Bell Media shuts down TSN Radio in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton

Just when we thought the worst was over, Bell Media on Tuesday abruptly pulled the plug on three of its seven TSN Radio stations — CKST 1040 in Vancouver, CFRW 1290 in Winnipeg and CKOC 1150 in Hamilton — to replace them with new, cheaper formats.

Ya Bloomberg’d it

The Hamilton station has already adopted its new brand, BNN Bloomberg 1150, copying a format at CFTE 1410 i Vancouver — itself a former TSN Radio station — that relies on a mix of audio from BNN’s television channel, content from Bloomberg and some random repurposed Bell Media content like CTV News, the Evan Solomon Show and Amanda Lang’s podcast. There was nothing said about local programming and a Bell Media spokesperson didn’t answer when I asked if there would be any.

Funny story

The two other stations said they would announce their new format simultaneously on Friday (at 9am CT and 7am PT), but thanks to a memo from Bell Media President Wade Oosterman, we already know they will adopt the “Funny” standup comedy format that he described as successful even though the existing Funny stations — CKMX 1060 in Calgary and CHAM 820 in Hamilton — have poor ratings, and the third station to run with that brand shut down in 2016.

CKMX is in last place in Calgary with a 0.8% share, and CHAM is second-last in Hamilton with a 0.6% share. The only station rated lower than CHAM? TSN Radio, now BNN.

So don’t expect the ratings to go up with this move. Instead, expect the expenses to go down as they no longer need local programming of any kind.

690 survives

The other four TSN Radio stations — CFRN 1260 in Edmonton, CHUM 1050 in Toronto, CFGO 1200 in Ottawa and CKGM 690 in Montreal — survived the axe. Those stations have varying ratings — 0.9%, 0.4%, 3.1% and 3.5% market shares according to their latest books — but they have other reasons for staying. Montreal and Ottawa have the rights to their local NHL teams and are the only English-language sports radio stations in their markets. Toronto is Toronto, and has plenty of local sports content to go around, including half the Leafs schedule.

Why Edmonton still exists while Vancouver and Winnipeg got yanked is a bit beyond me. Edmonton doesn’t have the rights to either the Oilers or whatever the CFL team will be renaming itself (both of those air on Corus’s 630 CHED), and its ratings aren’t stellar.

(Edmonton was nevertheless hit by layoffs, including Corey Graham)

It’s also worth noting that Bell Media gave up the rights to the Winnipeg Jets to CJOB in December, even though it had a year left on its deal, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

The coverage

I wrote about the cuts for Cartt.ca. It includes the full memo from Oosterman (thanks as always to people who leak me things). Others covering the news include:

  • Vancouver Province: “‘It’s important for you to understand in terms of what your separation package looks like, and all of the details that are included with it,’ said (James Stuart Hewson, Bell Canada’s western regional general manager), before announcing that staff had 30 minutes to collect personal items before corporate security implemented a ‘shutdown process.'”
  • Mike McIntyre, Winnipeg Free Press: “Bell Let’s Talk….about the disgraceful way you’ve treated your employees, putting profit over people during a global pandemic, and how your greed has left a gulf in the Winnipeg media landscape.” (They also have a separate news story about the shutdown)
  • Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “Whether it was the Bombers or Jets, Goldeyes or Valour FC, even university sports and the rest of the amateur scene, 1290 filled a void in this town.”
  • Hamilton Spectator: “TSN 1150 had been struggling with poor overall ratings but it did, back when it began in 2015, manage to capture the contract to carry the Ticat live games from CHML. That six-year contract was about to expire.”
  • Toronto Star: “A senior official at the Unifor union blasted the company for cutting the jobs after taking money from the federal government’s COVID-related Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.”
  • The Athletic: “In Toronto, staff at TSN 1050 were told their station would be untouched by the cuts. Sources told The Athletic that management at TSN 690, in Montreal, held a conference call with employees to tell them they would not be affected by the layoffs.”
  • Awful Announcing: “Yeah, it’s a really quickly evolving broadcast media landscape when you pull three radio stations off the air without even telling their employees first, much less providing any signal to listeners that this was coming. And that’s a terrible look.”
  • Toronto Sports Media: “we have been talking about the demise of sports radio as a format for a few years now, but there is still lots of money to be made, especially for big media brands like Rogers and Bell”
  • Michael McColl, AFTN: “Vancouver, as a city, should have more than one option for a sports radio station. I don’t believe the demand isn’t there.”

The goodbyes

TSN Radio staff at the affected stations didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, so many took to social media to do so (if you spot others, let me know and I’ll add them):

TSN Radio Vancouver

TSN Radio Winnipeg

TSN Radio Hamilton

11 thoughts on “Bell Media shuts down TSN Radio in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton

  1. Nigel Spencer

    …and it isn’t over yet. Bell continues it’s overlong run as one of Canada’s worst-run and most ineffective bureaucratic behemoths.
    Boy someone must have taken the money and run when the Ontario teachers got suckered into buying that one!

    Reply
  2. Ian Howarth

    Man, what a shit show. And everyone without a job is being so graceful as if they may get another job in the sports radio biz and don’t want to burn bridges. Behind closed doors, they’re saying some nasty shit about Bell. And they were given 30 minutes to leave the Bldg! Bell is like Fahrenheit 450 bullies.

    Reply
  3. NewsGuy

    Years ago some sales guy at CFCF said he didn’t know how to sell ads on the internet. He was laid off a few months later.

    Today I think the sales guys and all the other execs have drunk the hyper-targetted internet micro-focus kool-aid and forgotten how to sell ads on TV and radio.

    Reply
  4. Lance Campeau

    In their relentless push to get people to use bandwidth consuming subscription based services, it looks like Bell is deliberately trying to de-value radio’s presence in the media marketplace.

    Reply
  5. Mark Piche

    Amplitude Modulated radio waves to transmit analog data work. However after a century of use while just being a step above the spark gap transmitter long ago banned due to wide bandwidth interference and largely inefficient, so to is AM radio. FM is also on the way out slowly as well in the analog format with the switch to digital radio already occurring. Europe and other places around the world are there already. Bell Media is just that, evolving with the changing times and evolving to a pay system for programing in almost all of its formats. That is how the private sector works is through profits not antiquated government contrived concepts.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      The AM Band will work if the station has the content worth listening to.
      Nobody will listen if you have crap on it.
      And besides, most of Bells AM stations in the large cities are also on the FM Band with HD Radio.
      So the technical limitations of the AM Band in large cities can be dealt with.

      Bells constant push for the iHeart radio app is just plain stupid.
      Not everybody wants to be tethered to the net.
      Nor interested in paying for the extra data to stream radio.
      Especially if you’re going to supply the same crap content.

      It all comes down to content.
      If you don’t have it, nobody will listen, or watch.
      No matter what the delivery system is.

      Reply
  6. Dilbert

    Nothing unexpected from Bell, clearly their intentions are to move to cheaper formats that fill the airwaves with noise nobody wants to listen to. Music on AM is a pointless buggy whip concept. AM works best for the human voice and passing the news, often over large distances.

    Bell should just turn the licenses back and let others have a go if they wish.

    Now, the biggest question: What about other stations in the markets that were using TSN for their sports reporting? Were other Bell media stations in Vancouver relying on TSN to provide their sports news?

    I think that the stations that they pulled today are all likely to end up with one or the other of existing corporate formats. Hamilton is already BBN, and that would seem to be a good possibility for the others. Trying the comedy format first is perhaps not any worse at this point.

    Edmonton is the odd case, but I think I see the problem for Bell in that market. Corus has a strong (6% market share) new talker, and Global has a 2% market share on the “Global news” station. They might think that this is one of the places where it would be better to transition from pure sports to perhaps a more general news talker, as the market seems to support it. This could be a good place to test out a nationwide version of news talk, with perhaps a local morning show and the rest piped in as a series of national programs.

    Now, what could be interesting in Montreal, example, would be to roll that national news talk format into town on 690, and put it in “competition” with CJAD. Keep the sports for the evenings, but run a national new talk format all day. It could help Bell to continue to dominate that marketplace, and also to muscle any others out of the market for good.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      A national news talk format? Remember CKO?
      That’s how it’ll end up for Bell as well.

      They fail to understand that people want Local.
      If I want non local, there is always the internet, SiriusXM etc.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        I agree, Bell really appears to have no clue what listeners want on their radio.

        National news talk format will always hold out the syndicated national programming in the US. Canadian stations have always licked their lips and drooled a little when considering how well guys like Rush Limbaugh have done – one single radio show, nearly 1000 station. The costs / income ratio is amazing. Bell sees this sort of thing and wants to get there one way or another.

        You are also correct. While there is competition, let’s be fair: Bell is one of a small handful of monopoly players in the internet world. If you stop listening to radio and use more internet, they still make money. They just don’t care, as long as they get their hands in your wallet.

        Reply

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