Despite repeated indications from the CRTC that Montreal already has enough ethnic radio stations, two groups have applied for new ones to serve a South Asian communities they feel are underrepresented on radio today.
AGNI Communication, 102.9 FM
The first is one I wrote about in January, a low-power FM station at 102.9 FM whose signal would only cover the centre north of the island. (It already has a proposed callsign, CILO-FM.) Its programming would be mainly Tamil, but also programming for the Sri Lankan, Indian, Malaysian, Ethiopian, Maldavian, Malaysian, Somali, Nepalese and Singaporean communities.
This application was first supposed to be considered at a hearing in March, but was pulled from that hearing by the CRTC for a reason that it did not specify, but likely had to do with a second potentially competing application.
Interventions for the application the first time around prompted a letter of opposition from McGill’s CKUT, which said the company’s owner Philip Koneswaran had a subcarrier service on its station and left it with a $24,700 debt, plus would compete with a different Tamil service that’s now on CKUT’s subcarrier. (Subcarrier services are not protected from competition.)
The application also solicited strong opposition from Groupe CHCR, which runs CKDG-FM (Mike FM) and CKIN-FM, arguing that there would be overlap with its services and that the application lacked key information that could be used to evaluate its impact on the market. CHCR president Marie Griffiths also strongly criticized the applicant’s business plan as unsustainable.
Radio Humsafar, 1610 AM
The second application is by Radio Humsafar, an ethnic radio service that is looking for a transmitter (it’s available online, as a subcarrier service and over phone lines — getting about 1,000 calls a day averaging 20 minutes each — until then). It has proposed setting up a 1kW transmitter at 1610AM, the frequency recently vacated by CJWI (CPAM Radio Union, the Haitian station), using the same antenna as Concordia’s CJLO 1690AM, along Norman St. above Highway 20 in Lachine.
A third of the programming, 42 hours a week, of Humsafar’s radio station would be in the English language, but targeted at “English speaking Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, West Indian, Indo-Africans and 2nd generation South Asians.” It would also have 16 hours a week of Tamil programs (around noon each day), 16 hours a week in Urdu (late evenings and weekend mornings), 15 hours a week in Punjabi (mid-mornings), 15 hours a week in Hindi (a three-hour weekday morning show), 14 hours a week in Bengali (8pm to 10pm), six hours a week in Gujarati (weekend mid-mornings) and two hours a week in Pashto (late evenings on weekends).
With the exception of Hindi and Punjabi, Humsafar argues these languages and ethnic groups aren’t served on Montreal radio, with the exception of campus radio and a 30-minute music show on CFMB.
Radio Humsafar owns another radio station, CJLV 1570AM in Laval. Shortly after acquiring it, the group applied to the CRTC to increase the amount of ethnic programming it could air. The CRTC rejected that application despite Humsafar’s claims that the station could not survive without more ethnic programming. The station remains on the air, but hasn’t done much since then.
Financial projections for the new 1610 AM station show it spending between $90,000 and $142,000 a year on programming, with revenues rising from $214,000 to $552,000 a year. Under these optimistic projections, it would start making money in its second year.
The CRTC will consider both of these applications at a hearing in September. While the two are not technically mutually exclusive, the fact that they would be targeting the same communities suggests the commission would likely approve at most one of them.
But even that is not guaranteed. In 2011, judging that Montreal already had enough ethnic radio stations, the CRTC rejected three applications for new ones. One of them was a proposal by Radio Humsafar very similar to this one: The same transmitter site, same power, same frequency (technically it was for 1400kHz, but with 1610 as a backup if/when CJWI changed frequency to 1410), and serving many of the same ethnic groups.
This new application focuses a bit less on Hindi and Punjabi, and more on Tamil and other unserved languages. If the CRTC approves it this time, that will be the reason.
The station’s application includes letters of support from CHOU (Radio Moyen Orient) and CJWI, and mentions discussions with CHCR.
Comments on the two applications are being accepted until 8pm ET on Tuesday. They can be filed here. Remember that all information supplied, including contact information, goes on the public record.