Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Report from the 88.1fm freeding frenzy

The announcement last fall that the CRTC was opening up the last major FM radio frequency in Toronto led to a larger than usual deluge of applications to fill it. The various applicants show a vast array of Toronto's population from Christians to Gays, from Sikhs to Tamils, from French to Jamaicans, from Indie Rock to Blues. There are applications for talk radio and various music genres mixed in with applications from Ryerson and the CBC. Originally there were 27 applicants but by the final deadline they were down to 22. Here then are the applicants (drumroll please and save your applause till the end);

1. The Evanov Group and PROUD FM;
Owned by Bill Evanov, PROUD FM is the "Gay themed" radio station that has been on air since 2007 at 103.9fm with a small 60 watt signal, and they are looking to upgrade to a larger signal capable of reaching the entire city. Evanov started this bidding war by putting in the first application which acted as a starter's pistols for everyone else. Besides PROUD FM Evanov also owns numerous other stations across Canada and last year was granted a similar license for a Gay themed station in Montreal. One bonus for this one, besides being able to claim they are representing a marginalized community, is that Evanov is proposing to move from 103.9 to 88.1fm which would then open up 103.9 fm for bidding for those who wanted another chance at this. The CRTC might actually like that since it would mean the weren't quite giving away the final signal while at the same time the smaller reach of 103.9 fm would probably convince some of the others to drop out leading to a smaller feeding frenzy next time.

PROUD FM promo;


2. Ryerson University;
Actually Ryerson started off the feeding frenzy in the first place when they lost the license for the previous Ryerson based station, CKLN, whose license was revoked in 2010 as we all know by now. Their attempt to regain the license uses a couple of the old CKLN management and has the support of the National Campus Radio Association (mostly from out west), but is far more Ryerson-centric and not really a true community station than was CKLN. They are promising a mix of "ethnic" programming with Ryerson sports and live music which seems a little vague and confusing and probably of little interest to any non-Ryerson student. In fact it may of little interest even to them. As the CRTC pointed out several times the referendum that agreed to fund the station had only a 10% voter turnout. Another question is whether Ryerson be rewarded for shutting down the last station they had.

Radio Ryerson Promo;


3. The CBC;
Anyone hoping they were looking at moving CBC 3 to the airwaves can forget it, this is an application for a French language repeater station. The CBC has certain advantages over other applications in that they don't have to prove they are financially sustainable, because they're the CBC. And they don't have to prove they have technical and professional experience and know-how, because they're the CBC. It is also part of the expressed mandate of both the CBC and the CRTC to promote National Unity and Bilingualism. In fact the CBC has basically said that they are entitled to the signal and shouldn't even have to bid with all these peasants. That didn't earn many friends. However there is a legitimate question as to whether Toronto's tiny Francophone community warrants a radio station anyway. The current audience for French language TV stations in Toronto is negligible and a couple of years ago Champlain Books, Toronto's venerable French bookstore, was forced to close it's doors. Then there is the matter of whether it is a good idea for the Mother Corp to be starting another radio station while they are going through serious budget cuts. As an additional wrinkle there is another French language application coming from CHOQ FM, and you can imagine all the manufactured outrage from the Tories and their mouthpieces over at the Sun if CBC got it over CHOQ, or anyone else for that matter.

A French language station operating with a tiny signal at 1watt on 105.1fm since 2006, like PROUD FM they are looking to upgrade to a larger signal. They face the same questions about the viability of a French station in Toronto. They may have one advantage over the CBC however; a local track record and the knowledge that Toronto's Francophone community is different than Ottawa's in that many don't come from Quebec, Acadia or Northern Ontario (unlike CBC staff) but from Africa and Haiti. The CBC signal is going to be a repeater signal anyway so if there is an actual need for a French station in Toronto it would be better to give it to a group with actual local roots. Like PROUD FM they would also be giving up their current signal, tiny though it is.

The Caribbean station owned by Fitzroy Gordon which only got it's license last year now wants an upgrade, moving from 96.8 to 88.1fm. Like the PROUD FM application this would then open up 96.8 to someone else. They now say they need an upgrade to survive, but since they've only been on air less than a year the CRTC is unlikely to be very impressed with this claim. In their application they also take time out to basically call the CBC jerks and liars for opposing them the last time out so that should be fun. At least this time Gordon manages to avoid bragging about his close personal friendship with Stephen Harper and Jason Kenny as he has in every interview in the past year.

Fitzroy Gordon whines about the CBC again;


6. INDIE 88;
An application from Barrie based Rock 95 to start an "Indie Rock" station which appear to similar to the much beloved CFNY in it's 1980's glory days, before it turned into the much watered down "Edge 102". This one may be a bit of a long-shot but it has gotten some support from the local music scene (I must point out that I also wrote a letter of support) and if done right could appeal to the same kind of engaged scenesters. To win over such a grass roots audience they will have to prove that even though they are in Barrie they can get deeply in touch with the local scene. Then again CFNY started out in Burlington and that worked out pretty well. They also have to be able to define what "Indie" music means to the CRTC who seem to have some trouble with the concept.


An application for a "Rock and Blues" station from two brothers who own a similar station in Ottawa where it's worked out well. They have generated one of the largest amount of support letters and there is certainly an audience for blues that is not being served by the bland JAZZ FM. The Ottawa Blues Festival is a big yearly event that one would think could be exported here easily. However the Toronto blues club scene has dried up over the last decade as the audience has moved out further to the suburbs and not been replaced with younger fans. The fading Toronto Blues Society has failed utterly to face this problem so how would DAWG deal with this? At any rate their schedule seems to lean more towards the rock end of things so they might be competing more with Q107 anyway. Oh, and their logo is really ugly too. Still; it's not a bad idea. This is my second favorite one after Indie 88. They also have the support of Dan Ackroyd who appeared via tele-conference

DAWG FM Promo;


8. Zoomer Radio;
Moses Znaimer's radio for people too old for that darn internet thingy wants to expand. They say their AM 740 signal is so crappy that they just have to move. Unlike PROUD FM or CARN he does not want to give up his current signal however. That does raise an obvious question; if AM 740 is so terrible why do they insist on keeping it? He does have a letter of support from Anne Murray though. So there.

9. CHIN;
Toronto's longstanding multicultural pioneer looks to expand as well, with additional language programming for Russian, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Farsi. They are also not into giving up any of their existing signals. CHIN has an excellent track record and few enemies, and can honestly claim to represent communities otherwise not well served. They are genuinely popular in such circles and have made a lot of high placed friends in politics and should not be discounted. CHIN has proved that is is possible for such a station to pay it's bills and behave professionally. However does Toronto really need another CHIN station?

10. Trust Ministries;
A Christian group who own two other radio stations. Oddly enough manager Scott Jackson used to work for Bill Evanov (of PROUD FM) so that should make for an interesting reunion. They have apparently been working on this for a while and were the second group to announce their intentions (after Evanov) and Jackson also ran a mega successful Christian station in Nashville so they are no amateurs. They are also a registered charity. Their website acknowledges they are a bit of a long shot and asks supporters to pray. I'd say they didn't have a prayer but that would just be wrong.

Trust Ministries promo


11. Family FM;
This one is a little odd. They are claiming to be focused on "Families" whatever that means. Since when is that a genre? They focus on the likes of Raffi and Sharon, Lewis and Bram, but then admit that that will only make up a small part of their actual programming, the rest is bland easy listening. Their vague format is vainly searching for a niche that probably does not exist in any real way. Actually the head of this one, Paul Fredricks, is connected with a Christian Bookstore called "Faith Family Books" which explains alot, although they don't mention the Christian part. They also have the involvement of Jane Hawtin (ex of Q107, CFRB and CBC) who brings radio experience and Pinball Clemmons (ex of The Argos) who brought some jokes and his big smile to the hearings.

12. BIZ 88;
An application for a Business news format. This has been tried by Blumberg in New York and gotten consistently poor ratings for years. However because of it's high-end audience advertisers may not mind that very much. It's also pretty cheap to run. They have veteran TV news journalist Donna Skelly on board. There was a previous attempt at an "All Business and Traffic and Weather" format a few years ago that quickly failed, even after they desperately tried to attract attention by airing right wing crackpot shows from America like Glen Beck and other denizens of FOX. Since apparently that's what our business leaders want; bizarro conspiracy theories about Obama and Hitler. I can't imagine why that didn't catch on here. Their programming has a lot of blank spots that they are vague on how they intend to fill, which doesn't instill a lot of faith. However that previous station was a low power station with only a localized signal by the airport. This one is run by the same group that owns CHCH in Hamilton who recently had to apologize for accidentally running porn on the air. Nobody mentioned that though since that's presumably not part of their programming plans.

13. World Band Media;
Another talk radio application. This one has deep pockets and a former Mike Harris era Cabinet Minster on it's Board so they are not fooling around. To prove it, along with their application they also filed a separate and amazing 29 page hostile intervention attacking all the other applications which is pretty hard hitting. Still it's another talk radio format that belongs on AM and which doesn't offer a very convincing argument in their own favour as they want yet another droning talk radio station. Because Toronto doesn't have enough of those already. The best argument they can come up with is to basically say that every other type of radio is going downhill anyway so it's pointless to resist, like talk radio is the Borg or something. Still; should the last FM signal in Toronto be wasted on a talk radio format that really belongs on AM if at all? I think not.

14. TNT Media;
Yet another Talk Radio application. This time from a Montreal group who already own a station there and promise "Extreme, Explosive Talk Radio", (translation; American style all-outrage-all-the-time) and their application uses a lot of exclamation points. Great, that's just what we need. Especially on FM. That above mentioned hostile intervention from Worldband is especially disdainful of this one. But not as much as I am.

15. Metro 88.1;
From Larche Communications who own four other successful stations in Ontario, either country or classic rock so they are not amateurs either. No this is not another doomed attempt at a country station in Toronto. This a doomed attempt at a vague "AAA" format which freely translated means "Rock and pop for people too old for The Edge but not old enough for an oldies station, and too rock and roll for EZ Rock but not quite enough for Q107", mixed with some comedy. Their application has a bunch of figures to prove that they won't just be competing with CHUM FM, Q107 or JACK FM, none of which I believe.

Metro 88 promo

16. Tower 88 fm;
A bland easy listening aimed at women in particular, wait; isn't that why we have EZ Rock? Run by Micheal Wekerle, a radio newbie with a lot of business experience and cash. How much cash you ask? He has Ivan Fecan, former head of CTV on board. They also sweeten the pot by promising to play tons of Canadian content and Aboriginal artists that got them the support of former Chief Phil Fontaine. That's a lot of fire-power for what is otherwise another easy listening station.

TOWER 88 promo

17. Durham Radio Inc;
Durham owns four other stations, mostly country or easy rock. Here they are calling themselves "88.1, The Lake FM", which is one of those annoying pointless brand names radio stations give themselves these days, remember when "The Edge" used to be called "CFNY"? That was when they were actually pretty cool. "The Lake"? What does that mean exactly? Are they going to be playing sea shanties? Actually it's anther bland commercial Easy Listening station which, or the music your dentist plays in the waiting room. Their application is possibly one of the biggest and contains a mind numbing amount of charts and figures, which is only slightly more boring than listening to the station itself would be.

18. Newcap Radio inc;
Yet another easy listening station. Newcap owns a jawdropping 79 other stations though so they must know something. Actually in the time it took me to write this they actually got another one. Seriously.

19. Stan 88fm;
An English language multi-cultural urban/hip-hop/pop/smooth jazz station aimed at second and third generation listeners. It's modestly named after it's owner Stanislas Antony. This might even be a workable idea in a multi ethnic city like Toronto, on the other hand it's so vague it might be a really stupid idea, either way it's different and Toronto is one of the few places it could have come from. At the hearings the CRTC was very skeptical about their finances, so that's a big problem.

20. Asia FM;
A Korean run Asian station which will however be mostly in English with 14% in Korean. The music will be pop and dance from Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan. I know there is a large Asian community in Toronto but how many prefer mostly English? How will Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Tibetans, or Thais (who all have longstanding rivalries) enjoy sharing a station? Do they really have converging tastes? Will they all stick around for the Korean language parts? How many are happy to keep getting their music from the web? It's a bold idea but a risky one. They got the best line in the hearings when one of the other applicants claimed that Toronto already had a Chinese station in Fairchild Radio. Their response; "We shouldn't have to point out that not all Asians are Chinese." Good one.

21. S. Sivakkumaran;
Not surprisingly it's an application for a ethnic radio station aimed at Tamil, Urdu, Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Malay, Philippino and African communities. This puts them in direct competition with CHIN of course, as well as a brand new Tamil station in Scarborough. However if the CRTC decides that CHIN has enough radio stations that may not hurt them to much, sure doesn't help though.

22.MTSD Broadcast inc;
This is an application for a station aimed at the Punjabi community. There is no doubt an audience here, but they are being opposed by some of the existing radio stations catering to the Punjabis. It is also too limited compared to most of the other choices.

There were originally supposed to be a few other applicants who announced but then either dropped out or were dropped by the CRTC before the hearings for failing the technical aspects as the CRTC reserves the right to do. One such application was from Astral Media who no doubt dropped out when they announced their upcoming merger with Bell which will require them to divest some of their stations including The Flow. Another applicant was for a Tamil station which has instead decided to apply for a station in Markham. Oddly the other three or four were all South Asian applicants

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