Tag Archives: Ted Bird

What’s happening to Montreal radio?

Aaron Rand

In the wake of Ted Bird’s departure from CHOM, I got an unsolicited email from Aaron Rand, one of the few remaining veterans of commercial radio in Montreal. It was actually a belated response to comments I made about him after he lost two co-hosts at CFQR. But he included some thoughts about the radio industry that he asked I share with you:

As someone who has been in the radio business for more than 25 years, the latest round of cuts, changes, format shifts – call it what you will – seem to have hit home particularly hard in Montreal.

Morning shows, especially teams, have been among the hardest hit. But while we all mourn the on-air losses of people like Tasso, Terry DiMonte, Suzanne Desautels, and now Ted Bird, I felt it important to point out that these changes, drastic and disturbing as they may be, are not unique to Montreal or even Toronto.  A bit of research suggests a much different and industry wide story. Plain and simple, the business is changing. The audience profile is morphing, and the worst economic downturn seen in a generation is forcing the hands of those who run the ship. It’s just happening sooner and more dramatically than anyone had a reasonable right to expect it to.

In markets from San Diego to Detroit, to Chicago to St. Louis, Vancouver, Calgary, New York, L.A. (remember Rick Dees?) morning shows are being blown up one after another. So the question isn’t why, the question is what’s going to work in the future, and how can you adapt and be part of that future.

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 talentedpeople 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.

Aaron Rand

On a similarly philosophical note, local radio enthusiast Sheldon Harvey remarked about the state of radio in a post to the Radio in Montreal discussion group:

In a management seminar I attended in my early 20s, the instructor told us that, at some point in our lives, we would realize that money in life is not a motivator. At a young age, I think all of us think that the more money we have, the happier we will be. Eventually most of us realize that life is not long enough to spend it doing things that we really don’t enjoy and don’t believe in, regardless of what we are getting paid.

Rand is right that the economy is putting pressure on radio station owners to cut back, and one of the biggest expenses is those high-priced morning show veterans. And, like newspapers, even the best ones are suffering in this economic climate and changing media landscape.

My problem with commercial music radio, as I expressed when talking about Rand in October, is that they seem to have given up. With respect to all the professionals working at CHOM, CJFM and CFQR, I find most of their names and voices interchangeable. They seem to lack personality that sets them apart from the rest, because they’re not allowed to develop one on the air. It’s why some of them, like Kelly Alexander, are starting on their own with podcasts where they can actually connect on a human level with listeners.

Maybe listeners don’t want to connect with their DJs, maybe they just want the music. It’s a fair stance to take, and studies show that people want music – not talk – from their music stations. But then the music suffers from this same lack of personality. It’s all from the same tiny playlist. And while limiting variety concentrates hits and increases the likelihood that someone turning the dial will stop on your station to hear a familiar song, it also decreases the likelihood that someone will discover something new. And if they’re just listening to a bunch of songs they already know (some of which they like and some they don’t), what competition can that offer to iPods and other recorded media, which are programmed by the user?

Personality and discovery are the advantages that live broadcast radio have over iPods. And yet music radio stations seem to be reluctant to exploit them.

And they wonder why ratings are slowly going down.

UPDATE (Jan. 10): Mitch Joel has some thoughts on local radio from a marketing perspective.

Ted Bird quits CHOM over “creative and philosophical differences”

Ted Bird, one of the veterans of Montreal radio, has flown the coop.

Ted Bird

The official word from CHOM, Pete Marier and the Bird Man himself is that Bird resigned from his morning show job.

I’d originally reported here that he had been fired. I’ll swallow my pride and retract that. My sources were wrong, and I relied too much on unverified information in repeating them. My apologies to my readers and to CHOM.

Bird himself confirmed Wednesday that he resigned from the station “for personal and professional reasons”:

Just for the record, I did in fact submit my resignation from CHOM for personal and professional reasons, which VP and general manager Martin Spalding graciously accepted.  I no longer have an e-mail account at the radio station but if I owe anyone money or they want their driveway shovelled, they can reach me on my home e-mail at tesburp@live.ca.

It would be fair to say that there were creative and philosophical differences that took a lot of the passion and joy out of the process, and I’m not going to get up at 3am to go to a job that’s no fun anymore. CHOM is skewing younger and I’m getting older (51 this month) so it just didn’t feel like it fit.

Bird welcomes comments at his email address above, which he has asked me to share with his listeners.

The story is getting coverage in The Gazette and at CTV. Both are being flooded with comments from people who support Bird and others who support him being taken off the air.

Bird gave an interesting quote to The Gazette about the state of the industry, something I’ve heard a lot from other radio veterans:

Radio stations used to be owned by families. They were creative people with a passion and instinct for the business. Now stations are run by corporations. They’ve taken the craft out of the hands of the craftsmen. I have to work with creative people – as a collaborator – not be dictated to.

Following the usual playbook of pretending like people never existed when they leave, Astral wasted no time scrubbing references to Bird from CHOM’s website on Tuesday, even while ads showing Bird were still appearing. Bird’s blog and CHOM email have been deleted or disabled.

The move (or at least the announcement of the move) comes the day after Chantal Desjardins joined the morning crew. Desjardins moved over from CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) to replace Kim Rossi, who left for a new job in St. Catharines, Ont. Desjardins and Bird didn’t work a single show together as “Ted, Chantal and Bad Pete”.

The CHOM morning show was also in the process of finding a new name, running a contest asking for suggestions from listeners. That contest has suspended entries, though they will draw the grand prize on Friday for anyone who entered before the contest was rendered moot. For now, the show is being referred to as “Chantal and Bad Pete“.

On Wednesday morning’s show, Marier started by stressing that Bird resigned suddenly on Jan. 1 (though few people knew about it until Tuesday). He said he doesn’t know why Bird quit, but that it was for “personal reasons”. (He also took a shot at those pesky online rumours that are full of “BS”.)

Marier also said the station will be looking for a replacement for Bird, even suggesting that one would be in place by February.

That’s not to say Marier was quick to move on. He devoted a perfectly respectable 17 minutes of the first three and a half hours of the show (it was extended an hour because of the unrelated fact that afternoon host Rob Kemp has just had a baby). Considering this is a music station that’s lucky to get five minutes an hour to talk about stuff between music, commercials, news, traffic, sports and weather, that’s not bad.

Marier repeatedly stressed that Bird had not been fired (I feel guilty enough to want to send him flowers), and that there was no personal conflict between the two, who have long been friends (apparently some people suggested that Marier had something to do with Bird’s departure, which really makes no sense).

Listen to Pete Marier talk about Ted Bird on Wednesday morning’s show (MP3, runs 16:52)

Bird first joined CHOM 21 years ago as a news announcer, moving from CJFM. In 1993 he and Terry DiMonte moved to CJFM to take over the Mix 96 morning show. DiMonte and Bird later reunited at CJAD and in 2002 retook the CHOM morning show in a bid to bring the station back to its roots (and ratings).

You can get a taste of Bird’s history in this mini documentary about the morning show trio, back when it was Ted, Kim and Kemp:

Asked what he’ll do next, Bird was his usual wisecracking self:

I have no immediate plans, although my 8 and 10 year old sons, Charlie and Sam, want the three of us to set up an Internet radio station, where Sam suggests that some of our regular features include him falling down in the snow and hitting Charlie in the nuts with an apple.

Bird’s current and former colleagues said they were shocked by the news, which was given to employees in the late afternoon on Tuesday. Terry DiMonte, who teamed up with Bird for many years at three radio stations, called it a “sad day for Montreal radio.”