In November 2016, after receiving an application for a new radio station, the CRTC issued a call for comments on market capacity and the appropriateness of issuing a call for radio applications to serve St. John’s, NL. Deadlines for interventions and replies have passed, and now we’ll take a look at the results.
Unsurprisingly, all incumbent commercial broadcasters were opposed and made this known by submitting comments.
Newcap Inc, who currently has 4 commercial stations in the market (having special permission to hold the 4th license) with at least 1 other out-of-market signal bleeding in, believes the market cannot sustain a new radio station at this time. Newcap stated that the “radio market is flat, and the economic outlook is not indicative of a growing economy in St. John’s.” They also pointed out a decline in overall radio tuning in the market. Newcap concluded by saying a new entrant would “disrupt the market dynamic” and cause “undue harm” to existing operators.
Coast Broadcasting Ltd is the most recent entrant to the market, launching their independent station in 2004. Recently, Coast launched an out-of-market repeater to fill-in coverage. Despite making the case against a new license, Coast indicated that if a call for applications was issued they would submit an application anyway, and that an incumbent was best suited, rather than a new entrant.
Newfoundland Broadcasting Co. Ltd owns one FM license in the St. John’s market, with repeaters across the province. They also own a local TV station and magazine publication. Like Coast, they are independent and the only other existing commercial broadcaster eligible for an additional license. Although once having a stronghold on the market, CHOZ-FM has been struggling to find its identity in recent years and has been repeatedly faced with abysmal ratings. Newfoundland Broadcasting went into great detail regarding the poor economic conditions and stated that the local radio business is unhealthy. They believe the market is adequately served by existing stations. Still, despite Newfoundland Broadcasting’s failure to captivate a sizeable audience with their existing license, they believe that if a new license is issued, it should be theirs.
The doom and gloom went no further than the existing commercial broadcasters, with the general public submitting comments in support of a new license. Most cited lack of choice in the market and shared distaste with current offerings.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was a submission by Acadia Broadcasting who intervened in support of the call for applications and stated their intention to submit an application if it were to happen.
Acadia challenged the claims made by existing broadcasters, stating that most arguments made do not satisfy the Commission’s criteria for not issuing a call. Acadia said that short-term economic trends are not an appropriate indicator of market capacity, and provided data to support their belief that the market can support a new entrant. They also pointed out that, if a call for applications were issued, there would be at least 4 submissions, which is strong evidence of interest in serving the market.
In its expression of interest, Acadia Broadcasting said that the company had been watching this market for the past 5 years. They had been commissioning market assessments and found demand for a new station. Key takeaways were that a quarter of St. John’s radio listeners were dissatisfied with current stations and that there are clear underserved gaps in the market.
I am in favor of the call for applications. As has been said, it’s been 13 years since a new station has launched in the St. John’s market. Comments from the public echo my own opinion that the market lacks variety.
Personally, I don’t feel that either of the existing eligible broadcasters is deserving of an additional license, so it’s refreshing to see new entrants expressing interest, particularly an established company like Acadia.
Joel is a voice talent and audio producer at East Coast Radio Creative.