If the embattled English community in Montreal needed a downer it got one on Tuesday with the news that its all-sports station, TSN Radio 990, will be converting to a French-only station. The Bell Media Radio-owned station, which has been doing a sports format for over a decade, will be converted to a French– language station under the RDS banner, TSN's French sister company, on the 690 band.
Chris Gordon, Bell Media Radio's president, told Usual Suspects on Tuesday that the acquisition of Astral Communications by Bell (CHUM's parent company) had forced the company to choose among its Montreal English radio assets. Appeals have so far been fruitless. "Under the CRTC regulations we're only allowed three English language radio stations in the Montreal market," Gordon explained. "With the acquisition of CJAD we had four. And so we had to take this decision. It was very reluctantly done."
When the CRTC approves the purchase of Astral, Bell Media Radio will have two FM stations (CHOM FM and CJFM) plus CJAD, the traditional English language AM voice in the city. Ironically, The Team 990 had just wrested the Montreal Canadiens rights from CJAD last season after a long period of skirmishing between the stations. CJAD, which holds radio right to the CFL Alouettes and MLS Impact, will now be getting the Habs back after just that single season.
Habs play-by-play man John Bartlett had also just started with TSN Radio 990 last season, replacing Rick Moffatt who'd done the Canadiens games for CJAD.
Gordon, who was in Montreal on Tuesday to break the news to the Montreal station, says that for now, there has been no determination what will happen to the staff of 22 at TSN Radio 990. Afternoon show host Mitch Melnick is a Montreal institution who has resisted offers to leave the city in the past. Morning show host Ted Bird just began as the morning show host in May. A number of other hosts have been on the Westmount-based station for the entire run of the format.
Gordon said that when the CRTC approved the transfer, the Canadiens' rights will give CJAD some sports content, but declined to say how much more sports there would be on its single English AM voice in Montreal.
With its weaker AM transmitter and limited format, the Team was the logical choice to go, but that didn't make the decision more palatable for Montreal sports fans. Twitter lit up as angry Montreal sports fans, who lost the Expos in 2005 and the Mirror newspaper recently, were now losing their only dedicated sports voice.
" @HeyMyNameIsWill I've listened to The Team/TSN 990 at work for the last nine years and can't imagine a work day without it. Heartbreaking."
As Gordon acknowledged, "Sports fans feel very passionate about their sports, and that's what makes them special."
We reached out to Melnick, but so far he has only posted a tweet. @HunterZThompson "I'm sorry but I cannot say more. Don't want to mislead anybody. This deal could take awhile. Remember this-Bell is trying to buy Astral." Melnick's mood might better be gauged by his song sheet from Tuesday's show: "1) Shattered" – The Rolling Stones – 2) "When The Whip Comes Down" – The Rolling Stones". 3) "Who Do You Love" – Patti Smith Group – "Live On Letterman". 4) "Angry Young Man" – Steve Earle & The Dukes – " 5. "Going Nowhere Fast" – Joey Ramone – " 6. "Wish I Was Drunk" – Shane Murphy Band.
SUIT MISERY: Having been a student journalist back in the day, we are naturally curious about the libel lawsuit launched by the OHL's Kitchener Rangers against the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Michigan. It seems that some intrepid student printed a story last week alleging the the Rangers offered Winnipeg Jets' first-round choice, Jacob Trouba, a boatload of money ($200,000) to forgo his commitment to the maize and blue in favour of a career riding buses in Ontario as a member of the Rangers. (Trouba has said he will honour his commitment to U of M.)
The Rangers demanded a retraction from the U of Michigan paper before Monday; that deadline passed without The Daily issuing any correction. So we are now into what might be a very interesting showdown. Presumably the folks at the Daily feel they have their ducks in a row, while the Rangers will be all lawyered up as well.
How this works across borders will be interesting. For those scoring at home, the difference between U.S. and Canadian libel law is, broadly speaking, the plaintiff in the U.S. must prove he's been libelled while Canadian libel actions require that the media outlet bear the burden of proving that it didn't libel its subject. (We're not a lawyer, we just play one on TV.)
At stake will be the long-simmering claim that CHL teams are buying the top players out of NCAA commitments with cash, a strict verboten in junior hockey. Former NHLPA director Paul Kelly– then working for the NCAA– alleged that unnamed teams were spreading around the do-re-mi in violation of CHL rules and the unspoken pact not to tamper with each other's prize prospects. While CHL teams can offer scholarship money (with some heavy restrictions), they cannot give money to recruit players. The CHL vehemently denies this practice takes place.
DERBY DAZE : Proof that something is very alarming in the Canadian TV audience. Or maybe that an air conditioned room was a good place to be on Monday night in large parts of the country. The MLB Home Run Derby (a.k.a. Chris Berman's Back-Back-Back Rub) drew 1.15 million viewers on Sportsnet, topping last year's game by 23 per cent. Blue Jay Jose Bautista making the Derby final probably helped that number, but for three hours? Wow.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified TSN Radio 990 as TSN Team 990. It also incorrectly identified CHUM as the owner of the station and Chris Gordon as CHUM Radio's president. This online version has been corrected.