Monthly Archives: August 2013

More departures at The Gazette, but it still matters

Bernard Perusse's empty desk in the Gazette office

Bernard Perusse’s empty desk in the Gazette office

There’s been a bit of buzz in the media-navel-gazing sphere this week about the latest set of buyouts at The Gazette. J-Source had a piece on it. A bunch of others tweeted about it or retweeted my list of names. Some expressed disappointment that some big names were leaving. Others saw it as part of some larger trend.

And then there were the haters. Those who never hesitate to say The Gazette is a piece of garbage, that print media is solely responsible for its own fate, and that this is just another example of a money-grubbing fat cat gleefully cutting important jobs so they can get rich by publishing cat videos or something. Those who say The Gazette isn’t worth anything and they’re happy to get their news from Google, the radio, Metro or even blogs and Twitter.

As someone who works there, who goes through dozens of stories a week crafted by its remaining journalists, those comments are painful to read. They’re insulting to those who still come into the office and write, or take photos, or edit stories or design pages or do all sorts of other jobs there, many working very hard every shift because they believe in producing a quality product.

It’s funny because, in the office, on the copy desk when most managers have gone home for the night, or at a bar during (now less frequent) office parties or post-shift drinks, there’s no hesitation to criticize, sometimes sharply, the decisions that have been made that we disagree with, those we feel unnecessarily harm the future of the paper. I’ve been in many conversations with coworkers that look back on the old days with fondness, and on the present with frustration that the quality that was once there has been chiselled away.

Sometimes I’ve sat back and thought to myself whether it was still worth it, whether the paper had cut so far that it has lost that critical mass that makes it worth the paper it’s printed on.

And then I see an investigative report by Linda Gyulai, or a heartbreaking medical story by Charlie Fidelman, or a story about Quebec’s culture by Brendan Kelly that wouldn’t get noticed elsewhere by anglophone media, or another scoop or feature about the Alouettes from Herb Zurkowsky, or some fascinating and useful information about taxes and business dug up and elegantly explained by Paul Delean. Or I see the dozens of pages of coverage that the paper gave to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which involved practically setting up a bureau there overnight and keeping it staffed every day for weeks. And I remember that despite everything, despite how frustrating it is to see yet another round of cuts, that this newsroom I work for still produces stuff that matters.

It might not be as thorough as papers with bigger budgets like La Presse, the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star, but there are so many stories it publishes on a weekly basis that would never see the light of day if it wasn’t for this paper.

The truth is that while at last report The Gazette makes money, its parent company is still struggling, as is the entire print industry. I suppose you could argue that almost every single print publication in North America has made the exact same mistakes, or that they have copied the worst mistakes off each other, but I think the simple fact that technology has revolutionized media is the biggest cause of the industry’s crisis. Everyone is trying their hardest to adapt, but adapting can be a very painful process, and one filled with trial and error.

And while this latest round of cuts might seem bad, it’s small compared to the much larger purge that happened a year ago, which saw many copy editors, picture editors, support staff and other less high-profile positions be eliminated. And while there have been many waves of cuts, management at The Gazette have consistently done their best to protect the jobs that really matter, the core of journalists who go out and find stories every day.

So by all means, criticize, but when you suggest that The Gazette is worthless, you’re saying that to the dozens of writers, photographers, editors, designers, managers and support staff who work there and are trying their best to put out something worth reading. Including me.

Six more off into the sunset

Anyway, back to the news: Six people, including two managers, are leaving The Gazette this week. They’re all leaving voluntarily, and while it’s nobody’s business but theirs whether they’re taking buyouts, it’s pretty clear that that’s what’s going on, at least for the non-managers.

They are:

Raymond Brassard, Executive Editor: Brassard, who was the managing editor under Andrew Phillips when I started at The Gazette, has been the most senior manager in the newsroom since Phillips left (even though Alan Allnutt took over the title of editor in chief). Soft spoken with a thick Boston accent, Brassard was enough levels of management above me that I couldn’t tell you much about his day-to-day activities, except through all the calls from irate readers that were routed to his office. Brassard, like most managers, had the uncomfortable position of sitting between a newsroom they tried their best to protect and the upper management at Canwest and Postmedia that wanted things to be as lean as possible. He said earlier this summer that, having just turned 65, he would be retiring. He stayed to fill the gap until Lucinda Chodan, our new editor in chief, took her post, replacing Alan Allnutt who will be managing Postmedia’s western papers. A note to readers explains the two moves.

Dave Bist, Senior Editor: Known as the “night editor” on the desk, Bist’s job for the entire time I’ve worked at The Gazette was to manage the paper during the evening, until it was actually typeset. A decade ago, that meant looking over pages and handling any serious decisions. As the desk got smaller, the job meant putting together the front page, including the little things like the index and quote of the day. Bist started in August 1966, he covered things like the John and Yoko bed-in, and otherwise distinguished himself enough to win a Juno Award (!) and get a Wikipedia page. His last night on the job was Thursday. and he wrote on Facebook that he’s been “incredibly lucky” to have the career that he’s had. Though technically a manager, Bist was a strong advocate for the newsroom staff, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving of respect from his peers.

Henry Aubin, regional affairs columnist: Aubin has been at The Gazette for 40 years, he recounts in his final column. His opinion columns about municipal affairs have always been thought-provoking, even when I thoroughly disagreed with him. While some columnists fill their columns with “I think that” and knee-jerk reactions to already-reported news events, Aubin’s best columns would often include things like charts, and a good deal of original research. He would take contrarian opinions, or explain how conventional wisdom is actually wrong. He was a bit stubborn about some things, but it was hard to argue with his facts. Aubin says in his column that, after a break, he’ll continue writing a column on a weekly freelance basis for The Gazette.

Janet Bagnall, education reporter: Probably better known for her left-leaning columns, particularly about women’s issues, when she was in the opinion department, Bagnall moved to the city desk to take up education reporting in the past year. Her voice on the editorial board, which she’d been on since 1997, gave it a much-needed perspective. Though editorials are unsigned, many were written by her when she was there, earning her a National Newspaper Award nomination.

Bernard Perusse, music columnist: Perusse’s goodbye column appears in Saturday’s Gazette, explaining that while he’s retiring at 59, he’s not ready for the old folks’ home yet. Perusse took over the music columnist gig after T’Cha Dunlevy moved to film reviewing. But he had been writing about music ever since The Gazette disbanded its Gazette Probe consumer rights column, a decision I thought was unfortunate even though it happened before my time. He suggested that he will continue to write freelance.

Stephanie Myles, editor: At least one person asked me if the paper’s former Expos beat writer and tennis expert had disappeared off the face of the Earth. No, she still works full-time there. A year ago she left the tennis beat and put an end to her blog (which was consistently the paper’s most popular by far, mainly because of the large amount of work she put into it), and moved to the copy desk to compensate for the drastic staff reduction. She has been posting stories working mainly weeknights since then. She’s still pretty young, but she hasn’t mentioned jumping into another career yet.

I can’t pretend these cuts won’t hurt, badly. These are some quality people leaving us. But we’ll move on, try our best to adapt by having fewer people do more work, or cutting out work that is not as essential. It’s what we always do. Because that’s the only thing we can do.

The Beat adds Carson Daly show

Daly Download with Carson Daly

In what it described as an addition to its “already amazing weekend lineup,” 92.5 The Beat has added Carson Daly, whose Daly Download top 30 show will air Saturdays from 9am to noon.

The show, which launched in July, airs on dozens of CBS and Cumulus radio stations in the U.S., but this appears to be its first Canadian pickup. It’s distributed here by Spark Networks, comes in three-hour and four-hour versions, and contemporary hit radio and hot adult contemporary formats.

On The Beat, the show mainly replaces All Access Weekends with Anne-Marie Withenshaw, which had a long run on the station from 10am to noon on Saturdays. Withenshaw just had her first child and is taking maternity leave. So I asked The Beat’s program director Leo Da Estrela what will happen when she’s ready to come back.

“Anne-Marie is definitely part of the weekend line-up when she returns form her maternity leave,” he said. “Without saying too much about our future scheduling, Carson Daly and Anne-Marie will be an integral part of our weekend line-up.”

The rest of The Beat’s schedule remains local, even overnights. Daly’s show follows Weekend Breakfast with Ken Connors and leads into Feel Good Weekends with Nat Lauzon.

Here’s the press release:

Montreal, August 30, 2013 – Carson Daly, host of NBC’s “The Voice” has a new weekly countdown show called “The Daly Download with Carson Daly – This Week’s Top 30”.


The Daly Show will be part of The Beat’s Saturday schedule, premiering August 31 from 9 a.m. until Noon. The show features three hours of great music, and exclusive interviews with the biggest and brightest names in music. The show brings a new twist to radio by taking listener interactivity to another level. With the biggest hits and the biggest stars while showcasing one the most influential music personalities, Carson Daly’s “The Daly Countdown” is now part of your “Feel Good Weekends” on 92.5 The Beat of Montreal.

Elysia Bryan-Baynes: Your friendly neighbourhood news-woman

Elysia Bryan-Baynes at her newsroom desk at Global Montreal

Elysia Bryan-Baynes at her newsroom desk at Global Montreal

That’s not some fake photo smile there. Elysia Bryan-Baynes is very charismatic and approachable, and was more than willing to be profiled in a story I wrote for The Gazette that was published in Friday’s paper.

Bryan-Baynes was named the late-night anchor at Global Montreal in May, five months after Richard Dagenais was moved from late nights to the new morning show. Though she has been at the station since 2003, this is her first permanent job there.

She hadn’t done much anchoring before, her boss admitted, but she had a great screen test and she’s done just about everything else there. A researcher and runner for the previous morning show (which was cancelled in 2008), an overnight lineup editor and field producer for that morning show, a lineup editor for the 6pm newscast, and of course reporting, including a stint as the Quebec City bureau chief.

Bryan-Baynes is described in her official bio as being “of Jamaican and Vincentian heritage,” and a lot of that Caribbean culture shows in the way she describes her life. She has a big family, and they’re very close-knit. In fact, even though her newscast ends at 11:30pm, it’s followed by phone calls with her family, she said. To say that they’re proud of her would be an understatement.

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Radio X Montreal tries again to rid itself of jazz

CHOI 91.9Only a few months after the CRTC denied a request from RNC Media to change the licence of CKLX-FM 91.9 so it could go from Planète Jazz to Radio X, the company is trying again.

On Wednesday, the commission published the station’s renewal application, and set a hearing for Nov. 5 in Gatineau to discuss it.

CKLX-FM, which launched in 2004, is licensed as a specialty music station, and one of the requirements is that 70% of the music it airs must be in the jazz/blues category. When it launched, it was thought that because Montreal has a successful jazz festival every year, there would be a market for a jazz radio station. As it turned out, the ratings were very poor, and the station continuously lost money. (It wasn’t the only one. Other commercial jazz stations in Canada also changed formats after deciding it wasn’t working.)

It changed formats a year ago, going from all-jazz to a talk format during the day on weekdays, rock music on weekend afternoons, and jazz otherwise. The new format met the letter of the licence, if not its spirit. But RNC wanted to rid the station of jazz completely, and for that they need a change of the licence.

As it did last time, the application is to modify the licence so that instead of a specialty music station focused on jazz/blues, it becomes a specialty talk station, with a minimum of 50% talk during the broadcast week.

The CRTC doesn’t deny that the station is struggling financially enough to warrant a licence change. But it cited other reasons why the request should not be granted. The new application (which was first filed before the decision denying the licence change was issued) attempts to address those concerns:

Potential harm to new competitor: The CRTC took note that TTP Media has a licence to launch a news-talk radio station in French at 940 AM, and said that having a new competitor right off the bat might cause them harm. TTP Media opposed RNC’s request to change the station’s licence the first time around. RNC counters this time by saying that the AM and FM audiences are different (it suggests 940 AM would target an older audience because its programming would include call-in shows), but also that the licence change would affect hours after 7pm weekdays when Radio X currently airs jazz music, and that those hours represent a small portion of listening hours to talk radio stations.

The possibility of a new specialty musical format: RNC shot down the idea that CKLX-FM try a different musical specialty format, in part because it felt its experience was in the talk format that makes CHOI-FM a top station in Quebec city, and in part because it feels the other music stations in Montreal have a huge competitive advantage because they are owned by the same two companies (Astral, now Bell, and Cogeco).

Non-compliance with licence obligations: The CRTC doesn’t like to reward broadcasters who aren’t in compliance with their licences by approving changes to those licences. It prefers that broadcasters come into compliance, and then present a case for a licence amendment. In this case, the CRTC found that RNC was classifying hit songs as jazz/blues songs, and that with proper classification, the station wasn’t in compliance with the minimum level of jazz/blues songs, and with another standard condition that 65% of popular music that airs on French stations be French songs.

RNC responds to this mainly by disagreeing with the way the commission proceeded. It said the CRTC rejected songs that aired on the station as being in that category because they were hit songs, but there’s no rule that says songs that reach positions on sales charts are ineligible for inclusion in that category. One document attached to the application even goes so far as to define “jazz” and “blues” by copying the introduction to their Wikipedia articles, then justify why it believes the songs are actually jazz/blues. They include these:

  • 1,2,3,4 by Feist
  • Waiting on the World to Change and Gravity by John Mayer
  • Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
  • Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner
  • Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
  • Purple Rain by Prince
  • Oye como va by Carlos Santana
  • Rehab by Amy Winehouse
  • Roxanne by The Police
  • You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon
  • These Eyes by The Guess Who

Justifications include their artists’ profiles on, and participation in the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Nevertheless, it said it has removed these songs from its playlist.

And $350,000 to sweeten the pot

As part of its request, RNC has said it would commit to adding $350,000 over seven years (but only starting in the fourth) to its Canadian content development contributions, with $200,000 going to journalism/broadcasting scholarships, and $150,000 to Fondation NewRock.

According to financial projections it filed, if the application is approved its advertising revenue would go up from $1.4 million in the first year to $7.9 million in Year 7, its expenses would go up from $3.5 million to $5 million a year (including the proposed additional contributions), and it would make money starting in Year 4. Without the licence change, it would lose between $1.1 million and $1.5 million every year of its licence and the company would have to consider shutting it down.

While normally that would be a bad thing, here the CRTC has to consider that Montreal does not have available FM frequencies, and opening up one that allows for a 4.6kW transmitter on Mount Royal might mean a lot of great ideas for new radio stations.

But as much as some people don’t like the Radio X format, RNC is an independent in this market, and talk radio is an expensive format that the commission usually encourages. I suspect that here, finally, RNC will get its wish, and we’ll be rid of jazz music for good.

The CRTC is accepting public comment on the proposed licence change, and on the overall renewal of the licence of CKLX-FM in Montreal, until Sept. 27. You can file comments here, by selecting Option 1 and then Application 2013-0237-2: RNC MEDIA Inc. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, goes on the public record.

Bell says emails about pro-Bell study are not an attempt to influence CTV News coverage of Bell

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won't say.

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won’t say.

Dwayne Winseck, an Ottawa-based media analyst, came out with a rather shocking allegation on his blog on Tuesday: Bell, which is in the middle of a very public battle with the Conservative government and others over rules for an upcoming auction of wireless spectrum, sent memos to news directors at CTV asking for them to cover a study that was favourable to Bell’s position.

Attached to that post is a Word document with partially redacted emails. One is from Kevin Crull, the president of Bell Media. Titled “Fw: Wall Report 2013”, it gives some highlights from a report that came out in July that seemed to show wireless prices in Canada were lower than the U.S. The recipients of this email included Wendy Freeman, president of CTV News.

The other two emails are forwards of the report, one by Chris Gordon, who runs Bell Media radio and local TV news, and the other by Kevin Bell, general manager of CTV Vancouver Island, apparently forwarded from Gordon.

“Kevin is asking if this report can get some coverage today on Talk Radio. National news is covering for TV,” Gordon wrote in his email. “Kevin Crull our President wants us to give this report some coverage. It’s a report on phone charges in Canada,” Bell wrote in his.

Damning charges, if they’re true. Michael Geist picked up the story on his blog. Since neither of them had comment from Bell, I went to get one myself.

Here’s their statement, issued through Scott Henderson, VP of communications for Bell Media:

The Wall Report was a key news story covered by most major news outlets. CTV News and Bell Media Radio provided fair and balanced coverage and stand by their journalistic integrity.

Our news divisions are independently managed and have the full power to make editorial decisions, as outlined in the CTV News Policy Handbook (excerpted below).

2.32 Stories Concerning CTV or Affiliated Companies

Stories concerning the CTV Television Network, affiliated companies or shareholders should be covered in accordance with the same standards of fairness, balance and accuracy applied to any other story. Stories should be neither underreported nor over-reported. Reports on our parent companies, Bell and BCE should include an acknowledgement that they are the owners of our networks. CTV News employees invited to participate in stories should be treated with the same standards as other contributors.

2.33 In-Kind interviews and Product Reviews

Our journalism must remain free from undue commercial influence. If we compromise our principles for financial gain, we damage our credibility and the audience will turn away. If you receive a request to cover an event, review a product or interview an individual who has a commercial relationship with the company, that coverage should be proportional to the event’s newsworthiness.

From time to time, as President of Bell Media, Kevin Crull communicates to his Senior Leadership Team items of interest to the business. Kevin Crull’s e-mail with the Wall Report attached did not request coverage by Bell Media news properties.

Regardless, there is never any expectation for our news divisions to cover issues affecting the company – those decisions rest with the news directors alone and are based on the newsworthiness of the issue. When these issues are covered by Bell Media news properties, we are transparent with our viewers and listeners by acknowledging that Bell is our parent company.

In short: Yes, Kevin Crull sends emails like this one with news about stuff affecting Bell. But no, these emails should not be interpreted as Crull directing CTV News to cover these issues.

I asked Henderson whether the statement in Chris Gordon’s and Kevin Bell’s emails suggest a communication failure here. His response: “We have no further comment.”

In case you’re curious, here’s how covered the report: a Canadian Press story (which tends to be a good option when news outlets have to post news stories about themselves) packaged with a video of a CTV News Channel interview with the person who did the report. The video ends with a disclaimer from the anchor that CTV News Channel is owned by Bell Media.

I’ve seen enough CTV News reports about its parent company to know that it doesn’t toy with its reports to make the big bosses happier. But Crull and his executives must be well aware of the pressures that journalists face when it comes to stories about their employers and parent companies, and how much easier it is to follow a suggestion from a boss than it is to argue against it. Not to mention that the amount of importance given to a story is just as important as the content of those stories.

And while it’s perfectly fine to say in an official policy that CTV News deals with its parent company fairly, emails like this from the boss give the opposite message. The head of Rogers or Public Mobile or Option consommateurs can’t send an email to every BCE employee by simply pressing a button. If anything, Bell and Bell Media should be extra careful about even the appearance of possible conflict or interference in news coverage, and this seems to be the exact opposite of that.

At best, these emails show an embarrassing communication failure within Bell Media that needs to be corrected quickly. At worst, they’re indicative of a serious issue of journalistic ethics within the organization, and of the need to separate the business operations of Bell and Bell Media from the editorial operations of CTV News, BNN and Bell Media Radio.

Either way, those who are already convinced that vertical integration is ruining the Canadian broadcasting system have another talking point to bring up about the Evil Bell Empire.

CFRA upgrades transmitter, improving signal toward Montreal

Comparative map of existing (red) and proposed (black) night contours of CFRA Ottawa.

Comparative map of existing (red) and proposed (black) night contours of CFRA Ottawa.

You might remember back in September, I told you about Ottawa’s CFRA 580AM, which had received CRTC approval for a nighttime transmitter power boost that would improve its overnight signal toward Montreal.

In short, CFRA convinced the commission that a power increase would help it with reaching Ottawa’s growing suburbs. And because there aren’t other stations on the same frequency, it’s not harming anyone to do so.

That transmitter upgrade is currently in progress. The station has been sending updates via Facebook and Twitter because the process involves turning off the transmitter at certain points overnight. It said the disruptions could last until the end of this week.

Epic gaffe sees wrong phone number shown on TV to millions

Wrong number appears on screen for Lac Mégantic benefit concert

Wrong number appears on screen for Lac Mégantic benefit concert

It was supposed to be one of those feel-good stories. Artists, touched by the tragic events of Lac-Mégantic, gathered for a benefit concert at the Bell Centre earlier this month. The show was recorded and broadcast in the most popular time slot on Quebec television: primetime on Sunday night.

But what made it extra special was that the unity extended to the TV networks as well. Rather than competing with each other, all four conventional French-language television networks — Radio-Canada, TVA, V and Télé-Québec — aired the same program at the same time. If you lived in some of Quebec’s regions with only an antenna for TV service, you had nothing else on TV to watch but this show.

For TVA and Radio-Canada specifically, whose Sunday night wars have both of them reaching millions of Quebec homes (and making television here better as a result), it was particularly touching.

And it all would have gone off great, except for one simple mistake.

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The Beat hires Kim Sullivan for evening show

Kim Sullivan on The Beat

The Beat has grabbed yet another personality from Virgin Radio. Although this one had a few in-between steps first.

Kim Sullivan, who was part of CJFM when it rebranded to Virgin Radio in 2009, took a job nine months later at CHIQ-FM in Winnipeg (then Curve 94.3, now Fab 94.3), then went to Ottawa’s CJOT-FM (Boom 99.7) in 2010. She also hosted a show on Rogers TV in Ottawa. Since moving away she’s made no attempt to hide her love for her home town and openly mused about coming back here someday.

Now she gets her chance. The Beat announced the hiring Monday morning, and her first show (called the Sulli Show) is Monday evening. She takes over the Monday to Thursday 8pm to midnight slot formerly occupied by Paul Hayes before he moved back to the U.K., and then Jeremy White after that.

White is back on overnights with Thom Drew. “Jeremy was there for the summer so that we can give him some prime-time exposure,” The Beat’s program director Leo Da Estrela tells me. “At a tender age of 19 we’re going to continue to give him full-time mic-time overnights and allow him to continue to gain experience in the various duties of an announcer. You’ll be hearing him all over the programming schedule this fall.”

Here’s the press release:

KIM SULLIVAN JOINS 92.5 THE BEAT Monday to Thursday 8pm to midnight

Montreal, August 26, 2013 – 92.5 The Beat’s Program Director Leo Da Estrela is thrilled to announce the return of Kim Sullivan to the Montreal airwaves.


Born and raised in Montreal, Kim obtained 3 degrees, traveled to over 30 countries and lived on 3 continents before becoming a teacher for the deaf. Too quiet for her, 3 years in, she threw herself into Montreal’s radio scene! After enjoying broadcasting stints in Winnipeg and Ottawa, where she also had her own bucket-list-accomplishing TV show, move #3 brings Kim back to Montreal! It’s been 9 years since she first started her career in the city; she now comes back with 3 tattoos but only 2 puppies… maybe she’ll steal one of Nat Lauzon’s! 92.5 The Beat is happy to have Kim back home where she’ll entertain Montrealers weekday evenings from 8p – midnight with “The Sulli Show”…you might even hear dogs barking in the background.

You can follow Kim on Twitter (@KimSulli) and FacebookShe also has a website and a YouTube channel.

UPDATE: Audio of Sullivan’s breaks from her first hour on The Beat:

Breakfast Television will crack some eggs – but whose?

Executive Producer Bob Babinski speaks to staff, Rogers employees and journalists gathered at a pre-launch event this week.

Executive Producer Bob Babinski speaks to staff, Rogers employees and journalists gathered at a pre-launch event this week. Behind him are, from left: weather presenter Catherine Verdon-Diamond, new media commentator Elias Makos, Live Eye host Wilder Weir, host Alexandre Despatie (sitting), Rogers VP Jordan Schwartz, reporter Laura Casella and supervising producer Jeffrey Feldman. (Joanne Vrakas is also there, but carefully hidden)

In case you haven’t been following the hype machine being run by Elias Makos and the Rogers Media PR team, you should know that Montreal is getting its newest television show on Monday. Breakfast Television will be the flagship show of City Montreal. And with its staff of about 30, it plans to make a big splash.

The obvious thing to do would be to compare it to the only other local morning show: Global’s Morning News. And while Global has had a seven-month head start, and it has managed to work out most of the technical problems that plagued it during its first few weeks, its severely limited resources means that it’s pretty well already lost this war.

As I explain in this feature story that appears in Saturday’s Gazette, City will have twice as much staff in just about every position, on and off air, technical and editorial. It has a much better set, and Rogers seems more willing to put marketing dollars behind this than Shaw was with Morning News.

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Photos: Inside the Breakfast Television studio

The Breakfast Television studio is 2800 square feet, and very versatile

The Breakfast Television studio is 2800 square feet, and very versatile

City Montreal finally launches its flagship show Breakfast Television on Monday. This week, I was among those invited to the new studio in the Rogers building on McGill College Ave. to take a peek.

(I also spoke to Executive Producer Bob Babinski for a feature story that appears in Saturday’s Gazette about the state of morning TV in Montreal.)

I was quite surprised by its size of 2800 square feet. It certainly doesn’t look like the kind of thing you’d find on the 8th floor of an office building, and its impressiveness even gives CTV Montreal’s new studio a run for its money.

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CBC expands Sunday local newscasts starting Sept. 1

You'll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

You’ll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

Few people really paid attention to it when the CBC’s broadcasting licences were renewed this spring, but the public broadcaster committed to expanding local programming in large markets like Montreal, going up to 14 hours a week and ensuring at least one of those hours was non-news local programming.

Currently, large-market CBC television stations produce 10 hours and 40 minutes a week of local news: Three back-to-back half-hour newscasts starting at 5pm weekdays, a half-hour late newscast at 11pm weekdays, a half-hour newscast at 6pm Saturdays, and a 10-minute newscast at 11pm Sundays. (Vancouver is an exception, its Sunday newscast is already half an hour.)

The new CBC licences take effect Sept. 1, so with less than two weeks to go I was wondering why we hadn’t heard any announcements about new shows yet. Had they forgotten? Would they not make the deadline?

Chris Ball, senior manager of media relations for CBC English Services, said they will be meeting the 14-hour-a-week requirement as of Sept. 1 as promised. The Sunday newscast will be expanded to 30 minutes from 10, giving us 11 hours a week of local news. The rest will be made through “the addition of one hour of local non-news programming that will run Saturday, Sunday and Monday in those markets.”

He was deliberately vague about that part. “Planning is still under-way and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks,” he said.

The electronic schedule for CBC Montreal, shows that, for Sept. 1 and 2, the station will be re-airing the first episode of the Absolutely Quebec series at 11am. (The same thing is being done at the other affected stations: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa.) The condition of licence doesn’t specify that the local programming be original, so repeats are still within the rules, and gives the corporation a cushion until it puts something else on the air.

What form this non-news programming will take, whether it will be one program repeated twice or three separate ones, is unclear at this point. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Until then, enjoy the Absolutely Quebec reruns.

Colbert Report’s time on CTV comes to an end: “exclusive to Comedy”

I remember when the Colbert Report first launched in 2005. I remember the three weeks between the time it debuted on Comedy Central in the U.S. and the time that CTV began airing it in Canada. I remember the handoffs between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, which got viewers of the first show to tune in to the second.

But after eight long and truthy years, the Colbert Report aired its final new episode on CTV on Aug. 15. When it comes back from vacation in September, CTV will have replaced Colbert at 12:35am with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a move being made in anticipation of the replacement of Fallon with SNL’s Seth Meyers in early 2014.

Stewart is staying on CTV, as is Conan O’Brien, whose show gets pushed back by half an hour. The new schedules, as of Sept. 2, will look like this:

  • CTV: National news at 11pm, local news at 11:30pm, Daily Show at 12:05am, Late Night at 12:35am, Conan at 1:35am, a Comedy Now! rerun at 2:05am, and then infomercials
  • CTV Two: Local news at 11pm, Tonight Show at 11:35pm, Criminal Minds rerun at 12:35am, then infomercials
  • Comedy Network: Daily Show at 11pm, Colbert Report at 11:30pm, Conan at midnight

The move makes sense for Bell Media for two main reasons:

  • Simultaneous substitution: Airing Late Night instead of Colbert means that CTV can take over NBC’s signal for that hour each night and insert its own ads. Because Comedy Central isn’t available in Canada, there’s nothing to substitute with Colbert (which airs at a different time anyway). It’s the same reason why NFL games air on CTV but CFL games air on TSN. The system favours airing U.S. network programs on broadcast channels.
  • Must-have programming on Comedy: With Colbert being “exclusive to Comedy”, a fact that CTV isn’t hiding (it even bragged about that during ads shown to the audience at Just for Laughs galas this summer), fans of the show must subscribe to that channel to get it. I suspect most fans already subscribe to that channel, but this is even further incentive. And specialty channels are where the big money lies in television right now.

There are other bonuses too. Colbert no longer airing on CTV might push more cable distributors to offer Comedy in high definition (Videotron, for example, currently doesn’t, which means Videotron subscribers won’t be able to watch the show in high definition anymore.)

Of course, the wishes of viewers aren’t really factored in here. Given the choice, they would probably prefer the existing system, seeing Stewart and Colbert on CTV and having the option to watch classic late-night on NBC. But when the wishes of the viewers conflict with the ability to game the system for more profits…

New ethnic TV station ICI begins over-the-air transmission

Test signal currently being transmitted by CFHD-DT (ICI) on Channel 47.1

Test signal currently being transmitted by CFHD-DT (ICI) on Channel 47.1

Montreal’s tenth over-the-air television station has begun transmitting.

CFHD-DT, which wants to operate under the brand International Channel/Canal International (ICI) but is in some legal trouble with Radio-Canada over that, announced via its Facebook page and its Twitter account that it was on the air as part of its testing phase and would be airing promotional videos soon.

The 5,500-watt signal, broadcasting from a Bell-owned tower near the police station on Remembrance Rd., is showing a partially blurred time-lapse cityscape video, with the callsign, an email address and the station’s logo at the bottom. The signal has no audio.

The station is broadcasting on Channel 47.1 in 1080i high definition.

Station manager Sam Norouzi, who has been very busy the past few weeks, tells me that the station should launch some time near the end of September or early October. Part of the delay is because he needs to coordinate with cable providers Videotron and Bell (Fibe) to ensure carriage on their systems. Because it’s an over-the-air channel, ICI will be carried on both cable systems’ basic packages, without a per-subscriber fee.

Norouzi said there hasn’t yet been discussions with satellite TV services or out-of-market cable systems about carriage, so the station will launch without carriage on those systems at first.

When it does air, ICI will carry programming in 15 languages for 18 ethnic groups, with most of its programs produced by independent groups that purchase airtime and sell their own advertising. He said his family’s production company Mi-Cam Communications, as well as independent producers he’s working with, have hired a lot of freelance camera operators who have been busy shooting footage (including the recent Montreal Italian Week), and “the team is growing every day.”

“It blows my mind the quality of the stuff we’re shooting,” he said. Unlike the kind of stuff seen on CJNT during the Canwest days, programming on ICI will be in high-definition, and have superior technical quality, he said.

ICI is being helped through financial, technical and other assistance from Channel Zero and Rogers, who offered it so that the CRTC would approve Rogers’s purchase of CJNT and its conversion into an English-language station that’s now part of the City network. Rogers is giving the station more than $1 million in funding for programming, and Channel Zero, in addition to providing free master control services for five years, has offered to loan up to $1 million to the station.

Rogers also offered up to 200 hours a year of free programming from OMNI, its ethnic network. Norouzi said at first he didn’t think he’d be using much OMNI programming. Now he says he’s looking at adding three programs from OMNI (but not the daily newscasts).

Norouzi said much of the past few weeks have been spent on technical aspects, including installing the antenna (and having to fix it after it was accidentally dropped and broken during installation). “I’m going to write a book eventually about all the adventure,” he said jokingly.

“In the past two weeks, things have progressed very rapidly.”