Montreal Radio Blog

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

There is no respect for Montreal's radio history

It hasn’t been a fun time for fans of Montreal radio in recent years. If one thing has become apparent, it is that history means nothing when it comes to the preservation of Montreal’s “heritage” stations. It began two decades ago when the CFCF call sign disappeared in favour of CIQC. Yes, I know, they were forced to change their letters, but still! At the very least the station continued to exist on 600 under its new name for nearly a decade. The 600 frequency would go silent, but theoretically, the station lived on down the dial at 940. A few years ago, the plug was pulled on the old CFCF's decades and decades of history - good and bad. My car radio’s still programmed to stop on 940 during scans, even though I never listened to it much in its “declining” years. All I hear now is static. Too bad, because supposedly it is a great frequency to have. But the radio “carnage’ didn’t stop there!

CKAC was also hugely significant when it came to Montreal’s radio history. It spent its final years as an all-sports station. I was under the impression they were doing reasonably well with the Habs and all. Their ownership however, hit the jackpot when the Quebec government decided for reasons only they understand, that public money should be handed over to help fund an all-traffic radio station. If it were such a great idea, then it is likely that a private broadcaster would have taken that initiative on their own. Of course, it’s a lot easier when the government is paying your way. So it was bye bye CKAC. Let us not forget that back when CKAC was a hugely popular talk station in the early 90s, their main competitor, the original CJMS was put out of its misery in another odd business merger. At the time, CJMS was actually doing pretty well too.

Now the same folks who turned CKAC in to an all-traffic waste of a frequency wanted to do the same thing in English on the old 940 spot - with the province’s money that is. The CRTC said no.

Which brings us to one of the last classic Anglo radio remnants that is left: CKGM, aka Team/TSN 990. They went through format change after format change right through to 2001 when they went to the all-sports format. It seemed unlikely they could succeed, but amazingly they have held on for more than a decade. Their luck, however, is about to run out. We’ve seen a lot of manoeuvring over the years, but this most recent one by 990’s owner Bell takes things to a new level. This time, they don’t just want to change a format or a place on the dial, they want to change the language of the station itself. 990 was set to shortly move to a new stronger frequency on 690 AM. The reasoning given to the CRTC was that somehow that will allow it to reach a wider English-speaking audience on the western tip of the island and beyond. With them now being the Habs’ rights holders, it might have been a convincing argument. The CRTC bought it. So under the pretext of increasing the reach of the Anglo market, Bell now says they want to use that new frequency as a French-language all-sports station, to complement RDS.

This most recent move seems to have taken the radio world, and more particularly 990 employees totally off-guard. Since the news broke, there has been an emotional campaign launched by the station’s listeners to save it. They are not a huge group by any means, but they have been persistent in their petitions to the CRTC, obligatory Facebook campaign and in their planned rallies.

Will the effort make a difference? You would hope so, but probably not. Canadian media is now owned not by a handful, but by a few fingers worth of massive corporations. All they care about is the bottom line. And if you are able to easily swallow up your competition, you are under far less pressure to respond to the demands of listeners of viewers. Why?  Because you pretty much own everything. If people abandon Station A for Station B and you own them both, so what?

So to summarize, what is clear from the above is that history be damned when it comes to deciding on the fate of long-time institutions. And oh yes, English-speaking radio listeners in Montreal are being screwed.