Montreal and Quebec radio ratings: Virgin 95.9 falls to fifth place

Numeris has released its quarterly top-line ratings report for metered markets including Montreal.

Someone’s gonna need to explain to me what happened to Virgin Radio.

You can say The Beat took away its stars (Cat Spencer, Nat Lauzon, the since-departed Vinny Barrucco), or that Virgin failed to connect with listeners with too much Ryan Seacrest. You can lay the blame entirely at the feet of program director Mark Bergman (who recently left his job there), or blame the pencil-pushing cost-cutters at Bell Media who care more about profits than ratings. Or maybe there’s something about the music, the main reason people listen to music stations in the first place, that was driving people away.

But either way, something happened in the past few years that has created a huge gap between Virgin and main competitor The Beat. In the summer of 2012, Virgin 96 (as it was called then) had a 20.9% share, almost five points above the recently launched Beat. Now, for the second straight quarter, it’s in the single digits. Its 9.4% share is exactly half of The Beat’s 18.8%.

What’s more, it has the indignity of falling not just behind sister station CHOM-FM among overall audiences, but for the first time since the PPM system launched it has dropped below CBC Radio One as well. It went from the #2 station overall and #1 among adults 25-54 to #5 overall.

I’d say something needs to change at Virgin (Bergman’s departure is a big one, though I don’t think it’s fair to lay all the blame on him). But Virgin is part of a national brand, and whether that changes will probably depend more on how Virgin Radio does as a whole. There have been incessant rumours of Bell ditching the Virgin brand for iHeartRadio (a brand it has embraced for other radio-related things including its websites) or something else.

But it’s still pretty astonishing that two radio stations with similar coverage and similar music can have such different ratings.

Otherwise, not much new on the English side. TSN, CHOM and CBC are all pretty flat. CJAD is declining since last year but still comfortably #1 when you count all ages.

Montreal anglophones (all ages) market share Feb. 25 to May 26, 2019:

  1. CJAD 27.3%
  2. The Beat 18.8%
  3. CHOM 10.3%
  4. CBC Radio One 9.6%
  5. Virgin 9.4%
  6. TSN 690 3.8%
  7. CBC Music 2.6%
  8. Rythme FM 2.2%
  9. 98,5fm 2.1%
  10. CKOI 1.1%
  11. Énergie 0.9%
  12. Rouge FM 0.9%
  13. ICI Première 0.7%
  14. ICI Musique 0.7%

French radio: Rouge and CKOI close gap on Rythme

On the French side, there’s a big shift at the top of the music ratings that’s shifting. Rythme FM, once the undisputed leader, is continuing its decline, though it has bounced back after losing the #1 music spot to Rouge FM in the winter. Meanwhile, Cogeco’s other music station CKOI has climbed into the top tier to make it a three-way race. Five years ago, CKOI was in fourth place among the music stations, and now it’s battling for first. Its focus on youth, and the pop music format it has settled on, are finally making dividends.

Montreal francophones (all ages) market share Feb. 25 to May 26, 2019:

  1. 98,5fm 18.3%
  2. ICI Première 12.7%
  3. Rythme FM 12.3%
  4. Rouge FM 11.4%
  5. CKOI 10.9%
  6. Énergie 6.6%
  7. CHOM 6.4%
  8. The Beat 4.8%
  9. Virgin 95.9 3.0%
  10. ICI Musique 2.9%
  11. 91,9 Sports 1.9%
  12. CBC Radio One 0.9%
  13. CJAD 0.6%
  14. TSN 690 0.4%

Average minute audience (anglophones + francophones), all ages, Feb. 25 to May 26, 2019:

  1. 98.5fm: 32,000
  2. Rythme FM: 22,000
  3. ICI Première: 21,800
  4. Rouge: 19,700
  5. CKOI: 19,000
  6. The Beat: 17,200
  7. CHOM: 15,900
  8. CJAD: 14,100
  9. Énergie: 11,700
  10. Virgin Radio: 9,700
  11. CBC Radio One: 6,100
  12. ICI musique: 5,100
  13. 91.9 Sports: 3,300
  14. TSN Radio: 2,500
  15. CBC Music: 1,700
  16. CHRF: 500
  17. Radio circulation: 300

La Presse also has numbers for most popular shows in various time blocks.

Quebec City

Last week, Numeris released its diary ratings, which includes mid-size markets in Quebec and elsewhere. Here are the top-line figures:

  1. ICI Première: 17.8%
  2. CHOI Radio X: 14.7%
  3. FM93: 12.9%
  4. WKND: 9.9%
  5. Rouge: 8.9%
  6. Énergie: 7.9%
  7. M102,9: 7.7%
  8. Pop: 4.2%
  9. BLVD: 3.9%
  10. ICI Musique: 3.1%
  11. CBC Radio One: 0.2%

Once again, public broadcaster Radio-Canada floats above the commercial fray in the capital of populist radio, with CHOI and FM93 battling for second place, and the mainly music stations in the high single digits.

Le Soleil breaks down the Quebec City numbers, as does a very happy Radio-Canada.


  1. KYK: 21%
  2. Rouge: 20.8%
  3. ICI Première: 17.6%
  4. Énergie: 13.8%
  5. ICI Musique: 5.5%


  1. Rouge: 19.9%
  2. Énergie: 17.0%
  3. ICI Première: 16.1%
  4. 107,7fm: 10.7%
  5. Rythme FM: 9.2%
  6. ICI Musique: 3.7%


  1. Rouge: 16.9%
  2. Énergie: 15.7%
  3. Rythme: 13.4%
  4. 106,9fm: 12.3%
  5. ICI Première: 11.8%
  6. CKBN: 4.5%
  7. ICI Musique: 4.1%

Ottawa-Gatineau (francophones)

  1. Rouge: 16.3%
  2. ICI Première: 14.1%
  3. Énergie: 9.6%
  4. Wow: 7.9%
  5. 104,7fm: 7.4%
  6. ICI Musique: 5%
  7. Hot 89.9: 4.4%
  8. CHEZ: 3.7%
  9. Pop: 2.9%
  10. Majic: 2.6%
  11. Jump: 2.6%
  12. Jewel: 2%

(Remaining stations below 2%)

The Rouge brand continues to be pretty strong in Quebec’s mid-size regions, #1 in Gatineau, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke, and within a hair of #1 in Saguenay.

The press releases

24 thoughts on “Montreal and Quebec radio ratings: Virgin 95.9 falls to fifth place

  1. Patrick

    Explain? It’s owned by Bell. Isn’t that explanation enough? Everything Bell touches turns to (insert poop emoji here). Bell has consistently destroyed all the Canadian media it has bought up since 1997.

    1. Eamon Hoey


      Agree re Bell – On the bright side it means that there will be a lot of movement in the Anglo market over the next few years. We will see audience wars.


    2. Anonymous

      I don’t get it. Why would Bell buy these stations then not invest in them? If you attract more sponsors with a good product, doesn’t Bell reap the benefits?

    3. Sheldon Eric Fried

      Not to mention how many people throughout Canada had lost their jobs due to Bell Media’s greediness and very selfish business practices. Also the reason CJAD is number 1 is that they have no competition on the English language talk circuit in a Montreal. CJAD was the b3st when they and CFCF Radio and even CFOX 1470 back in the day competed. That was radio!

      1. Al Pervin

        I did the morning talk show on CFCF-AM against Neil McKenty. Competition is a great thing. You get more than 1 person’s view. Broadens horizons.

  2. media man

    Simple question to answer, you named two reasons..

    One: The Bellmedia pencil pushers and bean counters..
    Two: Mark Bergman
    Three: Better variety of music, not just teeny bopper stuff and probably better contests and promotions.

    And maybe just djtch these national brands, people really like local identities..
    .as for CJAD declining, no surprise,but if AM600 could get on air with a few name personalities and different excellent shows, the decline would be steeper… Much steeper.

  3. Danny Shields

    I know they aren’t rated but what impact does HITS fm, I believe that is the name of the station, and 99.9 have, especially with anglos?

  4. Danny Shields

    The fact that station A is half of station B, Virgin vs. Beat, is what happens in r e a l competitive markets…Ed, Calgary, most big US Cities, where if you have two or more stations programming the same content it is the personalities that differentiate between the multiple options…

  5. Anonymous

    Explain? It’s owned by Bell. (thanks Patrick for the perfect opening!).

    Really though, I think the problems with Virgin are deeply rooted in the Bell corporate mentality. With all news / traffic / weather /sports shared with other Bell stations, much of what might make this a unique station are lost. I think CHOM suffers in the same manner, except that they don’t have any direct musical competition that rates with Numeris.

    Your parent’s news / traffic / weather /sports from CJAD are not cool. That drives cool to other places.

    There may also be a minor issue related to music and how it is programmed at each station. The Beat does much better at getting franco listeners as well (4. 8% for Beat versus 3% for Virgin), so there may well be something in the overall presentation or order of play that gets them more listenership. When you consider the combined Anglo/Franco for these stations, Virgin is really taking a “Beat”-ing, and the per minute gap 17,400 versus 9700) really shows it.

    To me, the problem is all about Bell, and the solution isn’t going to be easy to reach because what I think would fix it would go against the Bell mentality of cutting jobs and standardizing everything they can through all stations in a marketplace. Virgin cannot be unique when it’s underlying voice is essentially CJAD. The lack of unique voices providing information tailored and stylized to the specific listener base means that they cannot ever be truly cool. It’s CJAD with music, and CJAD dominates that market.

    It’s quite simple really. Go back and look for the point where Bell started to remove unique voices. Look at the ratings then, look at the ratings now. It’s a near perfect match for the decline of the station.

  6. Marc

    But it’s still pretty astonishing that two radio stations with similar coverage and similar music can have such different ratings.

    Not really. It just proves there’s no space for two almost identical stations. A far cry from the Mix96 golden era (ca. 1995-2005) when they were by a mile the most listened to.

  7. Sheldon Eric Fried

    As a person who myself, is no stranger to the broadcasting here in Canada and in Montreal, the blame cannot squarely gfo to Mark Bergman.

    Years ago, major market Program Directors were that – Program Directors who had a lot more power in the hiring and formatics and they were the ones whom for the most part, made the big decisions. They would in many cases adjust the formatics and research in hiring the best personnel.

    Now, the “Program Directors” are now “Brand Directors” who have lot less powers in decision making and they can do very little in implementing formatics in their own markets. The head office people are the ones who now make the very big decisions and then decide on music and / or formats and implementation of formatics, imaging, etc. Yes, they can still hire for their specific markets.

    The “Brand Directors” are also the people who have to address the media and in many cases, are thrown under the bus should ratings of a radio station do not do well. Head offices will keep their “Brand Directors” if their ratings are rock solid. However, should the ratings like Virgin suffer, they made the decision to throw Mark Bergman under the bus.

    Big name media / broadcasting companies are notorious for letting people go no matter how long their employees work there. Their hard work, loyalty, and passion go out the window when people at their respective head offices decide they want to cut costs to satisfy their shareholders as well the C.E.O’s wish to make even more profits than what they are making now!

    Major market commercial broadcasting industry is a cut throat, backstabbing business and it is very unfortunate they get away in letting people go. They also know that as soon as an empty chair is available for a position, for every one vacancy, there are thousands of people who are very thirsty to apply for the job and the head office knows this all too well!


    Radio G-D!!

  8. Samuel

    Maybe Virgin will probably become Pure Country 96. A Country station with a better signal. Pure Country is bell’s national Country brand.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Bell isn’t about to give up on top 40 music in a market whose experience with country is at best untested. Not unless the ratings go far below what they are now.

    2. Brett

      I agree Pure Country is a good option. Just look at this year alone how many country concerts where at the Bell Center and smaller venues. Plus Breakfast Television gets the big country interviews every now and then. Many will argue Montreal isn’t a country city but look at how concerts that come sell very well. American and Canadian tourist who come to Montreal would definitely tune in to Pure Country if they where coming from out of town to visit or for a country concert.

      It would give 89.9 Kic Country competition for the first time with a full time station. Ultimately if it went country 95.9 would be the better station in ratings due to actually haveing a signal that works downtown and up north.

      Though I don’t see Bell changing Virgin Radio brand any time soon.

  9. Brett

    Clearly Virgin Radio needs a lineup change or rebranding. If they do rebrand why not use the same Sun FM used on CHR outside the metro Vancouver area in BC. Maybe they need to slightly modify their CHR format to become a rhythmic CHR by adding hip hop to their existing playlist.

    Adding hip hop would take away some fans of 94.7 Hits FM who can’t get a clear signal downtown.

  10. Jason

    94.7 is not rated via PPM nor are they are a factor. Did anyone ever think that just maybe the PPM system is flawed? Virgin won for so many years and now it’s just the Beat’s turn? I also heard Virgin is losing in the Morning for the first time in a decade in all key demos. Even when the station was losing, the Virgin Morning Show always won and especially in 25-54. That being said, it doesn’t mean it’s time to blow the station up Brett. Virgin is a heritage station that simply has music issues. You cannot program a true Top 40 vs a station like the Beat (old Mix 96 style) and win. Especially vs an AT WORK STATION. Virgin basically handed over the ratings to the Beat by playing the same music ad nauseum. You also can’t tell me it’s the personalities. Cat and Sarah were removed from the morning show a few years back. Since then, I can’t name you one person who stands out on their morning show now. And they’re winning? Explain that.

    1. Anonymous Person

      That’s how radio ratings usually works. A leading station loses ratings ground gradually to its competitor. They first lose a demo, then a daypart and eventually, if they can’t identify the problems and fix them, they lose out entirely. In this case, morning’s were the last go. Talent is a factor, by taking their established talent, it makes it more comfortable for listeners when they switch over to sample the product at the competing station.

      There are numerous issues that have hindered Virgin one of which is the state of Top 40 music. It’s in a doldrum (it happens and it’s cyclical) and Virgin have been slow to adjust.

      They have been out-marketed by The Beat. Just count the billboards and TV commercials during crucial ratings periods. Who knows what else is happening online.

      Ryan Seacrest has lost his lustre over the last few years and probably rates negatively or neutrally. I believe the evening show if piped-in as well.

      It’s a colossal branding mess and this plagues Bell. At any time is the listener tuned into Virgin, Bell or iheartmedia (and I think there are other branded elements on the station). Who knows what it all means for the listener except for confusion. If was them I would dump iHeart as soon as contractually possible. I think Bell has an unfavourable brand perception so ditch it as well on-air.

      I can go on but you get my point.

      Hiring Blair Bartrem, a veteran Program Director of the Mix 96 days, is a good start. He’s creative and motivates his teams. Unfortunately, I think he’s a stop-gap until they hire the future PD. Hopefully it will be someone audacious and isn’t afraid to respectfully stand up to upper management and that upper management can eventually trust.

      Despite the “Bell Corporate Mentality” they have been able to gain/beat with Rouge and Energie. We debate that it might come down to priority of their French stations when it comes to marketing and budgets.

      Also, forgive me for responding to another comment on this reply but, Country would never work in being more than number 4 or 5 in the ratings in Montreal. Country is a top 40 format and Montreal still under a non-hit regulation imposed by the CRTC and that means 50% of it’s music would have to be well, non-hits. There are ways around it that work at Top 40 but on Country, albums tracks and breaking hits too early is a disaster.

      1. Dilbert

        I think that Bell’s success with Rouge falls in the same category as a blind mouse sometimes finding the cheese. It does happen, but it’s not very consistent.

        What Bell really doesn’t seem to learn is that media is personality driven. Personality means people, and Bell is lousy with people. Rouge is a sucess in no small part because they have the right people on the air. But it’s rare that Bell gets and keeps the right people, more often playing secondary to everything else.

        Blair Bartrem is a great guy, I can remember meeting him all the way back in his days working promotions at CHOM, before he made it as a PD at Mix 96. He’s truly a survivor in the Bell system, most people don’t thrive and he’s done okay. But I think that Bell’s content programming and such means that his hands are very tied when it comes to what is on air, and who is on air for that matter. As much as I wish he would make some moves, I think the structure of Bell land says otherwise.

        The launching of the Pure Country brand across the country is a clue as to how Bell sees the future. Individual stations are “done”. Stand alone products like CHOM are dinosaurs. Even stations like CJAD are using common bumpers and intro music to other talk stations across the country. Everything is formatted to strict standards, timing, integration with other stations in the same market, etc. It’s Bells way.

        What that means is that it’s hard for Bell to have Virgin stop being Virgin, unless they flip to an entirely different programming set / brand. So any switch would likely be to one of their existing products, such as Bob FM or similar. It’s doubtful that Bell would allow a station to be stand alone.

        All of this is because of how Bell sees the future – without transmitters, or at least without any local identity at all. They are doing this in radio and in Television, where local identity is limited and even that identity is national standard style. It’s why we don’t have Pulse news anymore… because it’s not the national standard.

  11. Anonymous

    I don’t think competing with WYUL is a viable option, nor is country. The first half of the millennial generation (born ’82-’89) are probably the youngest resgular consumers of terrestrial radio. The listenership is getting older and Montreal doesn’t have an AC station. I would follow the k-i-s-s rule and not bother trying to find some hot new branding thing. Do like 98.1 CHFI in Toronto. They have massive listenership. Simply call it 96 CJFM, or even bring back that legendary rainbow logo of the 80’s. But one or two more bad Numeris reports and it (should) be curtains for Virgin 96.

  12. Anonymous

    I sometimes tune into CFQR-AM 600 to see if things have changed over there. They still seem to be playing music. And today, I actually heard a commercial spot. I didn’t hang around to see if they had any other spots. One thing though, the audio is just terrible. Usually Car Radios are always much better into tuning into radio stations than home radios. But, the audio on CFQR-AM seems very faint in comparison to the other AM stations my car radio could pick up. As if they had low power on.

    Any news on CFQR-AM 600. I have noticed that their sister stations CFNV-AM 940 has some programming. And the audio signal on that station is far superior than CFQR-AM.

    As for CJFM-FM 95.9 : Every time I tune into that station, I land on some shit music, and move on to the next station. Such as CHOM-FM 97.7, and WBTZ-FM 99.9
    CJFM-FM, needs a change, and fast. The best thing that can happen to that station is if Bell Media sells it off.

    Too bad CFQR-AM has such a shit sound, because they certainly have good music.

    1. Anonymous Person

      It’s time to forget about 600 AM. It’s a joke; a non-starter. They know it and are delaying a launch in hopes of coming up with an idea on how to take on CJAD. They don’t have the economic means to pull off anything serious.

      The only hope for competition to CJAD is CBC radio one if they can get it together. CBC Radio One stations are competitive in every other market in Canada except for Montreal.

      CBC Montreal has always been horribly programmed. If they would invest in a newsroom that really addresses English Montreal and put a morning show with some notable talent they can start to make gains.

      Andrew Carter is extremely mediocre, awkward , goofy and self-centered on-air. The strongest elements on the CJAD morning show are John Moore and Thomas Mulcair. Everything else is pablum and up for grabs.

      Terry Dimonte will probably retire from CHOM (likely reluctantly) and CBC would be wise to entice Terry to host the morning show. His current morning show already includes contributors instead of a co-host and he could bring a few of them over to the CBC version. There are several good other contributors that could help as well.

      Ha, 600 am, gimme a break. Stop it please…

    1. Fagstein Post author

      What’s happening at TSN 690 these days? They are live during the day and replays at night.

      As opposed to live during the day and ESPN Radio at night? What exactly have they lost?

  13. Pingback: Virgin Radio 95.9 fires Freeway Frank, Natasha Gargiulo, brings in Cousin Vinny and Shannon King | Fagstein

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *