It’s just business after all
By David Lisbona
In the interest of full disclosure, allow me to state for the record that I have appeared and will continue to appear on CJAD’s Gang of Four. As a university student, the best job I ever had was working as an overnight board operator at the radio station. I enjoyed it so much that I probably performed as many unpaid shifts as I did paid ones. CJAD has also been my station de choix for as long as I can remember even when most of my contemporaries were discovering the FM dial. Balcan, Blackman, Cannon, King and Sinclair were just a few of the names that helped me through my formative years.
Recently, CJAD underwent what can only be described as a massive overhaul. When one quarter of your on-air talent is shown the door, I don’t believe there is another way to characterize it. There are those who are critical of management for having made the changes, boycotts are being proposed, and Facebook groups to bring back certain talent abound.
However, to understand the changes at CJAD, one first has to understand the new PPM ratings system. It is my understanding that Montreal was the first Canadian market to switch to the new format. In radio-speak, the change from written diary to electronic monitoring device was as significant as the move from the typewriter to the personal computer. Now instead of relying on a listener to remember what he or she listened to throughout the day, and frankly lie about it, a radio sensor tracks all radio frequencies that one hears during the day for more than one minute, it will even pick up the stations listened to as one retrieves their dry cleaning or morning cup of coffee. What was discovered is that even though we may have “favourite” radio stations we are all exposed to many more stations for shorter amounts of time than originally thought.
The most interesting part of the new system is that the numbers don’t lie and management decisions that are made are based upon actual listenership. The number of listeners ultimately determines the rates that can be charged to advertisers. The math is simple, if advertising revenue cannot cover the cost of producing a show, which is comprised mainly of salaries, then difficult decisions will have to be made.
Look, I, too, think Peter Anthony Holder (PAH) is an incredible talent with whom I was fortunate enough to work many years ago. While I certainly do not know the details, PAH’s show was already simulcast on CFRB in Toronto, so I am not sure why this was not taken a step further into the rest of (at least) Eastern Canada. This certainly would have gone a long way toward defraying the cost. Instead, CJAD’s daytime programming is now being rebroadcast overnight while I believe that CFRB may be doing the same with some infomercials sprinkled in. While these measures are less desirable to the average listener than PAH’s show, they are certainly more cost effective, and I hate to break it to you, but that is all that matters.
One of the problems that CJAD faces is the fact that every Anglo Quebecer feels that they have a direct stake in the station as if it was National (Anglo) Public Radio. It is because of this perceived direct ownership stake that Quebeckers have visceral reactions about the programming that it airs as well as any decisions that may involve changes to it. For many, the CJAD schedule is as sacrosanct as the Ten Commandments and to make changes to it is, well, blasphemous. But in the end, CJAD is not a charitable organization; it cannot be expected to continue to lose money if its shows are not viable. The blogs are filled with irate listeners suggesting that they will no longer be listening to the station because of the cuts that were made; surely there will be those who will tune out, but the majority will come right back because in Montreal, if you are a talk radio junkie, CJAD is your sole English option.
I have been critical of CJAD before, but I have no reason to be critical now, the station is listening to what the majority of their listeners want because the new PPM rating system is telling them precisely what it is that they want. Most importantly, however, they are doing it with what makes sense to their bottom line. If one really wants to find a station where you have a true ownership stake, you are going to have to move down the dial to the CBC, although I am not sure how responsive they will be either.
David Lisbona is the Chief Investment and Taxation Officer at Nellie Capital Corp., a Montreal private equity company and can be reached at email@example.com.