Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Fade to black, SUN TV's Last Day in The Bunker

For those who didn't notice, and judging from their truly pathetic ratings most people didn't, SUN TV (AKA FOX North) went off air on midnight October 31 2011, after being ordered to cease all terrestrial (meaning over-the-air) broadcasting by the CRTC. SUN TV will still however be offered by some cable networks in some parts of Canada including Shaw and Bell.

The CRTC announced their order back in August 2011 ruling that SUN NEWS TV would be losing their terrestrial (over-the-air) signal at the end of October . It seems that SUN TV had been living on borrowed time since going on the air in a suspiciously rushed and slapdash manner during the last federal election, during which SUN TV acted as cheerleaders for the Tories. Since backing the winning horse in the election SUN TV had spent an remarkable amount of attacking their enemies in the media with vitriolic campaigns against the CBC and arts funding along with some what less frenzied attacks on the CRTC. Both SUN TV as well as FOX itself have been feuding with the CRTC for years while demanding the preferential treatment that would allow both of them to set up the kind of national wide right wing network FOX has in the USA and ultimately the rest of the (white) English speaking world including Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. FOX's ambitions have dealt a serious if not lethal blow by the phone hacking scandals of course, but this hasn't dampened the frothing ambitions of SUN TV who continued to try and bully the CRTC into granting them a full nation wide broadcast. If SUN TV were assuming that they now had protection from the now all powerful Harper govt, they gambled wrong.

The odd thing about the SUN TV's sign off was it's stealthy nature. For a right wing trash talking tabloid who never pass up a chance to rage against the vast liberal establishment which is always censoring our poor oppressed billionaires and conservatives this silence spoke volumes. Even after the CRTC's public announcement the near silence from SUN TV was deafening. The assumption is that SUN wants another crack at this once the current CRTC chair, who has the honest-to-God name of Conrad Von Finkelstein (Seriously? He sounds like a Bond villain) is gone. Finkelstein's term is ending and while he has made it known that he would like to stay for another term, Harper has made it even more clear that he will be appointing another one of his more pliable cronies. So SUN is going to bide their time and not make things worse by picking a public fight with the CRTC.

An additional factor was the pathetic ratings of SUN TV which at times have been measured as being as low as 25,000 nation wide, which is less than some local TV stations. Some surveys showed them pulling less than half that (7000 at one point) which is even less than CKLN used to get. Pathetic. As SUN TV was circling the drain the CBC couldn't pass up a chance to rub salt in the wound by taking out ads bragging that CBC's ratings were 650 percent better than SUN TV's. And that was even before they went dark. This led to more impotent outrage from from various SUN TV talking heads who sputtered about the scandal that "Tax Payer Money" was being used to "attack" a poor defenseless mom and pop operation like SUN TV. Taking another shot in the increasingly nasty death match, the CBC piled on by running more ads pointing out the millions of "Tax Payer Money" that QMI (SUN TV's parent company) had gotten over the years from corporate welfare (which I also wrote about here,). QMI Boss Pierre Paladeu threatened a libel suit (like his pal Rob Ford when faced with bad press) and then failed to follow through (also like Ford). Notably he did not actually deny the accuracy of the CBC report however. He did however get to testify at parliamentary hearings which gave him yet another chance to sputter his outrage on behalf of the sacred taxpayers that the big bad CBC would be allowed to run adds smacking him down.

So the run up to the Oct.31 sign off was oddly muted. Other than a crawl across the bottom of the screen which listed the cable providers which would still carry SUN (which at that point was merely Shaw, at least in Southern Ontario) but actually did not mention that they would be off the air at all. That was pretty much it.

I watched the last hours from SUN TV's bunker curious to see how they would go into the dark, dark night, on Halloween no less. Still expecting some kind of grand defiant send off, or at least some kind of acknowledgement to their few viewers. What we got was slapstick.

With FOX North looking to come with a version of the ever popular "War on Christmas" that FOX South has been hawking for years, we had the ludicrous spectacle of Ezra Levant and Charles Adler ranting about the liberal "War on Halloween". The evidence for which being a few schools that banned Halloween dances. Running on a roll they then rambled on to rant some more about the outrageous liberal War on Disneyland. If the War on Halloween consisted of a few school board Killjoys, the War on Disneyland existed solely in the paranoid fantasies of Levant and Adler who simply speculated about how imaginary liberal activists MIGHT protest about racism in Snow White or whatever. The fact that nothing like this ever actually happened is apparently beside the point. As was the fact that the one group who actually HAVE protested Halloween has been Christians, outraged at a pagan holiday. Actually some Christians have even protested Disneyland for allowing gay tourist charters. But there I go using "facts" again, no fair.

At any rate with all this idiotic babble going on I plumb forgot that they were about to go off the air at midnight and turn into a pumpkin with no viewers. Apparently they forgot as well since they never bothered to mention this even once as the minutes ticked down to midnight. At about five to midnight as Levant was in still in mid rant the screen suddenly froze on Levant with his arms outstretched and his mouth silently agape. This shot stayed motionless like this for perhaps half a minute, then the screen went dark on SUN TV forever. And that was that.

I have now had the odd distinction of listening in to no less than three stations go off the air. I also listened in as 1050 CHUM went off air back in 2001 to become an all sports station. They had a classy sign off with an Elvis song "Heartbreak Hotel" (the first number one record at CHUM) and a long sound collage of various moments from CHUM's past. The new format didn't last very long and they soon came back as an oldies station, which also didn't last. Then they were bought out to simulcast CP20's TV newscasts, which was odd since there was obviously no video to go along with the commentary. This year that came to an end and they went back to being an all sports station, which is dying in the ratings again. I didn't catch those changeovers but apparently they were done with little or no notice, let alone fanfare.

1050 CHUM promo circa 1986;

And then there's CKLN. They were yanked off the air this April for being completely inept. Given their penchant for strident left wing ranting and bizzarro conspiracy theories their sign-off was oddly muted. As D-Day came there was no notice of their impending demise until mere minutes before when the station manager Jacky Harrison broke into "The OCAP Show" to announce they would be going off air in about five minutes. She then handed the show back to the perpetually outraged OCAP Radio show host to furiously rant about this censorship for a few minutes before Harrison came back to repeat the warning. Then back again to the OCAP host who was by then comparing CKLN to the Arab Spring protesters before being cut off in mid rant, putting an end to their Abbott and Costello routine for good with the sweet, sweet sounds of static.

It's worth pointing out that after being yanked off the air various members of CKLN's disgraced management gave their conspiracy theories about the CRTC's secret plan to destroy community radio, using this as an excuse for their incompetence and portraying themselves as hapless victims. To go along with this they confidently predicted that others would soon follow, particularly CO-OP Radio in B.C. and CIUT in Toronto.

CO-OP Radio did indeed face CRTC hearings last year partly due to some serious issues over their financial and equipment problems as well as some missed paperwork fillings, as well as a plan by CO-OP to trade their signal with a commercial radio station in exchange for enough money to fix their existing issues. I happily wrote a letter of support to the CRTC for them. The hearings were quite different from the CKLN Gong Show hearings of December 2010. In spite of the CRTC's supposed ruthless corporate racist agenda against community radio they granted CO-OP their extension and allowed their signal swap. And CIUT has been granted their extension along with every other community station as well. Except for CKRG who gave theirs up voluntarily.

CKRG was a Low Power campus station at York University's Glendon Campus. How low? About 5 watts, which would cover the area of the campus itself and that's it. They had been around since 1998 first as a Low Power AM signal then moving to Low Power FM in 2004. They had tried to go for a 200 watt license in 1994 but were turned down. Lately they had decided not to bother to renew their license when the current one came up for renewal in Aug. 2011. There was an extension to Nov. 2011 but by then CKRG had actually been off the air since school had let out the previous spring. Like many student stations (and CKRG was always a student station) CKRG had given up on trying for a terrestrial signal and had decided on a purely internet future. This is unfortunate since they had made this call before they know that CKLN was going down and would be creating an opening that they could have made a bid for. Oh well.

So the cheese stands alone.

A few other sign offs;

CINW-AM 940 in Montreal;

CIGM-AM 790 in Sudbury;

CJUL-AM 1220 in Cornwall;

WMJX-FM 96.3 in Miami (shut down by the FCC in 1981);

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