Tag Archives: CRTC

CRTC approves Christian radio transmitter in Pointe-Claire

Christian Hit Radio’s CHRI-FM Ottawa is expanding to Pointe-Claire.

On Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved an application from CHR to add a rebroadcasting transmitter at the Lakeside Heights Baptist Church to serve the West Island community.

The 51-watt FM transmitter will be at 90.7 MHz, and very limited in its service area, including parts of Dorval, Beaconsfield, Kirkland and Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

Theoretical coverage area of a proposed retransmitter of CHRI-FM in Pointe-Claire

People in the rest of Montreal won’t be able to hear it, because of interference from CKUT 90.3 but more importantly another transmitter also on 90.7 FM in the Saint-Laurent borough.

In its decision, the commission noted that there isn’t an English-language religious radio station with Pointe-Claire in its primary service area. It also noted that there are other frequencies available that could serve Pointe-Claire, so this application would not exhaust available channels. (Montreal as a whole is saturated on FM, but there are still ways to cover parts of it on certain frequencies, though each new transmitter makes the task a bit harder.)

CHRI, which mainly broadcasts Christian music, has two years to implement the new transmitter, unless they request an extension. They have similar rebroadcasting transmitters already in Pembroke (100.7) and Cornwall (88.1), both of which are low-power. As rebroadcasting transmitters, they do not produce any original content and simply repeat the programming of the Ottawa main station, as the Pointe-Claire transmitter will.

Radio Shalom officially proposes sale of 1650 AM to Christian broadcaster

Six years after Radio Shalom, Montreal’s Jewish radio station, announced it was shutting down, and then kind of came back a bit, the company is planning to wind up operations and officially transfer the licence to Gospel Media Communications, which has effectively been running the station since.

On Tuesday, the CRTC posted an application by Communications Média Évangélique / Gospel Media Communications to acquire CKZW 1650 AM (formerly CJRS) from Radio Shalom for $0. The company is owned by André Joly, who also sits on Radio Shalom’s board.

According to the application, Radio Shalom’s board voted to approve the deal after CME had already acquired most of its assets and was subsidizing the station’s financial losses in addition to providing gospel programming.

The fact that Joly has been effectively running things for months if not years would normally trigger some questions from the commission about whether an effective transfer of control happened without approval, but the application states that the station was in contact with the commission about its activities.

One thing the CRTC will need to settle is tangible benefits, the tax new owners have to pay when they acquire radio stations. Both groups are non-profit, and the agreed upon purchase price for the licence is zero, but the commission suggested in a letter it may set a value of $309,125 for the purchase, which includes payments from CME to Radio Shalom as well as the value of leases that would be transferred.

According to an unaudited 2021 financial statement, Radio Shalom had $136,834 in net assets.

If the commission finds the sale has an actual value, Joly has agreed to pay tangible benefits of up to $18,548, representing the standard 6% of the value. But the company argues (as many other acquirers have in other purchase deals) that the CRTC should not consider the value of leases when calculating tangible benefits.

Once the sale is approved and closed, Radio Shalom as a corporate entity would be wound up.

The application does not include any statements about changes to the station’s programming after the sale.

The CRTC will hold a pro forma hearing (without any presentations) on the application Oct. 13 in Gatineau. Those who wish to comment on the proposed sale have until Sept. 1 to do so.

The News Forum tries again to seek must-offer licence from CRTC

The News Forum, a low-budget conservative news-talk TV channel that last year got enough subscribers to require a broadcasting licence from the CRTC, is trying again to get the commission to force Canadian television distributors to offer the channel to their subscribers, less than two months after the commission denied their first attempt at this status.

The channel, owned (in fact if not legally) by Tore Stautland, asked the commission when it was licensed to be given the same category of licence as Canadian all-news channels CBC News Network, RDI, CTV News Channel and LCN. These channels are subject to a special status requiring all distributors to carry them, though it is up to the subscriber to choose whether or not to actually subscribe to it. (CBC NN and RDI also have a separate mandatory subscription order in Quebec and the rest of Canada, respectively.)

In its decision in May approving the licence, the CRTC denied that status, saying “the Commission is not satisfied that The News Forum provides updated news reports every 120 minutes,” which is one of the criteria it set in its policy.

It left the door open to applying again for that status, once it shows it meets the criteria.

So now The News Forum is trying again, after providing an “updated schedule” showing “daily updates” every two hours from 6am to 8pm. (The schedule suggests they will start at five minutes and 30 seconds past every two hours, until 30 minutes past the hour, but I think they meant to say the updates would be five minutes long until 5:30 past the hour.)

A glance at its website and YouTube channel suggest little else has changed about The News Forum. It still doesn’t seem to employ any journalists besides the anchors, who read out news briefs to still images and then conduct interviews via video link.

But that wouldn’t necessarily preclude it from getting that status. The CRTC’s criteria related to programming are the following:

  • Providing news updates every 120 minutes
  • At least 90% Canadian programming
  • At least 16 hours a day original programming (first-run or repeated)
  • At least 95% of all programming from the following categories: News, analysis and interpretation, long-form documentary and reporting and actualities
  • No more than 12 minutes of advertising per hour
  • Operate a live broadcast facility and maintain news bureaus in at least three regions other than that of the live broadcast facility
  • “have the ability to report on international events from a Canadian perspective”

Like Sun News Network before it, TNF is fully original, though it relies heavily on repeat programming and much of that is opinion, which can be classified as “analysis and interpretation.”

The part about news bureaus and broadcast facilities might be a challenge for The News Forum. But it will be up to the commission to decide if it meets the criteria.

And even if it does get the status, no one has to subscribe to it (unless it’s in a package you want).

The CRTC is accepting comments on The News Forum’s application until Aug. 8. You can submit comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

 

CRTC approves station swap between Cogeco Media and Arsenal Media

While the big news of the day was its approval of the Shaw-Rogers purchase, the CRTC also approved a pair of smaller transaction on Thursday, in which Quebec’s Cogeco Media and Arsenal Media agreed to sell stations to each other.

Under one deal, Arsenal acquires, for $1.5 million, three stations in the Abitibi region:

  • CJGO-FM 102.1 La Sarre (Capitale Rock), with transmitter CJGO-FM-1 Rouyn-Noranda
  • CHGO-FM 95.7 Val-d’Or (Capitale Rock)
  • CHOA-FM 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda (WOW), with transmitters CHOA-FM-1 103.5 Amos and CHOA-FM-2 103.9 La Sarre

In the other deal, Cogeco acquires, for $600,000, one station from Arsenal in Saguenay:

  • CILM-FM (O 98.3)

The Abitibi sale didn’t bring up major issues, except for the fact that they were formerly RNC Media stations, which Cogeco bought in 2018, which means there are still tangible benefits related to that transaction. Cogeco has agreed to continue to pay those benefits despite no longer owning the stations.

Arsenal plans to convert the stations to its brands, which include O, Plaisir and Hit Country. They will be Arsenal’s first stations in the Abitibi market, adding to its 16 stations in regions throughout Quebec.

For Saguenay, there was a bit of a thorny issue in terms of competition. Because Cogeco owns another station in Saguenay, and a third in nearby Alma, there was concern it might exceed its ownership limit. Analysis showed the Alma station didn’t cover enough of Saguenay to be an issue, but there was some overlap in the Alma market. Nevertheless, because no other broadcasters complained and Cogeco said it would not seek out advertising in Alma from its Saguenay stations, the CRTC allowed the acquisition to proceed.

Cogeco plans to convert CILM-FM to a Rythme FM station, giving the network a presence in all five of Quebec’s largest population centres and more than half the province’s population.

As a result of this issue being decided, the CRTC has reopened a proceeding into whether Rouyn-Noranda should get another radio station. Josyane Cossette has applied for a commercial radio station while CHOW-FM (Radio Boréale) in Amos applied for a retransmitter in Rouyn-Noranda. Other broadcasters can file applications to compete with these if they want to serve the market.

Ottawa Christian radio station applies for FM transmitter in Pointe-Claire

The West Island could get its first radio station since the days of CFOX.

Well, not exactly.

Christian Hit Radio, which owns Ottawa’s CHRI 99.1 FM, has applied to the CRTC for a small transmitter at Lakeside Heights Baptist Church in the heart of Pointe-Claire.

The 51-watt transmitter (the lowest power that can be used on a protected frequency) at 90.7 FM would rebroadcast CHRI’s programming entirely and have no original programming, operating similarly to existing retransmitters in Pembroke and Cornwall, Ont.

In its application, posted Tuesday by the commission, CHR mentions the recent sale of WYUL 94.7 to Christian broadcaster EMF, and says “although CHRI-FM welcomes the abundance and diversity of Christian content, in order to have this diversity we need to have at least more than one station broadcasting this content in a given region.”

Theoretical coverage area of a proposed retransmitter of CHRI-FM in Pointe-Claire

With an antenna on the cross above the church, the signal would cover much of Pointe-Claire, and parts of Dorval, Beaconsfield, Kirkland and Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

Its coverage beyond that would be severely limited by two factors: having to protect second-adjacent channel CKUT-FM 90.3 (which has given its approval for this project provided any interference issues are dealt with) and another lowish-power transmitter, CJPB-FM, on the same frequency less than 15 kilometres away in St-Laurent. CJPB-FM, a community radio station, was approved in 2016.

CHR says it considered other possibilities for a transmitter, including on AM and at 88.1 MHz, the channel formerly used by a tourist information station at Trudeau airport in Dorval.

“We have also looked at the possibility of AM transmission but it is very difficult to install an AM operation in Pointe-Claire and considering an AM operation from the south shore to reach this area is prohibitive,” CHR writes in the application. “We have also considered HD Radio but we consider that the technology is not mature and promoted enough in Canada.”

The 88.1 plan was seriously considered, but eventually ditched because they could not get approval from CBC, which has a Radio One station at 88.5.

The CRTC application is accepting comments for the next month. You can file comments at crtc.gc.ca, under Open Part 1 Applications.

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

What radio executives say about the future of their industry

Late last year, I was asked by my editor at Cartt.ca to write a feature story about branding in commercial radio, to be tied to the CRTC’s review of its commercial radio policy. That story ended up turning into a 10-part series for the website called The Future of Radio, in which I talk to some radio industry executives about how and where things are going.

Here are links to the individual stories (for Cartt.ca subscribers), and below are some point-form comments about the things I learned through this project:

The series

The sources

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

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

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

By design, I’ve spoken to people high up at larger national and regional broadcasters, and these stories reflect their views, but those are far from the only voices that deserve to be heard about radio. As the CRTC process continues (replies are due this week), we’ll hear more from groups that are critical of the big players.

The lessons

Some of the things I heard from several radio executives during our talks:

  • Radio brands are boring for a reason. They often include the frequency and the format, or some generic branding like Kiss or Move or The Beat. You need listeners to be able to remember your brand when they fill out radio surveys by Numeris (which is how it’s done in all but the five largest markets).
  • Creating common brands allows for synergy. But it’s not always about common programming. It’s also about saving money on things like imaging — those station ID jingles and promos. When you only have to design a logo or website once for multiple markets, you can save money but also invest more to get better quality and share those costs across multiple stations.
  • Expect more blending of syndication and local. For small-market stations, it just doesn’t make financial sense to have local announcers 24/7. In some, it doesn’t even make much sense to have a local morning show. So big broadcasters are taking a well-produced syndicated or national show and blending it with local news, traffic and weather. We’re also seeing popular morning shows from some markets being edited and repackaged to be used in other markets in the evenings.
  • Moving toward a Canadian radio star system. Both Bell and Corus have created national overnight talk shows for their talk stations, replacing syndicated U.S. programming like Coast to Coast, and other broadcasters are looking at doing their own thing instead of bringing in foreign shows. If they’re going to spend money anyway, they reason, why not spend it on some of their own talent, and give them a larger national audience?
  • The peak hour is getting later. It’s hard to say how much of this will be reversed when we fully emerge from the pandemic, but the peak hour for radio has shifted from about 7am to 8am as people who aren’t commuting don’t have to get up as early. We’re also seeing more listening throughout the day, instead of people abruptly dropping off once their car is in the office parking lot.
  • Radio will follow the platforms. Most broadcasters have kind of given up on trying to create their own digital ecosystems. Instead, they’ll adapt their content to whatever platform people are using. They’ve started up podcast networks, combined forces on the RadioPlayer app (with Bell as the notable exception), and signed up to work on smart speakers. They’re posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and whatever else will come next.
  • AM is not the future. It’s not dead yet, and AM stations still rate well in some markets, but the broadcasters aren’t betting on its future. There are no more AM stations in Quebec outside Montreal. Where bandwidth and regulations permit, stations have switched from AM to FM across the country. CBC is replacing low-power AM transmitters with FM ones. And the big players want to be able to move their AM stations to FM as well without having to give up their FM music stations. As a transition measure, HD Radio transmitters in large markets have allowed the big guys to simulcast AM on FM HD, but that’s not a long-term solution, because…
  • Neither is HD Radio. After the disaster that was Digital Audio Broadcasting in the 1990s and early 2000s, broadcasters are hesitant to adopt HD Radio, the technology principally used in the U.S. After a few years of experimentation, there isn’t much hope for its future, for the same reason as DAB failed: A lack of receivers. HD Radio still isn’t as common in cars as it should be, and receivers outside of cars are just about nonexistent. There’s potential for the technology for niche ethnic stations (and some ethnic broadcasters are using digital-only channels for single-language programming) but it’s nowhere close to mainstream. The fact that it’s confusing as well — to tune to CJAD 800 you have to go to 107.3 FM HD Channel 2? — doesn’t help. By the time this might get fixed up, or a new digital technology emerges, it will be easier to deliver audio programming over the internet. (Shout-out to radio broadcast manufacturer Nautel, though, which proposed a very unworkable national network of HD-only stations that would have channels in multiple languages.)
  • But maybe smart speakers. There was a noticeable uptick in smart speaker listening as people stayed home during the pandemic (and realized they don’t have other radio receivers at home). There was a big worry that as people went toward internet-based devices for their audio needs, they might choose things like Spotify over local radio. So there’s a big effort to ensure smart speakers tune to radio first.
  • Don’t expect a Canadian Spotify. I asked several of the executives, if they’re getting all this unfair competition from Spotify and Apple Music and the rest, why don’t they just launch competing platforms? The answer is they lack the scale to make it profitable. The technology wouldn’t be difficult to implement, but even with tariffs that the music industry has mocked as laughably low, Spotify and its peers struggle to make money, and there isn’t much hope a Bell or Rogers version would be more successful. Quebecor is trying with its QUB Musique app, and Stingray has several streaming music channels, but otherwise everyone is sticking with radio, even digital-only radio channels (which, because the user does not control the playlist, has a different tariff scheme).
  • The industry wants more consolidation. One issue brought up in filings to the commission is its limits on local ownership — currently 3-4 stations depending on market size, and no more than two on any one band in any language. The CAB has proposed a new formula that would allow some broadcasters to own up to half the stations in a market. Bell wants to eliminate ownership limits completely. Allowing AM stations to move to FM is an excuse given, but others say radio needs to have fewer owners to be more competitive. (The change isn’t just supported by the big guys, but several smaller owners also agree with consolidation because it means more potential buyers for their stations, which increases their value.)
  • Paperwork is a big problem. Both large and small broadcasters spend a lot of human resources just meeting the CRTC’s reporting requirements. In some cases, they’re necessary, like providing annual financial statements or lists of songs they have broadcast. In other cases, they’re redundant or of limited use. Some broadcasters proposed ways of cutting the paperwork burden, but many told me they just wish the CRTC was itself more efficient, processed applications more quickly, and wasn’t such a bottleneck in plans to launch, acquire or change stations.

There were also plenty of things that weren’t surprising. Broadcasters want lower quotas (dropping CanCon to 25% of songs from 35%), interest groups want quotas maintained. Big broadcasters want fewer regulations for themselves and more for their foreign digital-only competitors.

And, despite everything, everyone believes that radio has a future. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be in the game.

Rogers to buy Shaw for $26 billion — but will regulators agree?

There are days you think Canada’s media and telecom industries are about as converged as they can be. And then another megatransaction gets announced that you think couldn’t possibly be approved by the government. And then it is.

Transactions like Bell buying Astral Media, Bell buying MTS, Rogers buying Mobilicity, Postmedia buying Sun Media, and all the other transactions that brought us to this point.

So the news that Shaw has agreed to a $26-billion sale to Rogers maybe shouldn’t come as quite a shock. But as the government professes to be pro-consumer, particularly when it comes to wireless services, can we really expect this deal to be approved?

Here are the stumbling blocks the companies will have to get over:

  1. Freedom Mobile. In Ontario, Alberta and B.C., Freedom is the fourth large wireless carrier, the last surviving one from that era of increased competition after Mobilicity and Public Mobile were scooped up by the big three. Rogers, which is already Canada’s largest mobile provider, apparently believes it can just keep Freedom as part of the deal, with nothing more than a promise that it won’t raise prices for three years. If the federal government is to be taken seriously on wireless competition, it can’t possibly let that stand. It could force Rogers to sell Freedom to some other party (Quebecor? Xplornet? Cogeco? Some random rich guy?), or it could come to some agreement where Rogers sheds just enough Freedom customers to another party, like Bell did when it bought MTS.
  2. Corus. Shaw and Corus are separate companies, with separate boards of directors and different shareholders, but both are controlled by the Shaw family. The CRTC treats them as if they’re the same for competition reasons. The issue here is that, as part of the transaction, the Shaw family gets two seats on the Rogers board. That doesn’t give them control of Rogers, but does it present enough of a competition concern to warrant increased scrutiny?
  3. Cable and satellite. Because Shaw and Rogers have essentially split the country geographically, with Shaw serving western Canada and Rogers serving eastern Canada, there’s not much overlap in terms of wired coverage to deal with. But these are still big companies. Shaw has 1.4 million cable TV subscribers and more than 600,000 satellite TV subscribers, making almost $4 billion in annual revenue on TV services alone. Add that to Rogers’s 1.5 million TV subscribers and $3.5 billion revenue, and you get a company 30% larger than Bell on that front. That’s a change in dynamic in bargaining position when, say, negotiating carriage contracts with TV services. There’s also the fact that if Rogers buys Shaw’s satellite service, that’s one less TV service option for subscribers in Rogers territory. They go from having to choose between Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Shaw Direct to having to choose between Rogers and Bell alone.
  4. Sheer size. Rogers has $15 billion in annual revenue. Shaw has $5 billion. Combined, they still fall short of Bell’s $24 billion, but not by much. No doubt Rogers will use the need to compete against Bell as an argument for approving the transaction, because the only way to fight ownership consolidation is more ownership consolidation.
  5. Jobs. Rogers has promised to create 3,000 “net new jobs” in western Canada as part of the deal. But it also says “synergies are expected to exceed $1 billion annually within two years of closing.” I’m curious what synergies can be achieved without cutting any jobs.

Mobile service seems like the only potential dealbreaker here, unless there are some minor assets that compete directly that would also need to be divested. Rogers would probably be fine ditching Freedom if that was a condition of approval.

Will political and regulatory forces accept such a deal? We’ll have to see. Recent experience suggests they probably will, and companies don’t go through this kind of trouble if they don’t think a deal can succeed. (At least that’s what I’d like to say, but Rogers’ proposed purchase of Cogeco fell flat, so…)

CRTC rejects request to reduce local programming quota for TSN Radio 690

A request from Bell Media to reduce the amount of local programming it is required to broadcast on TSN Radio 690 AM in Montreal has been rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In a decision published on Wednesday renewing the station’s licence until 2027, the CRTC found it already had enough flexibility in its current quota and allowing this change in its licence — going from 96 hours a week to 63 hours of local programming — would undermine the reason the quota was established in the first place.

Commercial AM radio stations in Canada generally don’t have requirements for local programming. As we saw with the (coincidental) format changes for TSN stations in other markets this week, you can run whatever you want on AM. Requirements for FM stations are a bit more strict — you have to have at least 42 hours a week of local programming (a third of regulated hours) to be able to solicit local advertising on a station.

But TSN 690 (CKGM) had special conditions of licence imposed in 2013 as part of a deal that allowed Bell to own four English-language stations in Montreal after it purchased Astral Media (which at the time owned CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio). Bell had originally proposed to turn TSN into a French-language station to get around that problem, but after seeing the public outrage that caused, they asked for an exemption to the policy during their second try. Bell promised to keep TSN as a sports radio station, and agreed to a CRTC request for a local programming quota roughly equal to what they were broadcasting at the time.

“The station’s condition of licence relating to local programming was an important factor in the approval of an exception to the common ownership policy,” the decision reads. “By authorizing at this time the requested amendment to this condition of licence, which was imposed in 2013 to mitigate the impact of the exception to the common ownership policy, the Commission would substantially reduce the mitigation measure put in place to justify such an exception. Therefore, the Commission is of the view that reducing CKGM’s local programming requirement is not appropriate.”

In its application, Bell had argued the quota caused problems during weeks when the Canadiens weren’t playing. They said this came to a head during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, when it couldn’t broadcast every game because it would have violated the quota. Instead, the station ran some rerun programming in the evening.

That argument didn’t sway the commission. While it acknowledged that the quota would “bring challenges to CKGM” during certain times of the year, “the station can broadcast 30 hours of non-local programming per broadcast week out of a possible total of 126 hours. The Commission considers that this level allows for a significant amount of non-local content and provides sufficient flexibility for the station’s programming offering.”

The 30 hours a week comes out to about four and a half hours a day, more than enough to have a non-local game every night, a couple of NFL games on the weekend and a Blue Jays game or two.

The decision is not directly related to the cuts at other TSN stations this week — this application was originally filed in 2019 and published in November.

The CRTC did agree to another licence amendment proposed by TSN — eliminating the need for additional $245,000 in Canadian content contributions from 2013 to 2020. The commission determined that the money had been paid and the licence condition was no longer necessary.

Kanesatake radio station applies to increase power, protect frequency

CKHQ-FM, Kanesatake’s community radio station, has struggled to keep itself going since it was founded in 1988. But with the help of some broadcasting experts, it has presented a relaunch plan to the CRTC, through two applications published on Monday.

The first is a transfer of ownership, from CKHQ United Voices Radio, owned by resident James Nelson, to Mohawk Multi Media, a non-profit corporation whose membership is open to all community members.

The second is a technical change: The new station would maintain its frequency of 101.7 MHz, but with an effective radiated power of 51 watts, and a height above average terrain of 57 metres. The station’s transmitter would be located at the Riverside Elders Home at 518 Rang Ste-Philomène, along the river about two kilometres southwest of the old location. The studio would also be located at a new building to be constructed on land next to the elders home.

The station has budgeted $500,000 in capital costs for studio and transmitter.

Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s approved signal (red and brown) and its proposed signal (blue and green)

The increased power would mean a better signal within the community, and more people being able to listen in adjacent ones like Oka, Hudson, and maybe parts of Vaudreuil.

But the most significant change would be on the regulatory level. Stations at 50 watts or below are considered low-power unprotected stations, which means another station can apply for a licence for that frequency or an adjacent one and bump it off that frequency. In most areas that wouldn’t be an issue, but being so close to Montreal (and not that far from Ottawa), there are no other frequencies available it can realistically move to, so such a situation would force it off the air.

That almost happened in 2018 when a group proposed a Christian music station in Lachute on 101.7 FM. The application was denied, because the commission found the quality of the application lacking. But nothing prevented anyone else from trying again.

By going to 51 watts, CKHQ-FM would move from low-power unprotected status to Class A1, which means any proposed new stations would have to protect it from interference.

Projected interference zones for CKHQ-FM.

Though in theory the new signal would extend to much of Vaudreuil and St-Placide, practically it still won’t go too far beyond Oka and the community of Hudson across the river, because of interference from other stations, most significantly CIBL-FM, the Montreal community station on the same frequency at 101.5 MHz.

History

After years of inactivity, CKHQ-FM showed promise when it applied for and received a new licence from the CRTC in 2014. When I visited the station shortly thereafter, its eager staff had cleaned up the rat droppings of the old studio building and gotten it back on the air.

But a flood in July 2017 destroyed most of the transmitting equipment, knocking the station off the air again.

Sylvain Gaspé, an engineer who grew up in Kanesatake and got his start at that radio station, began leading the efforts to bring it back, under the branding of Reviving Kanesatake Radio. In the spring of 2019, a temporary station was set up to offer flood information to the community, and on April 2, 2020, Gaspé brought the station back on the air.

The new entity is separate from the old one, but has the full support of both the current owner and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake. Because transfers of ownership require CRTC approval first, the station is technically still owned and managed by Nelson’s United Voices corporation, but Gaspé’s Mohawk Multi Media has been mandated to actually do the work. Officially, a transfer of assets has taken place, but because the equipment was destroyed the actual value of those assets is $0.

The new non-profit’s voting membership is open to Kanesatake members with certificate of Indian status, residents of Kanesatake, and “honorary members accepted by the majority of members.” It has five members of the board, including Gaspé and three residents of Kanesatake. All five are Mohawk.

Programming

Don’t expect this station to have much in the way of full-time staff or professional-sounding programming. This will remain a small community station largely run by volunteers. But the application to the CRTC includes some programming commitments, including:

  • 5 hours a week of news
  • 58 hours a week of pop, rock and dance music
  • 38 hours a week of country music
  • 17 hours a week of Indigenous music
  • 15% of songs broadcast performed or composed by Indigenous artists
  • 7 hours a week coming from Kahnawake’s K103
  • 30.5 hours a week in Mohawk, including “incorporating the Mohawk language within the simplest tasks of radio broadcasts, such as the time, weather and station identifications.”
  • 1 hour a week in French

Note that these are projected averages and not necessarily minimums. What actual requirements are to be set will be up to the CRTC, consistent with the Native Broadcasting Policy, for which a review is currently underway.

The CRTC has scheduled a hearing for March 30 to hear these applications. Because no oral presentations are expected, the hearing will be in name only and only to satisfy a legal requirement to hold one. Comments on either application (which are not dependent on each other — the commission could approve one but not the other) are being accepted until Feb. 25, 2020 at 8pm ET/5pm PT, and can be filed here (Application 2020-0751-7 is for the transfer of ownership, Application 2020-0420-9 is for the power increase and transmitter change).

Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

CJMS 1040 goes off the air after court rejects appeal of CRTC decision

CJMS 1040 AM has gone off the air again, and this time it could be for good.

On Dec. 22, a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an application by CJMS owner Groupe Média PAM Inc. for leave to appeal a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that refused to renew the station’s licence.

Judges Marc Nadon, Richard Boivin and Marianne Rivoalen rejected the request by CJMS to overturn the decision and keep the station on the air.

On Sept. 14, two weeks after the licence expired (and after a first attempt was rejected as not following proper procedure), Judge Denis Pelletier granted a temporary injunction allowing the station to keep operating while the application to appeal was heard. With the decision rendered, that injunction becomes moot and CJMS was forced to shut down.

CJMS’s argument was that the CRTC treated it unfairly, and should not have given any weight to licence violations committed by the station’s previous owner (Jean Ernest Pierre, who also owns Haitian station CJWI 1410 AM, bought CJMS in 2014 after the last time the CRTC threatened to pull its licence).

The decision is unsurprising. In two previous cases cited by CJMS in its application, the court also sided with the CRTC and ordered the stations off the air.

Meanwhile, the CJMS brand continues as an online-only station run by former host Jocelyn Benoit. On the same day the court rendered its decision, Benoit announced the appointment of a vice-president, Chantal Normandin.