This week, the CRTC published a decision officially confirming that Rogers Media Inc. has surrendered the broadcasting licence of CIWW 1310 AM in Ottawa, the city’s oldest radio station.
The letter from Rogers requesting the revocation of its licence is dated Oct. 26, the same day the company announced the shutdown of CityNews Ottawa, which at the time was being simulcast on both CIWW 1310 and CJET-FM 101.1 in nearby Smiths Falls.
While normally these letters are short and to the point, Rogers took the opportunity to lay out the reasonings for its decision, and complaining that the CRTC’s processes played a major role in it.
Saying the radio broadcasting industry is “subject to stringent and outdated regulations that offer little to no flexibility for allowing broadcasters to pivot and adjust accordingly to their new competitive reality,” Rogers explained that the issue was with its decision in 2020 to simulcast programming on both AM and FM stations without prior CRTC approval.
While the CRTC doesn’t regulate content or formats on radio stations generally, the regulations require approval before an FM station can switch to or from a specialty format, and spoken word programming, when it represents more than 50% of programming on a station, is considered a specialty format. (This rule does not apply to AM stations like CIWW.)
Before it became a CityNews station, 101.1 was a country music station (as CKBY-FM), so it would have needed approval to switch to a talk format.
What’s more, the CRTC also requires approval before a transmitter can be converted from a station to a retransmitter of another station.
“Rogers received a request for information from the Commission in February 2023 regarding the simulcast of the news/talk programming originating from CIWW on CJET-FM (101.1). In subsequent correspondence between the Commission and Rogers, Commission staff shared its view that both stations were in apparent non- compliance with the Radio Regulations, 1986 (Regulations),” Rogers writes in its letter.
Rogers says it “did not believe that its stations were in non-compliance” (it doesn’t explain why it felt this way), but it filed an application to change the licence of CJET-FM 101.1 to allow the simulcast, at least until the current licence expires in 2026.
Unfortunately for Rogers, the CRTC announced on Aug. 22 a two-year moratorium on new applications related to radio, “unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated that would justify, with supporting evidence when filing the request, the need to process them.”
“After several rounds of correspondence and performance evaluation analyses of both CJET-FM and CIWW,” Rogers writes, it chose to withdraw the application the next day. “The risk of non-compliance and the operational burden of the Commission’s review of the stations’ performance and financial situation coupled with the continued decline in revenues since the launch of the simulcast led us to make this decision much earlier than we were planning and were contemplating in our Application.”
“Unfortunately, the regulatory framework did not provide us with the tools to experiment and innovate without facing an untenable level of scrutiny and evaluation that we can ill afford given the competitive environment in which we are operating,” the letter continues. “For these reasons, we urge the Commission to prioritize the review of the Regulations impacting AM radio including the provisions related to simulcasting and the operation of a specialty format. These rules must be relaxed to ensure a viable path forward for AM news content on the FM band, which represents the only way to maintain audiences to local terrestrial radio and support our ability to deliver local news.”
In urging the CRTC to review its rules on AM radio, Rogers said “we remain concerned that, without a modernized and flexible approach, the future of other AM stations is at risk.”
Rogers owns eight other AM radio stations in Canada:
- CFTR CityNews 680 in Toronto
- CKGL CityNews 570 in Kitchener, Ont.
- CFFR CityNews 660 in Calgary
- CKWX CityNews 1130 in Vancouver
- CJCL Sportsnet 590 in Toronto
- CFAC Sportsnet 960 in Calgary
- CISL Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver
- CKAT 600 Country in North Bay, Ont.
I understand Rogers’ frustration with the CRTC’s rules, and in particular the commission’s baffling decision to just not do its job in terms of radio for a couple of years, but Rogers also must have been aware of the rules. And the implication that this is a simple bureaucratic matter holding up progress is not how I would describe it. Rogers took a radio station off the air for this to happen, and decided it should have the same content on two frequencies in a market that doesn’t have a lot of spare radio spectrum. Maybe that’s what’s best for the market, but it should at least have required approval.
Unfortunately, with everything going on, the result is the shutdown of another news radio station in Canada, and one more AM signal in the country going dark.
If you have a good idea for a radio station, a 50kW signal on 1310 AM in Ottawa is now available. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait two years before you can apply for it.
More call letter switching fun
Rogers also confirmed in its letter it is once again switching call letters for its FM stations in Smiths Falls. CKBY-FM, which belonged to Country 101 and was then switched to the Country 92.3 station, will go back to Country 101, while CJET-FM, which was Jack FM on 92.3 and then CityNews 101.1, is going back to 92.3. Rogers told the CRTC it would adopt a country music format separate from 101.1, but on Nov. 1 it switched to “Santa Radio Canada“, which has a very Jack-like branding to it, suggesting a move back to Jack FM might be in the cards in the new year.