— Mitch Melnick (@HunterZThompson) September 19, 2014
John Bartlett, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Canadiens on TSN Radio 690 ever since the station won the rights to the team’s games in 2011, is leaving it to join Rogers as the play-by-play man on regional Canadiens games that will air on Rogers Sportsnet East and City Montreal.
TSN host Mitch Melnick confirmed Bartlett’s departure on Thursday. On Friday, Bartlett was interviewed on Melnick’s show (where a “gag order” prevented them from saying where he’s going, but it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together). Audio from that interview is posted here.
The decision to hire Bartlett, who was the voice of the Toronto Marlies AHL team before joining TSN 690 (more on his history here at YorkRegion.com), wasn’t unanimously praised at first, with all the talent at the station who would have loved to take a crack at the dream job and the bad optics of not only bringing in an import, but one who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm team. But as Melnick explained on his show, Bartlett quickly earned the respect of staff and listeners who are now sad to see him go.
I met Bartlett only once. It was at a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Montreal. Just his presence there said a lot about how much this guy cares about hockey.
Because it’s owned by Canada’s largest media company, and now Canada’s largest radio broadcaster, it’s hard to argue that TSN Radio 690 is a mom and pop shop.
And yet, just about everything about this station screams “underdog.” It has the lowest ratings of the five commercial English-language stations in Montreal. It puts out a lot of original programming on a small budget. And twice in the past year and a half, it has faced annihilation because its parent company made it clear that it valued each of the three Astral stations more than it did this one.
This underdog feeling was certainly present Thursday night at Hurley’s Irish Pub, as Mitch Melnick and other personalities from the station invited fans to help them celebrate the recent CRTC decision that not only allows it to maintain its format but guarantees it for at least seven years.
There are still changes to come. Melnick pointed out that the plan is to eventually move the station from its current home on Greene Ave. in Westmount to the Astral Media radio (now Bell Media radio) building at Papineau Ave. and René-Lévesque Blvd. There’s also the looming threat of layoffs as the consolidation of resources creates redundancy in staff. (The hammer has already fallen at Bell Media stations elsewhere in the country.) But, while it may not have been a raucous affair, there were a lot of thank-yous given out on this night.
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.
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.