Radio stations in Kingston that were previously owned by Bell Media will soon be properties of My Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
Move 98.3 FM and Pure Country 99 are being acquired by MBC, who also own MyFM stations in both Gananoque and Napanee. The company is also acquiring two stations in Brockville as part of the deal.
The sale comes as part of a significant divestment from Bell, with the company selling off 45 of its 103 regional radio stations to seven different buyers, closing 107 “The Source” stores, and in total axing roughly 4,800 jobs Canada-wide.
In total, the cuts account for roughly nine per cent of the media giant’s total workforce, with roughly 750 being contractor positions.
In a statement, Bell’s President Mirko Bibic blamed the cuts largely on regulations imposed by the CRTC.
“Of particular concern is a recent decision by the CRTC forcing Bell to provide third-party resellers access to our high-speed fibre network before we have even had an opportunity to recoup our multi-billion dollar investment,” wrote Bibic.
“As I’ve shared before, at Bell Canada every year we can expect to lose over $250 million in legacy phone revenues. At Bell Media, our advertising revenues declined by $140 million in 2023 compared to 2022. Across Bell Media’s news operations, we continue to incur over $40 million in annual operating losses despite having the most-watched network of local TV stations.”
Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson implied that the company is not selling valuable assets with the sales of regional stations.
“That’s a significant divestiture. It’s because it’s not a viable business anymore,” Malcolmson said in an interview.
“We will continue to operate ones that are viable, but this is a business that is going in the wrong direction.”
MBC President Jon Pole said he was “personally offended” by the comments made by Bell in the wake of the company annexing nearly half of its radio stations. He said he doesn’t buy into the rhetoric from Bell that radio is a dying industry, and that the company should look at itself for its failings in the market.
“I was personally offended as a buyer of the radio stations, like to come out and say: ‘you’re buying these radio stations, by the way, they’re not viable,'” Pole said.
“The reality is, it’s just not true. It might be true to say the way they do it isn’t viable… and certainly that’s something they could comment on, but I can tell you in my world, we’ve grown.”
Pole said he, and many others still within the business, believe community focused radio still has a very viable place in today’s world. While radio has more competition to grapple with than it once did, Pole feels it ultimately hasn’t changed that much, regardless of things like music streaming becoming more commonplace.
He said focusing on the community is, and always has been, radio’s strength — and that’s something Bell may have gotten away from.
“In 1958, radio reached 85 percent of all Canadians, and in 2023, it’s like 83 percent,” Pole said.
“You create a big community that gets it. And then that community determines whether or not you should be viable in the marketplace, and I think you can build that community on radio.”
Pole added that he doesn’t expect the company to cut jobs at either of the stations being purchased, and said it’s more likely jobs are added to further focus on the community angle. He also noted that format changes aren’t likely.
He said ultimately it’s disappointing to see Bell Media decrying that there’s little hope for the business, when really they should be a leader in the industry.
Bell Let’s Talk
With the massive layoffs, Bell Media continues what seems to be a near-annual tradition of raising money for research and highlighting the need for openness around mental health through its “Bell Let’s Talk Day” initiative, and soon after eliminating the jobs of mass numbers of employees.
The company has donated well over $100 million to mental health initiatives since launching Bell Let’s Talk in 2010, but it also gets a significant amount of publicity and public goodwill from the campaign, and any amount donated can be written off for a charitable tax benefit.
Last year the company converted its model to donating a lump sum of $10 million to mental health charities regardless of usage of the #BellLetsTalk hashtag.
In 2021, when layoffs came not even a week after Bell Let’s Talk Day, one of the company’s most popular former sportscasters sounded off on the company for its policies around mental health.
In 2022, both current and former Bell employees reported toxic workplace cultures in newsrooms.
More recently, last June Bell laid off 1,300 employees and shuttered nine radio stations – including taking some stations off the air in the middle of broadcasts, with a pre-recorded message acting as notice for some employees that they had lost their job.
Nearly half the radio stations being sold are BC stations going to Vista, while Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia make up the remainder of those sold.
It’s unclear at this time where the bulk of the layoffs will come from in the coming weeks, but Bell’s President said further cost reductions could be expected if the company has to continue to contend with government regulation it deems unfavourable.
Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI). The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.