that it is beyond counting. They have the major anglo TV channel, they have the biggest non-cable distribution system, and they have control or direct ownership of a significant number of specialty tv channels. To apply the limits on radio alone, in ignorance of what else Bell controls in the market place would be a pretty signficant failing, IMHO.
Bell owns so much that you cannot avoid them in day to day life as an Anglo at all, without significant effort. That means that Bell has a large control of the news sources and gets to set much of the agenda in english Quebec.
The question of language on a single station is a red herring, it in the end ignores the greater harm caused by Bell taking over pretty much all of the Anglo media in Montreal.
The frequency change application is irrelevant here, at least technically. There were no content conditions set for the move. The station is, however, licensed as an English broadcaster, which is why Bell is going through this process. And the commissioners were very critical of how quickly Bell came back to it after applying to change frequency. It might have no official bearing, but the commissioners are aware of the irony here.
Who would that someone else be? Would have to be a whole new player with deep pockets. The only other one who is present on the scene is TTP. Apart from CJNT, Rogers doesn’t have much interest investing in Quebec.
Good to see these guys take some time to go before the CRTC. I even like the exposure you’ve done here about them.
BTW…Bell has relocated CHOM-FM, CJFM-FM, and CJAD-AM to a new location. Did you notice that CKGM-AM was not moved. What does that say about what they think is going to happen to CKGM.
Personally…I think the CRTC should allow Bell to purchase parts of Astral. But not the whole thing. They should look at each market that is would effect before allowing any properties to change hands.
As for Montreal, I think Bell should be forced to sell 1 AM, and 1 FM station from the 4 English radio stations. They also own CFCF-DT. Way to much media concentration for the English market in Montreal. And, I see no reason that CKGM can’t be a TSN Radio affiliate if it’s owned by somebody else. Don’t forget, Rogers Media owns both Cable Specialty and Radio sports stations. Rogers Media would probably be a perfect solution for CKGM.
And, if they want a RDS Sports Radio station, they should apply for a new license.
Bell has not relocated anything. Astral moved the three stations into its building on Papineau. CKGM is in a different building, on Greene Ave. in Westmount, and I imagine a relocation would probably come the next time its lease is up.
The commission has expressed concerns that breaking up Astral might hurt the properties. Of course, it all depends on how they’re broken up. Forcing Bell to sell English TV assets in addition to the radio stations is a likely scenario.
This is a good point, and hasn’t been brought up at the hearing: CJAD and CTV, the largest newsrooms in their media in this market, would have the same owner.
Bell said at the hearing it isn’t about to licence the TSN brand to people it can’t control. That makes sense. And Rogers specifically said it has no interest in using a competitor’s brand, which was such an obvious statement it drew chuckles from the audience.
The fly in the ointment is very simple…without the
Habs broadcasts TSN 990 has zero value…they have not and
Can not make money without …..so the solution is obvious
CJAD will be sold….it is far more expensive to run and loses tons
Of money annually…..Bell can then integrate its sports properties under one
At the end of the day BELL cares not about anything english in this
Province ( Except CFCF, which is a money pit)… They want access
To all things FRENCH….radio, billboards, french specialty channels
Sell CJAD to Teitelman’s group and leave us our beloved sports
Keeping CJAD and adding Canadiens games would probably make more money for Bell than keeping TSN Radio. Bell has already said it would rather sell CKGM than CJAD.
As Team 990, CKGM didn’t have the Habs games either. It managed to keep going. Now all of a sudden it can’t survive without Habs games?
I think a CKGM all day sports talk radio can work in Montreal. Perhaps in the evening hours (after 8pm) they can try a few other things than sports talk. Perhaps some news talk, perhaps even some music.
But, don’t tell me it can’t survive or that it’s value is zero. CKGM has been around for decades. And now with it’s better 690 signal, it can be heard even further. Just that 690 clear channel assignment is of value.
As for the Teitelman group’s plans, they had proposed a brand new English radio station. Let’s hope we manage to get that.
For me, it’s simple. CKGM-AM and CHOM-FM should be bundled together and sold off to a new owner. The synergy between the two can make them very profitable in the right hands.
It also lost money for that entire time.
I don’t see what synergy these two specific stations would have that another random grouping of two stations wouldn’t, besides their history.
Actually, the synergy between the two (besides the obvious history that exists) is that it would give two symmetrical packages: 1 FM and 1 AM for each – as it was before.
My feeling is that it would be best if Bell kept TSN, got CHOM, and the other two were sold off. I think that selling to Bell is the easy way for Astral to just get out, period. But it doesn’t help anyone, does it?
I think there is an obvious synergy between CHOM and TSN Radio. The audience for both is predominantly male, probably 25 to 54 mostly, and I would think that if a survey would be taken among the TSN Radio listeners, I would guess that their favourite music format would be rock (either new or classic). One obvious example of that is the popularity of the Melnick in the Afternoon show.
“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.”
Hmmm, wonder why Bell owned CTV, TSN, CTV News Channel and soon to be owned CJAD didn’t cover the dissenting option?
The Bell Astral buyout with the TSN 990/690 hearings should be the tipping point for a massive failure in public policy.
Pipe or content – never allow the combination of the two. Especially in small market Canada.
CTV has been here all week, just not a local reporter. You can claim conspiracy if you want, but that doesn’t explain why CBC and The Gazette didn’t cover the presentations either.
Back in the day, maybe going back to the 1970s, David Birnbaum was a Gazette reporter.
Just curious: with all these media executives and tech people appearing this week, it looked like every single presenter read their spiels off paper. I was surprised that not one intervenor used an iPad or similar tablet. Maybe Bell, Rogers, Cogeco and Videotron execs don’t trust their own WiFi or cell connections when it comes down to the crunch?
Seriously, even waitresses in diners use tablets now to take orders. I would have thought everybody there would been using them.
Thoughts wander watching 9 – 10 days of hearings a day!
The CRTC asks that people make their presentations from written remarks, which are distributed to those present at the hearing. It’s a lot of paperwork. There are plenty of iPads and other devices present in the room, used by people in the audience.
I think the death knell for TSN 690 may have been sounded just prior to the end of the hearings. As Fagstein tweeted, Commission Blais asks Bell if it would accept being forced to turn back licence for #CKGM to get Astral. Answer (eventually): Yes.
If I understand this correctly, if CRTC approves the Bell takeover of Astral, Bell would then turn in the CKGM license because of having too many stations. But I guess this doesn’t prevent them from selling off the station to someone else first, if a buyer comes along. Also, does this assume that their application to convert TSN 690 to RDS 690 is being rejected by the CRTC as well? If that is the case, then 690 would be open and up for grabs again. Would the CRTC put out a call for applications for 690 all over again?
Also, what would then happen to the transmitter site where Bell has already installed antenna and transmitter for 690 kHz. They are also planning to provide the transmitter site for Dufferin/Evanov to broadcast their new 990 station, at least I think. So, if Bell didn’t get an approval to use 690 kHz for a new RDS station, do they have any further need for the transmitter site? If not, do they sell that off and what becomes of Dufferin/Evanov’s station. Do they look a buying or leasing a transmitter site for a frequency that they aren’t particularly happy in having in the first place? So, so many questions.
Not necessarily. Though Bell was asked about this possibility, normally the CRTC insists on divestment either through a sale or shutdown. If it’s a sale, the station(s) are put under trusteeship until a buyer is found and a sale finalized.
The CRTC will rule on Bell’s application. If it says no, and/or orders Bell to turn in the licence, 690 becomes free, and likely there will be another open call for applications.
A good question. Dufferin originally had a plan to use the CJAD site, but that was based on using 690, which is omnidirectional. If Dufferin’s rent is enough to pay the transmitter’s costs, they might keep it as is. If not, it might try to sell the transmitter to Dufferin or two whomever eventually gets 690.
For anyone who would like to see and hear the interventions from the three individuals (myself included) at the CRTC Hearings on Thursday, Video on Demand of the presentations is available through the CPAC webpage. The first presenter, followed by myself, are items 3 and 4 in Part 1 of the video on demand file. The third presenter is item 1 in Part 2. Here is the link
Sincere thanks to all those who took the time to register complaints and especially to “The big 3” who appeared in person.
I would just like to add something to a lot of what I’ve been reading. While it is true that we have never turned a profit, keep in mind that we were born in May of 2001. We spent a good chunk of the time as a stand alone AM station with no help from FM partners, or any kind of corporate tie-in. We survived. It was a slow and steady climb and we’re all damn proud of the fact that we eventually established a footprint in Montreal.
The more recent association with Bell and eventually TSN has been very helpful in terms of brand awareness and cross promotion. The eventual addition of several TSN national personalities added strong content. Coupled with Montreal Canadiens broadcasts we felt we had turned the corner. In fact, if the Habs had made the playoffs last season, we would have, at the very least, been in a position to see the light at the end of that profit tunnel.
And one other thing that pisses me off. Every story/blog I see alluding to our ratings is terribly misleading. Overall the numbers are what they are. But that includes everybody from the age of 12 +, seven days a week. Our prime target demo, like every all-sports station in North America, is Males 25-54. We have consistently beaten our opposition in that demo for several hours a day, not just 3-7. The Morning show and The Montreal Forum have shown significant gains as well.
All this to say we have become a viable radio station thanks to an awful lot of hard work, dedication and incredible passion from most of our on air talent, none of whom are getting rich doing so. Our sales staff is as good as any in town. Our clients are amazing, many of them staying with us for years because they not only believe in us, but more importantly, get results. And of course our listeners, who have been so loyal, and whose reaction to the possibility of us dying speaks for itself.
As a very long time listener, alumni of the signal, and currently
An advertiser I wish it for all involved thar the suits get it right
And find a creative way to keep you guys chugging…
The thought of a bastardized , diluted version of 990 on
CJAD , makes me vomit, you and I both know how the REAL
Talk will be filtered and ghetto-ized..
Best of luck and Happy New Year
Ps regards from maple leaf Rob
During the hearings, Bell was asked if they planned to alter CJAD’s programming if the CRTC granted their request.
Bell was further asked if Tommy would be replaced by sports ? Would the noon program ? The drive home program ? The answer was that CJAD already has sufficient daily sports programming in place.
Two mins at the top & half hours from Chantal DesJardins is what they consider sports programming ?
Bell’s arrogance and condescension was at least as insulting as Gary Bettman’s attitude towards hockey fans.
Team 990 has tremendous respect for its fans and that is why they have a growing audience. T990 has sought out the best talent and the best guests to give their fans the best possible sports programming. I personally think they are the “60 minutes” of their market.
“And one other thing that pisses me off. Every story/blog I see alluding to our ratings is terribly misleading. Overall the numbers are what they are.”
More importantly, as I pointed out in my statement of opposition to the CRTC (workload prevented a personal presentation), the CKGM website’s live audio stream provides the content far and wide across the country. I know of several people who listen to the audio stream in the prairies and in several cities throughout the US (Habs fans are hardcore). The 990 frequency could easily be picked up in downtown Ottawa and down to the Vermont or New York border crossings. I would guess that a clear channel on 690 widens the potential out-of-market audience, which is, sadly, not considered when looking at ratings.
I truly hope that the CRTC does what is right for the unique linguistic situation that Montreal presents.
Although it might seem surprising that of the 774 interventions, only three showed up to voice their concerns opposed to the application, should point out the obvious that amongst those who intervened in favour of the application, no one presented their case.
I Just Love these Bell is committed to Quebec Commercials, More French Content @ the cost of Anglo community, sure the Habs will be on CJAD @ My Moms loss of listening to her talk show, if there is an Alouettes conflict? Are we really going to put CFl Football on CHOM, A Rock Station? So Bell Cares about Quebec, BS, they haven’t even tried to get a transmitter in Montreal fro CTV2, they care about Money!
They’ve done it before. It’s pretty rare that Alouettes and Canadiens games overlap, though. Maybe a couple of times a year, and more likely during the Canadiens’ preseason.
I would think an application to add a transmitter for CTV Two would itself be nothing but a money grab, in order to profit from more simultaneous substitution ad revenue. Is there some programming on CTV Two that Montreal isn’t getting through American border stations?
That’s been done for a number of years now. CHOM is the Als overflow station during a conflict.