By Greg O’Brien
MONTREAL – Zoomer Media president and CEO Moses Znaimer was in Montreal Wednesday to watch the CRTC in action as it considers the proposed purchase of Astral Media by Bell Canada, but he was still shaken by Tuesday’s Commission decision on the 88.1 FM frequency in Toronto.
To say he’s not happy is an understatement. Znaimer told Cartt.ca in an interview the decision to grant the license to Rock 95 so it can launch a station with an independent music format was “appalling. It was stunningly insensitive and entirely inappropriate – and it’s galling to hear them talk about diversity in there (during the ongoing hearing here) as if they are protectors of it in the light of that decision.”
Znaimer says the rock genre – even if this one is aimed at indie acts and emerging Canadian artists – is very well represented in and around Toronto and another station hitting the same demographic is a mistake. “There are a handful or rock radio stations in Toronto today and if you add the ones on the periphery, there must be well over a dozen,” he added.
Zoomer media was one of 22 applicants to appear at the CRTC hearing in May hoping to gain the licence to operate at 88.1 FM, the license the CRTC revoked from Ryerson University in 2010 due to various infractions over a number of years. Some applicants wanted to launch new stations while others, like Znaimer, wanted to take an existing AM station to FM.
Znaimer wanted to move The New AM740 Zoomer Radio, his station aimed at the 45 and older demographic that suffers from, well, being an AM station and all the sound quality and interference challenges of that brings, to FM. Zoomer also owns another Toronto FM station, The New Classical 96.3 FM as well as Vision TV, JoyTV, One: Body Mind and Spirit, Zoomer Magazine and other assets.
The long-time broadcasting executive whose whole business is aimed at the 45-and-up set is very angry that with this new station a demographic which he and many others say just don’t listen to radio any more will still get another station.
“We brought forward evidence that was overwhelming to demonstrate that the largest percentage of the population throughout Canada today is what we identify as Zoomer – 45-plus – and we brought forward overwhelming evidence that all the radio stations currently are piled up in the demos that lie just younger than that,” said Znaimer.
“Even though there are one or two other stations that acquire an older audience, they don’t do that with a view of serving the older audience with information to make their life better, to give them advice on health and wellness, financial security and so on,” he added.
But why can’t that be done on the AM dial? “Every other station over the last 20 years has made the transition because AM is a medium in decline and in downtown Toronto it’s impossible to get (740) with any clarity because of the wiring and the high-rise buildings,” he noted. It was a main point the company made during the hearing in May in Toronto.
“It is galling to hear the Commission posture as some kind of defender of diversity in the face of a decision which is doubly stunning, doubly insensible because it was discussed at the hearing that the younger generation, the 18-34 demo referenced in the decision, no longer listens to radio,” he added. “This Commission went out of its way to deny a life raft to a station that is the sole provider to a considerable audience.”
Znaimer insists it’s not sour grapes that is driving his ire because he would have accepted a decision which didn’t go his way if the license hadn’t gone to a rock station. “If they had brought forward a decision that favored an ethnic station, or if they had gone with the business news one, I would have been disappointed but I would have understood. But to hand it to another rock station, to a demo that’s already wildly over-served, just seems to be preposterous. The economy is not great and every story you read in the business press says it’s not going to get better any time soon so we came along and we said this is the goldilocks solution. We’re not really bringing in any new financial pressure on the market, we’re simply securing distribution to a large audience that’s got nowhere else to go,” said Znaimer.
“I can only conclude that it is a stunning case of age discrimination. There is no other word for it because they had the evidence… They turned their backs on themselves,” he added, alluding to the ages of the CRTC commission panel members. “They are all in the demo, every one of them.”
The CEO added his executive team will be meeting within the next week to decide whether or not to appeal the decision to federal cabinet.