Category Archives: Radio

Virgin 95.9 drops MC Mario after 30 years

Virgin Radio Montreal doesn’t have a lot of veterans, but while the weekday shows have gone through several shuffles over the years, one constant was the MC Mario show on Friday and Saturday nights.

Until now, that is. Mario posted on Instagram on Friday that, effective immediately, his show “will not air any longer on Virgin Radio Montreal” after an impressive 30 years.

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Cogeco Media/Arsenal Media radio station swap runs into CRTC policy issue

A proposed mutual sale of radio stations between Cogeco Media and Arsenal Media will have to get over a hurdle to get approved by the CRTC, and it depends a lot on how many people live in a small region between Saguenay and Alma.

First announced in May, the agreement sees Arsenal sell CILM-FM (O 98.3) in Saguenay to Cogeco, while Arsenal in turn buys all of Cogeco’s radio stations in the Abitibi region, namely Capitale Rock (CJGO-FM 102.1 La Sarre, CJGO-FM-1 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda and CHGO-FM 95.7 Val-d’Or) and WOW FM (CHOA-FM 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda, CHOA-FM-1 103.5 Amos and CHOA-FM-2 103.9 La Sarre). Arsenal will keep its other Saguenay station, CKGS-FM Hit Country 105.5.

On Tuesday, the CRTC published the applications related to the transfers of ownerships of these stations, and we have more details on the sales:

  • Arsenal pays $1.5 million to acquire CHOA-FM , CJGO-FM and CHGO-FM in Abitibi
  • Cogeco pays $600,000 to acquire CILM-FM in Saguenay
  • The Wow station will be rebranded Plaisir and Capitale Rock rebranded O to join Arsenal’s branded networks (Cogeco keeps the Wow brand)
  • Cogeco will rebrand the Saguenay station to Rythme FM and have it join that network as an owned-and-operated station (it used to be an affiliate), putting it back in the largest market that network was missing in Quebec
  • The transactions are separable — if the CRTC approves one but not the other, that transaction will still go through
  • RNC Media, which provided local news services for the Abitibi stations as part of the agreement when it sold them to Cogeco in 2018, will continue to provide them for Arsenal
  • Cogeco will add CILM-FM to its Cogeco Nouvelles network and add another journalist in the Saguenay region
  • Both organizations are proposing standard tangible benefits, with 3% of the value going to Fonds Radiostar, 1.5% to Musicaction, 1% to discretionary initiatives and 0.5% to the Community Radio Fund of Canada

For Arsenal, the deal should not pose much of an issue since it doesn’t have any assets in the Abitibi region.

But in Saguenay, it’s a different story. Cogeco owns one radio station in Saguenay, CKYK-FM (Kyk 95,7), but it also owns CFGT-FM (Planète 104,5) in Alma, 45 kilometres away near Lac-Saint-Jean.

According to the CRTC’s common ownership policy, one owner normally can’t have more than two stations in the same language on the same band in the same market. Cogeco argues that according to CRTC policy CILM-FM and CFGT-FM are not in the same market (Kyk has a more powerful transmitter and a retransmitter in Alma, so covers both).

The CRTC actually has a policy for cases like this, and it depends on how much overlap there is between stations, measured both by their markets and their signals.

Map of primary coverage areas of CKYK-FM (blue), CFGT-FM (green) and CILM-FM (red)

Under CRTC policy, if there’s more than a 15% overlap, then they are considered part of the same market, and if there’s less than a 5% overlap they aren’t. In between, it depends on where advertisers are from and what news the station broadcasts.

Cogeco’s coverage maps show that CILM-FM Chicoutimi does not cover Alma and CFGT-FM Alma does not cover Chicoutimi, bolstering its claim that they should not be considered to overlap.

Map shows overlap of coverage areas of CFGT-FM (green) and CILM-FM (red)

The two signals do overlap between the two cities, but it’s in a mostly rural area of St-Nazaire and St-Ambroise, with a population under 8,000.

In its application, Cogeco argues the overlap is less than 5% of the population of the primary contour of CILM-FM and about 13.6% of the population of the primary contour of CFGT-FM, and that less than 1% of ad sales from the Alma station come from this area.

The commission counters that Cogeco should have based the percentage on the size of the market (Alma) and not the size of the station’s signal. Using that calculation, the overlap is within that 5-15% grey zone. Cogeco notes in a response that less than 1% of CILM-FM’s ad sales are from Alma.

Setting aside the CRTC’s specific rules, common sense can make both cases in such an argument. On one hand, CFGT-FM clearly markets itself as an Alma station, while CILM-FM clearly targets Saguenay. On the other hand, the overlap in signals is not insignificant, CKYK-FM targets both markets, and plenty of people outside a station’s primary signal contour will still listen to it, especially in an area like Saguenay where there aren’t a plethora of neighbouring markets.

Viability at stake

There’s also the matter of the station’s future. CILM-FM is not a very profitable station (except just barely last year thanks to government pandemic subsidies), and never really has been. In fact, it was the one station owned by Corus in 2010 that wasn’t sold to Cogeco because Cogeco didn’t want it at the time. Corus was considering shutting the station down before a local group of investors stepped in. They eventually resold the station to Arsenal.

Arsenal makes it clear in the application that it would be “difficult” for CILM-FM to reach profitability under its control. The two say that Cogeco, with its bigger pockets and its synergies with other stations in the region, would have a better chance at making the station work.

Similar arguments were not made about the Abitibi stations being sold to Arsenal.

The CRTC will hold a pro forma hearing Dec. 6 to consider the applications. No presentations are planned, unless the commission is convinced of the need for them by the interventions submitted. The commission is accepting comments from the public until Nov. 4, which can be submitted here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

94.7 Hits FM goes dark

Following the sale of WYUL and its sister station WVNV to the Educational Media Foundation, 94.7 Hits FM went off the air at midnight last night.

The last day featured hit music interspersed with recorded messages from staff and the station’s program director thanking listeners and making it clear that it was the last day. The last hour featured a bunch of goodbye songs, culminating in Linkin Park’s In the End just before midnight.

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Terry and Ted start a podcast

About as predictable as … something really predictable … Terry DiMonte and Ted Bird are back together again. At least in the short term.

After a summer vacation following his departure from his position as CHOM’s morning man, Terry DiMonte launched a new podcast this month with his old friend Ted Bird, called Standing By. Its episodes, available on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Podcasts, feature the two radio veterans reminiscing about the old days, their health, how they met, random anecdotes. Episode 2 focuses on the Canadiens, and Episode 3 on their time at Mix 96 (mainly going up against Howard Stern).

The podcast already has sponsors, namely those with long-standing relationships to Terry and Ted, including Matelas Bonheur, Jaguar Land Rover Laval and Merson Automotive.

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Montreal radio ratings: A boost for CKOI, but not much new otherwise

Numeris released its quarterly PPM ratings last week, and I’m not completely sure how to headline this because there hasn’t been much change.

Here’s how it works out for English-language stations:

We see long-term declines continuing for CJAD and The Beat, the latter of which seems to have been hit hardest by the pandemic (probably because it’s long been a 9-to-5 at-work station), and we see that Virgin Radio remains not only behind CHOM among anglophones, but once again behind CBC Radio One as well.

TSN 690 had its best summer book in years, which may have something to do with the Canadiens playing in the Stanley Cup Final in July.

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Nikki Balch out at The Beat 92.5

Just as Montrealers are enjoying their Labour Day weekend and local media are preparing for the fall season, The Beat rebranded its morning show, erasing host Nikki Balch out of existence.

Nikki, who has been with the station since 2016, and had been at Virgin Radio a few years before that, hasn’t posted anything publicly, nor have her now-former colleagues that I could find.

The station has replaced her with Claudia Marques on the renamed “The Morning Show”. She moves to mornings after co-hosting the afternoon drive show. Mark Bergman and Stuntman Sam remain on the morning team, and Kim Kieran gets officially added to the brand.

The move comes just days after the on-air staff, including Balch, posed for a new set of photos.

Martz Communications sells 94.7 Hits FM, Wild Country 96.5 to religious educational broadcaster

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.

CKHQ-FM Kanesatake gets power increase, protected frequency

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.

On Monday, the CRTC approved an application from CKHQ-FM 101.7 to increase its power from 27 watts (max effective radiated power) to 51 watts.

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.

In the end, the CRTC rejected the application on its own merits, giving CKHQ another chance.

CKHQ has two years from the date of the decision to apply the new technical parameters. It must also deal with outstanding compliance issues, notably the installation of an emergency alerting system.

Reviving Kanesatake Radio is on Facebook.

CBC cancels Daybreak’s Taste Test music column

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:

Kelly later offered a goodbye as well in a long Twitter thread:

And former Daybreak host Mike Finnerty had some kind words for his former colleague:

Montreal/Quebec radio ratings: Minor fluctuations in a long-term decline overall

Numeris released top-line data for its spring ratings period last week. There isn’t much new (CJAD still leads among all listeners, The Beat is still the top-rated music station), but a few things of note:

  • 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.

Meanwhile, Numeris also released diary ratings recently, the first in a year after last fall’s report was cancelled due to pandemic complications.

Quebec City

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • ICI Radio-Canada Première 106,3: 22.8%
  • CHOI Radio X 98.1: 18.8%
  • FM93: 14.2%
  • WKND 91.9: 11.7%
  • M 102.9: 7.6%
  • Rouge 107,5: 5.7%
  • ICI Musique 95,3: 5.6%
  • blvd 102,1: 2.0%
  • Énergie 98,9: 1.7%
  • Vibe 100,9: 1.5%
  • CBC Radio One 104.7: 0.2%

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.

Saguenay

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.

Sherbrooke

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • ICI Radio-Canada Première: 19.1%
  • Énergie 106.1: 16.5%
  • Rouge FM 102.7: 16.4%
  • 107,7fm: 10.9%
  • Rythme: 7.1%
  • 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.

Trois-Rivières

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%
  • 106,9fm: 9.1%
  • 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.

Ottawa-Gatineau franco

Market share, central market 12+, spring 2021:

  • ICI Première: 21.7%
  • Rouge 94,9: 14.4%
  • 104,7fm: 9.7%
  • 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.

Ottawa-Gatineau anglo

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.

The Terry DiMonte playlist

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.

New Bounce brand continues Bell Media’s consolidation of music radio stations

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’ve written about brand consolidation recently, but this just further underscores how much cleaning up Bell in particular is doing with its brands, with 85 of its music stations now belonging to just 7 brands.

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Evanov rebrands Hudson Jewel station as Lite 106.7, skews playlist more toward 1980s

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:

A press release was issued overnight and a more formal announcement of the change happened just after the 8am news:

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.)

What radio executives say about the future of their industry

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:

The series

The sources

I spoke to several radio executives for about an hour each for this series, and each conversation was quite insightful. Thanks to them for agreeing to take part:

  • Troy Reeb, Executive Vice President Broadcast Networks, Corus Entertainment
  • Steve Jones, Senior Vice-President Radio, Stingray
  • Rod Schween, President, Jim Pattison Broadcast Group (since renamed Pattison Media)
  • Jon Pole, President, My Broadcasting Corp.
  • Julie Adam, Senior Vice-President of TV & Broadcast, Rogers Sports & Media
  • Kevin Desjardins, President, Canadian Association of Broadcasters

(I tried to get an executive at Bell Media to participate, but things have been a bit chaotic there lately.)

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.

The lessons

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.