Thursday, July 13, 2006

Chum (close friend) or Chum (fish guts): My Slant On The Bell Globemedia Takeover

Yesterday was a crazy day in our newsroom. But even crazier in others! At around 7:00am Pacific time we started to get word (through The Globe and Mail website) that Bell Globemedia (or BGM - our parent company) was buying CHUM Limited, one of our competitors. At the time, I thought it was just speculation. After all these are two very big players in Canadian broadcasting and with most of the media in Canada already in the hands of a few, I thought it couldn't get anymore consolidated.

Interestingly enough, I know a lot of people that work for CHUM, as the station I worked at in Edmonton had been acquired by CHUM just over a year ago. I also knew people that worked at CityTV here in Vancouver and in Winnipeg. So when the rumours started I started firing off e-mails and making calls to people I knew there. Our company wasn't saying anything.

Several of them had told me that there were meetings planned at their stations and they were told to report to their respective buildings. Shortly after that, we got word that the CityTV stations and A-Channel stations started recalling their news crews from the field. A very odd move for a television news organization only announcing a merger.

The meeting was scheduled for 10:00am Pacific time. It got bumped to 11:15am. I heard from my friends at CityTV in Edmonton that their noon news was cancelled for today. Another move I thought was a little strange but I figured it's because it would have conflicted with the new meeting time of 12:15pm MT.

As it got closer to 11am, I heard that CityTV Calgary had cancelled their 6 o'clock news. Things started to sound really strange. I had been posting any tidbit of info I got to our whole newsroom via e-mail. We had all been asking "What The Fuck?" all morning, but it was becoming the phrase of the day.

I called my buddy Rufus at the station in Edmonton and my friends Dawn and Julie at CityTV here. We (at CTV) were all curious to know what was happening, so I asked them to fire me (bad choice of words in hindsight) off an e-mail after the meeting to tell me the deal. Bell Globemedia still wasn't saying anything.

At 11:20pm, our newsroom erupted and some shed tears as they got word that their spouses at CHUM had been laid off. Practically the whole news operation. This was a complete shocker but definitely explained what the strange activity by CHUM had been. "47 people in Vancouver, 24 in Victoria," I heard. Shortly thereafter, by cellphone rang. It was Rufus. He said "They just laid 1/3 of us off...Security escorted us out...I'm walking to my car." This was the story for almost all CHUM TV stations across Canada.

They had separated everyone into two groups. One group was told they're staying, the other group was let go. How they successfully hold a "general meeting" but separate people successfully, I don't know. No one saw that coming. Then 15 minutes later, the Bell Globemedia (BGM) takeover announcement.

Now, both Bell Globemedia and CHUM Limited said the layoffs had nothing to do with the take over.

"There may be public perception that the layoffs are linked to the Bell Globemedia bid. They are not," says CTV VP of News Robert Hurst in an internal BGM/CTV e-mail. "CTV and Bell Globemedia had no knowledge of the layoff plan until after BGM made its final bid to the Waters family."

But for CHUM, it all seems rather convenient. The final bid in for their company, the restructuring plan and the 3rd quarter conference call with it's shareholders all within a 2 hour period. They claim the layoffs were in the works for 9 months. I believe that. At least one person I know that got laid off told me that the environment at CHUM in Vancouver seemed odd for the last few months. Management was acting funny and there was a strange buzz in the air.

You'd think, though, that CHUM would have held off or let BGM handle it later. The question remains, if this deal was going through...why didn't they just call off the layoffs? And why wouldn't Bell Globemedia know about this until a deal was made? If I was spending $1,700,000,000 on something, I'd want to know about something major like completely ceasing operations in an entire department! I'd also like a say in it.

The whole CHUM thing seems fishy (hence the chum reference). Many of the people that got laid off were friends and colleagues of mine. They're all out of work and it's scarce enough in the TV industy in Canada.

This is also really balsy of Bell Globemedia to hang on to the CityTV stations and toss the A-Channel stations. That will leave them with two stations in the same city not just the same market. Their claim is CHUM and Canwest Global have two stations in all of the major markets in Canada. Canwest with both Global and CH, CHUM with CityTV and A-Channel. It's not necessarily the same thing. The Global and CityTV stations are in the big cities, and the CH and A-Channel stations are in the smaller cities that happen to feed into the big markets.

It seems that BGM - planning on losing the A-Channel stations and keeping CityTV in the markets where they have CTV stations - is challenging the CRTC regulations on ownership. They say their competitors have been doing it for years. But their competition had found a loophole. Technically, in the eyes of the CRTC, the Global and CityTV stations (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Quebec City) are in totally different cities than CH and A-Channel (Victoria, Red Deer, Hamilton and Montreal). But the smaller market stations are fed into those cities via cable.

It's still too little people owning too much of the media if you ask me. Despite the fact that BGM plans on keeping all the news elements separate, it's still all owned by the same people and are subject to catering to the interests of those owners. It's already noticable at Canwest. They have a very pro-Israel slant in it's TV news and newspapers. Generally, news stations won't run any story that will offend a sponsor or it's shareholders.

In any case, industry insiders seem to think this will be approved by the CRTC. But there has been increasing pressure on them to rethink their policy and acknowledge the lack of plurality in media ownership. Sadly the general public tends to be apathetic about all of this but it affects them. They just care if CSI is on Channel 9 or not.


There's an interesting (but rather dryly written) senate report on Canada's media. Ownership issues are mentioned in it. It's called Final Report On The Canadian News Media. Click on Volume I or Volume II

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Table, The Camel - Where the hell are they?

After successfully finding a 1/2 track, stereo open reel machine (A PR99 to be exact) and successfully finding a part for it on eBay to get it running (Fader Start PCB....thanks CoryLinda in Regina), I've been frantically dubbing a bunch of old open reel tapes to CD to archive. The tapes are over 10 years old and are recordings of the radio shows my friends and I produced for my old pirate radio station, FM 106, The Camel. (No relation to Camel 106, KMEL-FM in San Fransisco...that was just a coincidence or theft of our idea)

Most of the shows were actually not recorded in the little studio I had in my Mom's house, but in the studios of CJSR radio at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I was a volunteer at CJSR at the time, and then Program Director Christine Chomiak, used to let us use the studio when it was available. CJSR was my first real exposure to professional audio. Now with a more trained ear, I can hear all my mistakes like bad compressor settings and just overall BAD mixes. Hey, I didn't know any better at the time!

In any case, listening to all these old shows again have been bringing back memories. We had such a blast making these shows. We were in high school (Victoria School of The Visual and Performing Arts to be exact) at the time and our group was known at school as "The Table." We all sat at the same table in the cafeteria everyday and were kind of a pain in the ass.

When the rest of "The Table" found out I had the equipment at home and was already broadcasting with another friend of mine at "Vic," they wanted in. I gave several people their own 1 hour time slot that they were allowed to do whatever they wanted. Which we did! At that point in high school, radio and TV had already been my choice for a career. So I made a schedule, produced promos and stations IDs. I engineered every show that went to air and ran all the tapes from my basement studio every weeknight. We almost sounded like a legit radio station. The 'almost' being: we were a bunch of teenagers from an arts-based high school (yeah, like "Fame!") set loose on the airwaves.

To hear a sample, CLICK HERE. It's an MP3 playlist to a 56 minute dub of "The Mike and Matt Show" (a show my friend Matt, of 20 years, and I have always called any recording we did) from February 1995.

"FM 106, The Camel" @ 106.3 FM Edmonton was on the air for over two years. We signed off in late 1996 when I had no time to do it anymore because I got a job working at CISN-FM.

I am still in touch with several of the "Camel Staff," Matt Arpin (who I'm working on doing a podcast with), Jeremy Reid, Jay Marchant, Andrew Roth, Frank Downey and Kyle McNabb. But there are three people from "The Table" I've completely lost touch with in the last 10 years. I'm hoping that this blog entry will help in my search to find them. Sure, there's Google, and various people search sites but they haven't been helpful. The internet is a really big place!

Steven Olsen
- who I worked with at A-Channel in Edmonton for several years after high school. He moved to Calgary in 2002 and I haven't been able to find him since.

Ray Beckmann
- Lost touch with him after high school. Ran into him in 1997. He's fallen off the planet since.

Megan Shaw - While she wasn't necessarily part of our on-air announcers, she was part of "The Table." We lost touch when we had a major falling out. (There's a long story involved including the fact that I was "the other guy" when Megan was going out with Andrew.) This fallout extended to the rest of the group and almost completely split our group up entirely.
Anyway, I am searching for those people because I want to connect with them again. I would also like to give them copies of those shows we did years ago as a 'thanks' for being part of it all. So if you are one of them or you know who they are, e-mail me.

I will attempt to put together an "FM 106, The Camel" website. I have also been thinking of resurrecting it as a streaming station on the internet with some new shows. But with work and life, it's tough to take on another project like that.