Montreal Radio Blog

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!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Go Habs Go!

Dick Irvin was interviewed during the intermission of one of the Pens-Habs games at the Bell Centre last week. He mentioned how he found it amazing to see the change in the hockey culture in Montreal nowadays. Finishing 8th seems to be something to cheer about now...

It's true that for decades, making the playoffs was never an issue for Montreal hockey fans. The first round was hardly worth going insane over. But now nearly an entire generation of Montrealers have grown up watching very mediocre hockey. Since 1993, the Canadiens have not made it past the second round of the playoffs.

Teams used to come to Montreal and be intimidated by the old Forum and its ghosts. They now come into the Bell Centre and are intimidated by its amazing large crowds. It took a while for it to happen, but it has been unmistakable during these playoffs. The crowd used to be a factor at Expo games, when they would stand and make the Olympic Stadium about as loud a venue as you were going to find. That may be hard to believe unless you were there to experience it. Montreal sports fans are something else, especially since the days of being spoiled have long since past.

And for any english-speaking Montreal hockey fan growing up during the 1980s, Dick Irvin was the voice of the Habs. I'm sorry that I missed the time he spent on TV with Danny Gallivan. By the mid-80s, I don't even recall if he had a permanent radio colour man by his side. I kind of remember rotating local guest analysts for most road games at some point when they were still broadcast on CFCF radio.

Although Dick Irvin was a CFCF employee, he would magically appear on CBC 6 every Saturday night and during the playoffs to do play-by-play or colour of Habs games. Those were the days when the Canadiens were on Hockey Night in Canada every week, even if the game was only seen in Quebec.

There was no big splash for Hall of Fame broadcaster Irvin when he retired. No doubt that was his choice. It's always great to see him make an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada. It brings back memories of the way it used to be... Back in those days, you had to depend on radio, because there were only a limited number of games on television. You would have to envision the players skating left-to-right on your radio dial. Even the radio dial seems to have disappeared... Hockey on the radio is so much different than baseball on the radio. It's mostly action and re-action, with nowhere near the amount of time-filler, stage-setter or time for reminiscing - those things are best left for the intermissions.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Internet-Only Radio

It was reported today in the Suburban  that former CJAD late-late-late night host Sol Boxenbaum will be heard once again starting on May 31st. He will host a nightly program from 10 PM to midnight on a new start-up Internet radio broadcast site VIP Internet Radio. Best of luck to Sol. He's a real good guy and it will be nice to hear him again. It's just too bad his new show won't be more accessible to his old audience.

I understand that there are some live events that are only available on-line, and then there are the podcasts which allow you to listen to anything just about anywhere for convenience sake. Still, I don't know much about Internet-only broadcasters and how successful they may or may not be. Streaming of over-the-air stations has been going on since the mid-90s, and that expands the potential audience to anyone in the world with Internet access.

Anyone can set up their own Internet live broadcast. It's more complicated than simple podcasting, but then again the problem ultimately becomes how to spread the word about your show. That's hard enough for some traditional broadcasters sometimes, but if you've got hundreds or hundreds of thousands of "competitors", how do you draw attention to your show? With radio, you really need to hook the listener right away and give them a reason to want to tune back in again. It's really not so different from trying to draw people to a blog or a web page.

I wonder if the future of radio is really to be found online. The Internet is an excellent tool to compliment existing radio programs, but I can't see how it will ever replace them. Even if you can access the Internet on portable devices, it just isn't the same thing, particularly when you are trying to be “local“. Even satellite radio has not overtaken conventional radio yet, and it doesn't look like that will happen anytime soon.

People might log onto their favourite local radio stations' web site when they are on vacation, but will they tune into a station specific to the Internet? I'm not sure that's going to happen in large enough numbers to make it financially viable. Would people be willing to pay a fee for Internet-only stations? Such fees already exist for some programming. An example would be the fee MLB charges for online access to game feeds. Maybe it would take a big name radio star to set up shop on the Internet. We shall see...

Monday, May 3, 2010


It would be great to have access to archived Montreal radio programming. There really is no comprehensive archive out there for the general public to access. I doubt there are any vaults out there with old tapes of every known radio program produced in Montreal over the years. It would be reasonably easy to keep stuff nowadays with everything being digital.

You can find some vintage stuff on the Internet, but not much Montreal stuff. Still, I did find a very interesting site with some old Montreal clips. Marc Denis' 1470 CFOX Montreal Radio Archive is dedicated to the long-departed CFOX. It is so refreshing to hear what it was like when local radio was still in local hands. There are some wonderful old clips on that site, featuring among others, the late Gord Sinclair, who was the station's original owner. This is a fantastic, MUST VISIT site for anyone with an appreciation for Montreal's radio history.

CFOX broadcast for 17 years. It would eventually become part of the CKO news network, which some folks out there may still remember. It broadcast on 1470 kHz until going off the air in 1989. A lot of well-known Montreal radio personalities spent time at CFOX, including Ted Tevan back in the early 1970s.

There are recordings of old commercials, newscasts and so on that would be fascinating to listen to.  The CBC and Radio-Canada have some old archived programs posted on their web sites. We are lucky enough to have that kind of access to old newspapers and magazines. Perhaps with time, more stuff will resurface.