By Paul Branchaud
Or forever hold your tongue… When the news was announced that Bell media was planning to switch TSN Radio 990 to RDS Radio, there was shock, disbelief, and outrage. I give a ton of credit to the staff at TSN 990 for not going ballistic and persevering in the face of long odds. Bell’s decision is not a guaranteed death sentence, but it stacks the odds clearly against the plucky station that has survived and even flourished over its 11 year history.
If you listen to the station, and you haven’t voiced your opinion on the proposed linguistic switch, I urge you to do so. Even if you don’t like the on-air personalities (there are some who, when I hear them, compell me to turn off my radio), but you believe that any one entity owning 75% of the available English radio in this city is ridiculous, then you, too, should voice your opinion.
There is an online petition that could use a boost with some extra signatures, but the best way to let the CRTC and Bell Media know that you think TSN Radio 990 deserves to continue in English is to submit your comments. Click on https://services.crtc.gc.ca/pub/Intervention/Submission-Soumission.aspx?lang=e&EN=2012-370&ET=N#SE0 select “I Agree” and click “Next”, select Option 1 and click “Next” then select the check box next to “2012-0573-2: Bell Media Canada Radio Partnership” (also select “2012-0516-2: Astral Media inc.” if you oppose Bell’s takeover of Astral). Follow the directions to register your opposition. It doesn’t need to be as long-winded as mine, which I’ve included below as an open letter to the CRTC, but let your voice be heard.
Objections and comments are being accepted for another week (until 8pm, August 9). If you want TSN Radio 990 to live on, or if you care about the individuals at risk of losing their jobs, please speak up now.
The main object of this document is to register my opposition to notice “2012-0573-2: Bell Media Canada Radio Partnership” that seeks to convert CKGM (aka TSN Radio 990) from an English language all-sports radio station to a French station with the same programming format.
I also wish to register my opposition to notice “2012-0516-2: Astral Media inc.”, which seeks the approval of Bell Media’s acquisition of Astral Media.
My objection to notice 2012-0573-2 is based, in part, to my opposition of notice 2012-0516-2 and the impact the latter notification would have, not only on the former notice, but on the overall concentration of media ownership in Canada, and Montreal specifically.
CKGM has a long history as part of the Montreal radio landscape, and, as long as I have been alive, it has always been an English-language station. When it was announced in 2000 that an all-sports radio station would be launched in Montreal in the spring of 2001, I was excited because the Anglophone radio audience in Montreal would finally have something new to listen to. As a consumer, choice is never a bad thing.
Over the 11 years that CKGM has been an all-sports station, the audience has seen the station evolve on several fronts. The station has produced a number of new broadcasting talents who might not otherwise have been discovered. The station’s programming has grown and developed over time, replacing content imported from Toronto and the United States in favour of locally-developed and produced programming that serves the local audience for the majority of the programming schedule.
I am a bilingual Francophone who has lived in Montreal my entire life, and radio has always been my preferred medium for obtaining news and entertainment. I have been listening to CKGM since the beginning of their all-sports format and can attest to the fact that the station not only caters to its audience, but that the audience is not exclusively Anglophone. Anyone taking the time to listen to CKGM could not deny that a number of regular voices heard (whether they be listeners calling in, show contributors, or even the on-air talent) are Francophone and that an English station is doing its best to serve a broader audience.
It will likely go unmentioned that CKGM’s current iteration has an audience that far exceeds the borders of metropolitan Montreal. As the official broadcaster of the Montreal Canadiens, CKGM’s online feed is a way for fans the world over to keep track of their favorite hockey team, not to mention a way for expatriated Montrealers to keep abreast of the sports happenings in their hometown. From personal experience, I have found that CKGM’s 990 kHz broadcast signal reaches well into the city of Ottawa and northern Vermont. Switching CKGM to French would affect an audience that is much broader than just the Anglophone community in Montreal (but one that does not factor into listenership statistics, which has no bearing on my opposition to notice 2012-0573-2).
From a purely technical point of view, Bell Media (on behalf of CKGM) applied for and won their bid to broadcast using the 690 kHz frequency in Montreal. Bell Media committed the 690 kHz frequency to CKGM prior to their acquisition of Astral Media. As such, the application to move CKGM to the 690 kHz frequency was intended for the English language instance of the all-sports format in Montreal. If notice 2012-0573-2 is allowed to move forward, then Bell Media will have essentially circumvented the standard protocol for acquiring a broadcasting frequency, basically getting a desirable frequency for a brand new station without having to make a new application.
From a broadcast rights perspective, CKGM (as a TSN-branded station) currently holds the exclusive English-language radio rights for the Montreal Canadiens, a contract that runs until the end of the 2017-2018 NHL season. The Canadiens are easily the most valuable sports property in Montreal, and, if plans to convert CKGM to French go through, the previous rights holder (CJAD) would get the radio broadcast rights back. This is the radio equivalent of an Olympic silver medalist winning the gold because the gold medalist was disqualified.
CKGM has faithfully served a market where demand exists; notice 2012-0573-2 seeks to undo over a decade of hard work by dedicated professionals who took a chance on a new format in a unique and challenging market. If Bell Media wishes to offer a French language all-sports radio station in Montreal, they are welcome to do so (and will likely have great success), but it should NOT be at the expense of those who dared to believe in a new programming format and toiled to make it work.
Expanding on my objection to notice 2012-0573-2, I am opposed to notice 2012-0516-2 because it would further concentrate the ownership of English-language radio stations in Montreal.
The rules established by the CRTC concerning media ownership are a direct and important factor when considering notice 2012-0516-2. Though I am opposed to any large corporate entity owning multiple media outlets (locally or nationally), the CRTC’s rules appear to be inflexible and prejudicial against a linguistic minority in any given market. Montreal’s socio-linguistic profile is unique in North America, if not the world.
Currently, there are five (5) major English radio stations in Montreal, owned by three (3) separate entities. The ownership percentage for the current situation is 60% for Astral Media, 20% for Bell Media, and 20% for COGECO. If notice 2012-0516-2 is allowed to move forward, and notice 2012-0573-2 also passes, ownership of the English radio stations would be reduced to four (4) stations by two (2) entities, with Bell Media increasing their percentage to 75%.
If notice 2012-0516-2 is allowed to move forward, and notice 2012-0573-2 does not pass, one of two situations arises: Bell Media is granted an exception by the CRTC to retain CKGM as an English station and they control 80% of the English radio market, or Bell Media divests itself of one radio property, reducing their ownership share to 60% of the market.
Regardless of which avenue is taken, the Anglophone community in Montreal is being penalised by the CRTC’s media ownership rules that would limit the available choices.
Although I am doubtful that the CRTC will somehow block or prevent Bell Media’s takeover of Astral Media, allowing notice 2012-0516-2 to move forward, I would request that you deny notice 2012-0573-2, keeping CKGM as an English all-sports station with all its current broadcasting rights, either through an exemption or by requiring Bell Media to divest itself of a property in order to respect current media ownership regulations.
On behalf of all those who have supported CKGM and their all-sports format, I thank you for considering my objection.