CHOM announces new morning show with Jay Michaels, Chantal Desjardins and Sharon Hyland

After four years of Terry DiMonte holding the fort on the CHOM morning show alone (with help from producer Esteban Vargas), CHOM has decided to go back to having a team host the morning show, announcing Friday three permanent hosts for Mornings Rock starting Feb. 28.

Jay Michaels was until last week the host of the afternoon drive show on Toronto’s Newstalk 1010. He announced he was leaving for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Chantal Desjardins comes back to the CHOM morning show, where she was part of the team in 2010 and 2011 with Ted Bird, Pete Marier and later Rob Kemp during that non-Terry period. When DiMonte came back, she was replaced with Heather Backman. Since leaving CHOM, she’s worked as a presenter at Sportsnet, done some standup comedy and based on her social media has been a nearly full-time vacationer.

Sharon Hyland is a very familiar name to CHOM listeners, having recently celebrated 25 years as an on-air host at the station, most of which were spent on daytime or weekend shifts.

Three hosts is something CHOM hasn’t done for more than a decade, and it’s a bit surprising that they would try this again. The station has been bleeding audience over the past few years and its fall book wasn’t great, but it still remains ahead of sister station Virgin 95.9, which is in much more need of some sort of change.

Marier noted during the announcement that he will be trading shows with Hyland, hosting weekend mornings.

Vargas will remain with the station, starting a new role as digital content producer for not just CHOM but Bell’s other English-language radio stations in Montreal as well. That means he won’t be producing the morning show any more, I’m told.

TSN 690 fires Chris Nilan for refusing to get vaccinated

Chris Nilan revealed on Thursday he has been fired by TSN 690 owner Bell Media after he refused to follow through with a company-wide requirement to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

In a post on Twitter, Nilan said he was asked to get the vaccine “late last year” and on Tuesday was informed that his contract was being terminated. His name and face have been removed from TSN 690’s website.

Nilan says “after consultation with my doctor and based upon my medical conditions,” he decided against the vaccine and asked for a medical exemption, which was denied. Nilan did not specify what medical conditions he has that would prevent him from safely taking a vaccine.

New proposed country music radio station in Joliette could block VPR in Montreal

In 2014, Montreal-based fans of U.S. public radio got very concerned when they heard of an application from Concordia University’s student radio station CJLO for an FM retransmitter downtown on the same frequency as Vermont Public Radio.

WVPS 107.9, with a 48.8kW transmitter on top of Mount Mansfield, is the easiest way for Montrealers to listen to VPR (and the many NPR programs it carries). But since it’s an American station, its signal isn’t protected here, so a Canadian station could operate on the same frequency provided it doesn’t interfere with the U.S. station’s signal south of the border.

The CRTC denied CJLO’s application solely based on its own merits, finding there was not a compelling technical need for a new transmitter. Since then, VPR’s signal has continued unimpeded.

But with 107.9 being the last available frequency in greater Montreal, it was only a matter of time before someone tried again.

In December, the CRTC published a call for comments on the possibility of adding a new radio station in Joliette, about 50 kilometres north of Montreal.

Consistent with policy, the call comes after an application was filed seeking to create a new station. The application is by Arsenal Media, which announced in July it was seeking to build a new country music station in Joliette as a sister station to CJLM-FM (O103.5). The station would operate under Arsenal’s Hit Country brand, Quebec’s only multi-station francophone country music radio brand.

According to the CRTC’s call for comments, the station would operate at 107.9 MHz, with a maximum effective radiated power of 25,000 watts. While we don’t have details on how that signal is directed, it most likely would be strong enough to either cause interference to WVPS or wipe it out completely for people in greater Montreal, particularly the eastern parts. CJLM-FM can already be heard in eastern Montreal and the new country station would have a higher power output.

There are a few steps that would need to be taken before this happens, though. First, the CRTC will need to determine that the Joliette radio market can support a new commercial radio station. Comments from Arsenal, competing radio companies and the public will be taken into consideration by the CRTC in determining its decision.

If the CRTC agrees the market could accept another station, then, if other broadcasters express interest in setting up a radio station in Joliette, the commission will begin a competitive process to decide which one to grant a license to. (Other applicants can choose other frequencies if they want, but not many are technically feasible.)

If no other broadcasters express interest, then the CRTC would proceed with Arsenal’s application and judge it on its own merits.

The CRTC is accepting public comments on “the appropriateness of issuing a call for radio applications to serve Joliette” until Jan. 31. They can be filed online here.

Note that all information submitted becomes part of the public record. And this is a call for comments about whether to add a radio station in Joliette. Comments about how much you love NPR will fall on deaf ears because it’s not the CRTC’s job to protect American signals in Canada.

Radio ratings: CBC Radio One climbs to #3 in Montreal

Numeris has released its quarterly radio ratings report for metered markets including Montreal, and the new data show a surprising change in order for the city’s English-language radio stations, with CBC Radio One climbing above both CHOM and Virgin 95.9 in average minute audience for the first time.

Rather than being a reflection on the Bell-owned music stations (though both are down from their summer numbers), this seems to be a rather stunning jump among CBC’s audience, with its 14.8% market share its highest by far in at least the past decade, and more than double what it was just two years ago.

On the music side, once again The Beat 92.5 leads, growing its gap with its competitors though still well below what it was before the pandemic.

CJAD remains the market leader overall, but had its lowest average-minute audience since Numeris began releasing that statistic publicly in 2015. TSN 690 remains relatively stable, unlike the Canadiens’ season so far this year, and CBC Music once again brings up the rear.

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How the Rogers-Shaw deal would affect Global News

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission today begins a five-day hearing into the proposed purchase of Shaw Communications by Rogers. You can follow a live stream online and see the agenda here.

While there are a lot of competition-related concerns about this purchase, and particularly how it will remove a fourth wireless provider in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the CRTC’s concern in all this is somewhat narrow. Its permission isn’t needed for a wireless, internet or telephone provider to buy another. (The Competition Bureau and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada will undertake their own proceedings to evaluate those concerns, and their approval is also needed before the transaction can proceed.)

Instead, the CRTC’s permission is only required for the transfer of broadcasting assets. Shaw sold its television and radio assets to Corus in 2016, leaving the following:

  • Its licences for television distribution, including Shaw Cable the Shaw Direct satellite TV service
  • Its licences for community television channels tied to those cable distributors
  • Its licences for video on demand and pay-per-view services tied to those cable distributors (Rogers is not acquiring these as it has its own licences)
  • Its licence for a satellite broadcasting distribution relay service, which provides TV signals to other providers
  • Its stake in CPAC

Competition issues will be brought up in discussion of those points. For example, under this deal Rogers would get two thirds ownership of CPAC, giving it effective control (Videotron, Cogeco and Eastlink are also minority owners).

But an issue that hasn’t gotten much attention (besides from the Globe and Mail and a few others) is what this means for Global News.

You see, back in 2017 when the CRTC decided to screw over community television, it put in place a new subsidy system whereby large TV providers can redirect some of the money they would have spent on community television and instead send it to affiliated local TV stations to use for local news. Rogers could give some money to Citytv, Bell could give some money to CTV, Videotron could give some money to TVA, and Shaw could give some money to Corus. Though Shaw and Corus are separate companies, they are both ultimately controlled by the Shaw family, so for the CRTC’s purposes they’re related.

Once Rogers acquires Shaw, it will take the money that went to Corus for Global News and instead redirect it to Citytv stations.

According to CRTC filings, $8.8 million from Shaw Cable and $4.2 million from Shaw Direct were sent to Global for “locally reflective news programming” in 2019-20, for a total of about $12.9 million. That represents about 12 per cent of the $106 million Corus spent on local news in 2019-20.

That would mean significant cuts to Global News, unless Corus just decides to swallow the loss. Since Global as a whole is unprofitable, that seems unlikely.

It’s worth noting that while Corus has pointed this out in a submission, Corus is not on the agenda to appear at the CRTC hearing. Its owner is more interested in the profits from the sale than Corus’s concerns about local news.

The other fund

Now, because there are some private commercial television stations out there that aren’t owned by large cable companies, the CRTC set up a special fund to help them. The Independent Local News Fund is financed by a 0.3% tax on all licensed TV distributors, and is divided among independent TV stations based on the amount of local news they produce.

Because the Rogers-Shaw deal would orphan Global, it could then apply to the ILNF for funding for local news.

But the ILNF’s total budget is $21 million a year ($3 million of which comes from Shaw), so unless it would be willing to part with half its funding, either Global or the other independent stations (or most likely both) would have to lose a lot of money.

When the CRTC approved the purchase of V by Bell Media, V became ineligible for funding from the ILNF, and so its funding was redistributed among the remaining stations. But V only got about $3.2 million from the fund, so there’s a $10 million gap.

The CRTC set the 0.3% tax based on how television stations were owned at the time. A logical solution would be to increase that tax, but that would require a separate hearing, and either a cut to some other contribution line or an increase in costs to television providers that would then be passed on to customers.

Or Canadians could just accept that independent television gets stuck with a big budget cut because Canada’s second-largest communications company wanted to get bigger.

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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Conservative news-talk TV channel The News Forum seeks must-offer licence from CRTC

You may recall a year ago I wrote about The News Forum, a low-budget Canadian TV channel offered to Bell TV subscribers that broadcast news headlines and a lot of political talk with a clear conservative bent, even being hosted by former conservative politicians like Tony Clement, Danielle Smith and Tanya Granic Allen.

This month, the CRTC published an application by The News Forum for a national news broadcasting licence, similar to that held by CBC News Network and CTV News Channel.

Previously, The News Forum operated as a licence-exempt service, which allowed it to be on TV distribution systems without a licence provided it remain below 200,000 subscribers. With the application, it confirms it has passed that threshold, even though it is only distributed through Bell TV, Telus, SaskTel and Access Communications.

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Métro Média’s president explains its redesign and 100% local strategy

The first issue of the redesigned Métro, its first without the distinctive globe.

“Removing the globe was natural,” Métro Média President Andrew Mulé told me in a recent interview. “We’re no longer bringing the globe to Montreal, we’re bringing Montreal to Montrealers.”

It’s been several years that the newspaper has had no official link to Metro International, the Swedish publisher whose brand has been used on free commuter newspapers in large cities across the world since 1995. (Transcontinental took full ownership of it in 2012, before selling it to businessman Michael Raffoul in 2018.) So it was overdue for a design change.

But Métro went further than just changing its logo. Its entire raison d’être has changed. Mulé explains the changes himself in Métro, and shares some more insight with me below.

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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.