If you don’t want to read this really long post, you can get the short version in this story and this followup in The Gazette, and this story at Cartt.ca.
I’d thought about it. Some people had asked me about it. Others suggested it to the CRTC in their written submissions. And the CRTC asked Bell about it in a letter after it filed its application. But until Monday afternoon I didn’t think it was seriously an option that the commission might consider imposing.
Could the CRTC force Bell to keep CKGM (TSN Radio 690) and sell one of the other English-language Astral radio stations in Montreal, as a condition of approving the larger Bell-Astral deal?
Learning from the very negative public reaction from its initial proposal last year to turn CKGM into a French-language radio station, this time Bell is asking for an exception to the CRTC’s radio common ownership policy so it can keep it in English while still owning three other stations in the (currently) five-station market. This puts the commission in an awkward position if it accepts the purchase deal. Does it give the exception, giving one company control of four of five commercial stations and 75% of the commercial audience share? Or does it deny the exception, forcing Bell to sell the money-losing station to someone else who would most likely change its format? Bell convinced thousands of listeners that the former is better, putting together a Save TSN 690 petition and getting the same fans who were cursing its name months earlier to be suddenly singing its praises.
A background in common ownership
The CRTC’s common ownership policy, often incorrectly or incompletely explained, has two rules for radio:
- One company can’t own more than two AM stations and two FM stations in a single market
- One company can’t own more than three stations total in a market with fewer than eight commercial stations
French and English stations are considered in separate markets even if they share the same geographical area. Montreal’s English market, with only five commercial stations (though soon to be six) meets that second criteria, while the French market, with 11 commercial stations (soon to be 13 or even 14), doesn’t.
The policy is just that, a policy, and exceptions have been granted before. The most on-point one is one that was granted to Cogeco in 2010 that allowed it to keep three French FM stations in Montreal after it acquired most of the Corus Quebec network. This was allowed in exchange for Cogeco setting up the Cogeco Nouvelles radio news service, with CHMP 98.5 FM in Montreal as its flagship station. That station is now the highest-rated in Quebec. The second-highest-rated, CFGL (Rythme FM) 105.7, is also owned by Cogeco.
The irony here is that this request was strongly opposed by Astral Media (it even threatened legal action to stop it), it was supported by third parties because it would put Cogeco in a position to better compete with Astral, and Cogeco is a fierce opponent of the Bell/Astral deal because of increased concentration of ownership. (Cogeco hasn’t said much about the request for an exception, perhaps seeing how hypocritical it would look.)
Now Bell/Astral is using the Cogeco decision as a precedent to get the same treatment in English. Astral argues this should be an easier decision because unlike CHMP, CKGM is a money-losing station, its audience is tiny, and it’s on AM.
And Cogeco, the one company that you’d think would be most against allowing Bell to own four of the five stations in this market, is silent on the matter. Cogeco CEO Louis Audet told me on Wednesday after the company’s appearance before the CRTC that “we’ve kept away from that” and “it’s up to the commission to decide.”
The third option
Saying that she wanted to “explore all alternatives”, the CRTC’s Quebec regional commissioner, Suzanne Lamarre, questioned Bell about the possibility of keeping CKGM and selling another station. (You can read the transcript of that hearing here, starting at Paragraph 787)
“Shouldn’t we be concerned about so much concentration of ownership in one particular language, that language being in the official language minority group? Shouldn’t we be worried about that?” Lamarre asked.
Bell’s answer at the hearing was that adding the tiny audience of CKGM to the large audience of Astral’s stations would be a small increment.
And it’s true. CHOM, CJAD and Virgin Radio already have 70% of the market to themselves as a group, and they’ve been under common ownership since Standard Radio bought CHOM in 2002. (Standard Radio’s assets were sold to Astral in 2007.) The CRTC said that was okay.
But Lamarre seems interested in exploring this option. It was actually asked to Bell when it filed the revised application. Bell’s written response was that if it had to sell a station, it would be CKGM, which is the only unprofitable one and also the lowest-rated. The other stations operate together, sharing resources, so splitting them would be too difficult.
Lamarre didn’t seem satisfied with that answer. “You jump to the conclusion that should you not get the exception for CKGM, CKGM is finished, but have you not considered the possibility that the Commission may require that you keep TSN 690 operating in its current format and yet not grant you the exception?”
This is a bit of a curveball. Bell has made proposals to safeguard TSN 690 in exchange for the exception to the policy. Could the CRTC accept those proposals but not grant them the exception? Sounds like kind of a dick move (punishing Bell for trying to save the station), but they could do it. They could, in essence, both order Bell to keep TSN 690 on the air in its current format and force it to sell one of the other stations.
What the CRTC can and can’t do
There are misconceptions about what the CRTC does. One of them concerns formats of radio stations. Normally, the commission doesn’t regulate format for commercial stations. So if TSN 690 wanted to switch to a conservative talk-radio format, it could. If CHOM wanted to go country music, it could. The only limitations are conditions of licence, which indicate what type of station it is (commercial, campus, community, ethnic, native, etc.), what language(s) it operates in (this is why Bell can’t unilaterally change TSN 690 into RDS 690), and any special conditions. Some stations are licensed under a specialty format, such as CKLX-FM, which is why it still needs permission from the CRTC to change format from jazz to talk even though it has already rebranded itself as Radio X Montreal.
The CRTC also won’t change a licence it has given someone without their consent. The CRTC issues licences for up to seven years, and so long as stations comply with their licences, they should expect that their obligations won’t change until that licence expires.
But the flip side to all of this is that the CRTC can impose conditions on the Astral purchase. And those conditions could include commitments in terms of format, or funding, or licence changes, or the sale of stations. So the CRTC could say that as a condition of the Astral deal, Bell has to keep TSN 690 running for seven years and sell one of the other Montreal stations.
And Bell would do it, because changes to its plans in the Montreal radio market are not going to be allowed to derail a $3.38-billion acquisition deal. Bell confirmed this by saying this issue “is not at the heart of the application per se.”
But Bell is also perfectly willing to throw TSN 690 under the bus if it needs to:
“I’d like the Commission to consider that we wouldn’t be deriving a significant commercial advantage through the exemption and we didn’t want in any way to jeopardize the bigger transaction with this request,” Bell regulatory VP Mirko Bibic said. “So that’s why we kind of said, okay, look, we’re going to apply for the exception because we do want to respond to the community, but we also are prepared to return the licence or sell this particular station. We feel it would be unfair in the circumstances to ask us to sell another station and to keep this station because the other stations do have a passionate listenership as well.”
Profitable vs. unprofitable
But Lamarre continued:
“The Commission could go as far as either identifying the station it wants you to divest or give you a limited choice of what you should be divesting, and in your brief you did mention that granting you the exception would not hurt new entrants in the market, but if you had a profitable FM station to sell in the market of Montreal, wouldn’t that be a missed opportunity for the Commission not to take that possibility, that opportunity to get possibly a new owner in the English Anglophone market?”
That prompted a clearly irritated Bell CEO George Cope to step in with a quick response: “we’re not in the business of selling profitable businesses and maintaining unprofitable businesses. That’s not a business.”
Lamarre then dug up some things that Bell, represented by many of the same people, said at a 2011 hearing in Montreal in which they asked to move CKGM from 990 to 690, a request they were granted despite fierce opposition for that frequency. At the time, Bell said it was committed to the Montreal market, to TSN Radio in Montreal, and that the frequency change (combined with the acquisition of Canadiens broadcast rights) would put it on the road to profitability. Now, only months after changing frequency and only a season and a half of Canadiens games, “it sounds like you’re willing to throw in the towel already,” Lamarre said. Bell didn’t agree with that assessment, prompting an exchange in which Lamarre, Cope and Bibic debated whether it was consistent for Bell to say it was committed to the (still unprofitable) station in 2011 and is now unwilling to part with a more profitable station it is purchasing in order to keep it.
Bibic cited public support for the exception, but Lamarre correctly pointed out that the vast majority of those comments aren’t actually in support of Bell owning four radio stations. Instead, they merely support keeping TSN 690 in its current format by any means necessary. (In fact, I should point out, a few of the comments Bell submitted in its favour even opposed the larger Astral purchase or demanded Bell sell another station.)
Astral COO Jacques Parisien, by now also getting a bit testy too, chimed in with his own take:
“As the operator of the three other English stations in this market, I question if the public interest is better served by selling one of these three stations and jeopardizing the other two. And I really don’t get it as far as the Canadian broadcasting system benefiting from selling one of these three stations and, you know, messing up a market that is going pretty well. … I don’t see how the public interest in Montreal would be better served by jeopardizing the two orphan stations after selling the one you will identify that is an actual station. And I don’t see how the Canadian broadcasting system benefits from that.”
I wonder whether Bell and Astral aren’t exaggerating the situation here. Yes, Astral’s stations are operated as an integrated unit, sharing office space and resources. But Bell is perfectly willing to split up sister stations in Toronto and Winnipeg. And in the end, running a music radio station isn’t that difficult. (Running it well is what’s hard.) A company like Cogeco could probably easily absorb a radio station like CHOM, and other companies could also take over programming without too much difficulty. They’d need to hire new people to read the news and maybe handle traffic (if they don’t continue outsourcing that), and would need new studios, more management, more promotions staff and other shared back-office functions. But would CHOM really be hampered because Terry DiMonte’s cheques are written by a different company, or because their studios are in a different building than CJAD’s?
Speculation: Who would buy what?
If the CRTC does decide to impose this, it could either dictate which specific station Astral has to sell, or allow it to choose. Market-wise, there’s not much difference between the three. Each has between 15% and 25% of the market, depending on how you count it. But CJAD is a far different animal from CHOM and Virgin. Lamarre specifically referenced FM stations in one of her questions, which suggests they would order the sale of one of the FM stations. This would make sense because the FM stations are more valuable, more profitable, and because there’s no room for more FM stations in Montreal, but might be room for more AM stations (including an independent CJAD competitor set to launch this year).
Between Virgin and CHOM, there isn’t much contest. Virgin has the higher ratings, and is part of a national brand (though that hasn’t stopped it from putting its Virgin Radio station in Vancouver up for sale). Which means CHOM would be more likely to be put on the block.
Who would buy it? Just about anyone, really.
Paul Tietolman of Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media previously expressed interest in buying CJAD if it came available. He wasn’t backing away from that suggestion this week when asked about it. TTP would also be a likely bidder for a music station. Cogeco could buy it, since it has only one English-language radio station, but the CRTC might not look too fondly on going back to only two players on FM. Rogers, Newcap, Dufferin, Pattison and a bunch of other companies might be interested in buying.
But this is all just speculation. The CRTC hasn’t made a decision. And there’s no reason to believe that ordering Bell/Astral to sell one of Astral’s stations is more or less likely than any other option on the table. It could deny the Bell/Astral acquisition again, keeping the status quo. It could approve it and allow the exception, especially since there’s been so little opposition to it. It could approve the acquisition but deny the exception and let Bell choose which station to sell. Or it could decide on something completely different.
Joe the Mover to the rescue
Joe Gagnon, the president of Westmount Moving and Warehousing, is the only intervener presenting at this hearing specifically about the TSN 690 exemption request. Gagnon, who spoke at the commission on Wednesday, told them that as both an advertiser and as a listener, the station is irreplaceable and deserves special treatment to be kept alive. “Montreal is a sports town with three major sports franchises to support,” his presentation to the commission says. “The need for all-sports radio programming is high, and the folks at Bell and TSN 690 do a fantastic job like no other I have heard.” As an advertiser, Gagnon notes the high loyalty of the station’s listeners, and says that while his ads on that station might not result in as many calls as he would get for ads on a station like CJAD, the calls he gets from TSN listeners are more likely to result in actual business. (Westmount Moving is the official moving company of the Canadiens, which might also help win Habs fans over.)
Gagnon’s comments lead a story in Thursday’s Gazette. I sat down with him after the presentation to get more of his thoughts on the issue. And his answers surprised me.
“They are all institutions,” Gagnon said of the four radio stations that would be under Bell’s umbrella in this market. He said that any time a station changes ownership, there’s a risk to it, and he repeated Parisien’s thoughts that forcing Bell to divest one of the Astral stations might hurt that station in the short or long term.
Gagnon said the four stations offer four different types of programming and so are not being directly competitive with each other. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said.
But what about Bell’s market power? Wouldn’t he be worried that they’d hike ad rates if they were the only game in town?
Gagnon said he’s not worried. “I just think common sense prevails,” he said. “People like me won’t advertise if we can’t promise a return. I’m not oncerned that my prices will go through the roof.” He said he would just advertise on Google or through other media if radio advertising ended up costing more than it was bringing in in extra profits.
Bell: No offers for CKGM
During its presentation on Monday, Bell was asked if it had received any offers to buy CKGM with the intention of keeping its format. It was an odd question, because Bell hasn’t indicated a desire to sell the station. But the question is relevant because Bell argues that if it’s forced to sell, a new buyer wouldn’t keep the money-losing all-sports format.
The response came in writing on Wednesday: There have been no formal expressions of interest. But, “late last year, two parties made informal inquiries about CKGM” without following up. The names of those companies are not disclosed.
Also provided on Wednesday were other answers related to the CKGM exemption request:
Canadiens games until [REDACTED]: The CRTC asked when the deadline is for the current broadcast rights deal for the Canadiens. You’d think it would be a straightforward question to answer, since Bell issued a press release in 2011 saying the deal is for seven years. But the answer to that question (which I’m guessing was about 10-15 words) was redacted because of its “commercially sensitive nature”. So clearly it’s more complex than saying after the 2017-18 season.
What is all sports? The CRTC asked for a definition of what constitutes an “all-sports format”, to be included as a condition of licence. Bell’s provided definition says that it should be “dedicated to sports with the majority of the programming drawn from subcategory 12 (Spoken word — other).”
What happens in seven years? Bell has promised to keep the all-sports format for seven years. But what happens after those seven years? Does it still get to benefit from the exemption even after it eventually changes formats? Lamarre asked, if the format promise was for seven years, shouldn’t the exemption also expire after seven years? Bell’s response was that it would have to re-apply to the CRTC to change its licence to remove the format provision after those seven years (when its licence expires and will need to be renewed), and that the commission could decide then if the exemption should still apply. This answer means that even after seven years, Bell will either need to keep the all-sports format, sell one of the four stations, or convince the CRTC that its new plan for the station is important enough to warrant an extended exemption from the rules. (Of course, a lot can change in seven years.)
Is amateur sports a proper benefit? Bell has also promised to donate a total of $245,000 to third parties as a goodwill gesture. This includes $105,000 ($5,000 per student for three students a year for seven years) in scholarships for sports journalism at Concordia University, and $140,000 ($20,000 a year for seven years) to amateur sports in Montreal. These aren’t listed as part of the formal “tangible benefits” package for the Astral purchase, which have rules for what they can be spent on, but nevertheless the CRTC was concerned that the amateur sports donation might be inappropriate because it does not benefit the broadcasting system. Bell explained that it believed the donation to be in the public interest, but was willing to reallocate all that money so the entirety would be spent on the sports journalism scholarships. Funding to help journalism programs is considered a proper Canadian Content Development contribution.
So how will the CRTC decide?
Before you ask, I don’t know. They don’t whisper to me in the halls. The commission is very skeptical of the Astral acquisition as a whole, but that won’t mean they won’t approve it this time, with or without serious conditions. Lamarre floated the idea of asking for another station to be sold, but that’s one of a few options she wanted to explore. She has a clear idea of what people want (they want the station to survive, but don’t really care whether Bell owns CHOM or not), but there are a few ways of giving them that. And in the end, opposition to the exemption request has been virtually non-existent. Even the owners of the only other station in the market, and the owners of a licence to operate a new English-language station in Montreal, did not see fit to comment to the CRTC on the request.
If it’s anything like last time, a decision should be expected within a month or two of the end of the hearing on Friday. So we should know by mid-summer what the fate is of Bell, Astral, CKGM, CHOM, CJAD and CJFM (Virgin).
- The Toronto Star for some reason wrote a story about the part of the hearing devoted to TSN 690. I heard a few comments from journalists suggesting that the CRTC was spending too much time about this minor part of a huge acquisition. But fans of the station might disagree.
- A Gazette editorial calling for the CRTC to grant the exception to Bell. It calls the Common Ownership Policy “a niggling bureaucratic regulation.”
The real issue is that Bell is so big, and Astral is also big enough that a merger between the two hits too many sensitive spots in different areas. It is not helping Bell that they are already either a major player or the dominant player in almost every area of Canadian communication and entertainment.
They run the largest wire ISP. They run the largest TV network. They own local TV in every major market. They are either owners or partners in a significant number of pay television stations. They run the largest d-tv distribution network, and are expanding with IP-TV. They are the incumbent and dominant player in wire telephone and general telecommunications in Canada, particularly Eastern Canada. They would after this deal operate over 100 radio stations in Canada and have the single largest slice of the radio listenership in Canada. You can look further to see Bell Media and it’s partners owning, controlling, or having an influential amount of ownership in many of the major sports franchises in Canada. Where they do not have ownership, they have naming rights, sponsorship deals, and often hold (in the long term) the broadcast and distribution rights for those teams.
With all of that influence, with all of that power, with that complete vertical market control, you can be sure that the choices made by this company are for the benefit of Bell, and not for the benefit of it’s subscribers, artists, producers, and so on. If a market “works”, Bell buys it. They have such a dominating position in so much of the Canadian media landscape that they are unavoidable.
No, they are not a monopoly overall. However, because of their ownership of the only truly functional national TV network (CTV), because of their status as the incumbent wire line provider, because of their status as one of only two Sat TV distributors, they end up as the gatekeeper for a big portion of the Canadian entertainment world. They control the bandwidth, they control much of the airwaves, and they control the methods by which many get their information.
If you don’t think so, consider the “radio silence” on these hearings. Did you see anything about them on the CTV news? Talk on CJAD? National coverage on the CTV national news? Any coverage that they gave would be cursory, just “Bell applying, a decision expected next month” stuff. That is the exact problem here, Bell can actually control the message that the vast majority of the public will see, and that is disturbing.
The real alternative here is for the CRTC just to say no again, and tell Bell to stop asking. The CRTC needs to move forward to reset the rules regarding ownership, ratcheting them downwards after 3 decades of constantly allowing more and more exceptions. If TSN radio can’t survive without Astral… then let it die or let someone else take it over who thinks it will work. Montreal has lost any number of AM stations in the last decade, and nobody died. The world did not stop turning. The CRTC needs desperately to bring new blood into the Canadian media world, to bring new players, and to encourage a diversity of voices. Any discussion (including this article) which suggests that there are only a few players who might be interested shows the depths of the problem here. The concentration of media makes it impossible for new players to enter. Do you honestly think that having 75% of the english Montreal radio market (and 95% of the english TV news market) controlled by a single entity is good for a diversity of voices?
The system in Canada is broken, and only the CRTC can change it.
I don’t take issue with your descriptions of Bell’s size, or your opinion that it’s too big, but I will challenge you on your suggestion that Bell journalists are somehow complicit.
Yes. CTV national news reporter Geneviève Beauchemin has been at the hearings. BNN reporter Paul Bagnell has covered most of them as well for BNN, CTV and CP24.
I see no evidence that CTV has been covering these hearings any less than its competitors. If anything, they have more journalists covering it. I haven’t seen a single reporter from Global or CBC Montreal there.
Online, most of CTV’s stories are actually Canadian Press pieces, and they don’t exactly pull their punches.
Not the majority, but a large amount. You can certainly argue that it’s too much control, but before you start accusing journalists of not doing their jobs, you should have some evidence to back it up.
By that same logic, nobody will die if Bell owns four English-language radio stations in Montreal.
Your CTV news link is a pro-Bell story, internal.
Your CJAD story is a wire story republished verbatim.
The coverage is, well, light. Here is a clip:
While it does expose the negative, it’s low key, and the summary is, not surprisingly, a supporter story.
Can you show me any in depth stuff, any digging?
“You can certainly argue that it’s too much control, but before you start accusing journalists of not doing their jobs, you should have some evidence to back it up.”
As someone who works in the field, you should know better. While the reporters themselves are there, they are not directly deciding all of the content of their stories. Editors, producers, and so on all get involved and apply slant. For that matter, you work at a newspaper that has come out in support of Bell owning 4 stations. Understanding slant is really key. I go with the old Greg Bear line “tell the truth, but tell it slant”.
“By that same logic, nobody will die if Bell owns four English-language radio stations in Montreal.”
By the same logic, nobody would suffer if Montreal went down to 1 daily bilingual newspaper either. I am sure you wouldn’t suffer at all. I am sure we would all get along fine, right? The point is that one of the big features of almost every merger is the long term loss of jobs. In the radio world, Montreal has lost two all news stations, and most every station now is corporately owned and uses the corporate news sources. It can be explained as simply as having the same traffic reporter on the three Astral stations (and the same happens on the french side as well). Three jobs cut and turned into 1. The same happens on news stories, one reporter covers the story for all stations in the chain. While I haven’t seen the setups personally (and you have) I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that the newsrooms for CJAD, Virgin, and CHOM are in fact one and the same, with at most different on air presenters, but the same source material.
It is sadly not that simple.
What has happened in the radio world (and TV for that matter) is that while their appears to be a great amount of choice, there is in fact a great amount of duplication. You sort of hit it in the TV world the other day talking about the “de-specialization” of specialty channels. What you are getting isn’t more choice, it’s less – and it is done to both improve ratings and cut costs. It’s why many of the cable channels have very few actual employees anymore, as they are just gutted shells re-running the same outsourced programming as many of the other channels owned by the same parent. In effect, you cannot separate out the child from the parent, because the relationship is symbiotic. Worse yet, in many cases the parent is also a principal distributor of the channels, and as such controls the income of the channels as well. You have done the distribution charts in the past, and you know the issues.
In radio, the problem is really in the shared resources and structures. Astral is a perfect example, where the stations aren’t independent entities, but instead branding of the same source materials. It is not simple to extract one station from that and sell it, because the pieces aren’t independent enough of the others. It can be done, but at what price?
The CRTC has also created a mess by allowing such high concentrations of media. Bell wanting to buy all of Astral shows the problems, as this isn’t a hearing into changing ownership of a radio station or a TV broadcaster in a given city, but rather a bulk process that makes it all but impossible to address the issues of each market completely. The TSN radio issue in Montreal is only 1 in 100 of the radio issues that need addressing, as each and every existing Bell License under the new company should be reviewed. Instead, we get a high speed snow blower effect where the pieces are not looked at clearly and a bulk decision needs to be made.
Getting new blood into the system basically starts by diminishing over time the influence of major holders. The CRTC can, as a matter going forward, deem that media concentration levels must drop, and make that a condition of license as of the next renewal for each station. If each is renewed for 7 years, example and told that they must be owned by someone with no more than 1 AM and 1 FM station (or 1 “radio” and 1 TV) in the marketplace, it would break up the monopolies over time and make it in their best interest to market and sell the stations to new owners before their license expires and the value turns to zero. 7 years would be a very long time for them to do this.
Right away, that would bring sea change in the Montreal market, both english and french, and would touch almost every one of the giants in the radio and TV game in Canada. I am sure there would be a lot of horse trading, with companies selling on exchange stations in different market places. But it would also open the market up for new players.
It would be a huge step in the right direction. Longer term it would be about separating distributors from producers, such that if you distribute (cable / sat / IP tv) that you cannot also control or operate the TV channels and radio stations that appear on that system. Again, when the encourage divestiture over a longer period (say 7 to 10 years) they can move things forward without causing an earthquake.
We lived well before the mega-corps took over. There is no reason we can’t do it again.
It’s a story about Day 1 of the hearings, in which Bell was the only presenter. Stories about the various opposition groups are also on their websites (though they’re mostly wire stories). Here’s Paul Bagnell reporting for BNN on Rogers and Telus opposition to Bell.
Not from broadcast media, no. They have to watch up to nine hours of hearings every day and do their reports. There’s not much room for “digging” there. But again, journalists who work for Bell Media aren’t acting any differently from those who don’t.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but most editors don’t have a clue what’s going on and couldn’t care less about applying a “slant”. They want their stories filed on time and of proper technical quality. I would be surprised if most assigning editors even knew what CRTC stood for.
And I have received absolutely zero instruction from management on how to write my stories about it.
I’m not sure what you mean by “corporately owned”. The CRTC usually requires people to incorporate in order to get a licence. So in that sense all stations are “corporately owned”. But there are plenty of community stations, campus stations, native stations, ethnic stations and others that don’t really fit the connotation that “corporate” gives.
They are (and Astral hasn’t hidden this fact). In fact, it’s also the same newsroom as Rouge FM and NRJ. Though really it’s just the CJAD newsroom that the other stations use content from.
Even if the CRTC orders a broadcaster to divest (sell or shut down) a radio station, its value is not zero. What happens is that the asset is put into trust, controlled by an independent trustee until a buyer can be found. The station is still sold at market value. A full-power FM station in Montreal with a commercial licence, even if the sale comprises only the licence itself, would still have huge value.
A review of the common ownership policy isn’t currently in the CRTC’s three-year plan.
I’m sure you’d get a lot of independent media and cable companies agreeing with you. But I will point out this: CTV was bleeding red ink and about to shut down a handful of local stations before it was bought by Bell. Shaw bought Canwest Global out of bankruptcy. And I can’t really imagine City TV and TVA surviving without the financial backing of Rogers and Quebecor respectively.
There’s a reason vertical integration was allowed to happen. If you want to turn back the clock, you’ll need to make a business case for it.
I don’t have much to say about the rest of your comment, since I don’t dispute most of it. So I’ll thank you for writing.
“I’m not sure what you mean by “corporately owned”.”
Just to clear this up for you. When I say “corporately owned” I mean in the sense of multiple stations under the same ownership, and usually in the largest sense. Corus, Bell, Astral, Rogers, Pattison… companies that own large numbers of stations, and are often at or beyond the current generous maximums in a given marketplace.
That is to say that with all of the Astral stations sourcing their news in one place (and by your own comments, I would assume with the same writers / reporters feeding the information in), you are getting a single news voice over a significant number of stations. It removes any competitive edge that might be obtained by being first with a story or going more in depth, because your only real competition is yourself. The Bell Astral situation would be truly insane, with 75% of the english radio market for news, and more than 90% of the local TV news viewers as well. Talk about a narrow corporate voice.
As for the CRTC 3 year plan, there are plenty of areas in it that could lead to considerations of ownership levels, particularly on it’s effect on the diversity of voices heard and the access to the radio market for Canadian producers, musicians, and such.
” But I will point out this: CTV was bleeding red ink and about to shut down a handful of local stations before it was bought by Bell. Shaw bought Canwest Global out of bankruptcy. And I can’t really imagine City TV and TVA surviving without the financial backing of Rogers and Quebecor respectively.”
The only problem here is that the resulting owners have too many irons in the fire, and that the profitability of their broadcast undertakings may be coming at the public’s expense. Since the population of Canada didn’t suddenly increase and the number of dollars spent on advertising didn’t grow wildly, the assumption has to be that they have become profit either by aggressively cutting costs, removing journalists, local staff, and generally gutting the local operations, and by (in the case of TV stations) creating profit through various methods that pass the costs on to cable and sat TV subscribers (Local TV matters!). Price increases aren’t borne by the distributors, they are passed on directly to the public, assuring higher cash flow to their properties, while protecting the profits of the cable or sat distribution arm. It’s not just a lack of competition, it’s also a lack of benefits for the public. Bell won’t price stuff to benefit the public, they will price it to benefit Bell, in all it’s forms.
All of this for nothing really in the end, as OTA broadcasting at least in TV is almost certainly a doomed player. Distribution by cable has reached a point where the CTV network doesn’t need the local stations to fulfill it’s distribution requirements anymore.
Right. But we’re talking about CHOM and Virgin Radio here. It’s not like they’d have vast newsrooms if they weren’t commonly owned with CJAD.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more like 80%. And that’s one station. Certainly you can’t fault it for being popular, or ask that it try to find a way to drive people away from it.
“we’re talking about CHOM and Virgin Radio here. It’s not like they’d have vast newsrooms if they weren’t commonly owned with CJAD.”
I seem to remember that each of these stations in the past had reporters, news readers, and the like. They also had their own traffic reporters, weather people, etc.
“Certainly you can’t fault it for being popular, or ask that it try to find a way to drive people away from it.”
It could be said similar for people liking Astral stations over the other long list of choices in english radio in Montreal (sarcasm). Even if the number is only 75%, they would still have an incredible domination as the news and information source for the vast majority of English Montreal. All they would need to do is buy out the failing Post Media (meet your new boss, he’s not even in the city!), and take over the Gazette. Then they could pretty much have total domination of the media.
It’s hard to defend Bell when the are so blatantly intent into turning us all into their Borg.
I don’t know what kind of vast newsroom you think CHOM used to have. But I can guarantee that regardless of who owns it, it won’t have one now. Maybe a news reporter in the morning to gather headlines from wires and newspapers, and a couple of traffic reporters. But that’s it.
“I don’t know what kind of vast newsroom you think CHOM used to have.”
Well, I don’t know. History tells me that CHOM had enough of a newsroom for Andrew Carter to have been News Director at one point. That was back when the news person also participated in the morning show actively, not as someone who was parachuted in for 2.5 minutes every hour. I think at that point there was about half a dozen people in the news department, a couple of readers (including the late KathY Coulombe).
I don’t expect the stations to every return to that level, but you never know. I do know that as long as all of them are owned by the same company, there will be little in the way of motivation for the owner to compete with the other stations in any area. I am certain of what happens with consolidation, because it’s happened again and again.
You are right, but it was largely a skeleton staff. Nevertheless, they were people who read news, etc specifically for CJFM and CHOM. It was not the same newsreader of another station reading the news at staggered times for 6 stations.
When I started my career in the CHOM newsroom there were three fulltimers: Hilary MacLeod (news director), Kathy Coulombe and Alannah Campbell. BUT, back in those days FM regs required stations to air “enrichment” or foreground programming which the newsroom produced. We had shows like “New Age News” and other spoken-word programming which was a condition of license and required manpower (or “womenpower” in the case of the CHOM newsroom).
CKGM’s newsroom had (at various times) people like Steve Kowch, Andrew Carter, Dick Varney, Bill and Leslie Roberts Jr., Leta Polson, Dave Christianson, Bob Vairo, Murray Sheriffs, Andy Harris (now Andrew Peplowski) Mark Kelley, Ted Bird, Gord Logan, Mark Burns, Jim Bay (sports), Omega Medina, Marie Anne Carpentier, Sandi Stahlbrand and Bonney Truscott (traffic): a full staff its own of anchors and reporters. For many years CHOM and CKGM were not even in the same buildings on Greene Ave. so the newsrooms and traffic reporters were unique to each station by necessity. Hell, at one point CKGM had three news cruisers for their reporters.
FM96 had its own newsroom staff that included Lee Taylor (now known as Mitsumi Takahashi), Anne Shatilla, and who could forget Peter Cole………..man, who were all unique to CJFM. Traffic was shared between CJAD and CJFM only because they had someone up in the JetRanger chopper (Len Rowcliffe, Carter, Rick Leckner).
Over at CFCF/CFQR the newsrooms used some of the same voices, but they also shared staff with CFCF-TV personnel who were all in one building up on Ogilvy Ave. They too had a traffic helicopter in the air at one point in time with one reporter serving both stations.
Ah, memories. There are so many other names I’ve forgotten. But yes, back in those days the news voices were, by and large, unique to each station despite common ownership of the AM and FM properties.
I also remember Les Krifaton. (I may not have spelled that right…)
Thank Neil. I am glad that I am not the only one here who remembers when radio stations actually had staff in the newsroom. Perhaps to some extent it was forced by the CRTC, but at the same time, I seem to remember stations actively competing to be first with the news, to actually cover a story rather than just run what comes off the wire feed 2 days later.
That was back when there was competition. That’s all but disappeared now, instead we have brands of the same base product. How sad is that?
Is that really because of competition, or is it because of how radio has changed in the past few decades? It’s not like there was a huge sea change when CHOM was bought by Standard. And Toronto has plenty of competition but I don’t think its music stations have big news departments either.
Toronto? Competition? Are you serious?
I see Corus, Rogers, Bell, Astral, and CBC holding just about everything on the top of the market, with everything else being community stations, multilingual stations, or low power stuff. I can’t imagine in that group that their would be any real competion, which is the issue. They all want to keep their happy market share, and not rock the boat too much. Toronto is particularly ugly because the CRTC has allowed area just outside of Toronto to be considered different markets, so companies like Corus own 5 radio station in the market. Where is the competition in that?
Steve, I suggest you read the read of Neil’s comments. He is showing what real competition was all about. Not the artificial, made up “brand wars” that are current out there.
That’s four large commercial players, plus Durham, Evanov, Zoomer and the new Rock 95 in the commercial market. Why would you think they’re not competing with each other? You might not like the way they’re competing, but that doesn’t mean there’s not competition.
The toronto market is fairly fragmented, but the big players control the vast majority of the market. The companies you list are some competition, but they don’t represent 20% of the total market, the majors have the vast majority of the listenership. Combined of course with the control of the TV stations, as well as the cable and sat distribution networks, and you have the vast majority of the information sources in market owned by a very few companies, who are generally don’t appear to be competing too hard with each other. The media concentration there is bad, and Montreal is certainly many times worse (because of the issue of french / english stations).
Regarding Mitsumi’s radio alter ego, I found this interesting excerpt from an interview she did about five years ago in The Montrealer:
“After I graduated, I had the luxury of working as an intern at CKGM – in other words I worked for free. I was living at home and money wasn’t an issue just yet.” Shortly thereafter she moved to CJFM doing radio newscasts and interviews; and was getting paid. “At that time, everybody had on-air names that weren’t their own. Management wanted me to read the news as Lee Taylor. I used to threaten to say that this was Ree Taylor… However, I did my interviews as Mitsumi Takahashi. I eventually embarrassed them into letting me use my real name.”
Oh, and Tara Schwartz was known as Tara Scott (if I remember correctly) when she first started on air.
It’s nice to see enlightened broadcast executives allowed these people to revert to their real, ethnic names like Peplowski and Schwartz.
It seems the name she used was Tarah Black, not Scott. And Tarah is with an “h”.
Memory fades over time.
I think it was former Pulse reporter Howard Schwartz who once went by the on-air name Howard Scott. Hence my confusion.
Yup, Tarah Black. That was at The Weather Network when it was still in Mtl. There’s footage of it on YouTube from the mid 90s.
…I seem to remember stations actively competing to be first with the news, to actually cover a story…
It wasn’t only competing with the news. There used to be a huge rivalry between my music department at CHOM at the music department at FM96/Mix96 to be the first to play a new song by a major artist. We would occasionally jump an embargo and play a new song an hour ahead of the official release as an “up yours” to the other guy. It got so bad that the record companies sometimes had to send out two promo reps with a major new release, set to arrive at our two stations at the same time so neither of us would have the advantage. Of course the advent of digital delivery of music made that all obsolete.
It was even worse between CKOI and CKMF. Those two stations were literally at war with each other and would try to sabotage each other. The PDs and MDs wouldn’t even talk to each other at industry functions. They took the competition very personally, whereas I always had a very cordial relationship with my counterpart Ray Scott at CJFM.
I remember one time a new Sting single was scheduled to be released and was the embargo was pushed up to 1 p.m. for airplay. The A&M rep at the time raced down to Westmount from his office in St. Laurent with the CD single, only to arrive in my office with an empty jewel case. He had left the CD in the player in his office. The other rep made it to CJFM on time. with the disc, so they had an exclusive for a couple of hours. My PD was pissed and the A&M rep couldn’t apologize enough for weeks after that.
Yeah, we all thrived on that kind of competition. It made us all better.
I still think you’re the best MD CHOM ever had, Mr. Kushnir.
There’s a real history of other monickers. Andy K…( Andrew Kuhn) Montreal’s 5th Beatle in the 60’s at Cuff Cuff. Dave Boxer ( Dave Boxerman) Buddy G ( George Morris) Mike Stephens in the 50’s and early 60’s ( forget his real name but it’s Ukranian) Joe Van. ( Joe Van donick ) spelling might be slightly wrong.
I could go on and on..But I never found it a big deal if somebody changed their name, I would if it sounded better than a long ethnic name..After all, there is a showbiz aspect to Radio-TV..
For my money, Murray the K sounds better than Murray Kaufman
” Sounds like kind of a dick move (punishing Bell for trying to save the station), but they could do it. They could, in essence, both order Bell to keep TSN 690 on the air in its current format and force it to sell one of the other stations.”
I hope that the CRTC do this dick plan..CHOM would probably be the one to sell and a TTP I think would just love to have a money making FM station in its local empire, and like the other companies, they could use the AM/FM combo in ad packages. This is really going to be an interesting decision and with the Rogers statement about preparing to buy TSN, it would seem some people have made things easier the Commission in its decision.
THe Movie Network area will also be interesting. Needless to say, Bell wants TMN to sell movies so one could get movies on their tablets. Movie viewing on your tablet while at the office, why didn’t I think of that.?
If this is a possible outcome and an exception is not given, be curious to see if Bell will honor the pledges to Concordia Journalism and amateur sports.
Its promise is in exchange for an exception to the rules. No exception, no funding.
Thank you very much for such a nice compliment! I only just saw your comment today. On one hand it seems like it was an eternity ago; on the other hand it’s like it was yesterday.
Many radio and TV personalities adopt stage names, but they usually keep using them throughout their careers. What made the examples I cited unusual is that they “came out” and reverted to their real ethnic names, losing whatever brand-name equity they had built up. Andrew Peplowski worked for years as Andy Harris and when he switched, many listeners might not have realized immediately it was the same person.
For some reason Aaron Rand used to use the name Larry Kane early in his career.
There was once a survey done in the defunct trade paper Radio & Records that concluded that the last name “Michaels” was the most common name in radio in the U.S. at the time.
Of course only a minority of those people were really named Michaels; the others changed their names to be more marketable and familiar. Longtime Montreal announcer Chris Michaels used a fake name; his real name is neither Chris nor Michaels. Shannon was another common fake name.
Another tactic is to use a first and middle name, like the late Robin John, Stephe Anthony, Mitch Joel, etc.