Monday, June 7, 2010
When The Expos Could Still Be Heard
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.