Montreal Radio Blog

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.