Montreal Radio Blog

Friday, December 31, 2010

Good Riddance, 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, it’s interesting to look back at predictions that were made at the end of last year. It seems that almost all the big news items of 2010 were unforeseen. Sure, some of the most memorable events are often bad ones, and a lot of them are the result of disasters beyond our control. Earthquakes and tsunamis fall within that category. It’s amazing how life can be forever transformed by something that came out of nowhere and lasted only a few minutes.

Emergency planning is usually lacking in far too many instances. Just look at what happened in Europe recently, as a dozen centimetres of snow shut down airports and caused total chaos. Things like that could very well be avoided. Then there is the other end of the spectrum, when “experts” go overboard in their apocalyptic predictions and preparations.

It is no secret that the attention span of western societies is pretty short. No matter how horrible the disaster, few will literally change the world and the way we see it. In other words, an event must have a direct impact on our lives in order for it to remain on the radar. 9/11 was probably the last such Earth-shattering occurrence.

In 2010, there were two news stories that blanketed the media for long periods of time. The earthquake in Haiti and the Gulf oil spill. For a while it seemed that there was nothing else happening. But as it goes, both eventually became yesterday’s news…

It seems the situation in Haiti has not improved much since the quake hit almost a year ago, but with some exceptions, we don’t hear too much about it now. Likewise, as disastrous as the Gulf oil spill was supposed to have been, it too isn’t talked about that much anymore. Either there has been a miraculous environmental recovery, or it just isn’t as interesting to look at live shots of a capped well. Has anything been learned from those two events and how the world responded to them? Maybe. Will anything change as a result? Probably not. Most policies are reactionary not visionary.

So take note of some of the predictions that are being made about the year 2011. There is little doubt that some of the biggest news stories of the coming year will be things nobody saw coming - even if they should have. As for 2010, it wasn't that great...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Montreal TV in Canada

There was a recent article that appeared in a local newspaper that lamented the lack of English TV production in Montreal. To be more specific, the lack of "openly" Montreal fictional TV produced. It is truly amazing how non-existent it has been, not only in recent years, but for decades.

Gone are the days of local programming aimed at Montrealers. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that quite a few shows were based here. Some even managed to be seen by a much wider audience. Some CBC shows were produced here, but you'd probably have to go back to the 1980s to find the last time that happened. On channel 12, Travel Travel was hugely successful and sold abroad. It didn't really focus on Montreal, but the hosts were always local television personalities. As for shows that were produced for the local market alone, they are too numerous to name. They are now all gone, and that too is a damn shame.

So what were some of the more "memorable" contemporary - and I use that term very loosely - shows that were supposed to be set in Montreal? The last one that I remember was a CBC show called "Urban Angel". It only ran a couple of years, and that was nearly two decades ago... A cool fact about that show was that it was picked up by CBS and shown once a week in what is now David Letterman's time slot. Urban Angel was unique in that it was actually watchable. The same can't be said of the next two gems on the Montreal list...

Do you remember a show set at a ski resort near Montreal back in the early 1980s? It was called "Snow Job". It might quite possibly go down as the worst show in the history of Canadian television. I remember one episode in particular where a young Wayne Gretzky made a cameo. No doubt Wayne would probably want to have that tape burned, if it hasn't been already...

And the last show on my list was highly touted by CTV before it went on the air. It was meant to mimic what had been very popular American prime-time soaps. Unfortunately for Mount Royal , by the time it premiered, powerhouse shows like Dallas and Dynasty were beginning to fade. Even more unfortunate for the program was that it had no plot or point to it. You did get your weekly fix of Montreal location shots, but that was not enough to save it from the inevitable.

What is quite amazing is that Montreal-centred English-language theatre and fiction are thriving right now. I see it with the endless line of talent that makes its way onto the Arts Notebook program on Radio Centre-Ville every week. Why this hasn't translated onto television screens is a mystery. And it is rare that a work of Canadian television fiction ever portrays the interaction between anglophones and francophones in Montreal. Almost everything you have seen on Canadian TV to this point has presented the groups are the stereotypical two solitudes. There seems to be a fear of presenting any other reality, because some people might be offended.

Maybe all the Montreal TV talent has left for greener pastures... Or maybe the decision-makers down the 401 just don't care if there is any Montreal representation on the airwaves. Having said all that, don't expect anything to change. Even the control rooms are in Toronto now!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Musings...

Not that long ago, you could never envision a day when people in far away lands would be able to listen to your program. I remember the first time I found streaming radio stations in the mid-1990s, and just how amazing that seemed. Of course now we are completely shocked when a station doesn’t stream.

I'm still amazed to see where podcast audiences tend to come from. I don't know how much this holds true for other places, but ex-Montrealers seem to have maintained a deep attachment to their home town. There are so many people out there who are deeply nostalgic for the Montreal they grew up in.

Things are different in Montreal now, as with the exception of newscasts, local TV in English has all but disappeared. Local radio has changed dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s. There are far fewer big "names" out there than there used to be. Will people be nostalgic in 30 years time for anything they see or hear now from Montreal broadcasters?

On a somewhat related note, in terms of television, they keep telling us we have more choice than ever before. Technically that is true, but most people can relate to flipping through thousands of channels on their cable or satellite systems and finding nothing on worth watching. There were only about 30 cable TV channels 25 years ago, so why did they seem so much more interesting?

The concept of all-news actually began as all-news, rather than all-news and an endless stream of talking heads. Back then, you had to watch for the news, because you could not go and get it yourself on the Internet. The audience is now very fragmented. But don't feel too bad for the old-school broadcasters - their parent companies own just about all the specialty channels. One way or another, they are capturing the audience...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Telethon of Stars in 2010

It seems there will be no Telethon of Stars this year. It had been held in one form or another since 1977. This year, they intend to do a webcast instead. Of course, a fund raising campaign of this sort has become a huge business since the 1970s. Clearly, when the telethon began in the 1970s, the show itself was the primary way funds would be collected every year. Nowadays, the fundraising continues all year long. Previously, I have mentioned my disgust with the way most big charities now operate. As for this particular telethon, things really haven't been the same since the early 1990s.

Back in the 1980s, a TV network like CTV was an association of private local television stations. Now, it is the network that owns and controls the local stations. In the name of “branding” every sign of individuality has been eliminated, right down to the call letters. In most markets, the only local programming left now are the newscasts. Back in the day, CFCF was a huge entity. Programming was controlled locally and was aimed directly at the Montreal market. And yes, there was quite a bit of local programming available.

The Telethon of Stars was by far the high point of the year for CFCF. It was a gigantic local television event that usually took place at the start of each December. What made the show all the more amazing was its bilingual format. Clearly you needed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible in order to raise funds, and so the entire show was held in both official languages. It seemed like a true reflection of how most people really got along in Montreal. Linguistic divisions were set aside for at least one weekend a year and the show was always a big success. They even managed to get some big names up to Montreal to perform. It was a big, big deal...

The telethon expanded to include TQS in the mid-1980s, and that gave them a wider reach throughout the province. Unfortunately, it would also lead to the demise of the bilingual broadcast. Starting in 1994, the annual show would continue, but in French only. From then on, English viewers would be relegated to what would primarily be a movie marathon. They made all kinds of excuses about why the telethon could no longer be bilingual, but the truth was that it was an obvious political decision.

By the time the new "V" decided to dump the event, year-long fundraising, the Internet and marketing diseases as if they were fast food made the relevance of one specific yearly show less important. 2009 saw the return of the bilingual telethon - sort of. It only lasted a few hours, and unlike the seamless flow of decades past, this time it came across as very awkward. Call it inevitable, but the end of the yearly telethon is another sad turning point in Montreal English television history. A very symbolic one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Final Years of CFCF/CIQC/CINW

I recently posted a link to an article about the history of CFCF radio. This would have technically been the station's 90th anniversary had it not been axed at the beginning of this year. In all fairness, the 2010 version of the station bared little resemblance to the CFCF of old. In fact, it didn't even have much in common with CIQC.

For a lot of people, when the signal moved from 600 to 940 on the AM dial, it ceased being the same radio station. It was more than a simple change of frequency, it was more as if they were trying not only to distance themselves from their history, but to pretend they were in no way connected to their past.

If I am not mistaken, the story goes that around 1990 (give or take a few years), when CFCF Inc., then still a mega-broadcaster, sold CFCF and CFQR. At the time, they insisted the radio station change its call letters to break the obvious perceived connection to the rest of the CFCF family. That happened in 1991, when the station went all-country. You may remember tuning in to hear an Expo game and being shocked when an announcement referred to the station as Country 600, CIQC.

CIQC went to a talk format in 1993, and they pretty much maintained it until their 1999 move to all news on 940. From late afternoon on, the station became as close to a Montreal English-language sports station as you could get back in the mid-90s. Having the Expos helped in that regard.

I have some fond memories of Expos coverage on CIQC that I have wrote about before. It's kind of symbolic that the Expos began their demise at the same time the station pulled the plug on itself in 1999. After that happened, English-language sports talk in Montreal almost completely disappeared until Team 990 was born.

940 News went on the air in 1999. The premise with that kind of format is that people do not tune in for extended periods of time. I tried to listen, but heard the same loops of news being repeated over and over again. They added a talk component to their format in the mid-2000s, but that wasn’t really any more successful.

Ironically, there are no more 24 hour radio news rooms in Montreal right now in either official language. That is pretty alarming for a city of nearly 4 million people. Back in the 1980s, if there was a power outage or a fire in your neighbourhood at 2 o'clock in the morning, you could tune in to the next local radio newscast and probably hear about it. Where are you supposed to get your information from now? You can't...

So 940 went to an oldies format toward the end of their existence, and predictably that didn't pan out. You can't seriously expect to market music on an AM frequency in the 2000s. You'd have had a hard time doing that in the late 1970s.

When the plug was pulled on the two Montreal stations earlier this year, it was sad. Sad for people in the business who saw two less opportunities to do their “thing“, and even sadder for the public, who now have two less listening choices than they did before. So at best, people can be nostalgic about the station that was - even as late as the 1990s. The station that was the home of Montreal sports for the longest time, and to some of the greatest announcers in Montreal radio history.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

War of the Worlds

One of the greatest examples of the power of early radio. Many who heard the original broadcast freaked out, as they were convinced the Earth was being invaded by Martians. This monumental broadcast was created by Orson Welles as part of his Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was inspired by H. G. Wells' science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. It originally aired on October 30th, 1938.

It is believed that six million people heard part or all of the live broadcast, and at least half of them either believed what they were hearing was true or were at the very least, becoming concerned. We are used to hearing/seeing “fake” news now, but to fake an entire news event on radio was unheard of back in 1938.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Future of Terrestrial Radio and the Automobile

It seems that more people than ever are tuning into online streaming. It’s great news for a lot of terrestrial radio stations, because it expands their outreach. Unfortunately for the traditionalists, there is a big downside to this: A good portion of the streaming audience is listening to Internet-only programming.

Right now, most online listening is taking place on home computers or laptops, but when streaming radio becomes realistically portable, traditional radio is going to face another huge problem.

Streaming stations are portable to a degree already. However, when they begin equipping Internet radio into automobiles it will change everything. Suddenly, your car will have the potential to play not only almost every terrestrial radio station in the world that is making their stream available online, but also Internet-only radio stations.

Despite everything that radio broadcasting has faced over the decades, one thing they have managed to hold on to is the road listener. Yeah I know, there is satellite radio, but for the most part, terrestrial radio is still winning that battle. People are stuck in their cars during rush hour - and they are a captive audience. The morning show is the most important daily block of programming for a reason. A recent poll down south shows that if given the opportunity to listen to streaming radio in their cars, one in three respondents would abandon their local radio stations.

Another thing to remember is that Internet-only stations are not held to the same federal regulations as terrestrial broadcasters are. That will perhaps become the biggest challenge the medium has ever faced. Time will tell. It may be that there will be attempts made to censor or regulate the online industry. That may prove to be very difficult to enforce without further eroding Internet "freedom".

Is traditional radio planning ahead for this? That is a very good question. It seems they have been more reactionary over the years than visionary. In order to compete with the inevitable, terrestrial radio stations will have to set up diversified streaming versions of themselves. It can’t be understated about how people will still likely be drawn to local content if it includes the entertainment and information they are looking for. This is especially true of the music they are searching for. In the age of MP3s and iPods it will become increasingly difficult to force-feed people the same old formats anymore.

Another problem to factor in is how young people are listening to less traditional radio than ever before. They are spending more time online, and getting their music there too. Again, people have the option to find exactly what they are looking for, and that has to be addressed.

It was about 9 years ago that the iPod was introduced. It was one of those groundbreaking products that literally transformed the way people listened to portable music. It didn't stop at music, as you can now take a lot of your favourite radio shows with you, and listen to them at your convenience.

Now you've got smartphones and tablets and what seems like an endless supply of gadgets that allow you to watch or listen to entertainment on demand. That's the basic difference between broadcast and podcast... Broadcasting is not an interactive medium. At its core, a broadcaster sends out their signal, and if you capture it, you become a viewer/listener. You take what they give you, or at least, that is how it was up until very recently.

People keep saying that terrestrial radio is going to disappear. More recently, some claimed that it would be satellite radio that would be the final nail in radio's coffin. That hasn't happened. I would bet that if you did a little checking, you'd probably find that there are more terrestrial radio stations in existence today than ever before. Whether or not their creative content is at its historical peak is another story altogether.

Aside from the Internet, radio's biggest rival has always been television. TV has been around for quite a while now, but so has radio. Unlike with TV, as mentioned, radio can actually benefit from the Internet. The podcast is best used as an extension of terrestrial radio, just as live streaming is. The concept is the same, but the options are more appealing. If you miss your favourite radio program, it’s not a problem. You can download it and listen to it later... iTunes is the best example of this. The added bonus is that it also allows people to discover your radio program through a podcast query. It is actually a good thing, and it is also financially viable.

Terrestrial radio will always have a place in terms of immediacy. When something big happens locally, your best bet for relevant and instantaneous information is still broadcasting. And then again, that is why it is so important to keep radio local, even more so than for TV. Of course, every market has its own demographical issues to deal with. It is still a business, after all.

It has also been mentioned that some people under a certain age have never tuned into AM radio. It's a little hard to believe, especially since sports radio stations are located on AM, and a big part their key demographic is made up of young people. It was also predicted that FM would eventually kill AM, and that was more than 30 years ago... And here we are again attempting to predict the future! Truth is, the future has actually started to materialize. The way people perceive radio is already changing and that ought to be recognized.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Memory of the Montreal Expos, 1969-2004

It was six years ago that the Expos played their last game. The news of the team's move was announced only hours before they were to play their last home game of the year at Olympic Stadium. It would turn out to be their last game ever in Montreal. It was sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because for over a decade you would be bombarded by predictions of when the Expos were going to leave town.

Montreal fans were constantly picked on, and unfairly so. It's better to look beyond the simple attendance numbers in the 2000s. After all, it was a team that was losing 90+ games and actually telling their fans that baseball had no future in Montreal. Those 3000 people in the park who attended games in 2004 had to have been the 3000 best sports fans anywhere to have been there at all. For those who were also there ten years earlier, surrounded by 48,000 fans watching a team taking the baseball world by storm and destined to make post-season, it must have seemed hard to believe you were sitting in the same facility. What a difference a decade of mismanagement can make.

The misconception that the Expos had no fans, or that somehow Montrealers or Quebecers didn't like baseball is a blatant misrepresentation of history. In fact, Montreal has always had a rich baseball tradition. This city was home to a minor league baseball team as far back as 1890. And of course, the Montreal Royals were a huge part of the Montreal sports scene during two separate incarnations.

For most of the Royals more recent existence, and up until they folded in 1960, they were a Dodger farm club. Who hasn't heard about Jackie Robinson starting his climb to Brooklyn with the AAA Royals? There was a long stretch of time when the Royals were hugely popular in Montreal. The Royals relocated to Syracuse after the 1960 season, and for most of the next decade Montreal had no professional baseball.

The Expos began play in 1969 and Montreal once again fell in love with baseball. It may seem hard to believe now, but for a time in the early 80s, the popularity of the Expos was on par with, or even greater than that of the Montreal Canadiens.

But something happened once the 80s came to a close... Baseball was starting to price itself into insanity and teams began to look for new sources of income. The greatest source of income for a franchise outside of a huge media market was a new ballpark.

At the start of the 1990s, the Expos had a tremendously talented group managing their on field operations, but had an equally uninspired group running the off field operations. This became especially true once Charles Bronfman sold the club to a local consortium.

The consortium bought the Expos as a civic gesture to keep the club in Montreal. They were going to operate the team in survival mode. That was the beginning of the end. Amazingly, despite ownership's new direction, the on-field product thrived from 1992 on, culminating in the now legendary Expo team of 1994. Their true potential was never realized. In all honesty, nobody expected them to be that good going in to the season. All the stars seemed to be properly aligned to make the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Or so it seemed... The players went on strike in August and the season was cancelled shortly after. It seemed typical that MLB's only cancelled post-season would come when the Expos probably had their best shot at winning.

After the strike, the team was dismantled. That should have chased the fans away, but it didn't. They still drew about 1.3 million fans in 1995 and 1.6 million in 1996. But then, for the first time, the penny pinching began to affect the franchise's performance on the field. Even if they still had several high-profile and talented players coming out of the farm system like Vladimir Guerrero, the team as a whole would begin to struggle big time on the field.

The slide in performance coincided with the Expos' attempts to finance a new ballpark that was badly needed for the team to remain in Montreal. The provincial government was far less generous back then than it seems to be today. The province used some very timely political posturing to refuse to help finance a stadium in an tangible way. With the stadium deal dead and the franchise performing poorly on the field, the writing was on the wall.

There was a brief glimmer of hope in 1999, when the now infamous Jeffrey Loria and David Samson came to town. It seemed that maybe it could be done after all - but that was short-lived. What followed was a series of events that devastated the franchise and chased away what was left of the fan base. Nobody wanted to broadcast the team, nobody wanted to sponsor them - nobody wanted to be associated with them... Once MLB took over control of the franchise it became a disaster. With the exception of a few flashes, the final 5 seasons were painful to watch.

Some people claimed that all the fans had left town. That was not true. The Expos had their best attendance numbers in the early 80s, after all the political turmoil had already passed. Others claimed that Quebecers didn't care for baseball, and that Montreal is simply a hockey town. That may the case today, but it wasn't that way for most of the Expos' existence. They comfortably co-existed with the Habs, and were actually the top sporting draw in Montreal most years. Nowhere does it say that you cannot be a fan of more than one sport in your town!

But it must be said that Expos fans were found all over Canada, and around the world. To this day, there are people in far away places who still feel the pain of having lost the Expos. The greatest example of this under-appreciated fan base could be found in the late 1990s on the Internet at a site called baseballboards.com. That site would change its name to Fanhome.com. The site's Expos board exists to this day.

The Fanhome Expos board is now a shell of its former glory. However, back in the late-90s and early part of the new millennium, people would marvel at the high traffic the board would draw. Before there was such a thing as Twitter, there were discussion boards where threads would expand by the minute... The Expos board was so popular, that it out-posted most other baseball boards combined. So how could this happen for a team that supposedly nobody cared about? Because people did care. If you are feeling nostalgic now, you can join the Expos group on Facebook. It now boasts just under 60,000 fans.

There has been a deep sports void in Montreal since the Expos left. You never know what you've got until it's gone. The sad part is that as the years go by, a new generation will grow up in Montreal without having seen the Expos. That is too bad. After some initial apathy, a lot of people now seem to think we should never have let the franchise slip away. Unfortunately for Montreal, nobody stepped up to the plate to save them, and it is now too late.

In 2000, when things seemed very bleak, the FanHome Expo board moderators decided to start a thread that would allow fans to express their feelings about what the Expos meant to them and how they wanted the franchise to be saved. The "Save my Expos" thread's contents would then be sent to MLB, Expo ownership and to media outlets. I conclude this special blog entry with some particularly poignant excerpts from that thread:
 

The Montreal Expos are a part of my life. Among my most treasured memories are the times I rode the bus and Metro to Jarry Park, paid my dollar and got my fifty cent piece back, and sat like a sardine in the left field bleachers drenched in sunshine and the joyful atmosphere of bilingual baseball; an organist who played real music, and the announcer introducing John Boc Abellllllaaaaa!!!!!! I grew up listening to Dave Van Horne broadcasting games from the west coast, with the transistor radio under my pillow, hoping I wouldn't fall asleep because the world was a perfect place back then and there! -- Posted by There Since Jarry (August 2000)
We deserve a fair chance, and we, the teenagers of Montreal, look forward to attending MLB in our city for many years to come. And nothing would mean more to me than to be able to bring my son to watch the Expos, just like my dad did with me. -- Posted by big_huge_expo_fan (August 2000)
I have a great relationship with my father, I think the Expos have something to do with that. My father tells me old stories about the Expos all the time. If there's nothing else to talk about, there's always the Expos. It keeps us close when sometimes there isn't much else to share. -- Posted by JeremyExpos (August 2000)
I just hope that when I have kids, there will be a baseball team in my town that I can love with my son. It is hard to watch as the saga goes on. But please, don't move our Expos! -- Posted by DreamibngofLabattpark (August 2000)
April 1969... My friends and I take the bus and rushed over to Jarry Park. While on the bus, we were listening to Dave Van Horne and Russ Taylor on our transistor radio. We saw our first MLB game. I remember seeing Curt Flood, Bobo Gibson, Mack Jones, Coco Laboy, Jim Mudcat Grant and many more for the first time. I remember the smells of MLB: hot dogs, popcorn, real grass. I remember what baseball was and should be like. - Posted by xmtlr (August 2000)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Selling Misery Like Fast Food

There was a story that made the news a few days ago about how marketing firms are making tons of money off of charities. It kind of bothered me, as it should bother most rational thinking people. I find it hard to fathom that there are people getting rich off of the suffering of others, but I guess it shouldn't really be a surprise.

I used to donate to this foundation for many years. It seemed like the right thing to do, after all... Then, about ten years ago, they started sending me stuff in the mail. These were little things like personalized letters, calendars and notepads. I didn't think much of it at first, but it then hit me that these things were surely being paid for out of donation money. It angered me to the point that I stopped donating to that particular charity - for a year. But that didn't stop them from sending the stuff in the mail!

I was involved in a fundraiser a few weeks back, but all the work was done by volunteers. It's a lot of work, and I can understand why some charities turn to the professional "marketers". Still, it seems to have gotten out of hand.

Have you noticed that they now market diseases with the same methods they use to promote sneakers or fast food? It's pretty distasteful when you come to think of it. They've got fancy logos, catch phrases and over-hyped PR events for just about every cause imaginable. What they don't tell you is that a far-too-sizable portion of the money raised will go to pay the "geniuses" behind the campaigns. There has to be a better way - or is there? Like I said at the beginning, it disgusts me to think that there are opportunists out there making their fortunes off of the misery of others.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Twitter Says You Are Dead...

I was reluctant to join the Twitter bandwagon, but changed my mind after I became involved with the "Digital Life Show" on Radio Centre-Ville. I was forced to catch up on my “new media” knowledge. I must admit that I find Twitter very useful in coming up with breaking news items.  But what do you do if several high profile news organizations report something that ends up being false?

Twitter was in the news a few days ago because of an unfortunate incident in which Pat Burns was mistakenly declared to be dead. Burns himself had to publicly issue a statement to confirm he was still alive. It is very sad in that Pat Burns is gravely ill, and doesn’t need the added aggravation of hearing about how he has been pronounced dead by most of the mainstream media.

This whole sorry affair began on Twitter. It's not exactly clear how it started, but the rumour was quickly picked up by several major news outlets, who in turn reported it as fact. They started running the obits they had obviously prepared a while ago.

Earlier this year, a Twitter rumour claimed that Gordon Lightfoot had died. The same thing also happened to Bill Cosby a few months ago. The disturbing thing about this is how some members of the media chose to go with a story based on Twitter activity before having a chance to confirm whether it was true. In many cases, people rely on Twitter as sort of news ticker. Therefore, when something comes over the Twitter “ticker“, then it must be true - right?

I was listening to CKAC earlier this week and one of the hosts was making the point that with sites like Twitter, you may have a problem when journalists use one feed to post relevant news items and also use that same feed to post personal information. The argument was made that perhaps they ought to have a separate feed for their private "stuff".

This is still all so new, even though it seems like it's been around for years and years... Traditional media is still figuring out how to use sites like Twitter as extensions of themselves. One has to wonder if any new policies will be put in place to prevent what happened to Pat Burns from happening to anyone else.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amateur Radio and 146.910 MHz

I'll say right off the bat that I have never actually involved myself in the hobby I'm about to write about. But anything radio-related will spark my interest...

Back in the early 1990s, I bought a fancy little radio scanner. It was supposed to pick up fire, police and so on. One of the more interesting frequencies I found was 146.910 MHz. It seems I stumbled upon a ham radio repeater - I guess that's what you might call it. I know there are other repeaters in the area, but I got most of my enjoyment listening to this one.

What I found was a bunch of people chatting away at all hours of the day and night about just about any imaginable topic. It was clear that many of them knew each other, and some would meet once and a while at so-called DX club meetings.

Amazingly, it was by listening to them around 1995 or so that I first discovered the existence of something called the Internet. Technologically savvy as they were and are, they were quick to jump on that bandwagon.

You do have to complete a course to be able to jump on those airwaves. Some of the communication takes place from moving vehicles, but a lot of it seems to come from people's homes. They've got this amazing radio equipment and antennas that not only get them on the air, but allow them to pick up all kinds of far away frequencies. And that seems to be a big part of the attraction.

I've mentioned before that when disaster strikes, radio once again becomes an essential way to communicate. And if the big stations get knocked off the air, ham radio becomes an important tool for emergency communication.

You may be interested to hear an example of what you may hear on some of these sorts of frequencies. If you don't have access to a receiver, there are some web sites that stream them. One of them can be found at dxzone.com.

For years there has been a weekly "gathering" on the frequency on Sunday evenings for an exchange of radio news. I know that Sheldon Harvey used to handle that. He's the guy who administers the Radio in Montreal  Yahoo group and co-hosts the International Radio Report on CKUT. I don't listen to my scanner as much as I used to, but I still pick up the occasional conversation on 146.910 MHz. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I have only been a listener and my knowledge ends with what I have heard others say...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

All-Traffic Radio in Montreal

Transport Quebec is set to launch it’s own radio station. It’s going to keep motorists informed of Montreal area traffic. They intend to broadcast on 910 AM. It will cost over $2 million dollars to launch the station. About a dozen antennas will be put up across the region.

No word on whether the information will be broadcast live or whether it will be a recorded loop. We also don't know if the station will be bilingual. There is supposed to be some kind of an announcement made soon.

There are supposed to be similar services in other parts of the world. It seems that in Europe the services tend to be live, while in the States, they are usually recorded. I happened to hear one of the stations while heading down to New York City a few years ago. It played a loop informing drivers of traffic problems. I don’t know how often it was updated, but it seemed to be pretty accurate as to what was going on at the time.

We already hear a loop around Trudeau Airport. I don’t know if they ever update that with timely news or just play general information. I’ve only heard it a few times when in the vicinity. That one is bilingual. If the new traffic station isn’t, it won’t do much to help tourists… I’m also wondering whether there will be commercial breaks and sponsors… I’m pretty sure there are commercially-run all-traffic stations operating in Canada right now. It makes sense, actually… Do you think commercial radio stations will be thrilled with the idea or an all-traffic station run by the government? Probably not. Perhaps they will use it to gather traffic info for themselves.

Remember the classic scene from WKRP, where Les Nessman pounds his chest to make it sound like he’s reporting from a helicopter?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Radio Centre-Ville Radiothon - September 10-12

I'd like to inform everyone who values the importance of community-run radio in Montreal about a special event that is taking place September 10-12 on Radio Centre-Ville. We will be holding a radiothon to fund the station's operations. You will hear lot of special programming over the three days dedicated to the fundraiser in many languages. As always, you can hear English-language programming from 10:30 PM on Friday until 4 PM on Saturday.  If you are a regular listener and enjoy our programs, please help us out. You can do so online by clicking HERE.

Thanks!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is the News Depressing?

I try to look at the bright side when preparing my weekly news review, but the news just seems to be terribly bleak most of the time. I guess it's true what they say about no news sometimes being good news. There is just so much negativity and fear and pessimism...

It may seem hard to believe, but bad things have been happening for all of human history. I keep looking back at the week in history and see nothing but wars, floods, earthquakes and plane crashes - just to name a few sad occurrences. We are led to believe by some people in the media that the world has never been worse than it is today, and we are doomed.

We in the "West" who consume all the hype, are pretty well off compared to those who came before us. There were no "good old days" - that is a myth. The only difference now is that the things that were once hidden or never spoken of are out in the open. We seem to have determined after many struggles, what is no longer morally or collectively acceptable behaviour.

The worst message of all is to think that if we somehow turned back the clock and started living like we did 100 years ago, that we would be happier or better off. There is no doubt that the industrial revolution has caused a lot of harm, but without it we would be living in horrible conditions and dying in our 30s. There is a reason a good portion of the world wants to develop into what we’ve got - so that they can escape poverty and misery. The ways and means are an entirely different story. The point is, we are really fortunate to be living in North America in the year 2010 instead of 1810 or even 1910. It is also an example of extreme human arrogance to believe that our collective time on this Earth is meant to be infinite. And I’m not even speaking about religious prophecies...

Another factor that contributes to hysteria is the instant access to misery. Like I mentioned before, history books are filled with natural disasters and tragedy. I'm not talking about interpretive history, but even then we probably weren't as good at collecting accurate facts as we are now. With technology being what it is today, when something happens anywhere in the world, you will likely see it within minutes. Once upon a time, you might not see the images for weeks or even at all. Images are the most powerful communicator, after all.

Or maybe I should just keep looking for a bright side. There may be something to those old Y2K bunkers filled with swine flu vaccine...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Joan of Arc Lives...

I have to admit that I can't remember the last time I went to the theatre, and so I'm not going to pass myself off as an expert... But I'm always ready to try new things - to a point... Last week, I was fortunate enough to be given a chance to attend a theatre premiere in Montreal. I was in the opening night audience for The Second Coming of Joan of Arc at the Freestanding Room in Montreal. The FSR is quite an intimate venue, to put it mildly. If you've never experienced theatre from that kind of proximity, you will certainly find it a new kind of experience.

What impressed me most about this play was that it was a one woman monologue. That meant the actress had to recite about an hour and a half's worth of monologue. With this play, it was also done with practically no distractions whatsoever. The way Caitie Parsons pulled it off flawlessly just made me appreciate even more the incredible poise and ability it takes to pull that off. The fact that she's going to perform the same play in french is all the more amazing.

On television or in film, you never have to remember 90 minutes in a row worth of lines. Even if you did, unless it were being done live (unlikely), you always have a safety net. In live theatre, you have no safety net, and if you are out there alone, you have nobody to play off of who might be able to "save" your mistakes.

For what it's worth, live radio is a bit like that. You make a mistake and you just wish you could turn the clock back 30 seconds and try again. Unfortunately, it's too late. Of course, there are no 90 minute memorized monologues in live radio! I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more challenging than performing that kind of show in front of a live audience. Those with true talent make anything look easy!

I won’t be reviewing the play itself, but I will say that I found the performance to be very intense. When I took film classes at McGill, they thought us that when watching a film, you will almost certainly subconsciously suspend reality, if not only for a split second. For that time, you will believe what you are seeing is real. I know I felt that way subconsciously while watching this performance.

By the way, you can still catch the play in french later this week. I understand the play will then be going on tour.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Expos on the Radio in 1994

When MLB went on strike 16 years ago last week, it left a terrible void for flagship stations. Nowhere could it have been more painful than it was here in Montreal. The Expos were always the underdogs, and they always seemed to fall short. In 1994, for a few months they were the talk of the town, and on top of the baseball world.

On August 12th 1994, CIQC lost something that was sure to be a huge ad revenue generator through September - and probably beyond. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner, and no doubt advertisers would have been willing to pay top dollar for a spot on an Expo broadcast down the stretch in 1994. It's quite amazing considering how less than a decade later, the Expos' value to advertisers would be set at zero. Even on television, ratings were tremendous by the time the strike hit, and there were plans for the first pay-per-view Expos games to be shown in September. It must be added that they never revived the idea of pay-per-view ever again.

So what happened to the Expos' broadcasters when the strike hit? Well, first of all, they were sent down to cover the AAA Ottawa Lynx (now also long departed) franchise for a while. I believe they did the same thing in 1981 with Denver. Only that time, the strike did have an end to it. Sure it's a little intriguing to follow the farm club for a while, but that soon gets old.

After they stopped covering AAA, they did an odd thing. And I can't remember if this came before or after the season was wiped out... Maybe someone else remembers this better than I do... Members of the Expos english broadcast team joined the Jays' voices for a computer simulated World Series. I’m pretty sure the Expos were facing the 1993 Jays. They even added sound effects. It was more than a bit peculiar. Kind of like when they used to recreate ball games a long long time ago, I suppose. The only thing is that these games were never actually played. And in case you were wondering, the Expos won.

Here's another great memory: The NHL locked out it's players prior to the start of the 1994-95 season. In this town, all major sports just ground to a stop for what seemed like an eternity.

Anyway, for those who doubt the greatness of the 1994 Montreal Expos team, just take a look at their roster and at their stats when the strike began. In Montreal's long sports history, never before or since have the words "what could have been" ringed truer...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Brockman Rule...

There’s this funny scene from the Simpsons where Kent Brockman can’t pronounce Kuala Lumpur, so he replaces his script’s text with France instead. It’s just no fun to mangle the English language, and not only the words you may be expected to have trouble with, but the ones that you’d never otherwise have a problem with. From now on, I think I’ll adopt the Brockman rule, and avoid the unpronounceable!

In reality, reading from a prepared text is an art. Ad libbing can be so much easier than having to read something on the air. It makes you appreciate the people who make it seem so seamless. Think back to the old radio announcers who could flawlessly deliver the news in a voice that made you stand up and take notice. Not too long ago, I listened to some vintage radio clips from the long-gone CFOX. The newscasters were impeccable in their perfection. Hopefully, it took them a while to perfect their art, and therefore there is still hope for me…

Practice makes perfect, but I find the absolute worse thing you can do is read the thing over and over again until you get it right. That’s what many of us did at radio school… When you are on live, you’ve got your one shot at getting it right. If that wasn’t bad enough, the podcast will record your mistakes for anyone who was fortunate enough not to have heard you the first time! Another art is the ability to recover from the mistake you might have just made. Still, I find it far more disturbing to make factual errors than grammatical ones. Anyway, that is why they call it a learning experience…

Sunday, August 8, 2010

English Radio Outside of Montreal

It’s no secret that there aren’t too many English-language radio stations in Quebec, especially outside of the Montreal area. Of course, the CBC has a presence - if not at all local, all across the province... Outside of Montreal, there is a community radio station serving Lac Brome - CIDI 99.1 FM. They offer broadcasts in both official languages.

There used to be a few English stations scattered around the province, some of them seem to have done pretty well for themselves. For example, there used to be a decent English-speaking population in Quebec City. It was decent enough to keep a radio station up and running. That is not the case anymore. CFOM 1340 AM was the only English-language station in Quebec City until it closed up shop in 1976. They had been forced to run CBC programming because of the lack of an english CBC station in the area. By the early 1970s, they tried to change their format to attract more listeners, but were forced to stop and go back to the CBC non-commercial stuff by the CRTC. That was the beginning of the end for them. The station had been around since 1949, under several different call letter combinations.

CJMQ 88.9 FM is Bishop’s University’s community radio station. They came on the air in 1995, and can be heard in Sherbrooke and the Eastern Townships.

CKTS 900 AM had been in Sherbrooke since the 1940s. They tried to appeal to more French listeners during the 1980s, but were told by the CRTC that they had to remain a 100% English station. They ended up simulcasting CJAD programming during the final years of their existence. The station was shut down by its new owners in 2006.

There is no doubt that the CRTC frowns at the idea of purely “bilingual” radio stations. That would probably be the only way any English radio could ever possibly be viable outside of Montreal nowadays.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

CRTC Power Is Real

The CRTC has actually revoked a license! This is a pretty rare occurrence for Canada. You hear about a lot of complaints and warnings and fines, but to pull the plug - that doesn’t happen very often. The last time that a station had its license yanked was in 2004, when CHOI in Quebec City was shut down.

The station in question is CHRC in St. Catharines, Ontario. According to the CRTC, their broadcasting of a “third-language” was what did them in. They weren’t mandated to broadcast ethnic programming. It seems they were aiming many of their programs at Toronto’s Italian community. According to CRTC regulations, the station could not accord more than 15% of its program schedule to a third language. CHRC attempted to obtain waivers, but were refused.

CHRC will be forced off the air at the end of August.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fantastic Tribute to the Montreal Expos



Annakin Slayd put together this wonderful montage. Hopefully, MLB won't have YouTube take it down, as they are prone to doing to material that contains game footage...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shortwave Radio and RCI

I still have a shortwave radio I purchased in 1989. I took a trip oversees and wanted to see if I could pick up Radio Canada International. It's hard for younger people to imagine a time when you weren't able to have instant access to information, but yes that is the way it was. Back then (late 1980s), about the only way to keep in touch with home aside from long-distance calls (which were still a big deal!), was to pick up the U.S.A. Today or try to pick up shortwave signals.

It was really amazing when you picked up a signal in english that was clear enough to understand! Voice of America was beamed around pretty well, but RCI seemed harder to catch. You had to acquire a schedule which included frequencies. It was necessary to send a request to the broadcasters by mail and wait for them to send it back to you. Oh yeah, things have surely changed since then!

You knew you had found the right frequency/time combination when you heard the first four notes of O'Canada right as they were about to begin their transmission. Then the voice said that you were listening to Radio Canada International - from Montreal. Instantly, you had access to Canadian news, weather and sports scores, among other things.
RCI is run by the CBC, sort of... I think right now they broadcast in 7 languages. The service used to broadcast in considerably more languages than that. RCI launched in 1945, primarily as a way for Canadian service men to stay in touch with news from home.

Pretty much all of their stuff is now available online. They can also be heard on Satellite radio. I'm not sure about their current situation, but I know for a while they were struggling to stay alive. Some federal budgets announced cuts that threatened to do away with the service altogether. Many claimed that the Internet makes shortwave services obsolete, but that is pretty naive thinking. There is still a sizable portion of the planet that does not have access to the Internet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Great Flood of 1987

I can remember a lot of heat waves, and most weren't as bad as the one Montreal just went through. One exception might be the one Montreal experienced in July of 1987. Maybe it's just me, but I can't recall it ever having been that warm in Montreal. Thermometers were pushing the 40 degree mark, but that might have been with the humidity. Obviously, there was no Internet and no Weather Network back then. Whatever the official stats were, it was excruciatingly hot, and it seemed to go on for at least a week.

The heat led to something that is still talked about by all who lived through it. That was the great Montreal flood of 1987. It happened on July 14th,  23 years ago today. Around 100 mm of rain fell in a few hours. We kind of had a mini version of that a few days ago, but nowhere near on the same scale.

The day started off hot and muggy, but by early afternoon, ominous dark clouds began to cover the island. It seemed to be very localized to Montreal. The storms began in the early afternoon. Wave after wave of storm cells hit for what must have been a good few hours.

So on went the radio, and there was long-time CJAD weatherman Bill Holdament (I’m hoping that was the way his name was spelled!) saying something to the effect of how you'd better tie up your lawn furniture or it might end up in your neighbour's yard. He wasn't kidding...

Montreal's sewer system couldn't keep up with the continuous downpours. Remember the images of the Decarie expressway under water? People lost an awful lot of possessions that day, including a lot of vehicles.

If something like that were to happen today, you'd go online and share your observations, or you might check out the weather channels or tune into one of the many all-news TV channels. Back in 1987, none of those things existed. You had to open your local TV channel and hope they were covering the happenings live. Or you did what most people probably did at the time, especially if you had lost power: you grabbed you transistor radio and listened to live coverage as it happened. I wish I remembered how the day was covered on local radio, but all I can recall are Holdament's comments. It's been a recurrent theme of mine that even today, when disaster strikes, radio is still going to be the best option for news and information. After all, technology becomes pretty basic when power and communications infrastructures go down.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Classic Canadian Children's TV

We've got these 24 hour kids channels now that show all kinds of stuff. Back in the late 70s and most of the 1980s, there weren't any specialized channels like that. If you didn't have cable, you had to watch what was on either channel 12 or channel 6, and if you felt adventurous enough, you'd check out what was on the french channels.

Who can forgot the CBC's morning programming? Look Up, way Up! Friendly Giant was only on for 15 minutes at a time, but there was something really cool about that show. Jerome the giraffe sticking his head through a fake window and Rusty the rooster sticking his head out of a bag? That was classic television! There were over 3000 episodes and the show ran for nearly 30 years! Did you know that the Friendly Giant originally aired in the United States? Bob Homme, who played the giant, was actually from Wisconsin.

And speaking of another American who created some classic Canadian children's television, we can't forget Ernie Coombs. He was Mr. Dressup. It's probably the most remembered Canadian children's show. It ran for about 29 years and stuck around in repeats though the mid-2000's even after the show was no longer in production and Mr. Coombs had died. Why did Casey and Finnegan have to live in that tree house anyway?

Then there was Canadian Sesame Street. It was the same show as down south, but with Canadian segments thrown in. It was an introduction to the french language for many, I'm sure. It was yanked off the CBC sched in the mid-90s, and that's really too bad.

And then there was Rocket Robin Hood. Listen to the theme music, it is brilliant... The overly dramatic description of RRH and his Merry Men is priceless. And then you get to see the same descriptive vignettes over and over and over again... To this day, it comes across as pretty damn funny!

I have to mention The Flintstones, even though it can hardly be considered Canadian content. For what seemed like forever, the show would air at noon on channel 12. It would disappear when school let out and then return "fresh" as ever in the fall. If you were home at noon, you watched the Flintstones, even if you had seen the same episode a million times already. There was an instance back in the 90s when the show was yanked off the sched for a while. A group of McGill students began a petition and campaign to get it back on. They succeeded - for a while.

Of course times have changed, and none of the above shows are on local TV anymore. The specialty channels do have some great stuff though, especially the retro channel.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why Hell's Kichen is a Riot

I do watch it, only because I know nothing about cooking and thus find it amusing. I discovered the British version of Kitchen Nightmares a few years ago, and found it to be quite entertaining. It is far less contrived than the American version, where someone is always set up as the bad guy and all is nicely wrapped up in a matter of a few days... Of course, it can't be that simple. Not that the British show doesn't also try and give the impression that any failing restaurant can be turned around in a jiffy if the owners are only willing to listen by Ramsay - who apparently is never wrong...


Hell's Kitchen also started in England. I've never seen it, although I guess the premise is the same. The American version is very "Hollywood". I have no idea if the patrons of the "restaurant" are invited or actually pay to get in. It seems to be a pretty exclusive ticket...

It's obvious that the show wouldn't be very much fun if most of the participants were excellent cooks. There wouldn't be much entertainment value in that, would there? Let's face it, most people tune in to watch Gordon Ramsay go ballistic. It's strange really, why would he be so mad about a TV show? He knows what people want to see. The thing is, either he is a fantastic actor, or he has a very severe split personality. He doesn't seem to be acting...

I don't know what it is like to work in a famous restaurant's kitchen, but I kind of doubt that any head chef could get away with treating his staff the way Ramsay treats the contestants. I doubt anyone could get away with treating their employees that way... But then again, you can be sure Ramsay probably has some people watching his back in case one of the wannabe head chefs inevitably snaps.

Hell's Kitchen is a great show in its level of over-dramatics... The narration is just too much! Every single episode is a can't miss with something happening that you just won't believe! Of course a lot of so-called reality shows say the same thing. They'd like to give you the impression that the unthinkable happens next week, when in reality, it's not much of anything. Add to that the very dramatic background music, and you'd think they were about to reveal the cure to some awful disease instead of who has the best risotto.

Then there are the standard contestant comments, that are thrown in to every reality show. You know, where they pretend to spontaneously confess their feelings to the camera? What you never see is the guy out of view or in the control room asking them questions. The Office does a brilliant parody of this style that has been copied on just about every single reality show since Survivor. Obviously, contestants are also encouraged to trash talk and insult each other, because that is supposed to be entertaining.

The best part about this show is the silliness of the whole thing. You've got Ramsay ready to decapitate a contestant for having burnt the scallops... When asked why one person was put up for elimination, another contestant responds: "Because she ruined the mash potatoes!" It's just so funny.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Earth Moved

Like millions of other people, I felt the earthquake yesterday. I was actually sitting in front of my computer screen when it began to sway... That and the floor was vibrating! My initial instinct was to turn on the radio. I did that, but the person on the air knew as little as I did at that point. I then turned to my TV and frantically searched through the news channels to learn more about what just happened. Of course, we now expect instant explanations, don't we? It took a few minutes, but the news channels were up and running with earthquake coverage.

On the Internet however, eyewitness accounts were instantaneous. Within an hour, there must have been dozens of YouTube videos - not of the earthquake, but of people talking about it! Twitter was overloaded at times, and Google reported huge traffic as people searched for information.

Indeed, we might assume that the days of gatekeeper-controlled information are over. Maybe not. You can have a million people posting about what they see or just saw, but in times of emergency, you need trusted sources of information.

We also saw cell phone communications infrastructure go down or be pressed to the limit in Ottawa yesterday following the quake. We have seen this happen before in many places during emergency situations. And we've also seen overloads of Internet resources happen many times, just like that of Twitter.

One other thing to consider is that during extreme emergencies, you may lose power and communications. You may not be able to go online or even place a phone call. Your best source of information once more may just be the simplest one of all: radio. We saw this back in 1998 during the ice storm. Granted, the Internet was nothing compared to what it is today, but it wouldn't have mattered, because power and phone lines were down for millions of people. Their only true source of information came from battery powered radios. And ever radio stations themselves got knocked off the air.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On the Air!

I managed to prepare and deliver my first solo effort yesterday. I thought I'd have enough material, but I fell a little short. Lucky for the musical pauses! I'll have extra stuff ready for next week. I think it went ok, but I haven't had much feedback yet.

The mic is a powerful force, even in community radio. You go through training and preparation and hope to one day get an opportunity to create something of your own. I know commercial radio will be a very different environment, if I ever make it there. But I can't change the past or control the future - all I can do is work on the present.

When I was at radio school, several people ended up interning at some local commercial radio stations. I know they spent a lot of time at the stations, mostly doing behind-the-scenes stuff, but also made some on-air appearances. I didn't have an opportunity to intern on commercial radio while I was at school. And in all honesty, my work schedule was just so terrible... I couldn't have managed it if I had gotten the chance. I also felt it better to wait until I finished the six months before I took on anything else.

So I took an opportunity to volunteer at the community station I have already mentioned a million times on this blog. I was only able to manage one hour a week as a tech for the longest time, but eventually I was able to expand my duties at the station. The main point is that with every new opportunity came more of a chance to learn hands-on, and with every new opportunity to get on the air, the comfort zone would increase.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm a seasoned veteran by any stretch of the imagination. What I do believe is that the direction I took was the best one for me at the time, especially since leaving town was not much of an option. Someone else might be better off going in an entirely different route. It's great to be able to have nearly complete creative freedom on my show. Still, I would never have thought that a half hour show would require no less than 10 hours of preparation!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Radio Discussions

People seem to love talking about radio. There are some great outlets out there where Montreal radio is being scrutinized by insiders and listeners alike. The busiest place to vent seems to be the Radio in Montreal Yahoo group. It has been around for over a decade. It isn’t unusual to see familiar “radio” names posting there…

Steve Faguy’s popular Fagstein blog is also a gathering point for local radio discussions. In fact, the discussions there can get quite intense! It is also a must-visit destination for local radio industry news.

On the French side, Radioforum Montreal is a good place to gauge what people are thinking about local radio. There is even a section dealing with english radio stations.

There are many sites and Facebook pages dedicated to radio discussions, and to specific programs or stations. Some are creations of the stations or programs themselves, but others are fan-driven.

Not all comments on these forums are going to be complimentary… Clearly, some people in the industry are more sensitive to criticism than others. It doesn’t matter if they like you or they hate you - it’s when they become indifferent that you might be in trouble.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yesterday's News

I found out today that I will be getting my own show as of next Saturday. I knew that I was in the running, but it was by no means a sure thing. To have it happen is a huge deal for me. Just about everyone who wants to get into radio dreams of having their own show.

Being involved on community radio gives you the opportunity at creative freedom that you rarely get on commercial radio. Of course, there are rules that you have to abide by, but within those rules, you are able to construct a program that reflects your own vision. For the past year and a half, as a co-host and technical producer, I have watched how others have been able to do it, through a lot of hard work and dedication. I hope that I will be able to put all I have learned to good use.

The show will be a combination of newscast and look back at history. It will start off with a recap the past week's news, and then move on to history and nostalgia. Hopefully, I will figure out the show’s “rhythm” quickly, and people will find the program informative and entertaining.

Yesterday's News will air every Saturday at 2:00 PM on Radio Centre Ville 102.3 FM in Montreal.

Monday, June 7, 2010

When The Expos Could Still Be Heard

Some people are shocked to discover that there was a time in Montreal when Expos talk was at the very least on-par with Canadiens talk on the english airwaves. It may have been the depth of winter, but the Expos were always a hot topic of conversation. That was especially true when their survival was usually at stake more often than not from 1990 on.

I first heard a new era of english-language sports open line show in Montreal in early 1990. It was Mitch Melnick's first of many incarnations as the number one sports talk voice on Montreal radio. If I remember correctly, the show came on after 11PM on CJAD. At the time, there were no other english sports open line shows in this town.

I can't remember what the show was called, but I can distinctly remember the Miles Davis theme Music. That program really took off after the Expos began their season. CJAD had acquired the rights to the team in 1989, but only broadcast two seasons before the Expos returned to CFCF. Melnick's show would become the Expos' post-game show, and that made for some great radio, especially when the program came to you live from Olympic Stadium.

When the Expos returned to CFCF in 1991, there was a brief attempt at a pre-game show, but post game reaction had become a magic memory... You had to turn to 800 and listen to Melnick. CFCF became CIQC not long after, and 600 became a short-live country music station.

In 1993, CIQC made an attempt to compete in the english news/talk market. One thing they set out to do was to dramatically increase their Expos coverage. Ken Singleton had already been hired by the Expos as Dave Van Horne's broadcast partner. Mitch Melnick and Terry Haig left CJAD and joined the new format. The chemistry between Melnick and Haig was fantastic. The Expos post-game show became Haig's "Play-at-the-Plate". It started after Dave and Ken signed off, and ended whenever Haig felt like going home.

Never before, and not since had fans been given a chance to interact with Expos player the way they were able to on Haig's program. Indeed, 1993 was a magical year, when the Expos overcame a huge late season deficit to nearly catch the Phillies.

Unfortunately, the Expos' front-office were not keen on Melnick and Haig's frank assessments of the franchise's situation, which led to a confrontation that would see most post-game shows handed to an Expo employee by 1994. Ted Tevan's show would eventually take over the post-game slot and sometimes broadcast from the stadium.

By 1997, things were changing, and not for the better. After Ken Singleton left the Expos, the writing was on the wall. The ownership squabble continued unabated for the final years of the franchise's existence and it led to the virtual dismantling of both radio and television broadcast deals. By 2000, CIQC had ceased to exist as the entity it had been, and the Expos were left without an english radio home. The Loria fiasco was just beginning and it had a profound effect on potential broadcast deals. There were no takers among other radio stations. They were not willing to pay anything to broadcast Expos games.

Van Horne was still under contract, and was faced with sitting out the season opener for the first time since he joined the franchise. It was a painful blow for Expos fans. A french deal had only been reached with CKAC at the very last moment. There would be no games on television. In the end, Van Horne would broadcast most of the season on the Internet and leave for Florida after the season. Ironically, his last broadcast was aired by CJAD.

In 2001, sports radio came to Montreal as part of a wider national network of CHUM Team stations. Most would flop, but Team 990 beat the odds and survives to this day. Along with some very civic-minded sponsors, 990 acquired the right to the Expos from 2001 until it was all over. In their final seasons in Montreal , the Expos were once again covered very thoroughly by their flagship station. Unfortunately, by then the franchise was on life-support and the only thing fans could do was to vent their pain.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

iTunes and AM Stereo...

It's really something to browse through iTunes' offerings. There is no shortage of radio representation, including some vintage classic radio programs. A lot of it is free. Now when you have the ability to choose exactly what you want, when you want it, you start to understand why traditional radio might be having a bit of a hard time competing.

It was made clear to us back at radio school that a lot of younger people have literally no connection whatsoever to the AM side of the dial. FM still seems to be on their radar. Everyone is walking around with an MP3/I-Pad/I-Phone/whatever nowadays. The future of media is pretty clear because we are living it.

Of course there is so much to be gained by getting your radio product on iTunes. In some cases it may prove a very good way to be discovered by those who might not otherwise have a chance to know about your show. I have heard people refer to getting on iTunes as crucial in terms of exposure...


Still, FM continues... It's free, but you are not in control. Music on AM is a pretty bad idea, as a lot of stations have discovered in recent years. The sound quality for music on AM is just not there. Interestingly enough, sound seems to be a lot better on the Internet feeds of some AM stations than on the stations themselves. We can also remember something called AM Stereo, although I've never actually used an AM stereo receiver. How well did that work? It did little if anything to hurt the FM dial, that's for sure.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Community TV and Radio in Canada

What exactly is community radio and television in Canada supposed to be all about?

Access to the airwaves is a big deal. If you believe that there ought to be room on the air for anyone who wants it, then you have to turn to community television and radio. I've posted about some of my experiences at a community radio station. There is always room for volunteers who want to get involved either on the air or behind the scenes. Even though there may be limitations and guidelines that you must adhere to, you will probably have far more creative freedom than you will ever get at a commercial radio station. You may be able to deal with subject matter that may not otherwise have an outlet available for broadcast. That is the case with a lot with multicultural programming.

Of course, it's not easy. When commercial radio struggles during hard economic times, you can only image that it isn't much easier for non-profit radio. Even though they may not have big staffs or salaries to pay out, running a radio station is very expensive. Advertising revenue is limited, so you may have to find some creative ways to raise money to keep things going. Having said all that, community radio seems to work very well, as long as community stations keep to their reason for being and the programming remains local.

What about community television? Even with what the Internet has become over the past decade, television remains the single most influential media source we have. Broadcasting transmits messages, events and entertainment to the masses.

There seems to be far less "community" involvement on television than there is on radio. Obviously, you want a certain amount of quality on the air, otherwise you may find yourself watching an old SCTV sketch... With cable companies now owning television stations, community TV sometimes becomes an outlet for cross-promotion, or for cable company / station employees to take to the airwaves. There were CRTC hearings held a few weeks ago to discuss the future of community television in Canada. It was also discussed on the May 1st edition of The Digital Life Show. It's a very interesting topic given the changing landscape of media and the relevance of old vs. new.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Learning the Ropes

I'm always checking the media job sites for any possibilities. It seems every operator job I see on the Milkman board is part-time. It's a great way to get your foot in the door. You already know your best shot is a small market and the pay won’t be very high to begin with. What becomes problematic is the prospect of leaving town for anything less than a full-time job. I find that particularly true if you don’t know anybody who lives there who can help you out in advance.

So I’m doing my best to gain experience in Montreal at Radio Centre-Ville. There is no pay, but you get to do a bit of everything. It’s a great distraction from the cruel routine of everyday life. You can at least allow yourself to dream that one day you might be able to do what you love and actually get paid for it.

It isn’t any fun when you make mistakes. When I first started working the board, I made a bunch of them until I became comfortable. The biggest adjustment is the varying “directing” styles of the hosts you find yourself working with. If you have not worked with someone before, it takes a while to get to know their way of doing things. At that point, you may even find yourself instinctively knowing the flow of the program. On the other hand, if you are replacing someone, and you have never done that show before, that is where it can get tense.

It is not too different on the air either. If you are doing a show with someone, it may take time to feel comfortable working with them. That is especially true if you didn’t know them at all to begin with. It seems better not lose patience too quickly, and to give it time. Sure, it’s not always possible... Having said that, I can imagine that with some people, you instantly know you have zero chemistry. I’ve been lucky enough to deal with people that I’ve gotten along with very well. I hope that continues for the foreseeable future - it makes things a lot easier!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cell Phones, Dangerous?

They just came out with the results of another non-conclusive study on the health risks of cell phones. This was supposed to have been a biggie, spanning thirteen countries. All they will say is that there seems to be an increased risk for so-called heavy users. That is as far as they will go, and of course, they claim we need more studies.

The insane amount of time people spend on their cell phones has been increasing steadily over the past decade as access has become pretty much universal. So what exactly constitutes heavy use, when half the people you see walking down the street have cell phones practically glued to their heads? More troubling is how this study did not take into account the use of children and teenagers.

It seems that radio wave emissions vary from phone to phone, and the manufacturers are not keen about clearly divulging the levels. Therefore, you really have to do your homework before you make a choice. Sometimes you just have to use common sense. Who really thinks that putting that thing to your ear for hours at a time can possibly be a good idea. It’s best to use the hands-free option if possible. Of course, that isn’t very practical when you are walking down the street.

I remember when cell phones first became available to the masses. It was in the early 1990s, and the things were gigantic by today's standards. Unbelievable as it may seem, they were originally intended to be phones! Now these "devices" can do just about everything and anything... An entire generation is growing up pretty much attached to their phones day and night. If there are long-term consequences to this overuse, they may only become obvious decades from now. Brain tumours can take up to 25 years to develop, sometimes longer. So years from now, like with so many other things. we might wonder why we didn’t take the risk factor more seriously than we did.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Do You Remember Videoway?

It was in 1989 that cable TV became more interesting in Montreal. If you were with Videotron, you will definitely remember the Videoway unit. It was available right through to around 1999, when it was replaced by digital receivers. I think you could still have held on to your Videoways until sometime in 2004.

In addition to being pay-tv decoders, these boxes offered the first true glimpse of interactivity between consumers and their cable service. This was before the Internet as we know it, so this kind of stuff looked super cool at the time, and was a precursor of things to come.

What could you do with one of these boxes? Well, you could use it to check the weather forecast, the lottery results and stuff like that, but I would say the most popular feature was its games. These were crude games even by early 1990s standards, but they proved to be very popular. You played them using your remote control, and that would easily ruin your remote in no time. They came out with an attachment and then a modified remote specifically for the games. At one point, there was even a Videotron channel television program dedicated to the games, where youngsters would compete against each other. There are still games available on Illico, although I have not played them. They appear to be just as crude by today's standards.

This was the first system in North America that introduced the concept of interactive TV. There were a limited number of programs available that would allow you to chose your vantage point, story option or camera. They tried this during hockey and baseball telecasts. You could chose the camera angle you wanted to see. It was way ahead of its time. There is still interactive programming, but interactivity has mostly come to mean something else today. It's more about accessing information at will than about choosing camera angles. But it would be neat to have those options nowadays when watching a hcokey game, for example.

One of the other features of this system that never really took off was electronic mail. You could receive messages from the cable company. I can't remember if you could send them yourself. Few people could have imagined what true email would become a few short years later. And then there was the first version of the interactive television guide. Suddenly, you could see a description of what you were watching and a schedule of what was to come. Another then-novelty that has become a standard...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Retro CFQR Commercial

There are some rare videos related to Montreal radio that can be found on YouTube.  Here is a commercial for CFQR. It is from 1984, and dates back to when they used to play elevator music!