Tag Archives: CFQR

10 years after it was licensed, CFQR 600 has its first show

It was 12 years ago that the group that would become TTP Media first came on the scene.

It was a little less than 10 years ago that the group was given its second licence by the CRTC, for an English-language station at 600 AM that it promised would be a news-talk station to rival CJAD.

It was five years ago this month that CFQR 600 went on the air from its restored transmission site in Kahnawake (formerly used by Cogeco for 940 News and Info 690).

But finally, on June 13, 2022, the station CJAD’s critics have been waiting for is on the air. Sort of.

Late last week, Mike Cohen at the Suburban broke the news that the station would be launching its first program, a weekday morning show hosted by Jim Connell, on Monday. The station also promised a website at the same time, and one is now active at cfqr600.com. The station also has a Facebook page.

From what’s published so far, here’s what we know about CFQR 600 (no relation to the former CFQR-FM, which is now The Beat 92.5):

The morning show, called “Mornings Matter”, will run 6-9am weekdays.

The station’s programming will feature “regular news updates” and music from the 70s, 80s and 90s.

… That’s about it. Though an on-air teaser promises “much more in the weeks ahead.”

Connell’s involvement is not surprising. A former on-air star of 940 News (and the various ways it was rebranded until it was shut down in 2010), he was part of TTP Media’s presentation to the CRTC a decade ago about their plans for a station. When they took forever to get it off the ground, he took a job at Global Montreal helping it launch its morning show. He stayed for three years, and it’s been seven years since then, just to give you an idea how long this has taken.

CFQR’s website, while active, is pretty bare-bones, with a listen link and a contact form. The station has a phone number, 514-470-0600, and promises apps to listen on iOS and Android devices. An address listed on the website is the address of co-owner Nicholas Tétreault’s real estate office on Highway 520 in St-Laurent.

Partner Rajiv Pancholy tells me there aren’t elaborate plans for Day 1.

The first show

“This is Day 1 of a grand experiment,” Connell said as he began Monday’s show. He didn’t do much else in terms of introducing himself or the station, instead talking about what’s going on in the news.

The first newscast aired shortly after 6am, and included Connell talking about stories in the news (backyard pool drownings, gas prices, an exhibition on the French language, Dollar Cinema closing), plus traffic and weather. It lasted five minutes. No other voices were heard, and if CFQR plans on hiring any journalists to work with Connell, there was no evidence of them on Day 1.

About 15 minutes later, the first talk break, which focused mainly on sports headlines:

The newscasts are running every half hour, with a shorter break between them. Otherwise it’s music, mainly from the 1980s, with artists like Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper and Gloria Estefan.

It’s Day 1, so this is far from the final product. But if this is what people were hoping for as an alternative to CJAD, it’s not there yet, unless what they really wanted was a low-budget throwback hits music station.

Besides Connell’s show, there isn’t much content on the station yet. I haven’t heard a single ad, and newscasts during the rest of the day come from The Canadian Press.

TTP Media’s 600 and 940 stations go off the air

Damage to the transmitter caused by a wind storm caused TTP Media’s two Montreal radio stations to go off the air, and the need to order parts means it will be early in the new year before they’re transmitting again, co-owner Nicolas Tétrault tells me.

CFNV 940 AM and CFQR 600 AM have been on the air since 2016 and 2017, respectively, each taking five years to get on the air after getting their licences from the CRTC.

For nearly a decade, Montrealers unsatisfied with commercial talk radio stations have been eagerly anticipating what was promised. But that eagerness has faded as year after year brings no news about programming (except for a deal CFNV reached with the similarly-named CNV to provide mainly music programming).

Tétrault says talk programming is coming soon, and they are very proactive on setting it up. Talk programs on CFQR, the English station, could start as early as February, he told me.

Considering past promises of launching soon, it’s best not to hold your breath waiting for it.

UPDATE (Feb. 19): CFQR 600 AM is back on the air.

TTP Media seeks international investors for AM radio stations

Nicolas Tétrault appears in a video seeking investment in his company’s radio stations.

It’s been nine years since a pair of local businessmen came onto the scene and declared they wanted to change how commercial radio works in this city with an $81-million bid for Corus radio stations in Quebec that were being sold to Cogeco. Eight years since, with a third partner, they got a licence for a station on the clear channel of 940 AM. Seven years since they got a second licence for 600 AM. Three years since the first station went on the air. Two years since the second station joined it.

For all that time, we’ve been waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the Bell-Astral deal to conclude, in case they had to sell one of their stations (the transaction closed in 2013). Waiting for TTP Media to solve various technical problems with their transmission site. Waiting for them to build a studio and hire talent. Waiting for the launch of regular programming, that has been promised “soon” for three years.

As it stands, the French station, CFNV 940, has spoken word programming through an agreement with online radio station CNV. CFQR 600, the English station (no relation to the old CFQR-FM at 92.5), is still running an automated music playlist. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the owners.

But a few weeks ago, Nicolas Tétrault, one of the three partners, posted a video on LinkedIn apparently seeking foreign investment in the stations.

In the seven-minute video, Tétrault talks about the duopoly in commercial radio in Montreal, with Bell Media and Cogeco Media owning most of the market share here, how “extremely complicated” it is to enter the market when there is “no financing available for radio stations,” and how the company owns “millions of dollars of equipment” but has no debt.

“It is impossible to find financing in Quebec,” Tétrault said. “The banks, they don’t lend to media, private funds don’t lend, pensions … no funds are available.”

Tétrault’s invitation notes that foreign investors can own up to 30% of a broadcasting company, and he tags his post with the United States, United Kingdom, France, India, Israel and the Cayman Islands.

This is the first I’ve heard about TTP Media needing money. In its initial applications to the CRTC, the group said its partners were investing $4.5 million, added to a $21 million loan from James Edward Capital Corporation, to provide financing to launch the stations.

Two years ago, when I asked Rajiv Pancholy about finances, he reassured me that it wouldn’t be an issue because he has negotiated loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the past and “I have the credibility in Canada on Bay St. and Wall St.”

Tétrault might not have that kind of credibility though, since he just went through a personal bankruptcy. A judge discharged the bankruptcy trustee on Jan. 18.

Finally, it’s curious that Tétrault makes no mention of his other partner, Paul Tietolman, though he mentions Pancholy twice (using “partner” in the singular). Rumours abounded about a rift between Tietolman and his partners, which all three had denied. A change in ownership would require CRTC approval.

Neither Tétrault, Pancholy nor Tietolman responded to my requests for an interview.

TTP Media’s CRTC licences were renewed to 2023 for both the French and English stations.

TTP Media’s CFNV 940 plans to change format as it seeks licence renewal

CFNV 940 logo

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.

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A list of Montreal broadcasters cut from other stations that CFQR 600 could hire

One of the consequences of a new independent English-language commercial AM station taking half a decade to launch is that it’s been brought up so many times when people get laid off or otherwise cut from other radio and TV stations.

Favourite radio personality loses their show on CJAD or The Beat? That new AM station should hire them and we’ll listen to them there instead!

TTP Media has already indicated that their on-air personalities will include names familiar to Montreal audiences. And since there haven’t been any unexplained high-profile departures from the major stations in the past month, we can assume that some of these names will probably come from the list of those who have been removed from jobs elsewhere and haven’t found better ones elsewhere.

To give you an idea of how many people we’re talking about, I made a list of the on-air personalities who have been cut (laid off, fired, constructively dismissed or otherwise left) from commercial radio and television here in the past decade or so. Some have found part-time or fill-in work, some are working in a different industry (and may or may not be willing to come back) and some may have simply decided to retire.

I’ve excluded managers (Wayne Bews, Mark Dickie, Mary-Jo Barr) and other off-air people, people who have full-time broadcasting jobs elsewhere (AJ Reynolds, Ted Bird, Tasso, Al Gravelle, David Tyler), those who left jobs at campus and community stations (Java Jacobs, Lance Delisle), and the many young interns and temporary workers who simply ran out of contracts.

The list is almost certainly missing some names, so feel free to add others in the comments.

Here’s what I got off the top of my head, in alphabetical order:

  • Tanya Armstrong, cut from The Jewel
  • Heather Backman, cut from CHOM (currently filling in at The Beat)
  • Sarah Bartok, cut from The Beat (currently filling in at Toronto’s 93.5 The Move)
  • Claude Beaulieu, cut from CJAD
  • Paul Beauregard, cut from CHOM
  • Sol Boxenbaum, cut from CJAD
  • Tom Buddo, cut from Virgin Radio
  • Patrick Charles, cut from Virgin Radio
  • Sean Coleman, cut from CTV Montreal (currently part-time at TSN 690)
  • Jim Connell, cut from AM 940/Global Montreal (currently working with TTP Media)
  • Andre Corbeil, cut from CTV Montreal
  • Brandon Craddock, cut from CHOM
  • Richard Dagenais, cut from Global Montreal/MAtv
  • Mike Dall, cut from Virgin Radio
  • Suzanne Desautels, cut from CJAD
  • Chantal Desjardins, cut from CHOM, CJAD and Sportsnet
  • Alexandre Despatie, cut from City Montreal
  • Olga Gazdovic, cut from CJAD
  • Abe Hefter, cut from TSN 690 (currently at University of Hartford)
  • Kevin Holden, cut from CJAD
  • Peter Anthony Holder, cut from CJAD
  • Dave Kaufman, left CJAD (moved to UK but has since moved back and is filling in)
  • Patrick Lejtenyi, cut from CJAD
  • Laurie Macdonald, cut from CJAD (currently in real estate)
  • Ronny Mack (Ron Mackinnon), cut from CHOM
  • Pete Marier, cut from CHOM and Ottawa’s Boom 99.7
  • Barry Morgan, cut from CJAD
  • Ric Peterson, cut from CJAD
  • Claude Rajotte, cut from MusiquePlus (currently working as a DJ)
  • Jessica Rusnak, left TSN 690 (currently filling in at CBC)
  • Murray Sherriffs, cut from Virgin, The Beat and Ottawa’s Boom 99.7
  • PJ Stock, cut from Sportsnet
  • Randy Tieman, cut from CTV Montreal
  • Dennis Trudeau, cut from AM 940
  • Wilder Weir, cut from City Montreal
  • Brian Wilde, cut from CTV Montreal
  • Sharman Yarnell, cut from CJAD

CFQR 600 AM launches with hours to go before deadline


For the first time in decades, Montreal has a new full-power commercial English radio station on the air that isn’t replacing an existing one.

CFQR 600 AM, the English-language station owned by TTP Media, officially went on the air on Friday evening, the deadline the CRTC set in its final extension given to the station last fall.

Whether the station made the CRTC’s deadline hasn’t been confirmed. The station has not completed its testing phase, and is broadcasting a message asking people with reception issues to call them in. The authorization first granted in 2012 says the station must be “operational” to meet the deadline, and a licence will be issued “once the applicant has informed the Commission in writing that it is prepared to commence operations.”

But the commission probably won’t nitpick over a few days or weeks when we’ve been waiting almost five years for this station to launch on a frequency no one else has had any interest in for almost 20 years.

Like CFNV 940, CFQR is broadcasting an automated music playlist, with recorded messages promising regular programming “soon”.

Jim Connell.

The messages feature the voice of Jim Connell, the former 940 News host who appeared in front of the CRTC during TTP Media’s initial licence application in 2011 but took a job with Global Montreal while the group was getting its act together. This is a strong indication that he will be involved with the station when it launches regular programming.

The two messages, being broadcast at regular intervals, are below:

This is CFQR 600, a new English voice in Montreal. Soon, we will be offering the communities on and surrounding the island of Montreal a better blend of information and conversation on this heritage frequency. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates, and enjoy some of your favourite music as we continue building this new voice on Montreal’s airwaves.

You are listening to CFQR, a new English-language radio station serving the greater Montreal area, broadcasting at 600 kilohertz on the AM band. We are currently testing our signal and invite you to contact us toll-free at 1-833-600-1006 if you are experiencing interference because of our signal or if the signal is causing any other reception problems. Our regular programming will be starting soon. Stay tuned.

TTP Media partner Nicolas Tétrault tweeted some pictures from inside the transmission facility on Route 138 in Kahnawake, that houses the two stations.



At 10,000 watts daytime and 5,000 watts nighttime, CFQR’s signal isn’t as powerful as CFNV’s 50,000-watt clear-channel signal, but it should be good enough for Montreal and surrounding areas. The power and transmitting antennas are identical to the old CIQC, so the reception should be similar.

With the station on the air, the new focus should be programming. As I wrote previously, there are some deals in place with talent, and the group remains committed to talk programming.

As CFQR 600 AM begins on-air testing, TTP Media remains committed to launching talk stations in Montreal

UPDATE (June 30): The station says it has officially launched.

For the first time in 17 years, Montrealers are beginning to hear a local station at 600 on the AM dial.

TTP Media, which has been promising since 2010 to revolutionize the AM radio scene in Montreal, has been doing work at the Kahnawake transmitter site for the two AM talk radio stations it has licences to operate — CFNV 940 AM and CFQR 600 AM (no relation to Q92, which used that same callsign).

The work has resulted in CFNV going off the air, but also some sounds coming out at 600 AM. The CRTC’s last extension for that station, originally approved in 2012, gave the company until June 30, 2017, to launch, and made clear (for the second time) that this would be the final extension given them.

With nine days before that deadline, tones and music were first reported being heard at 600 AM last Wednesday.

Even if it does officially launch, the English-language talk station long promised to be a competitor to CJAD might not be what listeners expect at first. Both English and French stations have generic commercial AM licences, which gives them a lot of freedom when it comes to programming. CFNV has run an automated music playlist since it launched in November, just days before its last deadline.

My attempts to get TTP Media to explain the various delays in launching their stations have failed in the past few years, leaving only official correspondence with the CRTC as a source of information. But last week, TTP Media President Rajiv Pancholy agreed to an interview, and though he couldn’t answer every question about the group’s plans, he did clear up a lot of information. Here’s what he told me:

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The Beat is on – but is 92.5FM* any different?

New logo for CFQR "The Beat"

Commercial radio stations spend all sorts of money on focus groups, surveys, branding specialists, PR firms, promotions and consultants to find ways to connect with audiences, target demographics and maximize their ratings (and, hence, advertising revenue).

But as CFQR* general manager Mark Dickie tells it, The Beat owes much of its new brand’s success to random thoughts from Program Director Leo Da Estrela.

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Aaron Rand moves to CJAD afternoons

Aaron Rand's ID card from 30 years ago, unearthed by Rob Braide in May. (I've blurred out his social insurance number so you don't identity-theft him)

When your goal is to get a job as a radio host at a commercial English-language radio station in Montreal, your choices are rather limited.

Aaron Rand left CFQR (the Q) in May after more than 20 years when it became clear management wasn’t eager to renew their contract with him. At the time he wasn’t sure where he would go, but he knew he wanted to stay in Montreal, he wanted to stay in radio, he didn’t want to work at a station like K103 and he wanted to have some editorial freedom wherever he ended up. With the Cogeco door slammed pretty tight behind him, the only game left in town was Astral, and he was hoping for something at either CHOM or CJAD (the latter being the better choice because it would mean more talk time and less of being a DJ).

Now it seems Rand has gotten his wish. He won’t be reunited with his former partner Paul (Tasso) Zakaib, but he will have a show on a popular radio station. Rand announced on Facebook and The Gazette published an article about the same time, both saying he is taking the weekday afternoon slot at CJAD, 3 to 7 p.m., starting Sept. 6 (the day after Labour Day). Note that this puts him directly opposite Mitch Melnick on Team 990.

The CJAD timeslot Rand is taking over is currently held by Ric Peterson, and there’s a bit of musical chairs as people are shuffled into new slots. The details, according to The Gazette and other sources:

  • Ric Peterson moves to 12-3pm, the latter two hours of which will be with Rand’s former cohost Suzanne Desautels. This replaces Kim Fraser’s show and the first hour of Dan Laxer.
  • Kim Fraser moves to weekends, 1-4pm, which replaces Anne Lagacé Dowson on Saturdays and a few shows on Sundays.
  • Dan Laxer loses his weekday afternoons gig but keeps his Sunday trivia show from 9am-12pm. He writes on Facebook that “I won’t lie, I am disappointed, and I will miss weekday afternoons. Having my own radio show on CJAD has changed my life in so many ways, and opened so many doors. I’m hoping to nudge them open just a little bit wider and see where they lead.” But he says he isn’t leaving CJAD.
  • Barry Morgan gets a new show 7-10pm weekdays, bumping Dan Delmar. He’ll also contribute sports news to Rand’s show.
  • Dan Delmar writes on his blog that he’ll stay at CJAD as a daytime programming producer, and says the change is bittersweet, because he loses a show he’s worked very hard on, but at the same time he’s not “a radio guy” and will enjoy having more free time. He also writes that he’ll be hosting two weekly shows, details to come later.
  • Anne Lagacé Dowson, the former CBC radio host and one-time NDP candidate, loses her weekly gig. She still has a column in the new Hour magazine, and will be on the Tommy Schnurmacher show’s Gang of Four, plus other stuff, she tells The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein.
  • Legal Lounge with Christopher Dimakos, Ann Shatilla’s Hollywood Trend Report and the Dr. Schwarcz Show, which are on Sunday afternoons and being displaced by Kim Fraser, will find new homes on the schedule. “All those shows will remain part of our line-up”, says Brand Director Chris Bury. A final schedule is expected within a few days.

Rand’s Facebook fans are thrilled, and the positive reaction to his return to the airwaves easily drowns out those who are disappointed by Laxer, Delmar and Dowson losing their shows. (On the Radio in Montreal discussion group, moderator Sheldon Harvey is a bit skeptical, suggesting that people might not be sufficiently prepared for a switch from music to news/talk programming)

It’s disappointing that young talent has to suffer to bring back a star, but as many people in the industry have told me: That’s the business of radio.

UPDATE: Video of Rand’s interview with CJAD’s Andrew Carter is online.

Meanwhile, at Rand’s old home at 92.5, changes are afoot for the same day. Cat Spencer takes his job as Rand’s morning-show replacement, and the station is rebranding itself “The Beat”, less than two and a half years after rebranding itself from “Q92” to “92.5 the Q”. It’s unclear what kind of format change will come along with the rebranding, but there’s speculation that the station will try to be more like CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) in order to steal some of the No. 1 station’s audience and give Montrealers even less choice in music selection on the radio.

John Bartlett to be voice of Habs for Team 990

It’s probably a coincidence, but competing AM station Team 990 also has a Thursday announcement that was leaked to The Gazette. John Bartlett, formerly the announcer for the Toronto Marlies (the Leafs’ farm team) will join CKGM as play-by-play man for the Canadiens. The station won the rights to Canadiens games away from CJAD this summer.

Bell Media says colour analysts (they used the plural) will be announced in the coming weeks. The Gazette’s Hockeyinsideout.com has an interview with Bartlett, which appears in Thursday’s paper.

Nat Lauzon jumps to the Q

Nat Lauzon is too cool for weekdays

It won’t get the same attention as Terry DiMonte, but another veteran Montreal radio personality is on the move. Nat Lauzon, who has been at CJFM since 1999 (though it seems like forever) is moving to CFQR to take over a weekend gig there.

She’ll be doing the noon to 5 p.m. shift starting in October. She remains at Virgin Radio until then, where she does the weekday late morning show that is No. 1 in its timeslot with a 38% commercial market share, far ahead of its competitors.

So why leave a No. 1 weekday show at the No. 1 station to do a weekend shift?

Lauzon says she’s heading in “a new direction” and wants to focus on her other two passions – her freelance voice-over work and her Montreal Dog Blog (she’s got a thing for the puppies).

As for why this new schedule requires switching stations, well, she won’t comment. So let’s speculate irresponsibly. I’m thinking she just can’t bear to be at a station that doesn’t have Cat Spencer.

Meanwhile, Astral has posted her former job, weekdays 9am to 1pm. Minimum three years experience.

UPDATE (July 25): Virgin has hired Andrea Collins of 99.9 BOB FM in Winnipeg (a Bell Media station), to replace Lauzon in the 9am to 1pm slot. She starts Aug. 15.

Lauzon has written a blog post about her departure, in which she states that “my departure is all on good terms”.

No way to treat your listeners

"Freeway" Frank Depalo was introduced to Montreal at the St. Patrick's parade with co-host Lisa Player the day before he debuted as morning co-host on CJFM

The past month has seen a lot of staff changes in the Montreal radio scene. All three anglo FM music stations are seeing morning hosts leave, and at least two are introducing new faces to replace them.

Aaron Rand got the ball rolling by announcing he would be leaving CFQR’s Q Mornings show at the end of April. Rand has been hosting this show for two decades, so you can imagine how listeners reacted to the news. He’s got a lot of new Facebook friends and a lot of people posted messages to the Q’s Facebook page.

Though Rand himself reached out to listeners and communicated with them, the station’s management was silent. Mark Dickie, its general manager, didn’t return my phone calls or emails, and provided The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein with a pathetic quote that sounds like it came out of a fill-in-the-name-here press release.

As if to underscore a lack of respect for this dean of local radio, Rand’s seat wasn’t even cold before it was announced that Cat Spencer would be leaving CJFM to take his place … in September. (Maybe before, if the two stations can work out a deal on his contract.) This is still months away, yet for some reason they couldn’t wait 24 hours to make the announcement. What little coverage of this story appeared in local media had to be about both Spencer and Rand instead of just the latter.

Cat vs. Freeway

Learning that Spencer would be leaving, some Virgin Radio listeners also spoke up on its Facebook page. At least there, a few brief replies from the nameless Facebook page administrator saying Spencer had decided to leave. But otherwise, the station has been pretty silent about it. Program Director Mark Bergman hasn’t made any public statements that I’m aware of.

That contrasts, of course, to all the publicity it’s generating about its new star, “Freeway” Frank Depalo, who debuted on Monday as Lisa Player’s cohost. (You can read an interview Depalo did with Mike Cohen on his blog, and a story in The Gazette by Kathryn Greenaway.)

The same day “Freeway” started on Virgin Radio, the Q launched a new contest where it gives away $1,000 daily to people who listen to the morning show. It promoted it like crazy, including an ad wrap around the front section of Monday’s Gazette (hope some of that ad money trickles down to me).

PJ who?

And then there’s CHOM, who yanked PJ Stock and Merv Williams from their morning show. Perhaps it was unrelated to the other changes, or perhaps the station decided it needed to freshen up while its competitors are changing things up. We don’t know, because CHOM Program Director Daniel Tremblay isn’t talking.

Again, fans complained. Not on the station’s official Facebook page because it doesn’t have a wall. But there were comments here and elsewhere, most more upset at the loss of Williams than the part-timer Stock.

The same day the news became public, there was a flurry of activity from the morning show’s social media outlets, its Twitter feed (which had been dormant for more than two weeks) and its blog. Neither had any mention of Stock or Williams. Instead, we heard about Alouettes cheerleader tryouts and other ridiculousness.

As far as CHOM was concerned, it was easier to pretend these people never existed than to even briefly acknowledge and explain its reason for terminating them.

Listeners deserve better

Program directors aren’t under any obligation to talk to me. I’m just some guy on the Internet. But their own listeners deserve explanations of these kinds of changes.

Radio stations go through a lot of effort to build familiarity with their hosts. Just look at what Virgin Radio is doing with Freeway Frank. Listeners become attached to them and, if the branding effort is really successful, they become loyal to those hosts, even if they’ve never met them in person or heard them off the air.

And then, when the usual turnover in radio causes that familiar voice to leave, the station expects listeners to instantly forget about them, to not ask questions.

It’s a giant insult to the intelligence of those listeners. They understand how broadcasting works. They understand that people leave jobs that are no longer fulfilling for them (Rand), leave for better-paying competitors (Spencer), or leave because they’ve been fired (Stock and Williams). Simply coming forward and explaining yourselves to listeners would be a simple, albeit uncomfortable, experience.

I don’t have 24/7 logs of these stations, so I can’t say for sure about what statements have and haven’t been made on air, but if the social media sphere, the websites and the lack of communication with media is any indication, the strategy seems to be to sweep bad news under the rug and hope nobody notices it, even though it’s beyond obvious that they are.

Each of these three radio stations has gotten on the social media bandwagon, highlighting their Twitter and Facebook pages, and putting blogs on their websites. Listeners are using those forms of communication to try to seek answers.

They won’t get answers, because CHOM, Virgin Radio and the Q are being antisocial.

That’s a shame.

Cat Spencer to replace Aaron Rand at CFQR

Aaron Rand

Mere hours after veteran host Aaron Rand announced during Friday’s morning show that he will be leaving CFQR (92.5 the Q), news emerged that CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) morning host Cat Spencer has been tapped to replace him.

Staff at CFQR were informed of Rand’s decision on Thursday after the morning show was over. On Friday at 10am, a meeting was reportedly convened at Astral Media to announce that Cat Spencer would be leaving CJFM and moving to CFQR in September.

Rand says he was completely unaware of his employer’s decision to hire Spencer until he was called into his boss’s office after Friday’s show. During the show, Rand said he would stay on for a few more weeks (officially until the end of April) so his station could find a replacement, but now that it seems they’ve found that replacement, Rand says he’s not sure how long he’ll still be there.

Reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, Rand was clearly unhappy about how his bosses handled the situation, concealing from him their decision to hire Spencer and allowing him to give a statement in which he “looked like an idiot” by saying the station hadn’t found someone to replace him when in fact it had.

Still, the decision to leave is Rand’s, both technically and realistically. He says he met with his bosses last week as negotiations were set to begin for his contract renewal (his contract ends Sept. 1), and it seemed immediately apparent that management was not particularly excited about improving his contract, nor was he particularly excited about staying.

He said he was trying to be as honourable as he could, a stark contrast to his former co-hosts Suzanne Desautels and Paul “Tasso” Zakaib, who were fired without being given a chance to say goodbye on air (though Rand put Zakaib on air via telephone and a few months later hosted a party in their honour). It all went fine until he found out about Spencer. Not that he has a problem with Spencer, or the hiring, or even the timing of such. It’s the fact that he wasn’t told that’s left him pissed.

Rand’s enjoyment of the morning job went down significantly after long-time partner Zakaib was turfed in 2009 (they had been hosting the morning show at CFQR for almost 20 years, and had co-hosted together before that for other stations since 1984). He told The Gazette in 2009 that he felt “survivor’s guilt” afterward.

The format change that came with the firings also didn’t work so well for Rand. The station wanted “more music” in an effort to boost ratings, so Rand’s time at the mike was significantly reduced as the station began to sound more like a juke box than live radio. “I’m not a DJ,” Rand told me.

In all, Rand’s career on the Montreal airwaves spans 26 years, notably with CKGM, CFCF and CFQR, but during his early years he had jobs with CJFM, CHOM and CJAD.

The announcement of Rand’s departure comes less than a month after CFQR was officially acquired by Cogeco Diffusion as part of the huge purchase of Corus Quebec, though there’s no indication of any direct link between this decision and the change in ownership. Rand himself says linking the two is “pure speculation.”

My attempts to reach management at CJFM and CFQR for comment have so far proved unsuccessful. Spencer also hasn’t gotten back to me yet. But Mark Dickie, the Q’s general manager, took time out of not returning my calls to tell The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein that “Aaron Rand has been the cornerstone of this station for years and has consistently delivered us great radio. We wish him only the best.”

The announcement

The following was said on air by Rand shortly before 7:30 Friday morning:

I have decided that I’m going to be leaving the radio station and my job here as host of the morning show. After almost 26 years of sitting down to start my day by telling a couple of stories and sharing some laughs with you, my time here is coming to an end. It’s never an easy decision to make, but as the expression goes “when it’s time, it’s time.” And now is that time.

It’s been a great run. I’ve been blessed to work with some really talented people, not the least of whom was my partner for most of those years, Tasso, who I told about my decision yesterday. And I’m also proud of the fact that as a native Montrealer I was lucky enough to work at a job I love in a city I love for my entire career. That’s truly special to me.

As far as what’s next, I don’t really know. I do know I’m not ready to retire yet, so I’m going to spend the next little while thinking about what I’m going to do next, and sleeping in. But I promise to keep you updated through my Facebook page and let you know when I know exactly what’s next. In the meantime, I’ll still be here for the next few weeks while the station goes about the business of finding someone new to fill my seat.

I want to sincerely thank everyone I’ve ever worked with on the show over the years. Talented people like Patrick Charles, Leo Da Estrela, Murray Sherriffs, Suzanne Desautels, Glenn Repas, Melody Pierson, Sandy Weigens and Pierre Arcand. And most of all, I want to thank you. You who listen every morning, especially those of you who have been loyal listeners for longer than I care to remember.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of entertaining you for so many years. Please believe me when I say the pleasure has been all mine.

Thank you.

You can listen to audio of this announcement in MP3 format here.

Rand said the text of the announcement was given to management beforehand, and had he known about Spencer’s impending hiring he would have deleted the sentence about sticking around as the station finds someone new.

Shortly after the announcement aired, Rand got a call from his mother (in reality, it was Zakaib, performing one of the many popular characters he brought to the morning show). Rand said the bit was a way to take the tension away after such a serious announcement.

It was good thinking. He just surprised thousands of people by telling them he’s breaking up with them after 20 years together.

Last of his era

If this seems like more than just a simple case of a long-time radio personality hanging up the mike (he’s pushing 60, but he said he’s “not ready to retire”), it’s because Rand is one of the few remaining people in commercial music radio in Montreal’s anglo market who isn’t afraid not to sound like a marketer sometimes. Where the standard procedure might have been to pretend his departed co-hosts never existed, Rand granted interview requests, spoke highly of them, gave Zakaib a chance to say goodbye on air and even organized a party in their honour for long-time listeners to attend.

Talk radio still has some true personalities, people like Mitch Melnick and Tommy Schnurmacher. Maybe it’s inevitable that the music side can no longer afford the same kind of broadcasters, and hosts across the schedule at CHOM, CFQR and CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) will all become interchangeable parts without real personalities or even last names. If people are constantly pushing for “more music”, maybe they don’t care what voice tells them what song was just played and what time it is.

If that’s true, you can hardly blame the stations for moving in this direction.

Stopped being fun

Though Rand’s departure was clearly more amicable than was Ted Bird’s from CHOM last year (Bird has since taken a job at K103 Kahnawake), there are similarities in the motivations, as hinted by Rand himself shortly after Bird’s departure:

When I read about Ted Bird (who I know only in passing) and his reasons for leaving, I was struck by one central theme. Not the fact that big corporations now control the business (it’s been that way for awhile), not that they seek to, as he said, take the craft out of the hands of the craftsmen (which naively maybe I choose not to believe) but by the fact that it stopped being fun for him. And in a business where translating that fun you feel into fun an audience can share, once you’ve lost that feeling, it’s time to move on, I respect Ted for that.

I still get up every morning (at 4 not 3) and look forward to going to work. Yes, I miss seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the friends I shared that studio with for what seems like forever, but I’m a realist. You can’t help but see and feel the business changing, and the choice is to either embrace that change, or be left behind by it.

Is it the right thing to do, am I still being true to myself as a performer by staying? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m willing to at least give it a shot and then make that decision with a bit of perspective to reflect on. The truth is, I still have fun doing what I do on the radio every morning. The only difference is now I’m working with other talented people who offer new perspectives, a different outlook, and maybe, a glimpse into what the future of this business will become.

It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different, But it’s still fun. The day it no longer is, I’ll walk away too.

On Friday, Rand agreed that a lack of fun was a big reason for leaving. “It became more and more obvious that there was less and less for me to do,” he said. “You feel at some point that you’re just spinning your wheels. It’s time for a new challenge.”

So what’s next? Rand says he would like to stay in Montreal, and would like to stay in radio, but even though having creative freedom is more important to him than money right now, obviously his options are limited. K103 already has a big-name morning man (besides, Rand jokes, he doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t want to cross the Mercier every day). Like Bird, he highly doubts the CBC would be interested in his talents. So that leaves the Astral-owned stations: CHOM, CJFM and CJAD.

Rand said he has had some discussions with Astral, but nothing has been set yet. CJAD might be a good fit for a radio host with a talent for humour, but CHOM would also work if it would be willing to give him enough freedom. The question is whether either of them is in a hiring mood.

One thing is for sure, Rand doesn’t want to retire. “I’m not for a second thinking I’m done,” he said. “I can’t imagine sitting around all day doing nothing.”


The Gazette posted a brief based on information above, and Bill Brownstein wrote a story for Saturday’s city section.

CTV Montreal takes the story a step further and reports about a source saying Cat Spencer is quitting Virgin Radio and coming to the Q. Christine Long mentions the news during the noon newscast almost as an aside to a CHOM FM bikini parade.


It didn’t take long for Rand’s colleagues in the Montreal radio industry to comment.

Friend of the blog Terry DiMonte comments via Facebook and Twitter that Rand, a competitor for many years, is “a class act”. DiMonte, you’ll remember, also left Montreal’s music radio market after finding it wasn’t fun anymore.

From CHOM’s Rob Kemp: “The Montreal radio landscape will never be the same. … Good luck Aaron…you are an original pro.”

From co-host Murray Sherriffs: “I sitting not 2 feet from you and my resistance to get off my chair and go over an hug is waning, you big lug.”

From former Q92 program director Ted Silver: “Aaron, You are the man. The best revenge will be the big numbers you put up at your next station. All the best my friend!. … Aaron, You had a long run as the TOP morning show. This was not by accident. The station declined and you became a scapegoat. I don’t know how things would have been if I was still there, but I do know that I would not have dismantled an iconic morning show. Keep in touch!”

From radio listener Sheldon Harvey: “I personally believe that when the history book is written on Montreal English
radio, Aaron Rand will probably deserve a chapter of his own. I feel that his ground-breaking afternoon drive show on the old CFCF/CIQC 600 is still one of Montreal radio’s shining moments in broadcasting.”

From the public, the reaction so far is supportive, but sad. Though there are some who are still ticked off that Tasso was given the boot.

Those wanting to express themselves to the Q about Rand’s departure can do so on their Facebook page (though the station has shut that down in the past to clamp down on negative commentary becoming public) or by calling or emailing management. There’s also Rand’s own Facebook page, which he plans to keep using.

Meanwhile, in other radio staffing news

The Rand and Spencer show obscured another shifting of personalities in the anglo radio sphere on Friday. Sonali Karnick, a longtime member of the CBC Daybreak team – most recently as its sports reporter – is leaving for Toronto to be a national sports reporter for CBC. Friday was her last day on Daybreak.

And similarly, it didn’t take long for a replacement to be announced. Mitch Melnick announced on his Team 990 show on Friday afternoon that his colleague Andie Bennett is heading to Daybreak to fill that void.

UPDATE: Mike Cohen reports that Freeway Frank, who used to be the morning guy at CHUM’s Kool 101.5 in Calgary, will be Spencer’s replacement at CJFM and will cohost the Virgin Radio morning show with Lisa Player.

Welcome to the Cogeco radioverse

It’s official. Despite an after-the-fact plea from Astral to overturn CRTC approval and block the purchase, Corus Quebec’s radio stations officially became part of the Cogeco family on Feb. 1.

The new owners wasted no time imposing the new order, escorting previous bosses out the door (assuming they didn’t quit) and appointing a new executive team.

As part of the agreement with the CRTC, Cogeco can continue to own three francophone FM stations in Montreal (98.5FM, Rythme FM 105.7 and CKOI 96.9), but has to sell some stations in other regions:

  • CKOY-FM 104.5 (since renamed CJTS-FM) in Sherbrooke, which operated under the CKOI brand
  • CFEL-FM 102.1 in Quebec City, also a CKOI-branded station
  • CJEC-FM 91.9 in Quebec City, under the Rythme FM brand

If you’re interested, feel free to bid. It’s unclear what will happen after the sales are complete (will they be able to keep the same brand? Will they want to?), but for now it’s business as usual.

Another station that was part of the Corus network, CKRS in Saguenay, was sold separately to local investors.

On the anglo side, the only affected station is CFQR 92.5 “the Q”, which switches from Corus to Cogeco. Astral Media owns the other stations, CHOM, CJFM “Virgin Radio” and CJAD. There’s no word on any changes to management or programming or anything else at that station so far.

CRTC caves in to Cogeco

The CRTC, which sets rules regarding concentration of ownership in broadcast media, decided it could simply ignore them in a ruling on Friday that gave Cogeco the right to buy almost all the assets of Corus Quebec.

Specifically, Cogeco would buy 11 stations for $80 million, including Montreal’s 92.5 the Q (formerly Q92), CFQR-FM.

In Montreal:


  • CJRC-FM Souvenirs Garantis 104.7 in Gatineau
  • CIME-FM 103.9 in St-Jerome
  • CHLT-FM Souvenirs Garantis 107.7 in Sherbrooke
  • CKOY-FM 104.5 in Sherbrooke
  • CHLN-FM Souvenirs Garantis 106.9 in Trois-Rivières
  • CFOM-FM Souvenirs Garantis 102.9 in Quebec City
  • CFEL-FM (“CKOI”) 102.1 in Quebec City

The biggest problem with the acquisition is that it would violate a CRTC rule that says one company can’t own more than two stations in each language on each band in each market. Cogeco was willing to get around this by selling stations in Quebec City and converting one in Sherbrooke into a retransmitter of Montreal’s CKAC sports station.

But it wanted an exception in Montreal. CHMP 98.5 is the flagship station of the Corus talk radio network, and Rythme FM (CFGL) and CKOI are the No. 1 and No. 2 music stations, making them a whole lot of money. Cogeco said that a requirement to sell one of those stations would torpedo the whole deal (CKOI alone represents half the cost of the acquisition), and promised that in exchange for this special consideration they would hire journalists throughout Quebec and create a talk-radio news agency.

And the CRTC caved. Well, mostly.

They didn’t buy the idea of turning Sherbrooke’s CKOY FM into a retransmitter of Montreal’s CKAC sports station, and gave Cogeco a year to find a buyer for it. They also made a strict condition that Cogeco’s plan for a news agency continue, so they can’t pull a bait and switch.

That part is good news. The idea of Cogeco Nouvelles sounds good. At least the part about them hiring 33 full-time journalists and spending $3 million a year on news sounds good. The part about sharing content sounds a lot like the regional stations will all take the majority of their content from Montreal and insert a bare minimum of local stories just to justify their license.

But still, considering how little actual journalism comes out of private radio in Quebec, on the whole this is good.

There are also a few additional incentives to sweeten the deal, like this: Cogeco will “provide its services free-of-charge to groups operating fewer than three French-language radio stations in Quebec’s small markets as long as they agree to supply COGECO Nouvelles with news from their markets. The service’s content will also be available free-of-charge to community radio stations.”


But as nice as all that is, and I hope Cogeco Nouvelles succeeds, the problem of radio competition remains. Instead of three players in the Quebec francophone (popular) music scene in Montreal, there would be two, representing an astonishing 95% of advertising revenue in the biggest market in Quebec. And that’s true for both the French and English-language markets in Montreal. If you discount jazz, classical and CBC/Radio-Canada’s stations, the two will own all seven music stations (four francophone, three anglophone) in Montreal.

Much of the debate at the CRTC seemed to be about Astral Media, which owns the NRJ and Rock Détente networks and is seen as a major player in the regions. But rather than acknowledge that there’s a serious problem with Astral Media owning stations that should be competing with each other (this is particularly true in Montreal’s anglophone market, where Astral owns CHOM 97.7, CJFM 95.9 Virgin Radio and CJAD 800), the CRTC decided that the best response was to create an even bigger behemoth in Cogeco.

With the acquisition, Cogeco stations would have an astounding 46.6% market share in the Montreal francophone market and 22.4% in the anglophone market, or 41.3% total. Astral, meanwhile, has a 31.4% share in the francophone market and a 55.4% share in the anglophone market. Note that all these numbers don’t exclude CBC/Radio-Canada stations. When you consider just commercial stations, or as a share of ad revenues, those numbers are even higher.

The suggestion that this would somehow “restore a competitive balance” is silly.

The Montreal-less network

There’s also a problem that isn’t being considered very well here: While Cogeco argues that regional talk-radio stations need the resources and “expertise” of Montreal’s 98.5 FM, it also plans to sell stations in the regions to a third party that won’t be able to setup a Montreal station if they want to build a network.

For example, CKOI is a brand network in Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City. As part of the acquisition, Cogeco will have to sell the Sherbrooke and Quebec City stations in this network, but not the Montreal one. And there isn’t exactly a lot of extra space on the dial for someone to setup a new francophone music station in Montreal. So not only would anyone who wants to buy these stations have to change their brands (along with the Rythme FM station in Quebec City), but they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of whatever efficiencies Astral and Corus/Cogeco think they have found with multi-region brands.

Personally, I think music radio stations can do fine without needing to belong to a Montreal-network (some names are already popping up as potential buyers). But it’s funny that Cogeco puts such a strong emphasis on the need for a Montreal flagship station for its talk radio network but has no problem with other people having radio stations in the regions without a Montreal-based moneymaker to keep them afloat.

In conclusion: Good for radio, bad for radio choice

I’m happy that the CRTC handled some of the issues I brought up in my criticism of Cogeco’s plan. And I’m happy that Cogeco is planning to setup a regional radio news network and hire journalists.

But this is a step backwards for radio diversity in Montreal, at a time when the city desperately needs more competition in commercial radio.

The CRTC should review its rules for media concentration, particularly because the public seems to be abandoning the AM band and because Montreal’s numbers suggest that commercial music stations aren’t strictly segregated on the basis of language.

Montreal has seven commercial radio stations that all play popular music that sounds a lot alike. It should have more than two companies running them.

More coverage in:

UPDATE (Jan. 12): Almost a month after the CRTC’s decision, and weeks before the transaction is set to close, Astral decides to appeal to the federal court to overturn it, saying it was “arbitrary and unreasonable” to change the rules at the last minute just for Cogeco. VP Claude Laflamme makes the point in the statement that “the sudden lack of predictability in the application of the CRTC policy penalizes all broadcasters which in the past decided not to pursue business opportunities in order to abide by the policy as formulated and as consistently applied.”

La Presse quotes Cogeco as counter-arguing that Astral controls 75% of the anglophone market (they own CJAD, CHOM and CJFM, but that doesn’t violate the CRTC’s rules), and they shouldn’t be pointing fingers about media concentration.

Note that while Astral suggests that Cogeco should have been forced to sell one of the music stations, it doesn’t have its eyes on them because it already owns two francophone FM stations in Montreal (CITE Rock Détente 107.3 and CKMF NRJ 94.3)

UPDATE (Jan. 14): Corus says it will, of course, fight this appeal, and that the Cogeco deal is still set to close on Feb. 1.