Thursday, April 1, 2010

HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED AT CHOM

Lots of people have asked me why I resigned from CHOM and I wasn't able to give them a straight answer, other than to cite "creative and philosophical differences" with management.
Well, my contractual obligations to Astral Media Radio expired yesterday, so I can speak openly about the circumstances surrounding my departure without getting a lawyer's letter threatening to withdraw the salary and benefits I was still due from Astral (although I'm sure they'll have their legal bloodhounds give this blog the sniff test to see if there are grounds for retroactive recourse. They're lovely people).
The beginning of the end for me and a lot of other old school radio people was the shift of radio stations across the country from family to corporate ownership. When Geoff Sterling and later the Waters family (CHUM) and the Slaight family (Standard) owned CHOM, the radio station was in the hands of lifelong broadcasters who were passionate about radio and recognized that it is first and foremost a craft, and that if the craft is carefully nurtured, the business end takes care of itself. There was a terrific creative atmosphere in the studios, offices and hallways. Radio was fun. Within the past five to ten years, CHOM and most of the rest of the country's radio stations have been acquired by corporations who jettisoned the majority of the creative people in favor of bean counters beholden only to shareholders. The impact was swift, enormous and predictable. By the time I left CHOM, it was about as much fun as working at the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture. No disrespect to Soviet farming apparatchiks, but that's not what I signed up for.
Some amazing creative minds used to occupy the management offices at CHOM, but day-to-day operations in the radio industry as it exists today are run almost exclusively by de facto bureaucrats who are either failed announcers or were never on the air in the first place. Rather than take a collaborative approach with the talent, these corporate political animals are making arbitrary programming and personnel decisions that go contrary to the instincts of proven, veteran radio professionals. In fact, the current program director at CHOM has been known to brag "I've never been on the air and I'm the boss!" I'm pretty sure he's also never been west of Atwater, and even though he's a francophone from Quebec City, he barely paid lip service to the insights and opinions of staff members who've been on the front lines of English radio in this town for decades. That spoke volumes to me, and I could not in good conscience continue to work for someone who was making decisions in a vacuum that were running a treasured Montreal institution into the ground.
Last weekend, less than a week before my last paycheque, I was summoned to a meeting with one of Astral's corporate errand boys, who had the nerve to offer to take me back in a diminished capacity at a reduced salary. He was - or at least appeared to be - genuinely surprised that I took offense at being thrown a bone on the assumption that I was desperate and could be lured back on the cheap. That's how out of touch they are with the human condition. We're not even people to them. We're commodities to be bought, sold or discarded, depending on circumstances.
That's fine if you're selling soap, but radio is about people. It's also instinctive, and if the pencil pushers in positions of influence in the industry don't have fundamental interpersonal communication skills, how are they supposed to oversee a product whose success hinges on the ability to engage listeners on an immediate and intimate level?
When CHOM was in its heyday, the announcers used to play what they wanted to play and say what they wanted to say, within the boundaries of broadcast regulations. It was exciting, unpredictable and real. It was also hugely successful. What we're force-fed today is formula radio that's not even broadcasting as much as it's narrowcasting to specific demographics, with songs pre-selected by a computer programmed according to focus group studies and music tests, and desk-bound borderline sociopaths telling experienced radio personalities how to connect with people.
The results speak for themselves.

62 comments:

  1. Great article, Ted. We miss you in the morning, but I'm happy you made a good decision.

    All the best to you!

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  2. Stand by your convictions, Ted! Have you thought about Calgary? I hear Terry is in a similar territory with Patti ??

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  3. This is one of the reasons, Ted, that I enjoy being part of internet radio. Yes, we have some rules, like any entity, but within those rules, the hosts have the freedom to play the music they wish. It will be my 3rd anniversary at the station in two weeks, and it's been a blast for every minute of those three years.

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  4. Thanks for the insight Ted!

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  5. Well Ted you have earned the respect of many for sticking by what you believe in and not giving in to what is in at the moment or what is dictated by some pencil pushing ratings analyst.

    Unfortunately, I have turned to satellite radio because it now suits my listening needs. If you do pop up on a station somewhere, u know you'll have a legion of fans supporting you.

    Keep up the great work on CTV...

    Ed

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  6. Thanks for sharing, but you didn't have to; it's none of our business really. You made the only decision that was right for you and that's what matters ultimately; being able to look yourself in the mirror.

    I have to say, even though I didn't always agree with your commentary (and sometimes even found it to be infuriating), I haven't tuned in to that station since the morning they made the announcement. I was stunned, and immediately turned the radio off.

    I'm sure you'll be back on the air soon, and I'll be tuning in. All the best!

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  7. It is unfortunate that this sort of wisdom will fall on deaf ears... which is the problem with most radio management types these days anyway.

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  8. It was always a great pleasure and a joy listening to you and your co-workers brighten the airwaves. Yes there has been a big change at CHOM, the Evolution of Rock has become the Devolution of Radio. I for one don't turn on the radio at work anymore and I listen to another station on my way to work for traffic only. Then comes Made In Japan!!!!!!

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  9. Bet it feels good to get that off your chest..

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  10. I turned off chom when you left, Ted. It was the final straw for me. Glad to see you've found life after radio and we can still enjoy you being in the 'media'. Cheers!

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  11. Good Morning Ted,

    Thank you so much for writing that post. It was very insightful and it explains a lot to me. I was listening to chom for 25 years (and mix on and off) and the changes started off subtle but I would say in the last 5 years it became aggressively obvious that something was very different. I love the creative aspect of radio. I switched to CBC Radio 2 since you left chom and I have found some creativity and a nice mix of music.

    You must be a very happy man. Anyone that can stay true to their convictions as you did must be pretty confident. I consider that role model behavior. Your kids are lucky.

    Have a great day and enjoy the nice weather!

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  12. all of industry is changing Ted and not just radio. it blows!

    the one good thing about the changes at CHOM - less GUESS WHO!!!!

    sorry, I had to get that in there. ;)

    Change is good. I'm sure something good will come your way.

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  13. bang on,mr.bird!i totally agree with you.you did right.working for a company or corperation that constantly kills the spirit of the idea of which that company or corperation was founded on, leaves the workplace cold and lack for a better word heartless.and cold and heartless are not words you want to hear when discribing your workplace especially radio.i still listen to chom because its the only rock station i catch in the bowels of the building where i work.as for your replacement, mr.stock leaves alot to be desired. jim

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  14. You were ALWAYS the Bird dropping man of information. :)
    This blog does not surprise me at all, Montreal radio has been STEADILY sucking for years now. Hope the Astral people read this, you Guys have NO CLUE what to do... Hey here's an idea, "how about a realuty radio show, with complete losers, so all your ratings can continue to plumit to the absolute ground".
    I figure if you guys like such crapping dropping ratings, this idea will help ya'll.

    Here here Ted, you stuck up for your rights and integrity, YOU are the ratings winner today!

    Gino O

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  15. Well done that man!!! More power to you for be ing real and not getting sucked in to the vacuum that is Montreal radio now. I, too, stopped listening to the morning show on CHOM when you left. Thanks for sharing and confirming what many of us felt was going on behind the scenes. Respect!

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  16. Astral has watered down CJAD as well. While slashing jobs and salaries, they're hiring announcers who work cheap and can't deliver what the pros can. Will it be noticed in the ratings? Probably not as English radio is going the way of the Dodo bird. CHOM's morning show is weak. Pete Marier is good but needs a co-host with talent. (talent costs $$). Good for you Ted! But we'll miss you!

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  17. Good for you Ted! As with many of the other commenters on this post, I too have stopped listening to CHOM altogether.

    I applaud your decision and I wish that it was easy for me to make the same ones...

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  18. That was wonderfully well said. Thanks for this post. Required reading for anyone interested in the state of radio in this city.

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  19. Congrats on sticking to your guns and sticking it to the man!!Make sur you buy some flowers for Mrs Bird,for supporting you with a most important decision.

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  20. I think that what has happened to radio is a travesty. I'm 26 years old, supposedly the target age for the "new CHOM" and I think it's crap. If I hear Patio Lanterns one more time... And, really? Trying to be hip by playing rock music I was listening to about 10 years ago on the Buzz? Come on.

    Seriously, though, hearing my father tell me about the glory days of CHOM, where the host played entire album sides of the latest releases without commercial break and where the creative control was at the hands of the people at the mic just makes me sad for what we're stuck with today.

    I have the radio on in the morning when I'm getting ready for work/school - but it's just background noise to me now.

    Can I just say that Fagstein's April's Fool's Day joke about reuniting you and Terry + Tasso on CBC's Daybreak was the best thing I had heard all year? I really wanted to believe it was true. Alas.

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  21. As an anglo-montreal radiophile that grew up on George Balcan, Gord Sinclair and the like, I was pretty much convinced of what happened when you left.

    In the end it wasn't video that killed the radio star, but corporations. Just like they have killed everything else they have touched...

    My true hope is that creative folks like yourself are able to do to radio what the blogger has done to newspapers.

    Good luck! I only hope you don't bail for Calgary or Toronto...

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  22. I grew up dreaming of a career in broadcasting and being told that I had all the best qualities(and face), to be a on air/production legend.

    I would require a time machine to live the dream now, because "that" radio I dreamed of, hasn't been around for a long time.

    There would be more joy and creativity and less B.S. running a honey wagon.

    Thanks to the boss Cos, for pointing us over to your blog.

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  23. i too don't listen to chom anymore, I was the biggest fan of chom but thats when you where there. Ted you rock man and i can't wait till your on the air again... hopefully soon because there's only so much lady gaga i can listen to...

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  24. focus groups told them to play more Nickleback?? really??? Ted - you made the morning drive bearable - miss you terribly. Not sure what demographic they're going for, but looks like they lost the 25-40 females...
    i hope you find something FUN again!

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  25. Ted replaced me in 1980 at CJFM and Montreal became richer for it. While I was plying my trade in Toronto, Ted was fast becoming the brightest jewel crown known as Montreal radio.
    30 years later, and he decided to do it his way.
    Ted, honesty becomes you. I'm proud of you.

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  26. Must have been 1985, not 1980. I was in Toronto from late 1979 'till the end of '84.

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  27. Stand by your decision, miss you a lot in the morning, enjoy your time with the family, and who maybe we will hear your voice again soon

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  28. Ted, you totally made the right decision in my opinion. I have been a fan since a teenager....and it's all downhill since the day left..
    in fact..I stopped listening to the radio really... unless maybe I know Rob is on...only cause I know Rob... other than that.. ughhh.
    anyhow.. you seem to have a few projects going on which seem like a bunch of fun. ( however,, may I dream that there would ever be such a thing as Terry, patty and Ted show?lol)
    enjoy ur beautiful family!!

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  29. I could not have said it better. Radio is no longer fun, it is all about how much money the big shots that sit at their desk and screw the dog all day, can take home in salary and to make the big boys that sit at the helm happy, all while kissing their ass. The days of radio where you would tune in to hear what your fave announcer was talking about is all but gone. Most PDs today are paper pushers that think they are gods to radio. Power screws with peoples heads

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  30. Ted, perhaps you could start your own podcast; seems to be working quite well for Peter Anthony Holder.

    I used to follow you and Terry; not the same anymore that's for sure.

    All the best in your future endeavors.

    As I said, try podcasting...

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  31. Why I bought a subscription to SIRIUS several years ago www.siriuscanada.ca/. Ted thanks for the taking a stand and putting up the good fight against the suits. Their days are numbered, CHOM's ratings will make it that much faster.


    I now only listen to CJAD at 6:00 am for my local news and weather. That is all the Montreal radio I hear.

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  32. Like many of the people replying, I too miss you a lot. But I'm also glad you moved to other types of media. We can still follow what you have to say and you've always been honest about your ideas, whether we like it or not. And that's why people love you.

    So Mr. Bird, when will I have to get a subscription to satellite radio to hear you again? ;-D

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  33. and with that said ....We miss you even more xx Gone are the days of loving the morning show :(

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  34. There were days I would have cheerfully reached through the radio and rattled you if I could but that's what made it interesting to listen to you because you caused a reaction! :)

    I wonder if they pay attention to the ratings, from my friend base a lot of us turned off CHOM when you left, Terry was an ouch but both of you gone was an insult.

    CJAD has also become blech to listen to at night, I travel home from work station surfing because if I have to listen to what ever his name is from TORONTO,(really what does a guy from Toronto know about Montreal)I am going to go mad, so no hockey, no CJAD.

    Someone really should be paying better attention & although you really didn't have to share what happened, thank you for sharing because it confirmed what a lot of us already suspected.

    Have a great day.

    Dani

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  35. You rock Ted and were all proud of you I hope to find you soon on the "air" in some form be it on the radio satellite of internet or some other form of daily entertainment keep you convictions your awesome.

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  36. A few years ago I wrote a letter to CHOM to register a complaint. I stated that I was a long-time fan but that I had felt that the level of professionalism with some of its broadcasters had dropped considerably, and personally I felt insulted. I stated that I felt that CHOM was a flagship radio station in Montreal, but that it had let the standards drop to the point that some of its broadcasting talent felt they had to talk gibberish to communicate to their audience (I did not mean Mr. Bird in this letter, I always found his work to be above par, and considered him a true radio professional). The reply from the Program Manager was thus:
    "If you are unhappy with the level of broadcasting at CHOM, the CBC awaits."

    I haven't listened to CHOM since.

    This is how the management at CHOM treats long-time listeners?

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  37. Ted,

    I respect your convictions and integrity. You can add me to the list of disaffected listeners who are turning to other stations or sources of music entertainment. What I really hate is the covert way in which the programming changes are being made at CHOM.
    However, that being said, I think it is fair to present a different side of this issue that others have not mentioned:
    1. Astral continued to pay your salary for 3 months after you QUIT. Not many companies do that.
    2. If the Sterling, Waters and SLaignt families cared so much about radio then why did they sell to corporate interests?
    3. The only people to whom Astral is ultimately accountable are the shareholders. I don't think that there are too many of them who are upset right now since the stock price of Astral Media has risen about 50% in the last 12 months.
    4. Can you perhaps explain what you meant to say in this sentence: "and even though he's a francophone from Quebec City, he barely paid lip service to the insights and opinions of staff members who've been on the front lines of English radio in this town for decades"? I really do not see the connection between the two ideas in this sentence. You make it sound as though you expected him to automatically take into account the opinions of the staff based on the simple fact that he was a francophone from Quebec city. Huh?

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  38. Patrick,
    The answers, in order of your questions:

    1. They paid me to keep me from working for the competition, not out of the goodness of their hearts.
    2. You'd have to ask the Sterlings, Waters and Slaights why they sold, but I'm guessing it was for the billions of dollars.
    3. Hooray for Astral shareholders, of whom I am one until such time as I divest myself. The product is still shit and getting shittier.
    4. CHOM can only sell to advertisers based on its English audience ratings. What does a francophone from Quebec City know about connecting with English Montreal?
    Any other questions?

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  39. Thanks for clarifying, just as suspected...once Rob Kemp was moved and Pete Marier given the morning slot, things didn't seem right..I thought Rob did a good job filling the spot vacated by Terry...there was nothing like morning radio on CHOM for classic rock, clever commentary, entertaining banter, of course,great comedy! (I am too old for what's on in the morning now, I can't get into the "arghh"!) My daughters are 22 and 17 yrs old and grew up listening to CHOM...we were often late to school, depending on where we were when "Revisionist History" came on!! I am one of many (former) CHOM fans south of the border and am so glad to be able to stay tuned to you in some manner...I have been able to catch you on CTV (though I always forget the 6:00 news and have to stay up for the 11:30!...and then The Daily Show comes on...Mondays,I am up way too late!!)I post your links for Monday Musings and Bird Droppings on Facebook and they are always well received as you have many fans here in Vermont...best of luck and I only hope that wherever your career takes you, it will be in my listening range...I miss Revisionist History and phone calls to and from Danielle!!

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  40. Fearlessfreep says.....Good on you Birdman!!!! Its a disease and trend that degrades the very fiber of the industries it destroys....publically traded corporations. It has done the same to Bombardier and many others. The Bombardier family had to buy out the Recreation Products division from corporate, because they were going to liquidate. Imagine the very division that put that name on the map!!! Sad! I don't blame the families for selling the farm but there comes a time when your most valuable resource....your people is what makes your success. The suits are only interested in the price of shares and keeping the shareholders happy....bottom line.

    I know you did the right thing and any self respecting media professional would have. You didn't bow to corporate pressure and kept your reputation and integrity intact. That takes balls with a house full of kids during these times but when you walk on your terms, it speaks volumes of the character of the man that will overcome and adapt and rise from the ashes to remain the same guy...voted " Montreal Radio Personality of the year 2009"....not for nothing!

    I have moved away and was still listening on-line until you left! I quickly realized my favorite Herring Chocker was the ONLY reason I was listening to CHOM! I haven't listened since!

    Godspeed Ted!

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  41. the most daring thing chom ever
    did was put howard stern on..

    love him or hate him he got the highest
    ratings chom will ever have...

    and after ted leaving..

    its just a pile of crap..

    xline said it...

    hip music..the new chom..

    old nirvana tracks the buzz played 10 years
    ago..is that the new chom..

    no just new bullshit..

    Brian.

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  42. I'm happy you can finnaly speak freely. It's today's way of seeing the world that makes me worry of tommorrow...

    Pre-configured radio, pre-digisted food, pre-decided shows...What's left for the art and the sake of mind?

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  43. Ted, It was a pleasure working with you during your Toronto days. I had to get out of the business when Top 40 was given up for dead by the AM band. CRTC regulations have now permitted it to return on FM and i'm giving it a shot again, but I agree with you that there are aspects of the "environment within" that still need to re-develop. Hopefully we can play in the same sandbox again some day, even if we have to build it ourselves. Regards, Bob Saint

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  44. Thanks Bob. Great to hear from you.

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  45. My family listens to your pal Terry Dimonte every morning in Calgary. We feel bad for him after what happened to Patti, and that Elie is leaving for Sweden. I have a feeling your blog could substitute Q107 for CHOM and be acurrate. I enjoy your blog and you'd always be welcome in Calgary! Terry needs you;)

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  46. Elliott Price - Morning host TEAM 990April 8, 2010 at 8:15 PM

    I never listened to the CHOM morning show
    but I have always been a fan Ted!

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  47. Ted, I'm now beggining to understand why I slowly stopped listening to radio in recent years. You're true to your art, and I respect you for that. Your fans will never fade away. And I'm happy to count you as a colleague.

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  48. I first tuned in to CHOM back in high school, Pete Pringle, full album sides uninterrupted etc etc.

    I have now turned CHOM off, there is not much left there,
    and I am going to puke if I ever hear another RRRRRRRRR......it's Pirate Pe.........

    We miss you Ted,

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  49. Ted:

    Your blog post about why you left CHOM hits the nail on the head about why commercial radio is ailing in Montreal (especially English lagnuage radio). I've been listening to you since your FM-96 days, and I've always enjoyed your glib sense of humor and intelligent insight. And you deserve much more respect than the current Astral management gave you (they had a lot of nerve to throw you that "bone" recently).

    And it's great to see that CTV is keeping your voice alive with your fans every week. Keep up the great work.

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  50. Good for you for speaking up!! Many of my favourite radio personalities have been victims of Astral radio. I used to love CHOM & CJAD when I was living in Montreal and here in Toronto they've let go more of my favourite personalities. Canadian Radio has gone down the drain. I tune in to smaller, independent stations now.
    I admire you Ted. More people need to speak up against these big corporations who don't give a rats ass about their clientele..
    Best wishes...

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  51. Excellent piece Ted!

    I remember CHOM from the great days of its past - back when radio was interesting and original!

    Sadly, radio has now been thoroughly homogenized, and the spirit is all but gone. The best one can say is that some of us had the opportunity to listen to something that was live, unscripted and captivating - a true broadcast art form in action.

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  52. I grew up in the seventies. ( CKGM and CHOM )
    I remember when announcers would speak to us.
    You guys were radio personalities.
    You laid it out live on the air.
    Sometimes you hit new highs, sometimes you hit new lows. That was one of the most compelling reasons to tune in.
    Today we get robots that read from a script, using words and sentences that bear no relation to what is within their own souls. It really falls flat and the listener is forced to either tune out what they are hearing or turn off the set. It gets so bad sometimes that I wince in disgust just before tuning out. Why would I want to hear some guy reading from a page to me ? This is made worse by the fact that a lot of the announcers were hired for the qualities of their voices and certainly NOT for their reading skills. ( Punctuation is your friend dammit ! ) I consider scripted radio to be a sham and it is insulting.
    Please try to keep your profile high since it is easy to get lost in the forest you are now about to enter.
    Don't think for a minute that we are not interested in what you have to say and finally, don't give in and don't give up.

    Just another fan,

    André-Pierre

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  53. In my humble opinion CHOM died the night the house on Greene burnt down.

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  54. The BBM ratings, as well as the posts on this blog, are a fitting testimony to the decline of commercial radio in Montreal. I have been listening to CHOM since I was about 8 years old (I'm 44, now; you do the math) but like many here, I have barely listened since you left. I now actually PAY to listen to radio via Sirius, and am honestly loving it. The downside to satellite radio is that you get no local content, of course, but I can live with that.

    I admire your integrity and courage, Ted. I've met so many people unhappy in their jobs, yet they plod along day after day. I always have had enormous respect for those who ACT rather than COMPLAIN.

    I listened to K103 on the way in to work, this morning. Sounds like a decent radio station; good music and the news anchor sounded professional. Unfortunately, I live in Deux-Montagnes and my office is in Ste-Therese, and the signal is rather weak. Perhaps having a legendary icon on board will help them increase revenue and they can boost their signal (hey, how 'bout THEM apples: Legend AND Icon in the same breath! LOL!).

    Good luck with the new gig, Ted, and I hope you will not give up your blog - I think we all love to read it and be part of it!

    Regards,

    Jacques

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  55. What I want to know is, if these corporate pre-selections are the results of so much time and money spent on research, why, then, are listeners turning off local radio and tuning into satellite or internet radio - or nothing at all?

    Radio, like the music industry in general, has been on a steady decline for the last decade. I am truly (selfishly) disappointed that you're no longer on the air, Ted, but frankly, I'm surprised you held out for so long!

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  56. I'm starting to think that they hired PJ because that maybe — just maybe — he'd attract listeners because he's a former hockey player.

    He doesn't seem to be doing much else than arguing with Pete and Chantal.

    Problem is, CHOM listeners, at least those I know, want quality radio, good CLASSIC Rock music, and also talented hosts... not pseudo-hosts hired for their well-known name from other fields.

    Keep up the good work, Ted. I just switched my car's radio to K103, I missed Bird Droppings and Revisionist History, I just learned that you went over to Kahnawake's radio.

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  57. It's odd that I come across your blog so late. I gave up on CHOM not long after that idiot took your place. I was quite upset when Rob Kemp was demoted to the afternoon show, and even more so with the formulaic pablum his replacement gave us (ugh, if I have to hear one more 'The Champ' it's once too many).

    I leaped for CBC Radio 2 and haven't been happier. While I miss your voice, I don't miss the endless commercials, the repetitive songs, and the "classic rock" banter.

    I don't listen to CHOM before 9am anymore. I listen occasionally outside of the prime time hours but it's usually when I'm in the car and when CBC R2 is playing classical music, quite infrequently. When I do listen, I turn the volume down during commercials because they're just so horrible.

    But you're right, the corporations that have taken over radio. This is why I fight for CBC. Maybe we need an 'R4' to defend classic rock?

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  58. What Chom did to Pete Marier supports your views.

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  59. Glad you have your convictions Ted. Sadly, this blog post was likely the one responsible for you being dumped by TSN690 prior to being absorbed into the mother ship. I enjoyed listening to you over the years and hope you find good, sustained work in Toronto. Given the downhill slope this city and province are on, coupled with the fact that your nemisi own every English radio station in Montreal, what other options are available. May the bridges you burn light your way. Peace.

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  60. Still first in the pool Ted...keep up the good work ;)

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  61. Interestingly, 5 years later, you land potentially what could be your "retirement" job with Evanov. The Jewel seems like it's pretty much suited to you, and you rather wide experience in the Montreal marketplace and the various communities in the area. Good luck on the new job, may you be there holding down the fort for as long as you still enjoy getting up in the morning to make everyone else happy!

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