Corus poised to enter Ottawa following Bell-Astral deal

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Stay tuned – the Ottawa radio dial is changing.

(Stock image)

By David Sali

With the CRTC’s approval last month of BCE’s $3.4-billion takeover of Astral Media, the capital’s radio market could soon look somewhat different. Under the conditions set out by the broadcast regulator, BCE – whose media division is called Bell Media – must sell off 10 former Astral stations it acquired across Canada, including 106.9 The Bear and boom 99.7 in Ottawa.

BCE has a tentative offer from Toronto-based Corus Entertainment to buy the stations, pending CRTC approval. If the sale proceeds, it would mark Corus’ entry into the Ottawa market. While there’s been no open talk of programming changes, some say the stations’ new owner could modify the format of its new assets.

“The nice thing about Corus is they’ve got a lot of stations already, and brands,” says Dan Mellon, an Algonquin College radio professor. “It could offer a brand-new format to Ottawa that we may never have seen before. Could Ottawa see another talk station on FM that could go up against the CBC? That would be a real game-changer.”

A look at the ratings trends over the past couple of years makes one thing clear: No matter who owns what, when it comes to radio in the capital, the CBC is still king. The public broadcaster’s Radio One station consistently occupies the top spot in the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement’s numbers.

Other stations also regularly pull in big ratings – Bell’s CFRA and Newcap’s Hot 89.9 among them – and Mr. Mellon says the Ottawa market remains robust.

“I think for the most part, across Canada, radio is pretty healthy these days,” he says.

BCE’s takeover of Astral could have another far-reaching consequence down the road, Mr. Mellon says. Ottawa and Montreal are the only two markets in Canada still bound by the “hit-no-hit” rule, meaning 51 per cent of all music over the course of a week must be “non-hit” – that is, a song that has never made the Top 40 on the Canadian charts.

The rule was likely designed to “balance out” the requirement that Gatineau stations play 60 per cent French-language music, Mr. Mellon says. But now that Bell Media owns all the French-language Gatineau stations, “they’re essentially protecting themselves from themselves,” and he thinks there’s a chance the “hit-no-hit” rule could be scrapped.

“If (the rule) were to ever go away, it would be good for all radio stations, not just Bell stations,” Mr. Mellon says.

Ottawa radio station owners (Total market share):

CBC (25.4%)

CBC Radio One (91.5 FM)

Listeners include: Left-leaning Canadians

Format: News and current affairs

Format launch: 1937

Market share: 20%

Reach: 209,600 listeners

Fun fact: Until 2004, Radio One broadcast out of the sixth floor of the Château Laurier. The station was originally owned by the Canadian National Railway, which also owned the hotel at the time.


CBC Radio Two (103.3 FM)

Listeners include: Music connoisseurs

Format: “Adult music” in variety of genres

Format launch: 2008

Market share: 5.4%

Reach: 76,600 listeners

Fun fact: The CBC’s decision to drastically cut the amount of classical music on Radio Two in 2008 sparked protests at the public broadcaster’s facilities across the country.



BELL MEDIA (26.3%)

580 CFRA

Format: News, talk radio

Format launch: 1993

Market share: 11.6%

Reach: 116,800 listeners

Key local executive: Steve Winogron (program director)

Fun fact: Mark Elliot, a hugely popular DJ at the station in the 1980s, quit his job on the air after the station decided to switch to oldies from a Top 40 format.


Majic 100 (100.3 FM)

Listeners include: Those who prefer the softer side of rock

Format: Adult contemporary

Format launch: 1991

Market share: 7.1%

Reach: 109,200 listeners

Key local executive: Richard Gray (regional vice-president)


Team 1200

Listeners include: Jocks

Format: Sports talk and live play-by-play

Format launch: 1998

Market share: 3.9%

Reach: 75,300 listeners

Key local executive: Richard Gray (regional vice-president)


93.9 Bob FM

Listeners include: Anybody who likes anything recorded in the last 30 years

Format: Adult hits

Format launch: 2003

Market share: 3.7%

Reach: 76,800 listeners

Key local executive: Richard Gray (regional vice-president)

Fun fact: Frank Ryan originally launched the station in 1947 as CFRA-FM, simulcasting the programming of its AM sister station.



ROGERS (15.9%)

Country 101.1

Listeners include: Good ol’ boys (and girls)

Format: Country

Format launch: 2004

Market share: 5.7%

Reach: 79,100 listeners

Key local executive: Scott Parsons (executive vice-president)

Fun fact: In October 2003, when it was still branded as Xfm in a modern rock format, the station stunted for a day as “101.1 Frank FM,” playing pretty much anything.


CHEZ106 (106.1 FM)

Listeners include: Baby boomers who still love to rock

Format: Classic rock

Format launch: 1994

Market share: 4.4%

Reach: 101,200 listeners

Key local executive: Scott Parsons (executive vice-president)

Fun fact: The first song played on CHEZ106 was Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely on March 25, 1977.


105.3 Kiss FM

Listeners include: Non-adolescent pop fans

Format: Contemporary hit radio

Format launch: 2004

Market share: 4.3%

Reach: 109,900 listeners

Key local executive: Scott Parsons (executive vice-president)

Fun fact: The station launched on Jan. 9, 2004 with Pink’s Get the Party Started.



Listeners include: News junkies

Format: All-news

Format launch: 2010

Market share: 1.5%

Market reach: 35,200 listeners

Key local executive: Scott Parsons (executive vice-president)

Fun fact: Launched in 1922, CIWW is the oldest continuously operating private radio station in Ottawa. It changed frequencies and formats several times over the decades, most recently being an oldies station before being relaunched in its current all-news form.



NEWCAP (13.9%)

Hot 89.9

Listeners include: Those who love Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus

Format: Top 40

Market share: 9%

Market reach: 202,100 listeners

Format launch: 2004

Key local executive: Scott Broderick (general manager)

Fun fact: On April 1, 2010, the station changed its name to “Ho 89.9” as part of a contest, enraging some local parents but generating plenty of extra publicity.


LiVE 88.5

Listeners include: Those who hate Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus

Format: Modern rock

Market share: 4.9%

Market reach: 101,400 listeners

Format launch: 2005

Key local executive: Scott Broderick (general manager)

Fun fact: LiVE 88.5 is now the longest-running alternative rock station in Ottawa, surpassing CIOX-FM (now CKBY-FM, a country station), which had the format from 1999-2004.



CORUS (purchase from Bell pending) (5.2%)

106.9 The Bear

Listeners include: No-nonsense rockers

Format: Rock

Format launch: 1994

Market share: 3.4%

Reach: 76,000 listeners

Key local executive: Greg Orr (interim general manager)

Fun fact: When the station rebranded itself as Virgin Radio in 2009, its inaugural ad campaign sparked a storm of controversy due to its images of pregnant young women accompanied by the slogan, “Lock up your daughters, the gods of rock are now in Ottawa.” Listener complaints forced the station to drop the ads.


Boom 99.7

Listeners include: Those who can’t believe the “crap kids listen to” these days

Format: Classic hits

Format launch: 2011

Market share: 1.8%

Reach: 43,800 listeners

Key local executive: Greg Orr (interim general manager)




98.5 The Jewel

Listeners include: Parents of Hot 89.9 fans

Format: Adult contemporary and classic pop

Format launch: 2006

Market share: 3.4%

Reach: 53,800 listeners

Key local executive: Bill Evanov (owner)



101.9 Dawg FM

Listeners include: Fans of all things blues

Format: Blues/blues-rock

Format launch: 2010

Market share: 0.9%

Reach: 19,800 listeners

Key local executive: Todd Bernard (general manager)

Fun fact: The first guest on the Dawg’s Breakfast morning show was legendary CJOH newscaster Max Keeping.


Source: BBM Canada Spring 2013 ratings and OBJ research. “Market share” refers to the estimated total hours tuned in to that station, expressed as a percentage of total hours tuned in to all radio. “Reach” refers to the estimated number of people within the central market area who tuned it for at least 15 minutes during the week.


Organizations: Algonquin College, Corus Entertainment, BCE CBC Radio CRTC Astral Media Bell Media Radio One Bureau of Broadcast Measurement Canadian National Railway Party Started CIOX-FM Evanov Communications

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Ottawa.BCE Montreal

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