Bell cancels all-sports radio format on channels in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton

·4 min read

Bell is cancelling its all-sports format on radio stations in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton, barely a week after announcing hundreds of job cuts at media properties across Canada.

TSN 1040 AM in Vancouver, TSN 1290 AM in Winnipeg and TSN 1150 AM in Hamilton will no longer be all-sports stations, Bell announced on Tuesday.

In a media release, the conglomerate said Hamilton's 1150 AM will become a BNN Bloomberg station, covering business, innovation, technology and sports.

In Vancouver, the morning show cut away during a commercial break Tuesday before it was announced that the station would be "reprogrammed" as of Friday without elaborating.

"It was a difficult decision," a statement posted on the websites of both stations reads, "but the realities of the quickly evolving broadcast media landscape in Canada have made this change unavoidable."

Two channels switch to comedy format

Bell Media president Wade Oosterman told all staff in an email Tuesday that the Vancouver and Winnipeg channels will be converting to a "funny format, which has already proven highly successful in markets like Hamilton and Calgary with its stand-up comedy content."

"While these are relatively modest changes to our overall radio business (we have more than 100 stations in 58 markets across the country), they align with our strategy of focusing on serving the largest possible audiences with the content they want the most while leveraging the efficiencies of our broader organization," Oosterman said.

"The adjustments we're making to some of our radio stations this week offer a good example of Bell Media's readiness to change when it's right for the business, especially when our costs are too high to justify or we simply have a better model to serve a given marketplace," he said.

Bell still has TSN radio stations in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton. Neither the employee memo nor a media release from Bell Media announcing the change in Hamilton made any mention of job cuts as a result of the move.

No warning

Mike Jablonski, a board operator at TSN 1290 in Winnipeg, said the news came as a complete surprise to him. He didn't actually know he had lost his job until he started getting text messages from friends and family members asking him what was going on.

He wasn't scheduled to work on Tuesday, and eventually heard from his boss via text message that "the whole entire station [is] just gone," he said in an interview with CBC News.

"The posts on the website ... that's when most of the top colleagues knew about it as well," he said.

Jablonski said he had been thrilled with his job at the station. He had been there for just over a year and half, joining after a college broadcasting program.

Marshall Ferguson
Marshall Ferguson

Jablonski wasn't the only worker taken by surprise yesterday. So was Marshall Ferguson, who co-hosted the morning show, Marsh and Melo, on Hamilton's TSN 1150 radio, with his colleague Kyle Melo.

Ferguson is a former university quarterback and also the host of radio broadcasts for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

He says he was at 1150's station setting up for an afternoon special on the CFL when he was informed he needed to gather his things and go home.

"We found out the news right before about 15 minutes before we were going to go on air," he told CBC News in an interview.

While he thanks his former employers for the opportunity he was given and understands the reality of the business, the news was still a bitter pill to swallow.

"I'm the first and the last employee of TSN, 1150, which I'll be very proud of for the rest of my life."

The moves come in the aftermath of layoffs by Bell across multiple platforms last week. TSN television reporters/anchors Dan O'Toole, Natasha Staniszewski and Brent Wallace wrote on social media they were among those to lose their jobs.

The move also comes barely a week after the company's highly touted #BellLetsTalk day, which raises money for mental health initiatives. This year's campaign raised almost $8 million, Bell announced in a media release last month.

Dividend raised, profits up

Last week, parent company BCE announced its quarterly profit rose to $889 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from $672 million the year before.

As a result, the company hiked its dividend to shareholders by five per cent to 87.5 cents per share, up from 83.25 cents per share previously.

Bell was recently criticized by Ontario-based regional rival Teksavvy for taking more than $122 million in government aid through the form of wage subsidies even as it was raising its payout to shareholders and cutting jobs.

Oosterman's memo defended the company's actions, saying the impact on jobs would have been far greater had the company not moved to streamline its operations.

"Considering the extraordinary losses in revenue across all of our media platforms and in many other parts of Bell's business, we did apply for federal wage support in 2020 as a supplement to our cross-company program to redeploy affected team members into service and support roles, which successfully minimized the impacts on jobs last year," he said.