Battle for clear channel frequencies in Montreal at CRTC

Steve Kowch blog photoFrom where I sit On The Kowch, you don’t know what competition is until you participate in a CRTC license application hearing and all the big guns in media come after you. This is the big time folks. The room is full of media company presidents, vice presidents and a team of experts ready to pounce on any misstep you make at the hearing to score a point for their application.

The two prizes up for grabs: two clear channel 50,000 watt frequencies on the AM dial – 690 and 940. A clear channel means there are no other radio stations in North America using those frequencies. What that means is the radio station can be heard at night crystal clear. It doesn’t have to power down at sundown to 10,000 watts to keep from drowning out other stations on the same frequency.

In 2011, I was hired to help secure both licenses for my client.

The players:

  • Bell Media wants to move it’s all sports station to one of those frequencies so people can hear its English language Montreal hockey broadcast at night. Without the switch the station will continue to lose money (has lost $4 million in past 10 years). Bell needs the frequency because anglos living outside of Montreal can’t hear the hockey game at night.
  • Dufferin Communications wants to use the frequency for a station catering to Montreal’s large gay community. Talk during the day and music at night. They would be owned by the same radio group that runs PRIDE-FM in Toronto on a low powered FM station. The group told the commission having a Montreal station would make it easier to sell advertising on their Toronto station – two stations for the price of one.
  • MetroMedia owned by Quebec broadcast giant COGECO wants to have a 24/7 English language traffic station. They killed their French sports station by turning it into a French language traffic station. The Quebec government is financing the French station with a guarantee of a million + dollars in advertising. The government will provide similar financing for an English all traffic station. But the deadline to take advantage of the offer is the end of February 2012.
  • Standing in their way is 7954689 Canada Inc. It wants both frequencies to operate a news and talk station in French on 690AM and an English news and talk station on 940AM. The English station would be a direct competitor to CJAD that has to power down to 10,000 watts at night and can’t be heard outside city limits of Montreal. The French competition is an FM talk station that plays music on weekends. 7954689 Canada Inc. says a Leger Marketing Survey shows a large majority of anglophones, allophones and francophones want a choice and would support a second news and talk station in both languages.

7954689 Canada Inc. is owned by legendary Montreal broadcaster Paul Tietolman, his partner real-estate tycoon Nicolas Tetrault and telecommunication guru Rajiv Pancholy. They are backed by an impressive list of accountants and engineers and broadcasters Jim Connell and Yves Guerard who moderated our sessions in English and French. The glue to the team is a young MBA graduate in E-commerce, Frederic Hebert who is so fluent in French and English you’d think he wrote the French presentation rather than translated it.

Our team at the CRTC hearings. I’m the fourth person from the right.

CRTC 940 and 690 team

Mother nature helped our cause by sending Hurricane Irene through Montreal. The French language news and talk station stayed with their music programming during the hurricane. CJAD stayed with their comedy show and other specialty talk programming while streets were flooded, power went out and homes damaged by the winds.

My job as a news talk radio consultant was to write the presentation. To put in words a philosophy of news and talk radio: news 24/7, use of two hosts to provide differing opinions on issues of the day vs a single host, on air town hall meetings on local issues and local news, emphasis on indepth breaking news coverage 24/7, investigative reporting, providing a platform for emerging talent and providing time for CEGEP, college and university radio and J- students to produce and host two hour block programming on weekends.

The chair of the CRTC hearings called our proposal bold.

When it was time to respond to what the others said about us we had a simple message for the CRTC commissioners in French and English:

“Where’s their creativity, imagination and excitement. We’re different because we’re offering something new. We’re offering to revitalize the AM dial in Montreal and hire one hundred people.

” We are intrigued by the lack of proposals to create great radio as we are ready to do. Everyone else is just talking about using these two frequencies to help bail them out.

“We do believe that our proposals for full service, full time local news and information talk radio stations in a market that is demonstrably starving for an alternate source of news and information programming, is the best possible use of such powerful signals.

“To own and operate clear channel 50,000 watt frequencies in English and French is a privilege and with this privilege comes the ultimate responsibilities to broadcasting quality content.

“These heritage frequencies are a national resource and should not be wasted.”

The three member CRTC panel presiding over the hearings said they will fast track their decision.

From where I sit On The Kowch, I may have been the least experienced in the room when it comes to participating in a CRTC hearing. But even I know not to bet the farm on any of the horses in this race. We’ll just have to wait and see what the CRTC in their wisdom decides.

Steve was in charge of programming Canada’s two largest newstalk radio stations (including CJAD in Montreal and CFRB in Toronto) for 14 years

You can email Steve at steve@kowchmedia.com

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