Tag Archives: Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy

What happened to TTP Media?

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Over the past few months, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is what is going on with the group known as TTP Media. The group, composed of businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, has licences for three AM radio stations in Montreal, none of which has launched yet. And none of them has said anything publicly for months.

Some of those inquiries have come from people looking for jobs at these new stations, which have promised to invest heavily in local programming and local news. Others have come from radio watchers excited about having something else to listen to. And some are from people who have a beef with CJAD and want to see competition as soon as possible.

Since May, I have been trying to get answers from all three of them. And it has been proving strangely difficult. Tietolman, who had previously been very talkative about the new station, without giving away any secrets, clammed up, asking me to speak with Pancholy, who is the managing partner.

Pancholy told me he didn’t have anything to say at the moment, but that I could expect an announcement in the next four to six weeks that would answer most of my questions.

That was May 23. Despite repeated phone calls, I haven’t spoken to Pancholy since. (That’s 20 weeks ago, in case you’re counting.)

Tétrault, for his part, has at least been getting back to me. “Our group is very much alive and hard at work,” he wrote me in an email on Aug. 20. “However, we do not want to announce anything till we are fully ready. I hope you understand. We will contact you when the time comes.”

On Oct. 3, in response to another request for information as the deadline to launch the first of those three stations approaches, Tétrault said “we do not like to talk about our plans” but that he’d make an exception to tell me this:

In the current business environment, it makes business sense to launch multiple radio stations as close to each other as possible. Consequently, we had requested that our implementation deadline be extended. The CRTC has recently responded favorably to our request.

We do not have any other comments at the moment.

Tietolman had told me something similar the last time I saw him in person, during the Bell/Astral CRTC merger hearings in May. The group wants to launch its English and French news-talk stations at the same time. (The three have gone back and forth on this plan a bit, first saying they would launch simultaneously, then saying they wouldn’t have to do that, and now saying they want to do that again.)

News of this extension will no doubt fuel more rumours out there about why this group has disappeared from the public radar.

Continue reading

Status report: How things are changing at Montreal TV and radio stations

Last fall, I wrote for The Gazette that there were a lot of changes going on at local TV and radio stations. This year, 2013, is turning out to be the biggest one for local broadcasting in decades, with new stations, ownership changes and other big plans.

Because of that, a lot of people have been asking me what’s going on with some of them. My usual response is either “I don’t know” or recapping a blog post I published or something I posted on Twitter.

As we hit the halfway mark of the calendar year, I figured now is a good time to give you an update on what’s going on at each of these stations, one by one.

Continue reading

CRTC approves TTP Media’s French-language sports radio station at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM

Two years after CKAC abandoned the all-sports format to switch to a government-subsidized all-traffic station, Montreal is one step closer to getting a French-language all-sports radio station again.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a licence for 7954689 Canada Inc. (Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media) to operate a French-language sports-talk radio station in Montreal at 850 AM.

The station, whose transmitter would be in a field on Ile Perrot and be pointing toward Montreal, would operate at 50kW daytime and 22kW nighttime, which as the graphic above shows would pretty well cover the Montreal area and its shores.

Its format is a bit unclear. The CRTC decision describes it as “among other things, debate programs, sports news, live games, interviews and open-line programs.”

The “live games” part will be difficult, at least at first. Canadiens games air on Cogeco’s CHMP 98.5FM, and Cogeco retains Canadiens French-language radio broadcast rights until the end of the 2013-14 season. The station also airs Alouettes games. And it’s unlikely to easily give up on either.

This leaves Impact games which could be picked up by the new station. The Impact doesn’t have an official French-language radio broadcaster. And there’s plenty of out-of-market programming like tennis and golf and baseball. But the lack of other French-language sports radio stations in North America means it will have to at least translate all the coverage itself, unless it does something weird like sharing play-by-play guys with RDS.

The commission evaluates a market before awarding a licence for a new radio station to determine if the market can sustain it. In this case, the CRTC did not find any evidence that other stations could be threatened by this new one (competitors didn’t write to the CRTC to oppose this application), but did raise a concern that it “may face significant challenges when attempting to establish its presence in the market.”

But, taking into account the two existing licences and the potential for cost-savings by sharing resources, the commission felt it had a good chance and “would be a valuable proposition for listeners and small advertisers in Montreal” now that the market lacks a French-language all-sports radio station.

The CRTC has given the group exactly two years to get the station on the air, though it can grant an extension if necessary.

The 850AM frequency in Montreal has been silent since CKVL (which was started by Paul Tietolman’s father Jack) went off the air in 1999, replaced by Info 690.

TTP Media has licences for English- and French-language news-talk radio stations at 600 and 940AM, respectively. Neither has launched, but the French one at least is expected to be on the air by its deadline in November.

The group has promised an announcement within the next few weeks outlining its plans.

Statistics also released on Wednesday show that the three French-language AM stations in Montreal collectively (CKAC 730, CJMS 1040*, CJLV 1570 and CJWI 1610/1410) were back in the black for the first time since at least 2008. But that came at a price. From 86 employees when Info 690 still existed, to 47 after it shut down, it now has only 27 spread across the three remaining stations.

*CORRECTION: It turns out CJMS didn’t report financial figures, so it’s not included in the list of stations. That leaves CKAC, CJLV and Haitian station CJWI as the only French-language commercial AM stations in Montreal.

CRTC proceeds with TTP application for French sports talk at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM

Proposed propagation pattern of station at 850AM: day (black lines) and night (blue lines)

An application I told you about in September, for an all-sports radio station at 850AM, was published on Wednesday by the CRTC and will be considered at a hearing in March.

The proposed station would be the third AM talk station in Montreal owned by TTP Media (officially 7954689 Canada Inc.), a company formed by partners Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy. The trio’s other two stations, already approved by the CRTC but yet to launch, are for a French-language news-talk station at 940AM and an English-language news-talk station at 600AM. They are expected to go on the air simultaneously some time this year.

Here’s what the application tells us about this new 850AM station:


“Utilizing sports professionals and experienced broadcasters, AM850 will offer a locally produced, innovative brand of sports talk unlike anything heard previously in Canada. Francophone sports fans will finally have a 24 hour a day source of information covering the topics about which they are most passionate. Opinion, insight and debate sprinkled with listener interaction and lifestyle commentary will be offered up in a cutting edge fashion.” — Supplemental Brief in application to CRTC

As was the case for its previous applications, TTP likes to talk big about how it’s going to revolutionize radio with ideas no one else has tried before. This station is no different.

For one thing, there won’t be a focus on live broadcasts of sporting events. Unlike TSN Radio in English, which has things like European soccer and NFL football games broadcast live, the TTP station plans to have zero syndicated live sports programming. Instead, it will be locally-produced sports talk, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (they’re even willing to accept a condition of licence to this effect). Pancholy told me there might be some live local sports coverage, but the focus will be on discussion (which one would imagine would be mainly Canadiens-related) outside of games.

This is interesting, to say the least. Team 990 went a decade without rights to Canadiens games before it finally got them from CJAD in the hope that that would bring them back into the black (it didn’t, but the station hopes that the move to 690AM will push it over the break-even mark).

On one hand, people love to rant about their Canadiens. On the other hand, they’re more likely to do that on a station that carries the Canadiens broadcasts. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom.

Programming details will have to wait until the station is approved, but the application said they expect a total of four hours a week of hard news, and 126 hours (i.e. every minute of the week) of local programming.

The application also makes reference to “an online strategy.”:

Online is the perfect place to offer up stats plus extended commentary and analysis. Using social media is an ideal way to further engage listeners in debate and discussion. A strategic use of cutting edge technology will insure that AM850 remains contemporary, immediate and relevant.


The application comes in the wake of the decision from owner Cogeco to replace CKAC Sports with Radio Circulation in September 2011. That move, which came after it became clear there was resistance to a move to reactivate 690 and 940 for government-subsidized all-traffic stations in English and French, left Canada’s largest French-language market without a full-time sports talk station.

Instead, Cogeco’s news-talk station CHMP 98.5FM has adopted a hybrid format, with news and information during the day and sports talk during the evenings, including live broadcasts of Canadiens and Alouettes games. (Montreal Impact games are not broadcast on radio in French in Montreal).

Though that decision has been criticized, and CKAC’s market share is only a tenth of what it was as a sports station, CHMP’s ratings have soared, and it’s now the top-rated station in Montreal.

TTP’s application focuses on the void left by CKAC and the need for sports talk during the day.

The transmitter

The proposed frequency, 850AM, was previously used by Montreal’s CKVL (a station founded by Tietolman’s father, Jack Tietolman). That station changed frequency and was transformed into Info 690 in 1999, and 850 has been vacant here ever since.

But rather than bring the station back using its previous parameters, TTP has suggested a new setup with an improved signal. The transmitter would be located in a wooded area off Don Quichote Blvd. in Notre-Dame-de-l’Ile Perrot. There’s no transmitter site there, or towers, or anything. But it’s an ideal location for the coverage pattern they want to create.

Because it’s not a clear-channel station, it has to adjust its pattern to protect distant stations at night on the same frequency. The trickiest one is WEEI 850, a 50,000W station in Boston. This limits the proposed station’s pattern to the southeast. There’s also WKGE in Johnstown, Pa. (10kW), CJBC in Toronto (Première Chaîne at 860 kHz), WAXB in Ridgefield, Conn. (500W), as well as clear-channel stations in Denver and Alaska that are too far to be a real concern.

The station must also protect potential stations, patterns that are allocated but where no station is currently transmitting. (For the most part, these are patterns that used to be used by AM stations that no longer exist or that have changed frequency.) These include allocations in Timmins, Ont., Spaniard’s Bay, N.L., and Enola, Pa., on 850, plus adjacent-channel allocations in Drummondville (820), Brockville, Ont., (830), Rivière-du-Loup (840) and Quebec City (870).

The proposed station was originally going to be 50kW day and night, but that had to change after the Federal Communications Commission in the United States noticed that the station would interfere with WEEI. The technical application had been based on incorrect data, and the new data showed an unacceptable interference. TTP responded with the simplest solution, which is to reduce its nighttime power to 22kW, but it says it may try another solution if it comes up with something better later on.

The proposed signal also encroaches on the allocated pattern for the Spaniard’s Bay station. The community, just west of St. John’s, was served by AM station CHVO on 850 until 1990, but the allocation remains active. TTP proposed reducing the Spaniard’s Bay allocation’s contours slightly, arguing it would be better for the broadcasting system as a whole, and the advantages to the Montreal station (which would, you know, actually exist) would far outweigh the disadvantages to an AM allocation that might never be revived.

Taking all these protections into account, TTP decided the best move was to point the signal toward to the northeast (around 35 degrees). Putting the towers on Île Perrot maximizes the population inside the coverage area for a signal pointed in that direction.

The proposed transmitter setup is four towers 88.2 metres high spaced 98 metres apart, in a line pointing toward Montreal. The signal would be very directional, with the 0.5mV/m contours reaching almost to Quebec City 250km away but barely grazing towns like Hawkesbury, Cornwall and Hemingford which are only about 50km away. The signal would be excellent in the lower West Island (somewhat ironic since it’s a French station) but would cover Montreal and both shores pretty well.

Building a new transmitter site won’t be cheap. The application lists $1.5 million for transmitter setup costs, plus $63,000 in annual rent. The project could also be the subject of hearings if residents nearby object. Pancholy didn’t want to discuss details of potential hearings, but said that things were moving along well in terms of getting approvals necessary for the transmitter site.

TTP’s other two stations will use a transmission site in Kahnawake owned by Cogeco on rented land. This site was deemed inadequate technically for the 850 station.


The financing for the proposed station would, like with the others, be through a combination of personal financing from the partners and a bank loan. The application lists $5 million in total financing, which breaks down as $1 million from the owners and $4 million in debt from James Edward Capital.

But the station’s optimistic budget shows a quick profit turnaround. With $3.5 million in annual revenue, increasing to about $5 million by the end of the first seven-year licence term, the station expects to be making money by the fourth year of operation. Expenses would start at $3.6 million a year and rise to $4 million a year by Year 7.

Though TTP would argue its projections are conservative, its competitors would say they’re unrealistic.

Station revenues would come mostly through local advertising, since TTP doesn’t have any stations outside of Montreal (yet). It expects to come out of the gate with a respectable market share for an all-sports station:

“We conservatively project that by the end of the first year of operations AM will secure a 3.4% share of hours tuned for All Persons 12+ and a 6.0% share of hours tuned for males 25-54.”

Nevertheless, it expects its impact on other stations “will be negligible. The approximate 2-4 % average yearly increase of revenue coming into the market should largely offset the financial impact of minimally decreased share for these stations.”

TTP breaks down its ad revenue like this:

  1. 20% of our revenue will be derived from advertisers which do not currently advertise on existing radio services.
  2. 20% of our revenue would result from increased spending from advertisers which currently advertise on existing radio services (given this unique targeted opportunity).
  3. 15% of our revenue will come from our online/web site offerings.
  4. The remaining 45% of our projected revenues will come from existing radio services.

The application doesn’t list the number of jobs the station would create, and Pancholy didn’t want to come out with a number. Many administrative jobs would be shared among the stations.

The application makes reference to “a special intern program”, which suggests that unpaid interns might be a big part of the plan here. (Cheap and free labour is certainly a large part of the tight-budgeted TSN Radio).


The CRTC has called a hearing in Gatineau on March 20 to consider this application and others. Unless there are significant objections, the commission plans for these to be non-appearing items, meaning that the applicants won’t have to appear at the hearing and there will be no actual discussions.

The public is invited to file comments with the commission on this application until Feb. 15. They can do so here (choose Option 1 and then 7954689 Canada Inc.)

After the hearing, the commission will take a few weeks (or a few months, it’s really up to them) to make a decision. Once the station is approved, it will have two years to launch, though Pancholy said they would expect it to be up within a year of a positive decision.

What do you think? Does this business plan sound plausible? Are people more interested in talking about sports than listening to live matches? Can you have a sports talk radio station without any live sports? Leave your comments below.

Other coverage

The Journal de Montréal/Agence QMI has a story on this. Its headline says there will be a decision this summer, but no source is provided for that statement, and I doubt the commission has confided that detail to the reporter. It’s a good guess, but it’s a guess. The decision could be done by the end of April, or they might still be waiting for one in October. It’s really up to the commission.

CRTC approves TTP Media’s English news-talk station at 600AM

Nicolas Tétrault, Rajiv Pancholy and Paul Tietolman now have licences for two AM radio stations in Montreal.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Friday approved an application by 7954689 Canada Inc., better known as Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, to create an English-language talk radio station at 600AM.

The station, which would have 100% local programming under a news-talk format, would be the first direct competitor to market leader CJAD since 940 News, which changed formats in 2008 and eventually shut down in 2010. (The commission notes that CKGM, which is all-sports under the TSN Radio 690 brand, and CBME-FM, which has CBC Radio One programming, are not direct competitors because the first has a different format and the second is non-commercial.)

Approval was expected, because in its decision last year rejecting the application, the commission made clear that it was doing so only because it did not have an available frequency to give to the group. It invited TTP to re-apply for another frequency, and said it would reconsider the application. TTP did that, stepping down from an earlier bluff that it needed clear channels for both stations or wouldn’t proceed with either.

The new application received little opposition, only one comment that the market could not handle a competitor to CJAD (see below). The commission dismissed the comment, which came with no evidence to back it up, noting that CJAD itself did not oppose the application.

The new station will operate as a sister station to one the commission approved last year for a French news-talk station at 940AM. That station has until November 2013 to launch unless it gets an extension. Paul Tietolman tells me he expects both stations to launch in the spring at around the same time.

It was also revealed recently that the group has applied for a French-language sports-talk radio station for 850AM, the former frequency for CKVL, a station owned by Tietolman’s father. That application has not yet been published by the CRTC.

You can read my Gazette story on the decision here.

Continue reading

TTP Media applying for 850AM, wants to buy CKGM and CHRC

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

The group of three Montreal businessmen who want to revolutionize radio broadcasting by putting money back into it don’t yet have their first station on the air, but already they’re looking to expand their growing empire from two news-talk stations to up to five AM radio stations in Quebec, including sports-talk stations in English and French, I’ve learned. And that expansion includes an as-yet unpublished application to start a new radio station on a frequency with a lot of history for one of these partners.

7954689 Canada Inc. is the official name of the company founded and controlled by Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault an Rajiv Pancholy, and known as Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media (you can read more about them here). It was founded a little more than a year ago to apply to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for two AM radio stations in Montreal, which would both have run on a news-talk format – one in English, the other in French. The French station was approved last October for 940 kHz, but since the other clear-channel frequency of 690 was given to CKGM and other frequencies were considered undesirable for the group, the commission turned down the application for an English station. The group has re-applied for an English station at 600 kHz, the former home of CIQC radio. The application was technically part of the hearings last week in Montreal that focused on Bell acquiring Astral Media, but since it did not provoke any opposition, there were no oral presentations about this application. Barring some unforeseen problem or change of heart, expect it to be approved quickly.

With two big-power AM stations set to launch soon, possibly in early 2013, perhaps more realistically by the fall of 2013 (they have until October 2013 to launch the French one unless they ask for an extension), you’d think they’d have their hands full. But they’ve already set their sights on getting bigger.

The group has taken part in two open calls for applications for new FM stations: one in Calgary for a hit music station and the other in Toronto for a news-talk station. Both had heavy competition and the group lost both times (decisions came for Calgary in May and for Toronto last week).

But that’s not all. They’re also looking to expand here.

Buying CKGM? “Absolutely”

Tietolman has previously said that his company might look to acquire existing radio stations as a result of the Bell-Astral acquisition that might force the divestment of an English radio station in Montreal. He has his sights on CJAD, but Bell said at last week’s hearing that if anything it would be CKGM (TSN Radio 690) that would be sold or shut down. Asked about the possibility of buying that station instead, Tietolman said “absolutely.” Since they already have an English news-talk station in the pipeline, this new one would probably maintain its sports-talk format.

During the hearings last week, Tietolman was seen having brief conversations with executives at Bell, but whether these are of any consequence, I don’t know.

New application for French sports-talk at 850AM

When I asked the TTP group for their plans regarding sports radio, they were reluctant to share details, which I found odd for people who are normally very forthcoming with information. Was something in the works that hasn’t been made public yet?

Turns out there’s at least one thing: the Industry Canada radio station database lists an entry for a Class B station at 850 kHz, dated Aug. 20, 2012 (updated Aug. 22), with a transmitter whose coordinates show it to be in the middle of a forest in Île Perrot. The company listed with that entry is 7954689 Canada Inc., or TTP Media.

Applications for new radio stations have to meet approval of both the CRTC and Industry Canada. The latter handles the technical aspects of transmission, ensuring that the proposed station’s technical parameters meet regulations and do not interfere with other stations. An engineering report filed with Industry Canada is a step in the application process for a new radio station, but an entry in the database does not mean a station is authorized to begin transmitting. It’s merely a provisional entry, and it’s the CRTC that will decide if the proposed station will be given a licence.

The CRTC tells me that indeed there is an application from 7954689 Canada Inc. for a radio station at 850 kHz in Montreal, but until it is published they cannot confirm any details about the application. A commission spokesperson said they could not say when a public notice about the application might come.

Asked about this application, Tietolman confirmed that his group is applying to start a French sports-talk station at 850AM. The station would be 50,000 watts day and night, with a signal pattern that would cover the region but still provide protection for WEEI in Boston.

Tietolman said the process began a year ago, when Cogeco announced it would move CKAC radio from sports-talk to all-traffic and well before Bell’s proposal to turn TSN 690 into an RDS radio station became public. Tietolman said they first tried buying another existing station (he wouldn’t say which one) to convert to sports-talk, but when that fell through they had their engineers find an unused frequency and signal pattern that could cover the region for a new application.

It’s interesting that the frequency they came up with is 850 kHz. That channel has been silent since CKVL became CINF (Info 690) in 1999. CKVL was a major French-language commercial radio station for decades. It was started in 1946 by Corey Thompson and Jack Tietolman. The name is no coincidence: Jack Tietolman was Paul Tietolman’s father.

Asked about getting back a frequency that used to belong to his family, Paul Tietolman said there wasn’t any sentimental value to the frequency, and it really was just the best one available.

Quebec 800 too

That’s not all. Tietolman also confirmed that TTP Media is also interested in acquiring CHRC in Quebec City, whose owners announced last Friday that they would be shutting the money-losing station down. Tietolman wouldn’t go into detail about what his group would do with the station, but expect it to be a sister station to the news-talk station being built in Montreal.

Bell Media is also reportedly interested in acquiring the station, the last AM station in Quebec City. They would likely turn it into a sister station to RDS Radio, should the CRTC approve its application to put it on 690 in Montreal.

Can TTP make sports radio work?

I asked Tietolman how he thinks his group can make sports talk radio successful without rights to game broadcasts. He replied that play-by-play rights to live sports games like Canadiens and Alouettes have only a marginal impact on a sports-talk station’s overall profitability. It’s more of an image and brand thing than anything else, he said, and he said he was confident that they could make it work even without rights to those games.

In English, Canadiens rights are held by Bell Media (which airs them on CKGM), while Alouettes and Impact rights are held by Astral Media (which airs them on CJAD). If the application by Bell to acquire Astral is approved, Bell would move Canadiens games to CJAD, and presumably Alouettes and Impact games would stay there.

In French, Canadiens and Alouettes rights are held by Cogeco Diffusion, which airs them on CHMP 98.5. There is no French-language radio broadcaster for Impact games, which means either RDS Radio or a TTP sports-talk station could quickly pick up rights to Impact play-by-play.

Thinking big

Those who considered TTP’s plans for their original two stations to be unrealistically optimistic will think this new expansion to up to five stations is just lunacy, an insane money-burning exercise that will leave the company bankrupt within two years. Those who think these three guys are going to save the radio industry will consider this great news.

Expect the CRTC to be very skeptical about business plans once the 850AM application and any transfer of ownership applications come before them, just as they were when TTP’s original applications were heard last year.

But don’t count out these little guys with a bit of money and big dreams, either.

TTP applies for English news-talk station at 600AM

Nicolas Tétrault, Rajiv Pancholy and Paul Tietolman

It got buried under all the hoopla about Bell, Astral and CKGM, but at the same hearing where the CRTC will consider Bell’s purchase of Astral and the proposal to turn TSN Radio into RDS Radio, it will also consider an application by three independent millionnaires to start up an English-language news-talk station to compete with CJAD.

The application – by Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, together under 7954689 Canada Inc. – is very similar to one they made last year for clear channel 940AM, which I’ve summarized here. The station would be a news-talk format, with 100% local programming, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with its own team of journalists. It would act as a sister station to a French-language one that has already been approved for 940.

Because 690AM went to CKGM (the station is changing frequencies this fall, before its format change), it has to choose an alternative. At first, the group said if it was not given one of the two clear channels (690 and 940) that would allow it to broadcast at 50,000 watts day and night, its business plan would not be viable. It also said the CRTC had to approve both stations or reject both, because their business plan requires both station to share resources.

The CRTC called their bluff, and TTP backtracked, accepting the French station and now trying for an English one on a different frequency.

Continue reading

Tietolman interested in buying CJAD

Paul Tietolman

Paul Tietolman, the son of former Montreal radio magnate Jack Tietolman and one of three partners in a new French-language talk radio station that received CRTC approval last fall, says that he would be interested in buying CJAD or any other station Bell Media is forced to put up for sale in Montreal to get approval for its takeover of Astral Media.

The $3.38-billion purchase announced last Friday would give Bell control of four out of the five English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal, which would go against a CRTC policy that no more than three commercial radio stations in a market with fewer than eight total can have a common owner. Unless the CRTC grants an exception, that would mean one of CJAD 800, CKGM 990, CHOM 97.7 or CJFM 95.9 would be on the block.

Tietolman and partners Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy received CRTC approval last fall for a French-language news-talk station on one of two clear channels available in Montreal – 940 kHz. But a similar application for an English-language news-talk station was rejected because the group would not accept the more restricted channel of 990 AM. The other clear channel, 690 kHz, went to CKGM, which plans to change frequency within the next few months (probably after the Canadiens’ season is over), with 990 going to Dufferin Communications for a French-language music/talk station targeted at the LGBT community.

Though the group said at the time that no other frequency would be acceptable and they would not proceed with one station unless it got approval for both, they’ve essentially folded on both those points. Plans are under way to launch the French news-talk station this fall, and the group is preparing a submission to the CRTC for an application for an English version that would use a frequency of 600 kHz. The only thing left is to find a transmitter site.

Tietolman said his group is in negotiation with Cogeco for use of their former CINF/CINW site in Kahnawake. The towers there have stood unused since Info 690 and 940 Hits went off the air in January 2010. A final transmitter site for their French-language station also hasn’t been chosen yet – they may want the two to use the same towers to save money.

Of course, Cogeco is also looking to submit an application for a new AM radio station in the Montreal area, to revive their plan for an English all-traffic station. At last report, Cogeco was still in discussions with the Quebec transport ministry to determine an agreeable frequency and coverage pattern to submit to the CRTC. I haven’t been told what frequencies they’re considering (a multiple-transmitter system may be among them), but 600 would be a strong contender. It’s the former frequency of CFCF AM and CIQC, and has adequate coverage in anglo areas, probably better than any other available AM frequency.

Tietolman said he’d be interested in any stations Bell would have to divest itself of, but seems to have a particular eye on CJAD, whose news-talk formula could easily be converted into the radio station they have in mind (and, of course, would provide instant listener loyalty as well as eliminating their proposed station’s main competition).

With the Bell-Astral deal having just been announced and no CRTC hearing even set yet, much less a decision on what if any stations they would have to sell, nothing formal is on the table yet.

But if CJAD is the station that goes on the table (and some insiders believe that will be the one they decide to get rid of), there’s at least one party interested in taking it over.

Rejected AM radio stations preparing Plan B

Two weeks after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued a decision that awarded licenses for two new AM radio stations and rejected two others for lack of available frequencies, the two groups who had applications rejected are studying their options.

Cogeco: No final decision

Metromedia (owned by Cogeco Diffusion), which in September launched a French-language all-traffic station on CKAC 730, had its application for an English station on 940 kHz rejected because “the Commission is not satisfied that the proposed service would represent the best use of a high-power AM frequency in Montréal,” and the group said it would not accept the other frequency that was available as part of the hearing, 990 kHz. Still, the commission suggested Cogeco reapply for another frequency.

Now Cogeco is planning what to do next. Mark Dickie, who is the general manager for CKBE The Beat and part of the committee planning the anglophone traffic station, said he’s been in regular meetings since, but no final decision has been made on whether to reapply. Another meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

There are many factors that suggest Cogeco will reapply for another frequency despite its earlier assertion that only a clear channel would work. For one thing, the station is part of an agreement between Cogeco and the Ministry of Transport, which would pay the broadcaster $1.5 million a year to operate the station. Though the agreement requires the station to have coverage around the Montreal area, how that’s determined is not clearly defined.

A similar agreement governs the French all-traffic station, which is also worth $1.5 million a year for Cogeco. Because the agreements are the same for both languages (meaning their value is based on the cost of providing the service, not the potential audience) and because there are no guaranteed minimums in terms of audience reach, it’s clear the ministry doesn’t actually care how many people listen to the station, just that it’s there.

Guilaume Paradis, spokesperson for Transport Quebec, told me they are awaiting another submission from Cogeco, and that “we will study it,” but that they still want to see an English all-traffic station in Montreal.

When asked about specifics, Paradis said that they are not experts in radio broadcasting, which is why they hired Cogeco to do the job in the first place, and they will leave the details of how such a station would reach the Montreal area to Cogeco.

The agreement between Cogeco and the government originally called for both stations to be operational by Oct. 31. That was amended with a new deadline of Feb. 29 in light of the elongated CRTC process. Clearly that will need to be amended again if the project is to continue.

Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy will reapply

The other group, 7954689 Canada Inc., known as Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, scored a half-victory at the CRTC, getting clear-channel 940 kHz for a French-language news-talk station, but the English station was rejected for lack of available frequencies (like Cogeco, the TTP group rejected 990 as an option).

One of the group’s partners, Paul Tietolman, originally wouldn’t comment on their plans, but now says the group will make an application for another frequency. He wouldn’t say what frequency that is, but did suggest it would be a unique technical setup (perhaps not limited to one frequency or one transmitter), without going into details.

Tietolman said many people have already approached the group expressing an interest in joining them. They are currently in the process of setting up their management team, who will then hire talent.

He said the goal is still to have the station running by fall of 2012.

Asked whether the group is sticking to its stance that it would not proceed with a radio station in one language without getting approval for the other, Tietolman would say only that he expects everything will work out, and that a solution has been found that will make everyone happy.

Meanwhile, the group has applied for an FM radio station in Calgary, one of 11 applications for FM stations on a few remaining vacant frequencies in that city. The application is for a music station that would be based on current and classic hits (from Katy Perry to the Beach Boys), based on requests, and with commitments to promote emerging Canadian artists as well as comedians. It would also hire 12 journalists and have newscasts 24 hours a day.

Tietolman said other applications are coming for other cities.

CRTC gives clear channels to TSN, Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy

The CRTC’s decision on Montreal AM radio stations came out this morning. Here’s the skinny:

The two other applications, TTP’s English-language news-talk station and Cogeco’s English all-traffic station, are denied, not because the CRTC feels they are without merit, but because the other applicants made better cases for the two clear-channel frequencies and neither would accept 990 as a backup. The CRTC hints that the two might be approved if they reapplied for other vacant AM frequencies (like 600 or 850), but that these applications would have to be reconsidered on their own merits.

Also Monday, the CRTC denied four applications for low-powered AM radio stations in Montreal, three of which would target ethnic communities and the fourth a religious station. The CRTC felt they would negatively impact the five existing ethnic stations, notably CKIN-FM 106.3 (Mike FM’s sister station), which has programming targeting the South Asian and Latin American communities, and religious station Radio Ville-Marie (CIRA-FM 91.3).

The second decision has an impact on the first, in that one of the stations had applied to use 600 kHz. The denial of that application means the frequency is available to the big commercial players. Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy has hinted that it might be interested in that frequency, provided it can use a tower or get space for one to build themselves. The only one capable of doing that frequency right now is Cogeco’s towers, which will continue to go unused, but Paul Tietolman says he has no intention of asking Cogeco for them.

You can read a summary of what’s going on in this article I wrote for Tuesday’s Gazette. Below, I go into a bit more analysis.

The hierarchy

Reading the decision, it becomes clear how the CRTC judged the applications based on hierarchy:

  1. CKGM’s frequency change clearly made the strongest case, because it was an already-existing station and because moving it would offer another frequency for another applicant. (The CRTC likes to make as many people happy as possible.) Its content – sports – is also better suited to a signal that carries farther into the regions. So CKGM wins the biggest prize, 690 kHz.
  2. Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy’s application was taken seriously, and the CRTC believes enough in its business plan that it is willing to give them a chance. But it wasn’t going to give the one applicant both clear-channel frequencies. So TTP gets 940. And since they said they would not accept 990, one application has to be denied. The French market is stronger in Montreal and its surrounding regions, and there isn’t as much direct competition for a French news-talk station as their is in English with CJAD, so the French station gets approved.
  3. Cogeco’s application for an English all-traffic station couldn’t convince the CRTC that it required a signal so powerful that it can reach into Gaspé. They made a valiant effort, saying that they need to be heard across the Ontario border for people who commute from that far, and that their application should be approved because otherwise the existence of the French all-traffic station would create an imbalance in services to different languages. But the CRTC remained unconvinced. And since Cogeco wouldn’t accept anything but 690 and 940, that application had to be denied.
  4. Dufferin’s Radio Fierté gets 990 more by process of elimination than anything else. Two applications were approved for clear channels, and the other two wouldn’t accept 990, so Dufferin gets it. That isn’t to say the CRTC wasn’t excited about their application and eager to increase the diversity of the radio industry in Montreal. But it seems pretty clear that if TTP would have accepted 990 for its English station, it probably would have gotten it.

Calling their bluff

One thing I like about the CRTC decision is that it calls a lot of bluffs from the applicants.

Cogeco went all in, saying it’s 690, 940 or nothing. I find it hard to believe they’re just going to walk away from $1.5 million a year, and their deal with the Quebec government was already modified once when they decided to make CKAC an all-traffic station. Because that $1.5 million is based on costs instead of audience (otherwise it would be more for the French station), there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t reach a deal for another frequency like 600 or 850. Cogeco’s Mark Dickie told me before the decision that there is no Plan B. If that’s true, they either have to come up with one or walk away from this project.

The latter option would be particularly embarrassing because both parties have been acting as if this was a done deal. The government has been advertising a coming English traffic station, and Cogeco has even asked for applications for potential traffic hosts, with only a footnote at the bottom pointing out that these jobs might not actually ever exist.

Is Cogeco willing to walk away from $1.5 million a year? Is the Transport Ministry willing to walk away from their promise of all-traffic radio in English? We’ll see.

The CRTC also called the bluff of Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy, which originally said it wanted both clear channels or nothing, then softened that stance suggesting the English station could find another alternative frequency. They continue to insist that they need both stations for the business plan to be viable, but say the English station might not need to be a clear channel if they can get adequate coverage in Montreal and the West Island. So far 600 kHz seems to be the only one able to do this, but that would require either expanding the site they were planning to use or using Cogeco’s CINW/CINF site in Kahnawake. The latter option is very distasteful to Tietolman and his partners.

When I finally reached Tietolman on Monday, he said he wouldn’t comment (other than to point out that TSN said it would be fine with 940, which I guess means TTP felt the CRTC should have given 690 to them and given 940 to TSN). Tietolman said he and his partners are going to study the decision carefully and decide where to go from there.

Though nobody’s pointing this out, the CRTC decision combined with TTP’s position should mean that the group will decline the license. I highly doubt that will happen, but if TTP doesn’t get a decent frequency for its proposed English station, or if the application takes too long, they might face the choice of going with just the French station or going home.

Six months to a year

The big question for the winning applicants is when they’re going to be on the air. Bell Media says it’ll be “within six months” for CKGM, which would mean by the end of May (maybe just before the playoffs start, or just after the Canadiens are eliminated). It’s unclear at this point whether it will operate for any length of time on both frequencies, though that has been the practice in the past.

Evanov/Dufferin hopes to have its station up within a year, but has to wait for CKGM to vacate its frequency first. The decision gives the group a second choice in terms of transmission site. It already had a letter showing it could enter into negotiations for use of the CJAD site, but as part of the hearing Bell Media committed to negotiating use of the CKGM site for another station on 990, and even said it would submit to binding arbitration concerning a transmitter sharing deal. Evanov tells me they will look at both possibilities.

Other coverage

Clear Channel Cagematch: Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy

Over the past week, I have been taking a closer look at the applications for Montreal’s AM clear-channel frequencies 690 and 940 kHz that were presented at CRTC hearings in October. In today’s final installment, I look at the application from Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy for a French news-talk station on 690 and an English news-talk station on 940. Though these are technically two separate applications, they are virtually identical in format and are being treated as one application here.

The would-be station owners at the CRTC hearing (from left): Nicolas Tétrault, Rajiv Pancholy and Paul Tietolman

Do you believe in radio? Do you believe that corporate greed and ineptitude has more to do with the decline of media than the Internet or changing habits? Do you think the thing the media sphere needs right now more than anything else is an owner with the heart of a mom-and-pop operation and the bank account of a Fortune 500 executive?

If so, the three men pictured above are here to be your saviours.

If you don’t believe, if you think investing in talent has already been proven not to work, and that rigorous cost-cutting is the only thing that keeps radio profitable these days, then these three men will seem like morons willing to flush tens of millions of dollars right down the toilet.

Despite how closely I’ve followed radio, I can’t honestly say which of these is true. I want to hope for the former, but the latter just seems more realistic.

And the success of these applications will depend, more than anything else, on which side of that fence three CRTC commissioners sit.

Continue reading