UPDATE (Feb. 12, 2021): The CRTC has rejected the request.
In 2013, when Bell Media acquired Astral Media, it made a promise: In exchange for keeping TSN 690 as a fourth English Montreal radio station, one more than what would usually be permitted under the CRTC’s common ownership policy, it would commit to keeping the station running as a sports talk station, a format that has earned CKGM a small but loyal audience over the previous decade.
On the last day of the CRTC hearing on the (second) application to acquire Astral, Bell also agreed to a commitment, proposed by commission chairperson Jean-Pierre Blais, that TSN 690 maintain its 96 hours a week of local programming:
7775 THE CHAIRPERSON (Jean-Pierre Blais): Okay.
7776 So now I’m going to go even further down the road of analysis and we are obviously in the option of an approval and then there are some issues that we need to tidy up.
7777 On CKGM, how many hours of local programming are there? Could somebody give me that?
7778 MR. GORDON (Chris Gordon, head of radio and local stations for Bell Media): I believe it’s 96 hours of local programming.
7779 THE CHAIRPERSON: And would you be able to accept — how would you react if we imposed that as a condition of license on that service?
7780 MR. GORDON: We would accept.
7781 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay.
When the CRTC approved the sale, in which Bell would acquire CJAD, Virgin Radio 95.9 and CHOM 97.7 from Astral, it required Bell to change TSN 690’s licence to impose requirements including that local programming quota (which is not standard for AM radio stations). As of January 2014, TSN 690 has had the requirement as part of its licence.
With the licence up for renewal (it was supposed to expire in August, but the CRTC has pushed that to Feb. 28), Bell has decided the 96-hour requirement is too onerous and wants it reduced.
That application has been posted separately as a request to amend the station’s licence.
“With respect to local programming, to the best of our knowledge no other commercial AM station has a set number of local programming hours or even a local programming requirement,” Bell Media writes in its application, glossing over the reason why this special requirement was imposed in the first place. “Indeed, the Commercial Radio Policy only provides that for an AM station, local programming requirements will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, as set out in the Commission’s standard conditions of licences that apply to licensees of all commercial AM and FM stations, FM stations are only required to air a minimum of 42 hours of local programming during any broadcast week in order to solicit or accept local advertising.”
Bell instead proposes that CKGM’s local programming quota be reduced from 96 hours a week (averaging 13.7 hours a day) to 63 hours a week (9 hours a day).
TSN 690 says it currently broadcasts local programming generally from 6am to midnight on weekdays, plus 6-10 hours on weekends, particularly weekend mornings. It’s unclear how this would change under a reduced quota.
Bell says the main reason it wants to cut its minimum local programming quota is so it can air more non-local live sports programming, like NFL games, Blue Jays games, IIHF tournaments and NHL games that don’t involve the Montreal Canadiens.
It gives an example of a situation where that quota prevented it from airing an important sporting event:
A recent example of this situation was the NHL’s 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues in June of this year. As a result of airing the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors during the same broadcast week, CKGM did not have the flexibility to also air game seven of the Stanley Cup Final as this would have put that week’s 96 hour local programming requirement in jeopardy. Instead of airing the NHL game — a highly attractive program offering for our audience — CKGM aired repeat local programming, thereby depriving CKGM’S NHL fans of live coverage of one the most important sporting events of the year.
Bell also says lowering the quota would mean airing more Blue Jays games (from less than 50 per season to more than 70).
It sounds reasonable, maybe, but you could imagine the worry that Bell would simply produce less local programming if given this additional flexibility. TSN 690 is not a money maker and I’m sure Bell would be happy to save a few dollars in the evening when it can just run content from elsewhere.
On the other hand, set the conditions of licence too high and Bell could decide it’s not worth the trouble and just shut the station down.
I tried asking Bell for an interview about the programming plans for the station, but the response I got back was this:
We have no comment beyond the application.
The application (#2019-0857-6) is posted here and accepts comments until 8pm ET on Nov. 30. You can file comments here. Note that all comments sent to the CRTC become part of the public record, including contact info.
So long as they don’t disrupt their local programming between 6AM and 7PM. I would hate to see syndicated shows take up slots between the morning and afternoon drive shows.
When TSN 690 re-runs programming from earlier in the day (i.e Best of the Morning Show, Best of Melnick) in the evening period, does that fulfill the local programming requirements?
My first though on this application was that Bell wanted the option to turn back the hand of time and have TSN 690 resemble Team 990: Live from 6am-10am & 12-1pm & 3-7pm which is 9hrs per day for a total of 45hrs/week. A live weekend morning show + live local sports is probably sufficient to make up the remaining hours.
Yes, and in fact Bell says it has had to run reruns like this to fulfill that requirement when they would have preferred to run live non-local sports.
Math wise, it makes no sense.
There are 126 hours in a broadcast week – assuming 6AM to Midnight (and then they could run some alien take over show on a pay per basis…. heh-heh!)
They are committed to 96. So they have 30 free hours. There are only certain times that sports happen live generally, which is evenings after 7 during the week and admittedly any time on the weekend. Now assuming that they have 1 local weekday game and 1 local weekend game (hockey which is mostly evenings), that leaves them with 5 open evenings. Using their 30 hours, they could literally go 6PM to midnight on those other 5 evenings with out of market programming / games. That would be a double header every night outside of the evenings with local games.
Away from the hockey season, when there is less local sports, it could still mean 1 out of market game every night plus a second game every other night (assuming 3 hours per game). It should be noticed that west coast games would go past midnight, which wouldn’t could for these hours anyway.
So basic math says that Bell can already run all the out of market games they can get without issue.
The CRTC should say no to the request.
The station group received preferential benefits by being allowed to own 6 radio stations in the Montreal market.
1 – The station group was allowed to own more stations in a market than they should have.
2 – The station group was able to use staff across multiple stations, thus operating more stations with less staff. Example CKGM 690 sports news runs across multiple stations.
3 – CKGM 690 is also a cross platform station that promotes the TSN brand for the station group. Thus driving the audience to purchase cable sports package channels.
4 – They requested, and received a AM clear channel frequency.
These are just a few examples of preferential benefits. The very least they can do is maintain their present number of local hours broadcast on the station.
Now, I understand that sports radio stations have been hit hard due to the Covid-19 situation. Lack of sports. Lack of advertisers when the economy is being shut down due to the government.
AM stations are terrible due to the increase in frequency noise in cities. But, the station can be heard on 107.3 FM-HD3 which offers a better sound quality. And, I have never heard them promote that on air or on billboard ads.
All very understandable. Not great for anybody. But, I would think that one of the reasons these stations groups have been allowed to grow so big is due to their deep pockets to absorb such down turns. Unlike a station group that might own 1 or 2 stations in a market.
If things are tough for the station group, they can always sell CKGM 690, or shut it down.
But, I doubt they would shut it down, as it is the TSN branded station for this market.
They might consider changing up some of their programming due to the lack of sports events.
Do they really need to run Sports Talk over night from other sources. How much sports talk can one take.
They can change it up overnight. Maybe add music. Music on AM!!!!. Well they can be heard on 107.3 FM-HD3, which can handle music very well.
What I’m trying to say is, they can experiment with other things on CKGM-AM, and not simple cut local programming so that they can add more TSN or ESPN out of market talk.
If they push the CRTC indicating they will shut down CKGM, then the CRTC should tell them to either sell CJFM 95.9, or CHOM 97.7. That way you let somebody else enter the market.
Perhaps Rogers would buy one of the FM’s, and place their branded Sportsnet Radio on a HD2. It’s just an example. But, we will never get to any solution if we continue to allow certain stations groups to control too many stations in a market.
This sticks with a pretty standard pattern for Bell. Any time they are in a pinch, the first thing they want to do is centralize programming. It’s part of an underlying philosophy that local radio and TV stations are generally just there to distribute national programming.
To be fair, 96 hours per week of local programming is a lot in theory. But in fact, it isn’t as much as you think. 96 hours can be achieved by 6 am to midnight Monday to Friday and 6 hours only over the weekend. If you consider the 6 am to midnight mandate, they have 30 hours open to them for whatever they want.
What does that mean? If they want to add in 1 live out of market game every night of the week, they could do so in approximately 21 hours, and they would still have 9 hours left. Convert any of those three hours into local programming (say by doing the intermission programming as local call in talk) and they are even better off.
The proposed drop of 33 hours per week would essentially mean that they could move to having network programming every night of the week from 6 to 11 pm. Allow for local programming for MTL games, that would mean they would likely move to network / centralized programming from 6pm to midnight.
They could also consider a national morning show. That has other implications.
There in lies two big questions: Would this actually harm the local market, and would this just be a slippery slope towards killing off all local commitment to move to a 24 hour per day national sports channel? With 7 current TSN branded stations, this could go a very long way towards significant reductions in staffing across the country and some significant money saving.
The second part would be the question of local programming to other Bell stations in market. Would it be acceptable to have all of the “local” sports produced in Toronto, with Toronto people doing it? The loss of local commitment doesn’t just touch one local station in Montreal, but touches 4 stations.
The station as it is likely is not profitable. The broadcast radio market continues to shrink both in listenership and ad revenue overall. The pinch is coming.
From the CRTC’s perspective, yes. Unless there is a special condition of licence, AM stations do not have specific local programming requirements, though they are expected to have local programming of some sort.