If you’re a Montrealer who likes to listen to 94.7 Hits FM to get music unencumbered by CRTC regulations, I have some bad news for you.
And if you’re a Quebecer who tunes in to the weak 96.5 FM because there aren’t better country music options on the radio here, I also have some bad news for you.
Both WYUL 94.7 in Chateaugay, N.Y., and WVNV 96.5 in Malone, N.Y., have been sold to the Educational Media Foundation, which owns hundreds of stations in all 50 states under the K-Love and Air1 brands, both of which broadcast Christian music.
The purchase price is $2.5 million. The deal includes the licenses and transmitter facilities but not much else. Martz Communications retains the logos, branding, studio equipment and everything having to do with employees.
“EMF approached me over a year ago and ultimately made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Martz owner Tim Martz tells me. “Given COVID-19’s impact on the economy and advertising revenues, and the current difficult business climate, it became clear that their offer made sense considering the alternatives, even more so since I recently turned 70 years of age.”
The stations remain operational for now and at least the next three months, Martz says.
An application for transfer of ownership was published Monday by the Federal Communications Commission. It was first reported by All Access and Radio Insight. The deal would close within 10 days of FCC approval, according to the agreement filed with the commission.
EMF intends to convert both stations to non-profit educational stations. It writes to the FCC:
EMF’s educational goal is to educate its audience with respect to both teachings of the Bible, as well as broader topics of contemporary significance ranging from family issues, money management, philosophical problems and opportunities facing children and young adults, and information concerning the scope and availability of other non-profit services in the community.
EMF will offer a wide variety of education programming designed to meet the needs and interests of resident within the local community of license, including education programs on current events, and programs examining economic, social and religious issues. EMF will also feature inspirational music, news and other cultural programming. In furtherance of EMF’s educational purpose, EMF’s educational programming will include features that explore family issues, values and understanding and other programming that is designed to assist families and individuals manage their personal finances.
“As you can imagine, the decision to sell was very difficult on a number of levels,” Martz says. “Since I grew up in Montreal, the stations have a special meaning for me. Both Hits and Wild Country have been serving listeners in Quebec and Ontario for some 20 years and there are just a lot of fond memories of employees, listeners and even competitors from over the years.”
As a result of the sale, Martz’s office in Pointe-Claire, which does Montreal ad sales for Hits FM, “will likely close at the end of September,” Martz says, resulting in six full-time employees losing their jobs, including on-air host Marty Lamarre and Montreal sales boss Tim Thompson.
Another office in Cornwall, Ont., will remain to serve its other border-crossing stations, WSNN (B99.3) in Potsdam, N.Y., and WICY, which has a transmitter at 103.5 in Akwesasne.
“I’d like to thank our listeners, the many hundreds of thousands of them and our valued advertising clients for their support today and over the years,” Martz says. “Last week I met with the entire staff as a group and individually to share my thoughts. I want to thank our wonderful staff — Tim, Marty, Joel, Rene, Warren and Alexandra — for their many years of hard work, dedication and friendship.”
I’ve reached out to EMF and will update if I hear back.
The community radio station in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake north of Montreal can breathe a bit easier knowing that it can’t be de facto threatened off the air if someone sets up a new radio station.
The increase in power won’t do much for the station’s signal — it will still be almost impossible to catch outside Kanesatake and parts of Oka. But by increasing power to 51 watts, the station’s transmitter changes its class, from low power to Class A1.
Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s previously approved signal (red and brown) and its new approved signal (blue and green)
The change is significant because low-power stations, by policy, do not operate on protected frequencies. So if someone gets a new licence to operate on a frequency that causes interference to or is caused interference from the low-power station, that station has to change frequency.
That scenario almost came to light in 2018 when an application was filed for a new station in Lachute at 101.7 FM. It would have forced CKHQ to find a new frequency, but with it being so close to Montreal, there aren’t other frequencies available.
Brendan Kelly (a colleague at the Montreal Gazette) will get to sleep in on Wednesdays. His weekly Taste Test column, in which he introduces Daybreak listeners to new music, has been cancelled after many years, effective immediately.
Neither Kelly nor CBC Montreal offered any comment on this news when I asked about it, and neither would confirm nor deny it explicitly.
UPDATE: After this post was published, Kelly confirmed the news on Twitter:
I can confirm that I was told earlier this week my Taste Test column on CBC Radio's Daybreak has been cut. They say they'll get their music elsewhere. I've been doing this for years and years so I'd just like to thank all the faithful listeners who tuned in and texted in.
And former Daybreak host Mike Finnerty had some kind words for his former colleague:
OMG when I started on @cbcdaybreak, I'll be honest, I did not know a lot about music. I never told @brendanshowbiz this(he must have known), but I would swot up for his Taste Tests and music columns. I needed to keep my head above water. The standard was high. Absolute highlight:
CJAD 800 saw a third straight gain, and remains top-rated in the Montreal English-language market, but the overall trend remains downward as fewer people listen to radio.
The Beat 92.5 tied for its worst performance in average minute audience in the past five years, and lost ground against Virgin, but still has almost twice the audience of Virgin among anglophones.
CHOM 97.7 has been remarkably consistent over the past few years, retaining its audience as other stations lost theirs. We’ll see in the coming months whether the loss of Terry DiMonte will have an impact overall.
Virgin 95.9 is still fighting it out with CBC Radio One for market share. You have to wonder how long Bell will let that go on before something dramatic happens. (Replacing its morning team clearly didn’t work.)
The Canadiens’ good fortunes once again had a positive impact on TSN 690. (Six of the seven playoff games against the Leafs are included here.) In total average minute audience (anglo and franco combined) it had its best book since 2018.
98.5fm remains top-rated among francophones, and once again claims to be the most listened-to station in Canada. As the francophone rights holder for Canadiens games, the team’s performance had to help a bit.
ICI Radio-Canada Première remains mostly stable, though lost some ground against 98.5
91.9 Sports continues to slowly build its audience but remains well below what it was in 2019. With the Canadiens playing late into the spring and maybe early summer, this station’s acquisition of rights to Montreal’s MLS team hasn’t captured peoples’ imagination.
Rythme FM remains top-rated among francophone music stations, and appears to have slowed a long-term decline and held up against Rouge, CKOI and others.
Rouge and CKOI had their lowest audience in at least five years, but continue to fight for second place with Énergie, which has remained pretty stable.
Virgin 95.9 continues to do slightly better than The Beat 92.5 among francophones
WKND 99.5 is still building its audience, but more slowly, and is still below what Radio Classique was in 2017 when it last subscribed to Numeris ratings.
The overall audience for all measured stations is still low compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
Both Radio-Canada and CHOI saw a significant jump in share. Other stations went up or down a few points, but the biggest change was at Énergie, which dropped its talk format last summer and went back to rock to join the rest of the network. That decision was devastating to its ratings as it went from a 6.0% share to a 1.7% share in a year, losing that audience to CHOI and FM93.
Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:
KYK FM 95.7: 26.5%
Rouge 96.9: 22.2%
ICI Radio-Canada Première 93.7: 12.6%
Énergie 94.5: 11.8%
CKAJ-FM 92.5: 10.1%
ICI Musique 100.9: 5.2%
In Saguenay, KYK climbed above Rouge to take the #1 spot among all audiences 12+. Community station CKAJ signed up for Numeris ratings, and found itself with a 10% share. ICI Musique saw its share almost double from 2.8% last year.
Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:
ICI Radio-Canada Première: 19.1%
Énergie 106.1: 16.5%
Rouge FM 102.7: 16.4%
ICI Musique: 5.9%
In Sherbrooke, ICI Première took top spot over both Bell stations Énergie and Rouge, which are statistically tied. Meanwhile Rythme FM Estrie saw its share drop by almost half.
Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:
Rythme 100,1: 14.2%
ICI Première: 13.5%
Rouge 94,7: 12.6%
Énergie 102,3: 12.3%
ICI Musique: 8.2%
CKBN 90,5: 7.2%
In Trois-Rivières, less than two points separate the top four stations a year after Rouge led handily. Both Radio-Canada stations picked up a couple of points.
Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:
ICI Première: 21.7%
Rouge 94,9: 14.4%
WOW 97,1: 7.1%
Énergie 104,1: 6.9%
ICI Musique: 5.5%
106.1 CHEZ: 3.3%
Move 100.3: 3.0%
Hot 89.9: 2.5%
Pure Country 94: 2.5%
Lite 98.5: 2.0%
Boom 99.7: 1.7%
CBC Radio One: 1.7%
CBC Music: 1.6%
Kiss 105.3: 1.5%
Pop 96.5: 1.2%
Jump! 106.9: 1.2%
Among francophones in the national capital, the public broadcaster is back on top by a wide margin, followed by Bell’s Rouge, Cogeco’s talk station 104,7 and RNC Media’s Wow 97.1. RNC’s other station, Pop 96.5, remains in the chaff with the English-language music stations and below even CBC Radio One among francophones. Its 1,750-watt signal limits its upward mobility.
Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:
CBC Radio One: 23.1%
Move 100.3: 7.6%
Hot 89.9: 7.5%
CFRA 580: 7.1%
CBC Music: 5.6%
Boom 99.7: 5.3%
106.1 CHEZ: 5.2%
Live 88.5: 3.7%
Pure Country 94: 3.6%
TSN 1200: 3.5%
CityNews 1310/101.1: 3.2%*
Kiss 105.3: 3.1%
Lite 98.5: 3.1%
Jump! 106.9: 1.9%
Rebel 101.7: 1.6%
Country 92.3: 1.3%
ICI Musique: 1.0%
No surprise that CBC does best by a lot in Ottawa. CFRA slipped a couple of spots from last year, and Bell’s killing of the Majic 100 brand doesn’t seem to have hurt the station now called Move. Boom had a good book, going from 4.0% to 5.3% share, but otherwise most of the music stations stayed within a point of where they normally land in this very crowded market.
Meanwhile, Rogers’ shuffle is not a ratings winner so far. It went from a 9.1 share overall to a 7.6 share. CityNews gained one share point with its new FM simulcast, but the country station went from 3.5 points at 101.1 to 1.3 points on the much lower power 92.3, whose Smiths Falls signal doesn’t get into the city as well.
*The original version of this post had a typo in CityNews’s AM frequency.
Unless you’ve been in a coma, you’re aware that Friday was Terry DiMonte’s last day at CHOM. There are several news stories about it, so instead of writing yet another summary I’ll just point you to the coverage:
It’s quite the tribute that all three French-language dailies wrote stories about DiMonte’s departure. You don’t normally see such news cross the language divide. But DiMonte also made it a point to acknowledge and honour the city’s bilingual nature, even choosing a song by Harmonium as his final song.
I compiled a playlist of songs that aired during his final show here:
If you didn’t listen, CHOM has compiled clips of the final show, which was filled with guests including Ted Bird, Patti Lorange and Justin Trudeau, plus his regular columnists. Here are the links to those segments:
It’s still unclear what the future is for both DiMonte and CHOM. DiMonte launched his new website on Friday, which talks about a “next chapter” in the fall. And though he plans to disappear from social media and take the summer off with his wife, it seems pretty clear he plans to remain active afterward. His website teases an interview video series, which is something he’s tried before.
As for CHOM, Pete Marier will be stepping into the big chair at least temporarily as of Monday. He would definitely be a leading candidate to take the job permanently, but there are various options available.
Bell Media took another step toward putting its 109 radio stations into neat little brand packages this week with the announcement of a new brand: Bounce, which has been applied to 25 of those stations, including all the EZ Rock stations in B.C., the Bob FM stations in Winnipeg and elsewhere, and 102.9 K-Lite in Hamilton. (The full list of stations is below.)
The format bills itself as favourites from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, with an apparent focus on more pop and rock songs, with artists like Aerosmith, The Tragically Hip, Bon Jovi, INXS, Elton John, Michael Jackson and Oasis. It seems to be a way to bring the adult contemporary focus of EZ Rock, the nostalgia of Bob and the harder rock formats of 100.9 Big Dog or 105.3 The Fox into the same family.
This move makes Bounce the largest of the Bell Media brands by number of stations, though most of them are in smaller markets. It also, along with previously announced Move and Pure Country brands, reduces to just a handful the number of Bell stations that haven’t been tied to a national brand.
I learned of this through a CRTC application filed by CKRT’s owner Télé Inter-Rives, which also owns a Noovo affiliate and two TVA affiliates serving eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick. The group wants to redirect the funding CKRT receives from the Independent Local News Fund to the Noovo station, which would see its local news obligations increase as a result.
If the CRTC approves the application (it approved a similar one for CKRN), it would mean not that much changes. There would still be local TV news in Rivière-du-Loup, and most people would still be served by Radio-Canada’s station in Rimouski, whose Téléjournal Est-du-Québec covers the region.
There would be a loss of service over the air, though. CKRT has two transmitters in Rivière-du-Loup (the second covers some holes in the downtown signal), and five others in Baie-St-Paul, Dégelis, Cabano, St-Urbain and Trois-Pistoles. All were upgraded to digital by Télé Inter-Rives, though they had no obligation to do so outside of Rivière-du-Loup.
CBC/Radio-Canada decided in 2012 it was no longer interested in operating over-the-air transmitters except for originating local stations. And that policy move is part of the reason for dropping this affiliation. Spokesperson Marc Pichette told me that the industry has shifted to a place where “over-the-air television is no longer considered an adequate and efficient means to offer our content to Canadians.”
UPDATE: Télé Inter-Rives has applied to the CRTC to repurpose two of CKRT’s transmitters serving Rivière-du-Loup for its other stations. Under the plan, CFTF-DT (Noovo) would take over Channel 7 on Mont Bleu, the primary signal of CKRT, and shut down CFTF’s main Channel 29 transmitter. CIMT-DT (TVA), meanwhile, would take over CKRT retransmitter on Channel 13 in the city proper and shut down its transmitter on Channel 41. These applications are open for comment until July 28.
A long list of former affiliates
A lot of TV stations have previously been affiliates of CBC or Radio-Canada. One by one those affiliations dropped. Some were by the request of the station, which decided to switch to a private network (especially after they became owned by the same company as that network), while others were dropped by the public broadcaster because it no longer made sense to them.
Here are those who lost their affiliations since 2005:
CKX-TV Brandon, Man. — Shut down in 2009 after CTV decided it no longer wanted to pay to keep it open, and CBC refused to buy it for $1, then two other companies — Shaw and Bluepoint Investment Corp. — both decided to buy it and then reneged on the deal.
CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C., and CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. — Were bought by Bell Media in 2013 as part of the Astral acquisition and dropped their CBC affiliations in 2016 to switch to CTV Two.
CFJC-TV Kamloops, B.C., CHAT-TV Medicine Hat, Alta., and CKPG-TV Prince George, B.C. — Owned by Pattison Media, they dropped their CBC affiliations and switched to Canwest’s E! network. When that network went bust in 2009, they switched again to Citytv.
CHBC-DT Kelowna and CHCA-TV Red Deer — Dropped CBC affiliation in 2005 to switch to Canwest’s CH network, later E!. When that went down in 2009, CHBC was the only station to be switched to Global — it’s now known as Global Okanagan. CHCA was shut down.
CKWS-TV Kingston, CHEX-TV Peterborough and CHEX-TV-2 Oshawa, Ont. — Owned by Corus before it bought Global from Shaw, they switched to CTV affiliation in 2015 then became Global stations in 2018.*
CKSA-DT Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. — Owned by Newcap and since bought by Stingray, it lost its CBC affiliation in 2016. It switched to become a Global affiliate, as its sister station in the same city is already a CTV affiliate.
CKPR-DT Thunder Bay, Ont. — This Dougall Media station ended its CBC affiliation in 2014 and became a CTV affiliate. Its sister station CHFD-DT was a former CTV affiliate that switched to Global in 2010 after it couldn’t reach a renewal deal with CTV.
CKTV-TV Saguenay, CKSH-TV Sherbrooke and CKTM-TV Trois-Rivières — Owned by Cogeco, they were sold to CBC/Radio-Canada in 2008 and became Radio-Canada stations. These were the last TV stations ever purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada.
CKRN-DT Rouyn-Noranda — Owned by RNC Media, shut down when Radio-Canada ended its affiliation deal in 2018.
CKRT-DT Rivière-du-Loup — Owned by Télé Inter-Rives, set to shut down Aug. 31, 2021.
3 stations purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada
2 stations becoming CTV Two stations (owned by Bell Media)
4 stations becoming Global stations (owned by Corus)
3 stations becoming Citytv affiliates (owned by Pattison Media)
2 stations becoming CTV affiliates (owned by Stingray and Dougall Media)
For the first time since it launched in 2014, Evanov’s radio station in Hudson/St-Lazare west of Montreal has gone through a rebrand.
Starting Monday at midnight, Jewel 106.7 (CHSV-FM) is Lite 106.7 Hudson’s Lite Favourites (its first song under the new format, for the record, was Baby Baby by Amy Grant). The change coincides with an identical one at The Jewel in Ottawa, which also becomes Lite 98.5, kicking off with Lionel Richie’s All Night Long.
The midnight brand switch was a bit anticlimactic, with just the new station ID:
Recorded by Gary Gamble, Director of Operations for Evanov Communications, the announcement said that after reviewing comments from listeners who wanted “a vibrant radio station in touch with today, playing the best music from timeless artists past and present” (I’m sure they phrased it like that, too), it was rebranding “to build on the success of Jewel 106.7 and maintain our lite sound.”
Two other Jewel stations in eastern Ontario, CKHK-FM 107.7 in Hawkesbury and CHRC-FM 92.5 in Clarence-Rockland, switched to Hot Country at 9am after the morning show. (Their social media pages have already changed, leading to some comments from confused fans.)
It sounded like this:
The announcement on the Clarence-Rockland station noted that people who still wanted to listen to the Jewel-style light pop can still tune in to the Ottawa station on 98.5. Steven Lee Olsen’s Hello Country kicked off the new brand.
As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca, there are minimal changes to staffing as a result of this rebranding. All four stations keep their morning teams, including Ted Bird and Tom Whelan at Jewel 106.7. The biggest programming change is that the country stations will bring in nationally syndicated Casey Clark at midday and Bobby Bones in the evening.
I spoke with Ted Silver, Evanov’s program director for the four stations, about the change, and he explained that for Jewel/Lite, it was a matter of “following the curve” so the stations can better target the core audience of adults 45-54. “The audience we were appealing to 10 years ago is 10 years older,” he said, and have aged out of the demographic that can be sold to advertisers effectively.
Silver, a former PD at Montreal’s Q92, says Lite should be similar to what people listened to at Q92 before it became The Beat. Jewel listeners won’t feel alienated, it’s more of an evolution than a drastic change. But there will be less focus on the 70s and more on the 80s, because it wants to attract people who were in high school in the 80s.
Jewel’s remaining stations in Toronto, Brantford and Meaford will keep that brand, which is more entrenched in southern Ontario, Silver said. Evanov also has a Jewel station in Halifax, but the CRTC just approved its sale (along with its Hot Country sister station) to Acadia Broadcasting.
The Hudson station doesn’t subscribe to Numeris ratings, but does get some data from a company called StatsRadio. It estimates the station’s audience at 140,000 listeners, “not bad for a little suburban radio station,” Silver said. (That number is probably exaggerated — Jewel 98.5’s weekly reach in Ottawa as measured by Numeris was less than half that.)
Late last year, I was asked by my editor at Cartt.ca to write a feature story about branding in commercial radio, to be tied to the CRTC’s review of its commercial radio policy. That story ended up turning into a 10-part series for the website called The Future of Radio, in which I talk to some radio industry executives about how and where things are going.
Here are links to the individual stories (for Cartt.ca subscribers), and below are some point-form comments about the things I learned through this project:
By design, I’ve spoken to people high up at larger national and regional broadcasters, and these stories reflect their views, but those are far from the only voices that deserve to be heard about radio. As the CRTC process continues (replies are due this week), we’ll hear more from groups that are critical of the big players.
Some of the things I heard from several radio executives during our talks:
Radio brands are boring for a reason. They often include the frequency and the format, or some generic branding like Kiss or Move or The Beat. You need listeners to be able to remember your brand when they fill out radio surveys by Numeris (which is how it’s done in all but the five largest markets).
Creating common brands allows for synergy. But it’s not always about common programming. It’s also about saving money on things like imaging — those station ID jingles and promos. When you only have to design a logo or website once for multiple markets, you can save money but also invest more to get better quality and share those costs across multiple stations.
Expect more blending of syndication and local. For small-market stations, it just doesn’t make financial sense to have local announcers 24/7. In some, it doesn’t even make much sense to have a local morning show. So big broadcasters are taking a well-produced syndicated or national show and blending it with local news, traffic and weather. We’re also seeing popular morning shows from some markets being edited and repackaged to be used in other markets in the evenings.
Moving toward a Canadian radio star system. Both Bell and Corus have created national overnight talk shows for their talk stations, replacing syndicated U.S. programming like Coast to Coast, and other broadcasters are looking at doing their own thing instead of bringing in foreign shows. If they’re going to spend money anyway, they reason, why not spend it on some of their own talent, and give them a larger national audience?
The peak hour is getting later. It’s hard to say how much of this will be reversed when we fully emerge from the pandemic, but the peak hour for radio has shifted from about 7am to 8am as people who aren’t commuting don’t have to get up as early. We’re also seeing more listening throughout the day, instead of people abruptly dropping off once their car is in the office parking lot.
Radio will follow the platforms. Most broadcasters have kind of given up on trying to create their own digital ecosystems. Instead, they’ll adapt their content to whatever platform people are using. They’ve started up podcast networks, combined forces on the RadioPlayer app (with Bell as the notable exception), and signed up to work on smart speakers. They’re posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and whatever else will come next.
AM is not the future. It’s not dead yet, and AM stations still rate well in some markets, but the broadcasters aren’t betting on its future. There are no more AM stations in Quebec outside Montreal. Where bandwidth and regulations permit, stations have switched from AM to FM across the country. CBC is replacing low-power AM transmitters with FM ones. And the big players want to be able to move their AM stations to FM as well without having to give up their FM music stations. As a transition measure, HD Radio transmitters in large markets have allowed the big guys to simulcast AM on FM HD, but that’s not a long-term solution, because…
Neither is HD Radio. After the disaster that was Digital Audio Broadcasting in the 1990s and early 2000s, broadcasters are hesitant to adopt HD Radio, the technology principally used in the U.S. After a few years of experimentation, there isn’t much hope for its future, for the same reason as DAB failed: A lack of receivers. HD Radio still isn’t as common in cars as it should be, and receivers outside of cars are just about nonexistent. There’s potential for the technology for niche ethnic stations (and some ethnic broadcasters are using digital-only channels for single-language programming) but it’s nowhere close to mainstream. The fact that it’s confusing as well — to tune to CJAD 800 you have to go to 107.3 FM HD Channel 2? — doesn’t help. By the time this might get fixed up, or a new digital technology emerges, it will be easier to deliver audio programming over the internet. (Shout-out to radio broadcast manufacturer Nautel, though, which proposed a very unworkable national network of HD-only stations that would have channels in multiple languages.)
But maybe smart speakers. There was a noticeable uptick in smart speaker listening as people stayed home during the pandemic (and realized they don’t have other radio receivers at home). There was a big worry that as people went toward internet-based devices for their audio needs, they might choose things like Spotify over local radio. So there’s a big effort to ensure smart speakers tune to radio first.
Don’t expect a Canadian Spotify. I asked several of the executives, if they’re getting all this unfair competition from Spotify and Apple Music and the rest, why don’t they just launch competing platforms? The answer is they lack the scale to make it profitable. The technology wouldn’t be difficult to implement, but even with tariffs that the music industry has mocked as laughably low, Spotify and its peers struggle to make money, and there isn’t much hope a Bell or Rogers version would be more successful. Quebecor is trying with its QUB Musique app, and Stingray has several streaming music channels, but otherwise everyone is sticking with radio, even digital-only radio channels (which, because the user does not control the playlist, has a different tariff scheme).
The industry wants more consolidation. One issue brought up in filings to the commission is its limits on local ownership — currently 3-4 stations depending on market size, and no more than two on any one band in any language. The CAB has proposed a new formula that would allow some broadcasters to own up to half the stations in a market. Bell wants to eliminate ownership limits completely. Allowing AM stations to move to FM is an excuse given, but others say radio needs to have fewer owners to be more competitive. (The change isn’t just supported by the big guys, but several smaller owners also agree with consolidation because it means more potential buyers for their stations, which increases their value.)
Paperwork is a big problem. Both large and small broadcasters spend a lot of human resources just meeting the CRTC’s reporting requirements. In some cases, they’re necessary, like providing annual financial statements or lists of songs they have broadcast. In other cases, they’re redundant or of limited use. Some broadcasters proposed ways of cutting the paperwork burden, but many told me they just wish the CRTC was itself more efficient, processed applications more quickly, and wasn’t such a bottleneck in plans to launch, acquire or change stations.
There were also plenty of things that weren’t surprising. Broadcasters want lower quotas (dropping CanCon to 25% of songs from 35%), interest groups want quotas maintained. Big broadcasters want fewer regulations for themselves and more for their foreign digital-only competitors.
And, despite everything, everyone believes that radio has a future. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be in the game.
Noémi Mercier hosts the first episode of Le Fil on March 29.
In the lead-up to its launch on March 29, Noovo (formerly V, formerly TQS) hyped that its new daily newscast called Le Fil would be, above all else, different.
Different in how it told stories (longer, more in-depth), different in what stories it would tell (younger, more diverse), and different in how it presented itself (two Black anchors, a more industrial-looking studio).
After two weeks of watching these programs, I can conclude that it’s definitely different. In some ways that are good, but in many ways the difference is a stark reminder of how few resources are being put into news-gathering at the network, even though its new owner Bell Media has extensive English-language resources across the country, francophone journalists at radio stations across Quebec, and lots of money.
Rather than being an alternative newscast to TVA and Radio-Canada, it might be more fair to say Le Fil isn’t even in the same league, and isn’t trying to be.
A recap of what led to this: TQS, founded in 1986, was the first television network to try to compete directly with the duopoly of Radio-Canada and TVA in Quebec. It was owned by the Pouliot family, who also owned CFCF (CTV Montreal) and CF Cable.
Its newscast, Le Grand Journal, promised to be different, but looking back seems very generic — an anchor in a studio, tight two-minute packaged news reports with reporter voiceover, and weather and sports.
TQS would eventually be bought by Quebecor, but then sold because Quebecor bought Videotron, which owned TVA. Cogeco and what was then Bell Globemedia bought TQS in 2002 (with Cogeco as the controlling owner) and injected money into its news operation, but by 2007 Cogeco gave up and pushed the network into bankruptcy.
It was bought by Maxime Rémillard, a film producer and distributor, who disbanded the entire news operation and renamed the network V. Rémillard convinced the CRTC to drastically reduce the network’s local and news programming requirements in order to keep it alive, and tried various cost-effective ways of doing the bare minimum of news programming, with forgettable newscasts like Les Infos and NVL that were outsourced to other companies.
Rémillard’s massacre of the news operation was heavily criticized, but it worked. V stopped bleeding money and managed to survive.
In 2019, Rémillard agreed to sell V’s five stations (Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay) to Bell Media for $20 million, and Bell promised to bring back newscasts to get the CRTC to approve the purchase. The CRTC approved the deal last year and brought in higher local programming requirements, with each station needing to broadcast five hours a week of local programming and two and half hours a week of “locally reflective” programming. Next year, the local programming requirements for Montreal and Quebec City go up to 8.5 hours a week.
Bell must also spend 5% of V’s revenues on local news. In 2019-2020, V brought in $35.7 million, which was about half of its expenses. This would mean about $1.8 million a year minimum on news.
Enter Le Fil.
Le Fil is a series of newscasts:
Le Fil 17h: An hour-long newscast at 5pm weekdays, hosted by Noémi Mercier, a long-time journalist who had been seen mainly on Télé-Québec before joining Noovo.
Le Fil 17h30: Though billed as a separate newscast, it’s more of a regional cutaway for Noovo’s owned-and-operated non-Montreal stations (Quebec City, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke). About 15 minutes total not including a commercial break, each region’s newscast is anchored out of Quebec City by Lisa-Marie Blais, who comes from LCN but was part of TQS in the last days of Le Grand Journal. For Montreal viewers, Mercier continues to anchor with more local segments during this time. After the regional cutaways, the regions come back to Mercier who does a signoff opinion/analysis monologue.
Le Fil 22h: The 10pm half-hour newscast is hosted by Michel Bherer, who spent 13 years at Radio-Canada but also worked at TQS back in the day. It consists mainly of a selection of stories that were presented at 5pm. Regional cutaways, also hosted by Blais, begin at 10:10pm. (They’re not posted online, so I haven’t seen their content.)
Le Fil Week-end: Two hour-long shows that strangely air at 9am on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and mostly repeat stories from the week, sometimes with fresh introductions. The shows include an original feature interview near the end. They’re hosted by Meeker Guerrier, who previously worked at Radio-Canada and since last fall has been a regular columnist on Bell Media radio stations and RDS.
For all of them, the structure is pretty simple: five-minute blocks, either packaged reports, often introduced by the journalist, or perhaps an in-studio chat with a journalist or a columnist.
Contributors include big names like La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert and freelancers like fact-checker Camille Lopez and U.S. politics watcher Valérie Beaudoin.
The biggest difference between this newscast and a mainstream one is how it tells stories. Rather than a standard two-minute heavily narrated package including B-roll of people walking and ending with a reporter standup, these packages are about five minutes long, adopting a slower pace, and let their subjects do a lot of the talking. Almost like a mini documentary. Many packages include music, to further accentuate that feel. The reporters are also present, but more casual and engaging in how they talk to the camera.
There are “live” chats between the anchor and the reporter, either in studio, or via double box, and I notice the reporters tend to be introduced by first name only.
The rough edges can be seen in the reports, which often show technical issues that I have difficulty just dismissing as first-week flubs or COVID-19 compromises. Subjects in interviews often don’t have a microphone on them, leading to poor-quality audio. This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if they hired both reporters and experienced camera operators who would be more concerned with those technical aspects. Many reports are done entirely by the reporters alone.
The other big difference Noovo highlights in its approach to this newscast is diversity — not only of its staff, where two of four anchors are Black, but of the story subjects. They spend more time talking about issues facing young people, racialized communities, Indigenous communities. I don’t know if they’re necessarily covering these issues better than their well-funded competitors, but that’s where they’ve decided to put their focus.
Being a brand new operation, most of their journalists are pretty young, and so much of this focus on different types of stories may come naturally.
Look and feel
Michel Bherer next to the window in the Montreal studio.
Reporter Audrey Ruel-Manseau on the side of the anchor desk in Montreal.
Lisa-Marie Blais at the Quebec City studio.
Lisa-Marie Blais and Alexane Drolet in Quebec City.
I suppose Bell Media was trying to get away from the standard TV studio look with its design for the studios in Montreal and Quebec City. It’s very industrial, like you might expect for a tech startup or something. White-painted brick, exposed metal conduits, a light wood desk, coloured lights, vertical screens. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they were going for something new and cool, but it comes out to me looking a lot like moderate-budget community TV.
The graphics are better. Bold white text on dark blue backgrounds for the most part. Overlays are squarish on the side rather than going along the bottom.
No weather or sports
Despite being built by the same company that runs CTV News, there’s very little of the usual building blocks of a newscast. There’s no weather report, no sports highlights (Bherer briefly gives out the final score at the end of the night when the Canadiens play), no market numbers, no entertainment news, no stories from foreign news services, and no ambulance-chasing fire and car crash briefs.
Bell owns RDS (in fact, the two broadcast out of the same building), so it would not have been difficult to incorporate a sports component, so it seems this was done intentionally. And honestly, it would have been odd to shoe-horn something like sports highlights into this show.
News briefs are often presented on screen with no visuals or only a faded still image to accompany them — literally the text of the brief is presented as a graphic as the anchor reads it. They’ve gotten a bit better at this as the days went on, with some briefs presenting visuals now, but it’s an odd thing to see so much text in a newscast.
One thing I have seen a lot of, though, is vox pops. For a newscast that promises to do things differently, adopting one of the news media’s laziest, most useless forms of journalism — asking random uninformed people on the street what they think of some topic — would be a head-scratcher if we didn’t already know why it’s done. It’s an easy crutch for an uninspired assignment editor.
They’re not in every newscast, but in less than three weeks I’ve seen a handful of them.
Recycling the news
The most glaring way Le Fil saves money is through reusing its content. The 10pm newscast is largely stuff that aired earlier in the day. The weekend newscast is mostly stuff that aired earlier in the week.
Even the regional cutaways involve a lot of reuse. The 15 minutes mean they have three stories. But for most of the regions, the third story is common, regardless of what region it comes from.
So for the Mauricie, Saguenay and Estrie regions, we’re talking about 10 minutes per weekday of actual original local news. Less than an hour a week.
Since Bell has not deemed those three regions worthy enough to even have their own anchors or studios, it’s probably unsurprising that even their local news isn’t that local.
Will anyone watch?
The first broadcasts of Le Fil got just over 100,000 viewers, according to Richard Therrien of Le Soleil. That’s relatively decent, but also a lot of curiosity factor. Later broadcasts got smaller ratings.
Working against Noovo is the schedule — if you want news at 5pm, you can watch TVA. If you want news at 10pm, you can watch either TVA or Radio-Canada. And if you want news at 9am on weekends … well, I guess you have that now, assuming you don’t have LCN or RDI on cable?
I would have liked them to, say, push the late newscast to 11pm and offer some counter-programming in the 10pm hour. Or try to do something more with the weekend news than an hour-long in-case-you-missed-it.
A new Noovo Info website is promised to launch later, which will give a better idea of the digital facet of this operation. By then, Bell will probably have found a way to integrate its journalists at Rouge and Énergie radio stations throughout Quebec into the system, and maybe even found some synergies with CTV and CTV Montreal in particular.
So with some aspects still marked incomplete, and taking into account the usual early-day bugs that will work themselves out as everyone gets more familiar with the daily routine, I would rate Noovo Le Fil as … OK.
Noovo doesn’t have the same news resources as Radio-Canada and TVA, which both have all-news channels and close relationships with other journalists on different platforms (Radio-Canada has digital and radio journalists, while Quebecor has the Journal de Montréal, 24 Heures and other platforms for journalism). But Bell has deep pockets, so if it wanted to, it could create a new competitor on that same level.
As a news operation, it’s definitely better than what it replaced. As a newscast on TV, it’s also better, though probably not better enough to become a real threat to the duopoly of Radio-Canada and TVA. (And we’ll see if, down the line, Noovo’s desire to be different will hold or if it will slowly morph into a similar kind of generic TV newscast that its competitors have settled into over the decades.)
Some of its longer-form documentary-style reports might have some success on digital platforms, I suppose, but it’s really unclear what target audience they’re trying to reach here. Le Fil doesn’t have the flash of TVA nor the reporting depth of Radio-Canada, and despite their promise to be more diverse and reflective, I don’t see that many people who don’t normally watch the news flocking to this show.
Which leaves us with the distinct impression that, despite all the hype, Le Fil exists not because Bell wants to shake up the marketplace when it comes to local news on TV, but simply because the CRTC required Noovo produce local news, and this is what they came up with to fill that minimum requirement.
I hope I’m wrong there.
Noovo Le Fil airs at 5pm and 10pm weekdays and 9am Saturdays and Sundays on Noovo.
There are days you think Canada’s media and telecom industries are about as converged as they can be. And then another megatransaction gets announced that you think couldn’t possibly be approved by the government. And then it is.
Transactions like Bell buying Astral Media, Bell buying MTS, Rogers buying Mobilicity, Postmedia buying Sun Media, and all the other transactions that brought us to this point.
So the news that Shaw has agreed to a $26-billion sale to Rogers maybe shouldn’t come as quite a shock. But as the government professes to be pro-consumer, particularly when it comes to wireless services, can we really expect this deal to be approved?
Here are the stumbling blocks the companies will have to get over:
Freedom Mobile. In Ontario, Alberta and B.C., Freedom is the fourth large wireless carrier, the last surviving one from that era of increased competition after Mobilicity and Public Mobile were scooped up by the big three. Rogers, which is already Canada’s largest mobile provider, apparently believes it can just keep Freedom as part of the deal, with nothing more than a promise that it won’t raise prices for three years. If the federal government is to be taken seriously on wireless competition, it can’t possibly let that stand. It could force Rogers to sell Freedom to some other party (Quebecor? Xplornet? Cogeco? Some random rich guy?), or it could come to some agreement where Rogers sheds just enough Freedom customers to another party, like Bell did when it bought MTS.
Corus. Shaw and Corus are separate companies, with separate boards of directors and different shareholders, but both are controlled by the Shaw family. The CRTC treats them as if they’re the same for competition reasons. The issue here is that, as part of the transaction, the Shaw family gets two seats on the Rogers board. That doesn’t give them control of Rogers, but does it present enough of a competition concern to warrant increased scrutiny?
Cable and satellite. Because Shaw and Rogers have essentially split the country geographically, with Shaw serving western Canada and Rogers serving eastern Canada, there’s not much overlap in terms of wired coverage to deal with. But these are still big companies. Shaw has 1.4 million cable TV subscribers and more than 600,000 satellite TV subscribers, making almost $4 billion in annual revenue on TV services alone. Add that to Rogers’s 1.5 million TV subscribers and $3.5 billion revenue, and you get a company 30% larger than Bell on that front. That’s a change in dynamic in bargaining position when, say, negotiating carriage contracts with TV services. There’s also the fact that if Rogers buys Shaw’s satellite service, that’s one less TV service option for subscribers in Rogers territory. They go from having to choose between Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Shaw Direct to having to choose between Rogers and Bell alone.
Sheer size. Rogers has $15 billion in annual revenue. Shaw has $5 billion. Combined, they still fall short of Bell’s $24 billion, but not by much. No doubt Rogers will use the need to compete against Bell as an argument for approving the transaction, because the only way to fight ownership consolidation is more ownership consolidation.
Jobs. Rogers has promised to create 3,000 “net new jobs” in western Canada as part of the deal. But it also says “synergies are expected to exceed $1 billion annually within two years of closing.” I’m curious what synergies can be achieved without cutting any jobs.
Mobile service seems like the only potential dealbreaker here, unless there are some minor assets that compete directly that would also need to be divested. Rogers would probably be fine ditching Freedom if that was a condition of approval.
Will political and regulatory forces accept such a deal? We’ll have to see. Recent experience suggests they probably will, and companies don’t go through this kind of trouble if they don’t think a deal can succeed. (At least that’s what I’d like to say, but Rogers’ proposed purchase of Cogeco fell flat, so…)
24 Heures’s first edition as a weekly, from Feb. 11, 2021.
24 Heures, Quebecor’s free daily newspaper distributed in Montreal, has undergone a metamorphosis, one that makes it look a bit more like the next reincarnation of Ici than it does the 24 Heures of old.
This month, it launched a “new platform” at 24heures.ca (no more being just a subsection of the Journal de Montréal website), where it promises to “get to the roots of issues you care about, in addition to covering daily news, and inspired by solutions journalism,” according to a message posted on that website.
The website is now broken down into categories:
En bref, which has news
Panorama, which has content about “social movements, innovation, digital culture, sexuality” … so lifestyle content
Urgence climat, which is devoted to climate change, and is its own section so you know they take it seriously like the youth of today
Porte-monnaie, which has content on money, personal finance and entrepreneurship
Lifestyle … so more lifestyle content
Pop, which will have “viral content”
The website has some wire content, from Agence France-Presse, Agence QMI and Quebecor’s other websites like Silo 57, but most of it so far is from 24 Heures’s own writers. And while some of it is viral-content-churnalism, there are some real stories in there as well.
The print edition has the more major transformation. It now runs weekly, on Thursdays, and it has a new design and new logo. It’s also thicker — the first two editions are 32 pages each.
But it’s the content that’s most different. The issues are themed — Black History Month for Feb. 11, sex and social media for Feb. 18. You’ll see less hard news and more feature stories and columns, and those columns are new, younger and more diverse faces.
It’ll be interesting to see how long they keep this up. A newspaper is going to put its best foot forward for a launch like this, but a year or two down the line will we see more repurposed Journal de Montréal content?
This isn’t Quebecor’s first youth-focused free weekly newspaper. In 2009, it shut down Ici, its answer to free alt-weekly Voir. That was followed by the shutdowns of Montreal’s other alt-weeklies: Hour, Mirror, and finally last June, the remnants of Voir.
The new reality of the commuter freesheet
24 Heures’s move comes after competitor Métro changed its schedule last fall. After taking almost the full month of August off, it returned on a twice-weekly schedule, publishing Wednesdays and Fridays.
Both newspapers were hit hard by the pandemic, not just because of the dramatic reduction in advertising, which is their only source of revenue, but because fewer people are taking public transit and sanitary rules prevent them from having their human distributors at rush hours handing out the paper to passersby.
Métro and 24 Heures are the last remaining free dai… uhh, right they’re not daily anymore. But anyway, they’re the last of its kind in Canada. The 24 Hours chain was a victim of the 2017 Postmedia-Torstar paper swap, while the last Metro newspapers were shut down by Torstar in 2019.
Commercial AM radio stations in Canada generally don’t have requirements for local programming. As we saw with the (coincidental) format changes for TSN stations in other markets this week, you can run whatever you want on AM. Requirements for FM stations are a bit more strict — you have to have at least 42 hours a week of local programming (a third of regulated hours) to be able to solicit local advertising on a station.
But TSN 690 (CKGM) had special conditions of licence imposed in 2013 as part of a deal that allowed Bell to own four English-language stations in Montreal after it purchased Astral Media (which at the time owned CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio). Bell had originally proposed to turn TSN into a French-language station to get around that problem, but after seeing the public outrage that caused, they asked for an exemption to the policy during their second try. Bell promised to keep TSN as a sports radio station, and agreed to a CRTC request for a local programming quota roughly equal to what they were broadcasting at the time.
“The station’s condition of licence relating to local programming was an important factor in the approval of an exception to the common ownership policy,” the decision reads. “By authorizing at this time the requested amendment to this condition of licence, which was imposed in 2013 to mitigate the impact of the exception to the common ownership policy, the Commission would substantially reduce the mitigation measure put in place to justify such an exception. Therefore, the Commission is of the view that reducing CKGM’s local programming requirement is not appropriate.”
In its application, Bell had argued the quota caused problems during weeks when the Canadiens weren’t playing. They said this came to a head during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, when it couldn’t broadcast every game because it would have violated the quota. Instead, the station ran some rerun programming in the evening.
That argument didn’t sway the commission. While it acknowledged that the quota would “bring challenges to CKGM” during certain times of the year, “the station can broadcast 30 hours of non-local programming per broadcast week out of a possible total of 126 hours. The Commission considers that this level allows for a significant amount of non-local content and provides sufficient flexibility for the station’s programming offering.”
The 30 hours a week comes out to about four and a half hours a day, more than enough to have a non-local game every night, a couple of NFL games on the weekend and a Blue Jays game or two.
The decision is not directly related to the cuts at other TSN stations this week — this application was originally filed in 2019 and published in November.
The CRTC did agree to another licence amendment proposed by TSN — eliminating the need for additional $245,000 in Canadian content contributions from 2013 to 2020. The commission determined that the money had been paid and the licence condition was no longer necessary.
On the heels of recent cuts to its programming, CJAD is reducing its local schedule by an hour a day and merging the shows of afternoon hosts Natasha Hall and Aaron Rand as of next Monday.
The announcement was made at the beginning of Hall’s show on Wednesday. The two, who have known each other for years going back to when Hall did traffic for Rand’s morning show on Q92, will co-host a show from 2 to 6pm weekdays. The new show, whose name hasn’t been announced but will be something like “Montreal Now with Aaron Rand and Natasha Hall”, replaces Hall’s 2-4pm show and Rand’s 4-7pm show.
Hall said Robyn Flynn, currently the producer of Rand’s show, will produce the new show, while Brian Kowlessar, currently with Hall’s show, will stay as technical producer.
The final hour, from 6-7pm, will be a rebroadcast of CTV News Montreal at 6. That follows similar moves from Toronto’s CFRB and Ottawa’s CFRA, which already rebroadcast local CTV newscasts at 6pm. CJAD already rebroadcasts CTV’s national newscast at 11pm and the local 11:30pm CTV newscast.
Meanwhile, morning host Andrew Carter announced Wednesday he would be joining the Live at Five show, from 5am to 5:30am, with Trudie Mason and James Foster.
The end result of these changes will be reducing CJAD’s local original programming down to 11 hours on weekdays, from 5am to 6pm and excluding the Evan Solomon Show from noon to 2pm. That’s much less than it used to be, when CJAD had local programming until 11pm or midnight.
There’s no word of staff cuts as a result of this change, though it may save some money down the road by, for example, not needing to bring in replacements during vacations. A memo from Bell Media on Tuesday said its organizational changes were complete, so there shouldn’t be other major staff cuts in the near future.