Tag Archives: Arsenal Media

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.

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.