Montreal Radio Blog

Friday, April 30, 2010

Stations to Change Hands

Corus is selling its Quebec radio stations to Cogeco for a reported $80 million, pending CRTC approval. What does this mean for Montreal radio? What does this mean for the only English station in mix? What does that mean for the two Corus-owned stations that went off the air a few months ago? Well, those are a lot of big questions that will have to be answered in the coming months. Sometimes deals have to be modified depending on what the CRTC decides.

So could CINF 690 AM eventually be resurrected by this move? The chance of another English station starting up where 940 left off seems rather unlikely at this point, unless it were to be an offshoot of an existing english station. But that too seems doubtful.

Paul Arcand is one of the most influential radio personalities in the province of Quebec, and a Corus employee. He was interviewed on Radio-Canada today about the announced deal. Arcand said he worried about young people studying communications right now. He thinks it will be very difficult for them to find work. I am sure he was referring to the francophone Quebec market.

No doubt it is difficult not only to find work, but for some people to hang on to he work they have. Maybe the worst is over and the economy’s supposed upturn will help radio’s bottom line. Whether that will result in new jobs remains to be seen. How this deal will affect jobs also remains to be seen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

1980s Sports Radio in Montreal

I go back to the mid-80s to begin my Montreal sports radio recollections. Back then there were no sports radio stations in Montreal, or anywhere else for that matter. WFAN in New York became the first of many in 1987.

I didn't listen to much french-language radio until the 1990s. I remember the concurrent late-afternoon sports shows on CKAC and CJMS. And I do remember that for the longest time, the Montreal Canadiens were heard on Radio-Canada before moving the CKAC.

In english, both the Canadiens and Expos were staples on CFCF 600 AM. CJAD got the Expos for a couple of seasons in 1989, but they returned to CFCF in 1991. As for the Habs, they landed on CJAD in 1991 and have been there ever since.

The only real sports talk we had during the 1980s was Ted Tevan. Now a lot of people might say that his wasn't truly a sports show at the best of times. It was the Game of Life, as Tevan called it, that was the focus of the program. Above all else, he was an entertainer. You heard a lot of boxing talk, horse racing discussions and so on, but the show WAS Ted Tevan. It was the interaction between him and his cast of characters, guests and callers. And who can ever forget his trademark machine gun?

Back in the "day" Tevan's show was incredibly popular in Montreal, particularly during the 1970s and the early part of the 80s. If I recall correctly, his show was even syndicated for a little while. The show did disappear by the end of the decade, and Tevan headed for Ontario for several years. I think he ended up on a station in Windsor...

Interesting tidbit about Ted Tevan is that he was the person who originally put together the Expos' french radio network in 1968. He must have been a pretty good salesman, but I guess things were quite a bit different back then. He would always talk about that accomplishment with great pride.

Mr. Tevan did return to town in the 1990s and did some radio in Montreal up until the 00s. Last I heard he had had some health problems. I hope he's ok. He truly is one of the few remaining Montreal radio legends.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tracking the Weather

If weather interests you, consider getting a weather radio-capable receiver. You can buy weather radios that will even sound an alarm whenever an alert has been issued. For interest's sake, the main weather radio frequencies in Montreal are 162.550 MHz for Environment Canada and 162.400 MHz for the National Weather Service out of Burlington.

These frequencies used to be updated by a real human being, but that was done away with years ago. What you have now are computerized voice systems. Of course, the Canadian service is a bilingual one, using two different "voices". It alternates between english and french. In Montreal, you will notice that during the french part of the updated loop, you are informed that they are broadcasting the signal from the Mt. Royal transmitter. There is no such mention on the english loop. They also continue to refer to Dorval Airport rather than Trudeau...

The American feed can sometimes be a challenge to pick up. It is broadcast from the top of Mt. Mansfield, in Vermont. It is a far more thorough loop of information, including detailed statistics. Both will immediately add details of any watches and alerts as soon as they are issued.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

TV Distractions

One great thing about radio is that you are still able to process one piece of information at a time. Think about it, what do you see when you tune into an all-news channel on television? You've got scrollers and boxes and flashes of never-ending Breaking News. You are bombarded with so many distractions, you sometimes lose focus of what you are supposed to be watching. Of course, the distractions all disappear when it's time to go to a commercial!

This trend began with scrolling texts during 9/11. During a crisis, you can see the usefulness of such things, perhaps to convey emergency information. Unfortunately, that usefulness is now rarely seen. Instead, you may be watching a serious news report about the economy, only to be distracted by some ridiculous scroller message about the cancellation of The Hills. Most of the time, the scrollers are giving you information that has nothing to do with the program at hand.

You can get extra info on radio receivers, particularly for satellite radio, but it's not distracting info, and you don't have to look at it. You can still process information with no distraction, until they figure out a way to present you with more than one audio message at a time...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Community Radio

Montreal’s Radio Centre-Ville, or CINQ FM as it is also called, is located at 102.3 FM on your radio dial. Be forewarned, reception can be a challenge at the best of times, so your best bet may be to either use the station's Internet feed or listen to podcasts of the various programs. The station is housed on St. Laurent near Fairmount, in the "Mile-End" district.

I was given the phone number of someone who was involved at the station as my radio course was wrapping up. It was supposed to be for a potential internship. I would later learn that there are no internships at the station. The fact is that anyone can walk in off the street and be given a chance to be introduced to radio broadcasting and production. That's actually pretty cool.

One of Radio Centre-Ville's main principles is to give people who wouldn't otherwise get an opportunity to do radio a chance to get on the air. Multicultural, they broadcast in seven languages. Having only a hand full of employees, the station depends on volunteers and members to keep things going. The english "team" as it is referred to, occupies a time slot from Friday evenings to late afternoon on Saturdays.

I was given the opportunity to get involved with the Scottish Voice program in late February of 2009. When I first arrived at the station, I had no idea what my role would be and didn't know much, if anything, about Scottish culture or music. I ended up taking over the technical production of the show. I've also been given a chance to join in on the air. The weekly Gaelic lesson is always fun!  I've also helped out other shows since I started volunteering at the station, both in production and on air. Most recently, I've become involved with the Digital Life Show.

It's true what they say, the only way you learn something well is by doing it. It doesn't matter how much time you spend simulating a broadcast, unless you actually get into a real studio you won't learn much of anything. I had never op-ed a board before. It's not just a matter of learning the board, but the way the hosts want things done. It seemed straightforward enough, but being in synch with the host(s) way of doing things is half the work. There's also much work to be done in preparing for a show, especially when you don't have a "staff" to do it. Such is life when you are on community radio. It's a wonderful place to learn.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Radio On-Line

Some of the best interactive exchanges can usually be heard on the radio, and most certainly on the open-line show. Audience participation on radio programs began as far back as the 1930s Back then, it was the studio audience that participated rather than the caller. The open-line show can be painful to listen to if the callers are lacking. It can be a little less painful now that we've got emails and texts that have been added to the talk show. It seems to work better on radio than it does on Television.

The first time I heard a radio program take advantage of the Internet was back in the early-to-mid 1990s. It was Mitch Garber's open line sports show on CIQC. He started to invite emails and would set up a live chat session on IRC where listeners could "gather" during his show. Today radio shows and the Internet go hand-in-hand, but back then, it seemed like something very innovative was starting to happen. No doubt a lot of old-school broadcasters must have resisted, but there was no looking back.

In the United States, radio is far more political and ideological than it is up here. Our talk "stars" have far less influence than the Limbaughs and Becks do with their syndicated talk shows. Many of them have TV shows too. Needless to say, these programs keep their followers' attention 24 hours a day through their web sites, blogs and tweets.

You would be hard-pressed to listen to any radio program today anywhere, be it powerhouse or community station, without instantaneously being presented with web-related information about the program. In many cases, through the wonder of streaming and podcasts, programs are even attracting new listeners through the Internet rather than through the airwaves.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Old-Time Radio

It's hard to imagine people gathering around their radios for entertainment. Maybe it doesn't seem so strange when you consider that many now gather around their phones for the same thing. Before television, and even more than with cinema, radio truly was entertainment for the masses. It was the first time you could be entertained in your own home from an outside source.

If you would like to hear some classic radio, there is a lot of it available on-line. Of interest is an archive of old The Mercury Theatre on the Air, from the 1930's. They later changed their name to reflect their sponsor and became The Campbell Playhouse.  These productions were the product of a New York drama company co-founded by none other than Orson Welles and John Houseman. It was on that program that the legendary War of the Worlds was broadcast in 1938.

Imagine the live orchestra and the audience. Imagine having to create sound effects by actually having to recreate the desired effects! It must have been really cool to have been there. These were live performances, something that even by today's standards would be quite an accomplishment. Radio plays were phased out by the 1960s, as TV was already becoming the number once source of entertainment in America. A lot of radio programs would eventually transition themselves onto television screens. There are even a few soap operas that are still around that originated as radio programs.

It may surprise some to know that "radio" drama still exists. Anyone can set up their own Internet-based plays, and some are obviously more refined than others... You can even hear some radio drama on the airwaves. One show that used to be aired in Montreal is Imagination Theatre. Syndicated on stations across North America and elsewhere, Imagination Theatre does a great job of re-creating the old-feel of classic radio, along with some more contemporary stories. Some plays are even recorded in front of a live audience.

Times have definitely changed since those first now-classic radio shows hit the airwaves, but the concept of entertainment broadcast for the masses has not.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jays on CKAC?

The Blue Jays have reached a deal with CKAC Sports to broadcast a limited number of games in the province of Quebec this season. As reported by Jeff Blair in today's Globe and Mail, the deal includes a minimum of 8 games, beginning with May 15 and 16 against Texas. Ironically, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is a native Montrealer. He seems to think that this may lead to the Jays developing a following in Quebec. Good luck Mr. Anthopoulos! It’s seems pretty clear that the Red Sox now occupy the favour of most remaining baseball fans in Montreal, even if we were a National League city.

You may remember that CKAC was the French voice of the Expos for most of their existence. No word yet on who will call the games, but it would seem almost sacrilegious to hear Jacques Doucet call a Blue Jay game.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Out of this World

Win a trip into outer space: It’s reminiscent of something you might have seen on WKRP, but a Quebec city radio station is staging a contest that is literally our of this world. Sortir FM 106,9 isn’t even set to go on the air for a few weeks yet, but already they have managed to generate more publicity than a lot of powerhouse stations do in a year.

The station is teaming up with Space Adventures, the same company that took Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte into space for a hefty $35 million. To be fair, this contest will only take the winner to the limits of space and then back. It’s still more than most of us will ever see.

Quebec mayor RĂ©gis Labeaume claims it will be good for his city and may attract tourists. The city is not getting involved in terms of money, but a local home builder and restaurant are also involved. The cost of the hour or so trip is estimated to be in the neighbourhood of $107,000.

Labeaume cut a “winning” ticket into three pieces. Each piece will be hidden at different locations within the city, thus beginning the treasure hunt. In the end, the people who find each piece will have to face off somehow on Sortir FM’s airwaves. The listeners will then have the final say on who will blast off.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Up, Up and Away!

Any sports fan who grew up in Montreal during the 1970's through most of the 1990s, was truly fortunate to have heard some of the greatest sports announcers to ever sit behind a microphone.

Baseball and radio are very much interlinked. Opening day used to be one of the highlights of my year. That all changed when the Expos left Montreal after the 2004 season.

The Montreal Expos held a special place in my heart. Unlike the Canadiens, the Expos were the proverbial underdogs for most of their existence. Some might disagree, but I believe Montreal lost a good part of its sports soul when the Expos left town.

Baseball is unlike any other sport. Its regular season is a marathon of 162 games. You start off in the spring, when all is reborn and anything seems possible, and you wrap things up in the fall, when the leaves start to fall and we begin the tedious transition into another winter.

Baseball on the radio is special. It requires the ability to paint a picture not only of what is going on on the field, but of the surroundings. For Expo fans Dave Van Horne was the artist that painted that picture for 31 seasons. Van Horne was teamed up with some great commentators over the years, most notably Duke Snider and Ken Singleton. In French, it was Jacques Doucet who was the radio voice of baseball in Montreal. Both Van Horne and Doucet deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

The Expos only made post-season once, and had their best season crushed into oblivion in 1994. Over the years, they participated in many a pennant race only to fall short. It may be hard to believe right now, but there was a time - even going right up into the 1990s, when the Expos actually had some of the highest radio ratings in MLB.

In the spring of 2000, the unthinkable happened: The Expos english radio voice fell silent. A french language deal was struck at the very last minute. The saddest years in the franchises' history were about to begin. Dave Van Horne was relegated to Internet broadcasts and left the Expos for Miami the following season. He's been there ever since. It's hard to imagine that Dave Van Horne has been the radio voice of the Marlins for nearly a decade.

If you are a big fan, you take your team along with you. At home, in the backyard, in the car and so on. The game can always be on in the background. The west coast trips were always fun. You knew you might lose some sleep for a week or so, but you didn't care. Also fun was the rare doubleheader. You just wouldn't see back-to-back games in any other sport, now would you?

I miss baseball on the radio... It's something special and timeless. When it came to radio, Expo fans were very lucky over the years. Unfortunately our luck and time ran out...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

After Midnight: The radio is still on...

I grew up listening to overnight radio way before I needed it to help keep me sane while at my last job. One fun thing that has not changed over the years is the ability to pick up "far away" stations after dark. Some of the powerhouses come in remarkably clear. This was all you could do in the days prior to Internet streaming. WCBS, WFAN and WJR were a few of my favourites back then.

In Montreal, we've had some really entertaining stuff on after midnight over the years. I can go back as for as the mid-80s and the late Dave Patrick. He was the first voice in the night that I can remember hearing on our local airwaves. Just because the program began at midnight didn't mean that it wasn't going to be very entertaining!

The last man standing in our local overnight radio land was Sol Boxenbaum. His program began at 3 AM, so if you were sleeping and never had a chance to hear his show, you're probably not alone. It took him about 50 years to realize his dream of becoming a radio announcer. (So I guess there is still hope for me...) I'll always have a soft spot for Sol, since he was the first guy I ever interviewed while at radio school. He couldn't have been nicer.

So who makes up the audience at 3 o'clock in the morning? Obviously, people who work the graveyard shift make up a significant part of the audience. I don't have any stats to back this up, but I am assuming there are probably more overnight workers now than ever before.

Then there are the people who can't sleep, or choose not to. A lot of them may be alone, and many of them are seniors. The voice in the night comes across as a welcome friend for a lot of lonely people. Having said that, when a french radio network did away with their overnight talk show last year, it caused a great deal of distress to many of their listeners who were left with no alternatives. Even as we enter 2010, conventional radio is still important to a lot of people.

Advertisers don't seem too impressed with the overnight audience. No real surprise there. Ratings numbers come across as pretty miniscule after a certain hour, if they are measured at all. In the case of the later scenario, proper ratings figures might be hard to come by. The new "people meters" are not specifically handed out to people who are up at night, so ratings numbers will appear pretty non-existent. Syndication and replays seem to be the post-midnight choice for most AM stations nowadays.

Radio School

I arrived at radio school fully expecting to be in a class with a bunch of young kids. What I found instead was a group of people around my age. They all had similar stories about having wanted to get into radio years earlier.

Our teacher was long-time Montreal media personality Robert Vairo. Vairo is a man whose knowledge of the radio industry in Canada is unquestionable. He can be a bit harsh in his critiquing, so if you are not used to being judged, it's best to develop a thick skin beforehand.

I was shocked to hear a recording of my voice for the first time. At that point, I'd probably have been the first person to shut the radio off had I heard myself on it. I spent most of the course working to improve my on-air presentation. The hardest thing was having to re-do recordings, over and over and over again. You don't usually have that luxury in the real world of live radio - maybe that's a good thing!

I was working the graveyard shift while I was taking the course, and I had to be at work by 10 o'clock. I went through about a half a dozen classes without having gotten any sleep the day/night before. I wouldn't recommend anyone attempt that, but the funny thing is, I felt less inhibited on those days than when I had gotten 8 hours of sleep.

The ultimate goal was to put together a 2 minute demo "tape" of our best stuff. Basically, you work 6 months for 2 minutes that might get your foot in the door of a radio station. Some people were lucky enough to get internships at local stations - some even got to do more than just make coffee.

I was so relieved to have arrived at the finish line in once piece. Still, I had finally taken the first step toward pursuing a career in radio. I wish I had done it 10 years earlier, but at least I did it. I knew going in that it would be tough and I had no idea what to do next. I was ready to put my training into practice.