I put together a short guide for Monday’s Montreal Gazette about how to follow election results on TV, radio and online tonight. Here are the plans from each broadcaster in more detail:
In August, as RNC Media announced the sale of 10 of its 15 radio stations in Quebec to Cogeco, the chair of its board said the remaining stations were “not on the market.”
Four months later, two of those stations — the most prominent, arguably — have been sold.
CHOI Radio X, the most famous of the Quebec City populist talk radio stations, as well as Montreal’s 91.9 Sports, are being sold to Leclerc Communication, for a price that hasn’t been disclosed.
If both transactions — which require CRTC approval — go through, RNC Media would be left with three stations that don’t form much of a network anymore:
- CHXX-FM (Pop 100.9) in Donnacona (serving Quebec City, repeater at 105.5 Lotbinière)
- CFTX-FM (Pop 96.5) In Gatineau (repeater at 107.5 Buckingham)
- CHLX-FM (Wow 97.1) in Gatineau
You would have to think those are also for sale for the right bidder.
The Leclerc transaction would face a major hurdle at the CRTC: Its common ownership policy says a single owner can have no more than two radio stations in the same market in the same language on the same band. Leclerc already owns WKND 91,9 (CJEC-FM) and BLVD 102,1 (CFEL-FM), so adding Radio X would put them over this limit. RNC’s press release says an exception will be requested.
Exceptions have been made (notably for Cogeco to allow it to own Rythme FM, CKOI and 98.5 in Montreal), but a strong case — and some serious commitments — would have to be made to get the CRTC to accept. Cogeco committed to establishing a news network across its stations to be able to keep 98.5.
And it’s not like CHOI has demonstrated a great deal of respect for the broadcasting system lately. There will also be concerns that BLVD, which got into the talk business with shows by Nathalie Normandeau and (until recently) André Arthur, would have the same owner as a direct competitor.
Ironically, Leclerc Communication was formed in 2012 and bought its two Quebec City stations out of required divestments from the Cogeco purchase of Corus’s Quebec stations. Corus at the time owned CFEL and CFOM-FM (M102.9) and Cogeco owned CJEC and CJMF-FM (FM93).
The CRTC is holding a hearing (as a formality — there won’t be any oral presentations) on Sept. 6 to consider the Cogeco-RNC deal. The CRTC request for the Leclerc purchase will be filed “in the coming weeks.”
CBC and Radio-Canada have radio transmitters across the country, but most of them don’t have original programming. So often the question has to be asked: which local station should they retransmit? In some cases it’s easy — just pick the closest one — but in others it’s more complicated.
In the Atikamekw communities of central Quebec — roughly halfway between Lac Saint-Jean and Val-d’Or — there isn’t a Radio-Canada Première originating station anywhere close. Between Saguenay, Rouyn-Noranda, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City, the distance is about the same.
But these stations aren’t serving francophone Québécois audiences, they’re serving First Nations communities. So it made sense that the station it would retransmit would be none of these. Instead, Wemotaci (Weymontachie), Manouane (Manawan) and Obedjiwan retransmit CBFG-FM in Chisasibi, a community along James Bay that is the base for stations in northern Quebec. That station mainly rebroadcasts CBF-FM Montreal, but broadcasts three one-hour shows a day in the Cree language, produced by CBC North.
A recent consultation with the Atikamekw communities showed that there’s little interest from their members in that programming. In an application to the CRTC, Radio-Canada says it’s because there is a negligible number of Cree-language speakers in those communities. Atikamekw (which is well spoken in the region) is considered a Cree language, but is a different dialect from the James Bay Cree spoken in Chisasibi.
A letter from Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw council, says only that the communities felt that the Mauricie station would be a more appropriate source of programming, without explaining why.
So the CRTC has approved the application (without a public comment period) and transferred the retransmitters to the Mauricie station CBF-FM-8 Trois-Rivières — between 200 and 315km away. The change reduces the network of CBFG-FM from ten stations to seven, the furthest south being Waswanipi, 135 kilometres northwest of Obedjiwan.
After 19 years on the air, and only months after a $220,000 upgrade to boost the power of its transmitter, community station CHOC-FM 104.9, which serves the MRC des Jardins de Napierville, announced on Friday that it is shutting down on Monday.
The station had exhausted both human and financial resources, leading to the decision, the announcement said.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. After about a decade of trying solutions including adding two retransmitters, the station had finally succeeded in getting a power boost that allowed it to be received through its licensed area. The boost, approved in 2016, allowed the station to increase its maximum power from 250W to 1,714W (though in reality the previous transmitter was putting out much less power than that because of technical issues).
The station also worked on the marketing side, organizing a “Tournée CHOC” in 2016 with 50 events over 50 weeks.
And it was also getting its regulatory affairs in order, after the CRTC called it to a hearing to deal with issues of licence compliance. It hired a new general manager, Serge Paquin (who spent 17 years at the Alliance des radios communautaires), to put its administrative affairs in order. In June, he appeared before the CRTC to try to reassure commissioners that the station was on the right track.
Though he didn’t give any hint that shutting down was a possibility, Paquin did foreshadow one of CHOC-FM’s major mistakes: a single-minded focus on dealing with its signal problems, saying it was their “absolute priority.”
Friday’s announcement called this project, which was finally completed in February, its “swan song” and said the many delays and costs associated with it had a major impact on its finances and pushed back other projects that could have helped financially, such as the launch of a radio bingo program and local ad sales.
The station told the CRTC it cost $220,000 to implement the transmitter upgrade.
And now, mere months later, that transmitter is being shut down.
Three permanent employees will lose their jobs as a result of this, including Paquin. The station had about 50 members, of which about half were considered active volunteers.
For at least the third time, the CRTC is about to make a call on whether Quebec City should be allowed to have an English-language commercial radio station.
An application by Evanov Radio subsidiary Dufferin Communications, which also owns stations running the Jewel format (including 106.7 in Hudson), plus CFMB 1280 and CHRF 980 in Montreal, prompted a request for comment by the commission in 2016 about whether a general call for applications should be issued. So far two applications (the other one for a French station) have been filed for the use of 105.7 MHz, considered one of the last available usable frequencies in the city.
On Wednesday, the CRTC issued another notice of consultation, effectively reopening the file. It never came to a decision in the case, ironically because of a lack of francophone commissioners. With recent appointments that problem has been solved.
This is Evanov’s second attempt to do this. In 2010, the CRTC denied a previous application by the company, ruling by majority vote that because the English-speaking population of Quebec is so small (1.1% speak it most often at home), “for all practical purposes there is virtually no advertising market in Québec for an English-language station” and “its service is almost entirely dependent on Québec’s French-language audience.”
In 2006, the CRTC similarly denied an application by Standard Radio (which at the time owned Mix 96, CHOM and CJAD, before it was bought by Astral Media the next year).
Why does it matter that an English station would attract a francophone audience? (After all, Montreal’s English-language music stations have larger francophone audiences than anglophone ones.)
The process to launch TTP Media’s talk radio stations in Montreal has taken so long that they’re now in the process of getting their licences renewed after the end of their initial seven-year term. And the publication of the application for the first of those stations suggests that the company may be moving away from its proposed news-talk format and toward health and wellness, which sounds like the kind of thing that has been tried on other AM stations in the market.
Numeris released its quarterly ratings for the Montreal market last week, covering the period of Feb. 26 to May 27. There isn’t much new among the anglophone or francophone markets in terms of market share, but the numbers give us another data point to look at some longer-term trends.
One day before the deadline set by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, the CRTC on Thursday released a report into the broadcasting system that proposes major, fundamental changes to how broadcasting is regulated in this country. (The condensed backgrounder is here.)
Unfortunately, that report is also quite vague, even on the parts that should be specific.
It’s not the CRTC’s fault, really, because that’s not really its purpose. The original order issued back in September by Joly is just as vague, seeking a report on “the distribution model or models of programming that are likely to exist in the future; how and through whom Canadians will access that programming; the extent to which these models will ensure a vibrant domestic market that is capable of supporting the continued creation, production and distribution of Canadian programming, in both official languages, including original entertainment and information programming.”
In terms of assessing programming distribution models, the report is pretty clear, but is also repeating a lot of stuff we already know: conventional television and radio are mature industries and have no way to go but down, online audio and video streaming services are catching on with the population, and Internet delivery of content means more Canadians are getting that content directly from foreign sources who don’t have to contribute to Canadian content or answer to the CRTC.
What’s new is what the commission proposes to do about it, but that’s where the data and charts go out the window and we’re left with vague, obvious suggestions and what often sounds like one unnamed person’s opinion.
But let’s go through them and look at the issues in a bit more detail:
Late nights on CJAD will never be the same. After more than 10 years hosting the late-night Comedy Show, Joey Elias has stepped away from the microphone.
On Friday, Elias promised a big announcement. And it was big: that show would be his last. The 11pm hour weekdays has been replaced by a simulcast of CTV National News and CTV Montreal’s 11:30pm local news. It’s unclear if this is a temporary or permanent thing. CJAD Program Director Chris Bury did not respond to a request for comment.
Though rumours quickly spread that Elias was cut as a cost-saving measure, especially as it came around the same time as other Bell Media cuts. But Elias says it was his call.
“After receiving offers — plural — to stay on, it was I that chose to opt out,” Elias tells me. “It was an incredibly tough choice to make, and I want to stress this: Management treated me with the utmost respect. I made my choice because I realized that right now at this very point in my life, I have neglected my responsibilities as a son, sibling, family member and friend — so (I) felt start now before it’s too late.”
He says he’s in good health and could be back some day. “The door for a return has been kept open and I hope to do so one day.”
Meanwhile, CJAD has also lost the Chris Robinson Travel Show, which aired on Saturdays. A Facebook post by the show says it’s on “sabbatical” and will be off the air for “a while”.
There’s a scene that plays out at the beginning of the second episode of Mic Drop, a new podcast by CBC Montreal. A young girl named Ava takes us through her skin care process to deal with acne. She uses a face cleanser, a moisturizer, and some oil product as part of a multi-step daily routine to try to cut down on the number of pimples on her face. The scene is edited together with thoughts from her about what it’s like having pimples, how people around her react to her, and how it makes her feel.
Ava is 11.
There’s nothing newsworthy about this segment, and it’s about one of the most normal of topics, but it’s surprisingly insightful. And a reminder to us olds that while we may have vague memories of what teenage life is like, we don’t really know that life, especially now.
Mic Drop, which runs for seven episodes, is filled with these kinds of stories, told directly by kids 11-17, without a host or narrator. The topics vary, from the mundane annoyances of acne to the very real issues of drug use and domestic violence, and plenty of stuff in between.
Interested by this format and the content of the podcast, I sat down with creator Shari Okeke last week to ask her about how it came together.
It shouldn’t come as big a surprise as some are making it, but ICI Radio-Canada Première is the top-rated station in Quebec City, both in terms of listening market share (above) and total listeners in the central market, according to data released by Numeris on Thursday.
Three talk radio stations — RadCan, Cogeco’s FM93 and RNC Media’s CHOI Radio X — have been battling for top spot for the past few years, and FM93 has come out on top recently. But in this ratings period (measured Feb. 26 to April 22), it suddenly drops to third. RadCan, meanwhile, climbs to first while CHOI remains mostly stable.
Among the music stations, another sudden shift means Leclerc Communications’ WKND jumps to top spot ahead of Bell’s Rouge FM, which seems to be in a long, slow decline. The remaining stations’ shares are mostly the same as they have been. (Note that, as in Montreal, Radio Classique stopped reporting Numeris ratings after last spring.)
Montreal’s Haitian radio station, and the AM country station it bought after its previous owner had extensive licence compliance issues, are trying the patience of the CRTC. But the commission is giving each of them another chance to get their administration in order.
On Friday, the commission renewed each of their licences for two years, with requirements that they broadcast messages on air acknowledging their non-compliance, and with three mandatory court orders each requiring them to be in compliance with their licence conditions.
“The Commission is concerned with the licensee’s ability and commitment to operate the station in a compliant manner,” it wrote in each of the decisions.
CJWI 1410 (CPAM Radio Union) was found in non-compliance with licence conditions related to:
- Timely filing of annual financial reports
- Timely response to CRTC requests for audio recordings and information
- Keeping and producing proper records of music played on air (one request for information was never answered)
- Timely filing of proof of financial contributions to Canadian content development
- On-air announcements about previous non-compliance (the broadcasts did not use the exact wording laid out by the CRTC)
This is the third consecutive licence term in which CJWI has been in non-compliance. In other words, the station has never fully complied with its licence conditions since it launched in 2002. In 2008, the commission found the 2007 annual return was filed late and gave a four-year licence renewal. In 2015, the commission found once again annual returns were filed late (four years’ worth were filed simultaneously, and the fifth three months later), as well as proof of Canadian content contributions. It imposed a $2,500 de facto fine and broadcast of shame messages noting their non-compliance.
The excuses given by CPAM for the failure to comply are also getting repetitive, usually blaming some nameless employee or accountant for not knowing the rules. (Though the excuse that records were destroyed in a firebombing is a pretty good one.) Its promise that someone will take charge of ensuring paperwork is filed rings hollow in light of its repeated failures.
CJMS 1040 was found in non-compliance with conditions of licence related to:
- Timely filing of annual reports (one year’s was never filed)
- Responses to requests for information (a request was never answered despite several reminders)
- Production of audio recordings on demand (a request was not fulfilled)
The latter to contradict mandatory orders issued by the CRTC in 2014. Failure to comply with such an order could result in a contempt of court proceeding. But here the commission seems content to simply issue new mandatory orders that may or may not be followed.
This is the fifth consecutive licence term that CJMS has been found in non-compliance, but the first under this owner. Like CJWI, CJMS has never fully complied with its licence. CJMS’s licence had already seen short-term renewals since its launch in 1999:
- In 2006, for two years (French-language music, logger tapes, annual returns, Canadian content contributions)
- In 2008, for two years (Canadian content development, annual returns)
- In 2010, for four years (Canadian content development, music lists, newscasts)
- In 2014, for three years (Canadian content development, annual returns, logger tapes, program logs, requests for information)
Both licence renewal decisions make clear that the commission is losing patience, and that a further failure to meet licence conditions could result in the stations losing their licences entirely.
In the meantime, mandatory orders have been issued requiring each station provide:
- Program logs and audio recordings on request of the CRTC
- Reponses to requests for information from the CRTC
- Full annual returns by the deadline
I’m pessimistic that either station will be fully in compliance two years from now. But hopefully they’ll be close enough that the commission decides to give them yet another chance.
RNC Media is vastly decreasing its role as a major radio broadcaster, and has agreed to sell 10 of its 15 radio stations to competitor Cogeco for $18.5 million.
Affected stations are:
- Planète 104.5 in Alma
- Planète 93.5 in Chibougamau
- Planète 99.5 in Roberval
- Planète 100.3 in Dolbeau-Mistassini
- Radio X 95.7 in Saguenay (repeater at 96.3 Alma)
- Capitale Rock 104.3 in Val-d’Or
- Capitale Rock 102.1 in La Sarre (repeater at 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda)
- WOW 96.5 in Rouyn-Noranda (repeaters at 103.5 Val d’Or and 103.9 La Sarre)
- Pop 104.9 in Lachute
- Pop 102.1 in Hawkesbury
The sale leaves RNC Media with five stations in its three largest markets:
- CKLX-FM (91,9 Sports) in Montreal
- CHOI-FM (Radio X) in Quebec City
- CHXX-FM (Pop 100.9) in Donnacona (serving Quebec City, repeater at 105.5 Lotbinière)
- CFTX-FM (Pop 96.5) In Gatineau (repeater at 107.5 Buckingham)
- CHLX-FM (Wow 97.1) in Gatineau
Cogeco already has two French-language FM stations in Montreal and Quebec City, which means there was no point in Cogeco acquiring them. It has one station (CKOF-FM 104,7) in Gatineau. The acquired stations will be its first in the Saguenay and Abitibi regions.
RNC Media also owns TVA and V affiliates in Gatineau and Abitibi-Témiscamingue. It recently announced it was shutting down its Radio-Canada affiliate in Abitibi, CKRN. RNC said the Montreal, Quebec and Gatineau stations were “not on the market.”
The sale requires approval by the CRTC before it can proceed.
We should also expect some of these stations to join Cogeco’s network brands, particularly Rythme FM.
The government agency that runs the Olympic Stadium has been active the past few years in trying to modernize it. A new really expensive roof was approved by the Quebec government. The tower was renovated into offices for 1,300 employees of the Desjardins group.
But another plan, to open the roof of the tower as an observation deck, means having to remove several radio transmitters, and the Régie des installations olympiques has given at least one of them an eviction notice.
CHAA-FM 103,3, the community station serving the south shore of Montreal, broadcasts from the Olympic Stadium tower, with a signal directed toward Longueuil. In an application to the CRTC, it says it received a notice in 2016 that it must vacate the tower by Dec. 31, 2017. The RIO later offered a three-year lease because work to renovate the roof was delayed, but that lease contained an option to cut it short with 12 months notice.
On top of that, work currently taking place on the tower has interfered with proper operation of the transmitter, due to all the vibration and dust being created. The station, owned by Radio communautaire de la Rive-Sud inc., finally decided it had enough, and has applied to move the transmitter to the CBC/Radio-Canada tower on Mount Royal, which houses almost every commercial FM and TV transmitter in the market.
The application was published Monday by the CRTC, and is accepting comments until Feb. 19, a shortened comment period the commission agreed to so it could expedite the application process.
The new transmitter would be higher (284m vs 192m), and slightly more powerful, with a maximum ERP of 1700W instead of 1400W. But its signal pattern would be similar (slightly better toward Brossard and the west), and impacts on nearby stations on the same or adjacent frequencies would be minimal, its engineer asserts.
This move won’t be cheap, though. CHAA estimates a moving cost of $200,000 for new equipment on the new site, and says its rent will double. It’s seeking a loan to cover the costs.
The Mount Royal Antenna is the tallest in Montreal, and the home of transmitters for CBMT, CBFT, CFCF, CFTM and CFJP television transmitters (plus CJNT that broadcasts from a building next to the tower), and CBME, CISM, CKUT, CIRA, CKBE, CBM, CKMF, CBF, CJFM, CHOM, CHMP, CJPX, CBFX, CFGL and CITE FM transmitters, and will soon be joined by CKOI. As a result of its ideal position on top of the mountain, it’s also the most expensive place to put a transmitter, so some stations have used alternate sources, like a nearby Bell-owned tower on the other side of Remembrance Rd. But Olympic Stadium was another option.
Besides CHAA-FM, only one other broadcast transmitter remains on the stadium: CIBL-FM 101,5. And that station is in the middle of a major financial crisis. The last thing it needs is a forced transmitter relocation, even if it had been aware of it for some time.
Correction: This post originally said Télé-Québec’s CIVM-DT transmitter was operating from Mount Royal after moving from the Olympic Stadium. I don’t know where I got that from, but the Industry Canada database shows it still listed as transmitting from the Olympic Stadium tower.
At Cogeco’s annual general meeting recently, I managed to borrow Cogeco Media president Richard Lachance for a brief conversation about the company’s plans in radio. At an earlier meeting with Cogeco CEO Louis Audet, the focus was on the cable and telecom side, and the radio division didn’t come up until I asked at the very end if there was anything new there.
The truth is there isn’t. Cogeco hasn’t bought, sold or shut down a radio station in years, or even rebranded or reformatted. Its Rythme FM network has gained — and lost — some affiliates, but otherwise there has been little change in the past five years, following realignments that came from the Cogeco acquisition of Corus’s radio stations in Quebec.
There was discussion about Cogeco helping out community station CIBL, but here are a couple of other things I got out of him:
HD Radio: Cogeco’s FM transmitters are ready, or soon will be, to broadcast using HD Radio, a hybrid system that adds digital streams on top of the analog signal. Major broadcasters have been experimenting with it, mostly by simulcasting AM radio stations on FM HD (such as Bell is doing with CJAD and TSN 690 on their 107.3 signal). But Lachance was lukewarm on its appeal. Outside of cars, receivers are hard to come by, and demand isn’t that significant. And activating an HD signal has a negative effect on the power of the analog signal. Cogeco has experimented with an HD signal on CFGL-FM (Rythme FM 105.7), just rebroadcasting a digital version of the analog signal, but that’s no longer running.
If Cogeco followed the path of its competitors, it could rebroadcast its AM station (CKAC Circulation 730) on an FM HD transmitter like 98.5 or 105.7, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge rush to do even that.
CKOI: The days of Montreal’s most powerful radio transmitter are numbered. The 307,000-watt signal, grandfathered at that power when the federal government imposed a 100kW limit on FM stations in the 1960s, is being replaced by a new transmitter on the Mount Royal Antenna, that will be higher up but lower power (147kW) so its pattern doesn’t extend beyond its current one.
Lachance said the plan is to make the move this year, probably around June. After that, the existing transmitter and antenna on the CIBC building at Peel St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. downtown will likely be torn down. CKOI’s backup transmitter, and others for Cogeco stations and some Bell stations, is in Laval’s Auteuil district.
Most people won’t notice a change. But Cogeco believes the higher antenna will mean less interference from large buildings and the mountain itself.
Other Cogeco stations have applied for and gotten permission to increase to the maximum 100kW. The transmitter for CHMP 98.5 has already been increased. The Beat 92.5 (CKBE-FM) remains at 41kW and its upgrade, though approved, isn’t scheduled in the short term.