The Buzz: Caused by a New Toronto Frequency

Listen.  You can hear a buzz in the air.  It's being caused by a new Toronto FM frequency (99.1) about to be allocated by the CRTC.  this is the last possible site on the dial and a small group of applicants are hotly pursuing it.  all of the major broadcast conglomerates currently have a Toronto license, effectively prohibiting them from joining the fray.  The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the contest and the issues being discussed.  I should mention that I have been working with one of the applicants, All Toronto.  Still the purpose of this piece is not to rank the submissions or to suggest which one is the most deserving.

The applicants break out into two basic categories.  About half focus on improving the overage area and/or signal strength of existing stations, while the remainder are putting forward new formats for which they see a programming hole in the market.  Cultural contributions and niche programming for minorities play a significant role in the arguments put forward by the latter group.

The application with the highest profile and greatest degree of controversy is undoubtedly the CBC.  Their goal is to move the popular AM740 to the FM Band.  They site problems with the signal strength of their current configuration as a rationale for the move.  The currently have two other FM signals in Toronto (one English and one French).  Earlier in the process, the Canadian Heritage Minister considered exercising her power to direct that the FM frequencies be reserved for the CBC.  This would preempt private broadcasters from participating in the process.

The CRTC were, in fact, forced to stay two public hearings pending a Cabinet direction.  Ultimately, due to an ensuing furor, the cabinet chose not to pursue this option, leaving the CBC to argue the merits of its application in an open competition.  Given FM's limited full coverage reach as compared to AM, the CBC has also requested additional FM licenses for outlying communities.

Also in the hunt for a better signal is the winner of the last licence granted, Rawlco.  They are seeking to upgrade CISS-FM which is hampered by the relatively low power (13,000 watts) of its current position (92.5).  In recent years there have been no groups more effective at licence applications.  They certainly have the CRTC's ear.

Looking to upgrade its position is Hot 103.5's Dufferin Communications.  This dance station (one of two in the market) is currently very active in Toronto although its licence is Orangeville-based.

the owners of another Toronto area station, CHWO, are seeking to establish a nostalgia format.

When it comes to submissions touting a unique cultural contribut8ion, none have garnered as much talk as that of Denham Jolley and Milestone Communications.  Their proposed "world urban" format, a sort of inner city dance, is being promoted as addressing the needs of the local black community.  This is quite a sensitive issue, especially since Milestone lost out last time to the other end of the musical spectrum, country.

All Toronto is headed up by Doug Bingley of Rock 95 in Barrie.  Also in the group are well known broadcasters Roy Hennessy and Sandy Davis.  they are looking to establish a rhythmic CHR, a new music hit station which the market has lacked since the shift of AM640.  This group has made the largest pledge (in dollars) toward Canadian talent development.  the interesting cultural angle here is the commitment to fund and foster a national aboriginal network on the sideband.

Another well known broadcaster, J. Robert Wood (ex of the CHUM group) is putting his money on dance.  In the other corner is Durham Radio with its bid for another country format.

Lastly there is Ron Dixon and Vancouver's Radio One (CKST) who are proposing an Adult contemporary / World Music format.  Ron recently made an unsuccessful bid for a Vancouver license.

It is being said that the license will got to the group demonstrating the greatest contribution to culture.  This is particularly true since this is the last band, and thus the last opportunity to provide distinct groups with a new voice.

That having been said, the decision becomes complicated.  Which group, if any, is the most deserving?  Aboriginals or blacks?  Perhaps a world music that covers a variety of bases?  Or Sheila Copps' first choice, the CBC, with its national mandate to bond Canadians together.

Stay tuned for further developments as applicants rev up their computers and flex their presentation skills for the CRTC.  Soon we'll have an answer.  Perhaps then this buzzing in my ears will stop.