radio - edmonton radio news 2008 - cool 880 flips to all news

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For months it's been a case of not if but when ...

At an early morning meeting held on March 14th, 2008 employees at Corus Radio in Edmonton learned that as of May 20th CHQT Cool 880 would be switched from their oldies format to all news.

It appears station manager Doug Rutherford had made good on his promise "to defend our turf" and stave off competition in the news market. Sister station CHED – with its news, talk and sports format – has been a profitable ratings leader for over a decade.

Branded "iNews880" the station will feature a 30-minute news wheel format with a rotating menu of news, weather, traffic, sports and business.

Expectations that Rogers was planning to launch an all news in Edmonton were confirmed when the CRTC released their list of applications received for a new FM licence on February 8th.

Hearings for the new station got underway May 27th, 2008.

That Cool 880 is now being re-tooled as "iNews880" will likely take the wind out of the sails of applicants considering pitching an all news format in their applications. Corus even usurped Rogers' signature colour scheme – see green with envy below – in a bid to head them off at the pass.

While iNews880 itself may never turn a profit, losses the station would suffer would likely be less than revenue lost to a rival all news station.

Effectively immediately, veteran broadcaster Gord Robson was let go (regular Cool 880 fill-in Jungle Jay Hamilton took over his shift). Chuck Chandler, Edmonton's version of Dick Clark, was given until May to spin his stacks of wax – see updates at bottom of page.

Rutherford told staff he would be drawing heavily on local broadcast schools for on-air talent, and would also rely on contributions through using "citizen journalists" for content. In plain language, Corus would be staffing iNews880 on the cheap, setting the journalism bar at a new level.

To borrow a stock 630 CHED phrase, the Last Link learned that up to 12 staff positions were expected to be filled for the "on radio, on line, on demand" station.

In late January 2008 an "open call" ad appeared on the industry web site Milkman Unlimited, looking for news and information reporters in the Edmonton area.

Although a CHED insider reported that neither Rutherford or Corus was behind that ad, there was no mistaking this one, this one and this one when they appeared on the Milkman site on the day of the announcement.

Corus also recently posted the position of assistant news director – the position once held by the late Warren Henderson that had been assigned to Eileen Bell on an interim basis. With the launch of CHQT as all news, Corus perhaps felt Eileen's time would be spread too thin.

In addition to the flurry of job postings, CHED news director Bob Layton also contacted radio reporters at competing stations individually by e-mail (see below).

When Cool 880 added "20/20 News" to its drive shifts recently, former QT newsreader Craig Mattern was shifted to CHED. Don Lawson also recently returned to the station. The overall re-assignment of current reporters between the two frequencies remains to be set.

Of greatest concern to media watchers is the effective loss of a competing editorial news voice on the local radio scene. Should Rogers still apply for a news outlet, it will be interesting to see how committed the CRTC is to diversity in the country's highest station-per-capita market.

For more about the history of CHQT, visit the Last Link so you want to be a BOSS radio station? page.

Corus took out an ad in March 16th's Edmonton Sun and its sister paper 24hrs a day later to bring the news to listeners.

Perhaps growing impatient waiting for students to finish their semesters before applying for work at iNews880, on March 17th CHED news director Bob Layton fired off e-mails to radio reporters at competing stations.

The subject line? Jobs Jobs Jobs. The tactic? Raid.

Bob Layton email

Those who make it to the interview stage should ask if Corus will implement the wages their recent parity study of local broadcasters indicated they should pay as a major market leader.

The study included the CBC, CTV, Global and the Canadian Press and suggested entry-level reporters should earn a minimum of $60K per annum. However, when Corus acted on the study they placed even their senior reporters at the lowest level of available scales, leaving some only earning half of what their counterparts make at other outlets.

It's not unusual to work as a CHED newsman and only get one raise in ten years. *

Journalism students thinking of working at the station should also ask about the Corus Code of Ethics, who it applies to and and how it is enforced ... and if soliciting reporters at their place of business was morally wise.

On March 20th, Bob Layton put on his spurs and headed to Calgary in a quest to rustle up some talent.

660 News

In April 2006, Rogers flipped the southern city's 660 CFFR from an oldies format to all news, using the same newswheel Corus proposes for iNews880.

Among 660 News' first hires was former CHED news reader Mark Strashok.

Likely Bob will tune in to his former employee as he checks out the station's on air operation.

* In an effort to keep pace with other salary increases in Alberta, the province hiked the minimum wage from $8 to $8.40 starting on April 1st, 2008.

As promised, on May 20th, 2008 iNews880 hit the airwaves amd it was out with the oldies and in with the news

Edmonton Journal readers weighed with their own take on the Corus flip, with one commenting on the present state of journalism and another seeking to move Eileen Bell into Lesley Primeau's slot.

Edmonton Journal venting

While it may be said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the expropriation of a competitor's signature colours could reasonably be called a pre-emptive strike. Contrast and compare, the Corus iNews880 logo here and the Rogers logo below.

Further evidence that Corus feared encroachment on their "turf" was graphically demonstrated in print ads run by Rogers purely coincidental to the announcement that iNews880 had staked claim in the northwestern prairie news market.

Rogers coverage

Update #1: On March 21st, 2008 Gord Robson was found dead at the age of 56. His body was discovered in his apartment by members of the Edmonton Police Service – see Gord Robson (1951 - 2008).

Update #2: deposed Cool 880 morning man Chuck Chandler thought he found a new home at 96.3 Capital FM.

The Chucker was first heard "auditioning" at the station that took advantage of Corus deserting the oldies format on May 24th, 2008. The legendary local radio personality hoped to validate the Newcap station's slogan of being home to "Edmonton's Greatest Hits."

Update #3: in early July 2008, 96.3 Capital FM said it was still looking for a "name" morning man ... which means Chuck was still looking for a job.