Maybe Quebec City isn’t such a strange creature after all. On Friday, Énergie 98,9 (CHIK-FM) told its talk personalities their services are no longer required and it would go back to being a rock music station.
Let go were afternoon host Jérôme Landry, who had been there for four years, plus morning host Stéphane Gasse, as well as Laurent Gaulin, Samuel Matte, Alexandre Tétreault, Marie-Josée Longval, Pierre-Yves Boies and Nicolas Lacroix.
Bell Media told me it would not comment on layoffs or say how many there were.
On Monday, Bell Media announced a new lineup, with Hugo Langlois (who moves over from sister station Rouge 107,5) hosting the morning show with existing staff Katherine Guillemette and Simon Bourassa as well as new sports columnist Vince Cauchon (previously at CHOI Radio X). Cauchon de facto replaces Martin Lemay, who will no longer be contributing to Énergie stations. Marie-Christine Champagne sticks around to host daytime, Dany “Babu” Bernier hosts the noon hour and weekend afternoons.
The afternoon drive show, as well as most evening and weekend programming, will be the same as other Énergie stations in the network. Énergie 98,9 will carry Maxim Martin’s Ça rentre au poste from 3-6pm weekdays, with Sébastien Trudel and Marie-Claude Savard, and Cauchon doing a sports segment. Hope Cauchon likes the 12-hour days.
The move, which the station’s marketing is selling as an almost apologetic return to its former soul, ends a five-year experiment with a hybrid music-talk format, which included hiring controversial former CHOI-FM blowhards like Stéphan Dupont (fired in 2019 after an antagonizing interview), Jeff Fillion (fired in 2016 for making fun of a dead child) and Stéphane Gendron (whose contract wasn’t renewed in 2018).
Trying to capture the popularity of CHOI-FM in the mid-2010s, several radio stations hired populist hosts and went talk during prime hours, including FM93 (where Dupont works now) and BLVD 102,1 (which famously hired former Liberal minister Nathalie Normandeau).
BLVD also dropped its talk programming and went to a rock music format, so the two stations will continue to fight it out for that audience.
Énergie’s about-face comes just after Numeris released its latest diary ratings. They show CHIK-FM dropping from a 7.9% share a year ago to a 6.0% share this spring, well behind its competitors. In 2014, before adopting the talk format, the station had a 6.6% share. And talk is more expensive to program than music.
Departed hosts shared messages on social media:
- Jérôme Landry: “Je ne regrette pas une seconde d’avoir choisi de sortir de ma zone de confort en 2016 pour faire de la radio parlée dans une station avec une culture musicale.”
- Nicolas Lacroix: “Énergie Québec est à dévoiler une nouvelle programmation. Elle ne nous inclut pas moi et Jérôme, ni Alex Tetreault d’ailleurs. On vous retrouvera tous, le plus tôt possible, ailleurs. Merci pour tout.”
- Alexandre Tétreault: “La radio, c’est le plus beau métier au monde. Quand tu décides de faire ce métier, c’est en sachant que le jour où ça va s’arrêter, ça va se faire brusquement.”
Talk radio has a simple problem: If there is a dominant voice in a market place, it’s hard to get people away from it. It often means that the alternate voices have to be either more strident or more aggressive, or more marginal in their opinions. It’s pretty much hard work.
More over, if your on air staff happens to say something that people do not like, crosses a line, or otherwise marginalizes some of your audience, then you are sunk.
Quebec City is not a large market to start with. There is only so many people willing to listen to talk radio to start with, and trying to get a small part of that smaller slice isn’t easy – and perhaps not large enough to pay the bills. Clearly 6% of the market isn’t profitable enough to keep going.