Verglace '98: Radio stations go skating...

Radio in Montreal, until the ice storm, has been fairly stable. CJAD has been the undisputed leader in the ratings war. This past fall the Howard Stern Show was brought to CHOM-FM and this has challenged George Balcan's traditional spot as number one in the morning drive slot. CKGM is fighting with CBC for last place since they carry network programming which is inexpensive but not relevent to Montreal in any way.

While the storm storted on Monday, January 5, it was on Tuesday the 6th. that the radio stations went into full gear with storm coverage. As with most other aspects of the storm it was the third wave which struck on Thursday night into Friday morning (January 8-9) which changed the shape of radio in Montreal.

Starting at about 2330 on Thursday the ice build-up became too much of a strain and one of CJAD's four transmitting towers collapsed. By 0515 Friday morning its three mates had followed suit. CJAD was now off the air. Within minutes the management at CJFM the FM sister to CJAD offered to share the programming on CJFM and from about 0530 there was a beautifully melded joint programme on CJFM using the on-air personnel from both stations.

This situation continued until 1200 when CJFM management decided that they had to "protect their audience" and returned to their regular music programming. As a concession to the storm and the fate of their AM counterpart CJFM did carry the expanded CJAD news broadcasts but apart from that a listener to CJFM would not have known that Montreal was enduring the worst storm in living memory. CJAD listeners who could no longer obtain information about the storm and its aftermath, being stranded, switched to either CIQC or CBM.

CJAD's problems were not over. Jim Duff, host of the 1600 to 1900 "Drive with Duff" programme felt that more time on CJFM should have been devoted to CJAD programming than simply the news broadcasts and he quit over the point. Now CJAD had lost a very popular on-air personality at a time when this would not help the station one bit.

CBM, once the magnitude of the storm was realized on Tuesday, dropped its network programming and started a 24 hour storm broadcast using their own personnel, staff brought in from Toronto and students from the Communications programme at Concordia University.

CIQC was also doing special storm programming with its staff doing long hours to keep its listeners informed.

Both CBM and CIQC did an excellent job. It was announced Friday afternoon that should CBM experience any problems which might take its transmitter off the air that programming would be immediately (and automatically) switched to the FM transmitter on 93.5 MHz.

What would happen to CJAD? With the last of their towers converted to scrap metal there was little to salvage to get the station back on the air. While Lee Hamilton of CKGM offered CJAD the use of the 990 kHz transmitter CJAD, understandably, wished to re-establish itself on its regular frequency. The first thought was to use the former CKGM 980 kHz transmitter and re-tune it to 800 kHz. CKGM had several years previously moved to 990 kHz and a new transmitter site.

The 980 kHz transmitter has a six tower antenna and when CJAD engineers arrived to check the site they found that four of the six towers had collapsed. There was no point in trying to use the remaining two towers since it seemed likely they too would collapse. What next?

Over the past few years there have been some changes in ownership in Montreal radio and several stations were consolidated and others moved to better frequencies. One station which had moved was CFMB, the ethnic station, which vacated its 1410 kHz for the far superior 1280 kHz formerly occupied by CJMS. CJMS was closed in favour of CKVL on 830 kHz when Tele Metropole and Radiomutuel merged several years ago. Since the CFMB move only occured within the past year the transmitter site remains intact.

With the CKGM 980 kHz transmitter ruled out a suggestion was made to check out the former CFMB transmitter on 1410 kHz. While its antenna pattern favours the east end it would at least get CJAD back on the air albeit on 1410 kHz.

When CJAD engineers arrived at the 1410 kHz transmitter they found all in good order except that there was no fuel for the generator. Much of the rest of the day was spent finding fuel. With a few hours supply procured it was determined that the transmitter was operational but there was no point in going on the air without a sufficient source of fuel. By Saturday morning this had been found and the necessary links for getting the audio from the studio to the transmitter were in place.

CJAD was back on the air sometime around noon on January 10 on 1410 kHz. Unfortunately with an antenna which favoured the east end of Montreal and a low power transmitter their reception area was considerably reduced from what they had, even at night, on their own frequency with their own transmitter and antenna.

With CJAD back on the air in a weakened state many listeners remained with CIQC and CBM. CBM had already made plans should their transmitter fail. At about 1935 on January 9, the CBM transmitter's protection circuits began cycling the transmitter on and off before shutting down the transmitter on 940 kHz. CBM was now off the air, but true to their word the FM transmitter began carrying the programming from Radio One within minutes. The listeners were not deprived of their much needed informatino. The classics and beyond were put on ice for a period of time.

By Monday (January 12) CBM, which had been testing a transmitter on 88.5 MHz preparatory for a switch to that frequency from 940 kHz, had activated their 88.5 MHz transmitter and it ran in parallel with the 93.5 MHz transmitter until regular Radio 2 programming returned at 1900 on January 19 on the 93.5 MHz transmitter. The 940 transmitter was repaired by Sunday, January 18, its problem having been damage caused to the circuits feeding the antenna by falling ice.

Remember Jim Duff? Well during the afternoon of Friday, January 16, CIQC announced that he would be joining the station on Monday morning, January 19, to host the 0600 to 0900 morning programme to be called "Morning Drive with Duff". There is little doubt that CIQC intended to capitalize on CJAD's loss.

With CIQC never having left the air and CBM having resolved its problems and remained on the air, CJAD still had to contend with its problems. Their signal on 1410 left a great deal to be desired since it virtually disappeared in the west end of Montreal after sundown. While their 900 kHz transmitter in Sherbrooke remained on the air this didn't help listerers in Montreal.

The answer finally came during the 1530 news broadcast on Januray 23. Effective at midnight on Sunday, January 25, CKGM would cease its regular programming and CJAD would begin broadcasting on 990 kHz until such time as the CJAD antenna towers had been rebuilt and the 800 kHz transmitter was again operational. This change took place exactly on cue and CJAD began broadcasts on 900 kHz from Sherbrooke, 990 kHz with the CKGM transmitter and temporarily on 1410 with the old CFMB transmitter. While the latter was expected to be shut down within a week or two CJAD programming is still being broadcast on 1410 kHz on March 2.

Indeed the face of radio is changing in Montreal. With the pending move of CBM from 940 kHz to 88.5 MHz there is no word of who might move to 940. Should either CIQC or CJAD wish to make the move either would benefit substantially in an improvement in their signal.

On February 9 CJAD suffered another blow when Lynn Desjardins resigned after management made the decision to switch her and Tommy Schnurmacher's time slot. Apparently the management felt that Schnurmacher would retain listeners who are flocking to Howard Stern, although I am not convinced that Stern has necessarily taken listeners away from CJAD.

The news about Lynn Desjardins comes on the heels news the previous week that George Balcan will be retiring at the end of May. CJAD now have to find a replacement for the two afternoon shows and starting in June the morning drive programme. Mark Rennie who has been hosting the evening drive show was confirmed in that position on February 19.

CJAD finally ceased transmitting on 1410 kHz sometime between the morning of March 10 and the morning of March 11, 1998. At 8:00 AM on Friday May 29 CJAD once again began transmitting on 800 kHz. After a two week period of simulcasting 990 kHz will be returned to CKGM who will return to the air with a new format.

Last revised March 7, 1999/p>