The most recent ratings period for radio knocked CJOB off the top of the pedestal for the first time in decades. Possibly no station has had such dominance time in Canada.The only time they were knocked off their perch was by a music station but they quickly re-gained their dominance and maintained it for ratings period after ratings period.
There are a lot of factors in play so let’s list where things may have slipped.
The most joyous time for a conservative radio station is when government is composed of a left or centrist party. It is the fuel that boosts the engine. Having an NDP government helped CJOB in the ratings in the past but when Adler moved to afternoons for a national broadcast, it was no help. With the federal Conservative party in power and especially when they got a majority, there was big power to rail against.
Deriding Liberal, NDP and Greens had always been catnip but since they had no power in a majority government, listeners were at a loss when they had a grievance. This left the culture war as a windmill to tilt against. The Harper Tories were unable to get things done because of the CBC, environmentalists, unelected courts and Senate and just no-good ratnicks on the left. At least this was the narrative that was spun.
Eventually that dog didn’t hunt when something like the Senate and Mike Duffy happened. The spin on it still circled back to Harper. The culture wars in Canada were not working very well for ratings because many felt their disgust in a majority government lay with the party in power. It was hard to pursue a left versus right agenda when the right was doing less than optimally. Subsequently Charles Adler’s national programming was less popular than returning to more local based programming.
Charles Adler moved back to local morning broadcasts on CJOB. For a time it was business as usual but there was a constant re-shuffling but fortunately in other time slots. Hal Anderson in the morning was let go. News director Richard Cloutier slid into the spot before the Adler program. Other changes happened in the noon and afternoon programming.
The recession starting in 2008 hurt a lot of businesses dependent on advertising. The Free Press, CBC, The Sun, CJOB and CTV have all done tinkering to improve ratings and the bottom line. Many people have lost jobs. Meanwhile, competition has emerged on a lot of media fronts. For newspapers it is The Metro. For radio it is XM satellite radio and streaming music services, podcasts and downloaded music.
Still CJOB held a lead but things were changing ever still.
It can’t be understated how badly losing the Winnipeg Jets broadcast rights hurt the station in 2011. The station had been the broadcaster for Manitoba Moose from 1996 to 2011 and hockey was considered one of the reasons why the station dominated. It is interesting to note that when the Jets left CJOB briefly fell below Q94 in the ratings before recovering.
The station put a very good bid for the new Jets broadcasting rights in 2011 only to be outbid by TSN TV’s regional TV and radio combination play. CJOB’s parent didn’t have a cable sports broadcaster to do a tandem bid for more money. The money TSN put in was a surprise to most but then net effect over the last years has been excellent ratings for TV and steady climb up for traditional last place finisher TSN Radio.
At one point in the 1980s, CJOB lost the Jets 1.0 broadcast rights to CKY. Ken Nicolson and Kurt Kielback actually left CJOB to continue their work as radio hosts on the new station. Coincidentally, Charles Adler worked at CKY for a time in news in the 1980s. CJOB didn’t take the loss of Jets lightly though. They built up a before and after hockey broadcast that was near a popular as their rival.
To some extent CJOB had attempted to beef up their sports department to beef up their sports department beyond woeful Blue Bombers to be part of the hockey talk in town. The last ratings period saw one of their sports staff lose their jobs.
It is a good bet that if CJOB had not lost the Winnipeg Jets, they still might be the number 1 station in Winnipeg.
Still, there are so many other factors going on aside from recession, Conservatives in Ottawa and losing the Jets that have contributed to CJOB’s ratings. It is possible the stations ratings would have dropped earlier had it not been the fact that commercial radio, especially in music, has far more competition than ever before. There are now more stations including college broadcasts. There is recorded devices that hook up to your car so you can listen to your own choices. There is XM satellite radio. All of this likely helped CJOB stay atop. However, it also helped its longtime nemesis: the CBC.
There was a time where CBC trailed everyone in the ratings. Nearer the bottom than to the top, it has climbed to the point where it was a consistent top 3. The amount of music stations and splitting of listeners allowed the CBC to have a certain distinctiveness than a station playing country/pop did not have. The move of CBC to have both a AM and FM signal was probably the final push the station needed. Truth be told, there were too many dead spots in parts of the city for the AM signal. The FM signal travels well in the canyons of the downtown. In some cases, better than satellite radio.
The latest Numeris BBM ratings had the CBC finish first over CJOB. If someone had suggested this possibility 10 years ago, they would have been laughed at.
To be sure CBC Radio One is not without without its own programming tweaks. They have shuffled hosts, not re-newed some of their local hosts. And their national programming with Q went through the worst of what you ever want one of your show’s to have: loss of a host due to scandal. Somehow, despite all this the CBC ended up in first place.
Charles Adler left his job after 17 years. That is a pretty good run for anyone and all of this in private radio and without the Jets in the schedule at any time while he was there. He garnered honours during his broadcast career and he attracted both fans and foes. However, in the end a fair custodian of a show that was one that had influence all way back to Peter Warren.
The media has looked less and less like a career that might span a few decades. Print, radio and TV and online are all hardscrabble now. Maybe they were always like that but it seems to me that many only last a short time in the profession.
The morning show has been taken over by Geoff Currier who has a long radio career in the same type of radio broadcasting in Winnipeg. He has tried his hands at politics a few times so some will be looking to see about he approaches things. One of the better guests on Adler was Warren Kinsella, a Liberal. Better to have a little bit of fire crackers in a broadcast to liven things up that to pursue ideology.
It is difficult to see where radio will go. It is obvious that being free is not enough. It has to be unique and it has to have a voice. The sameness to music radio is killing it. Radio talk can be immediate and local. We need more of it, not less.
As Charles Adler heads to B.C., it is good to remember that CJOB has toughed it out before.
This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations