Saturday, August 01, 2009

Fronts: Radio silence from now on?

Kingston Frontenacs fans have always appreciated irony (just Google "coping mechanism"), so they'll like this: a team whose arena bears the name of a hometown radio station might not have a hometown radio broadcaster this season.

International man of mystery Tyler King posted on Fronts Talk he has "had three reliable people" inform him Corus Entertainment did not renew its radio rights to the Frontenacs. This would potentially cut off fans, since some road games are not telecast and not everyone who wants to tune in subscribes to TVCogeco (you can stream OHL games on the league's website, but it'll cost you). This is an opportunity, not another chance to bash.

The hierachy of needs here are 1) offering some ideas if indeed this is the case and 2) concern for the team's long-time radio voice, Jim Gilchrist, who deserves much better than being shunted aside with no one trying to find a solution.

It is hard to see the Frontenacs finding a taker among the six commercial FM stations in Kingston, not simply because Springer and GM Larry Mavety (get well soon, Mav) have alienated so much of the team's potential audience over the past decade.

In the larger picture, big media is all about "the next cost-cutting move in journalism" (Sports Biz With Darren Rovell, July 23). It's part the economy, part greed, too. In the NHL, at least three teams are simply simulcasting the TV audio this season, as Puck Daddy noted earlier this week. CTVGlobeMedia, as the CFL rights holder in Canada, does something similar on The Team 1200 in Ottawa. If you turn on the radio right now, there is the TSN commentary from Rod Black and Duane Forde, a few seconds behind the TV.

Close to home, Kingston's radio fare is a pretty good reflection of the ridiculous level of media concentration in Canada. Corus, Rogers Media and CTVGlobeMedia each own two FM stations. It is hard to the other two stepping in, especially if there is little promise of big ratings. Puck Daddy put hockey radio broadcasts into perspective.
"It doesn't have the romanticism of baseball radio. It doesn't have the necessity of football radio, a fact to which any fanatic husband or wife asked to run an errand on an autumn Sunday can attest.

"But hockey radio is vital to fans who can't catch the game on television (especially if they're in a market with untelevised games) or in the arena. It's also vital as an ancillary, or at times alternative, source of commentary and news for a given team. If the homers in the TV booth are insufferable, turn down the volume and pop on the headphones, right?"
The two Rogers-owned stations (K-Rock 105.7 and KIX 93.5) are likely a non-starter, since the latter station already carries the Ottawa Senators, which would create conflicts.

CTVGlobeMedia owns an adult contempary station (FLY-FM, 98.3) and a modern rock station (98.9 The Drive). One can't see hockey being a good mesh with those formats, plus as we saw throughout this spring, that company's you know their definition of "local" seems to infer that everyone lives up the street from a television studio in California.

There is 88.7 FM in Napanee. It's a 6,000-watt station, though. Can you even get it from downtown Kingston?

Translation: The Fronts could be SOL. It is not entirely their fault, although if the team had gone 40-18-10 instead 18-40-10 last season, do you think this would be happening? It is more the nature of the radio beast. A major junior team whose market includes an all-sports station or an AM station which is still going strong (such as CFRA in Ottawa or AM980 in London, where Norman James' two-hour sports show debuted on Friday.
  1. Work with TVCogeco by streaming its commentary and make it available in the K-Rock Centre. You know how at a drive-in theatre, you tune your car radio to get the audio? They could do that for the fans who bring portable radios to home games.

  2. Partner with K-Rock 105.7 to stream games online. For home games, doing a 15-minute long pre- and/or post-game show over the air is also an option, since it adds something of value for people as they arrive at the arena or wait for their cars to warm up after leaving.

    The bonus is there are people in place if the team makes a playoff run and there is enough widespread interest to justify putting the games on a FM station.

  3. Put the games on CFRC 101.9 FM the year after Kinger graduates from Queen's, just to mess with him. That is not a serious suggestion.
All of this seems pretty reasonable, if a deal can't be struck with a radio station. It's important to have a contingency plan and a major sports operator such as Springer has an obligation to help provide a media product that offers something of added value to fans. The Rogers Jays do this with their excellent radio team of Alan Ashby, Jerry Howarth and Mike Wilner.

Not having a broadcast alternative to people who don't get TVCogeco further weakens the Kingston Frontenacs brand, which has been weakened considerably in recent years by the team's lack of success and anger at Springer for refusing to make fundamental changes in the organization. The point in writing this is to offer some reasonable ideas such as working with existing partners to better serve the fans. Another hope larger media will realize it is a story if Jim Gilchrist, who has commentated Kingston games for 22 seasons, is sidelined.

It was newsworthy in the past when CFRC, which has a very small but fiercely loyal audience, had its future hanging in the balance. This is newsworthy, too, even if the Frontenacs in characteristic fashion don't want people to know their business.

(To be clear, that is just stating a preference as a reader, making it known. The media is stretched thin these days, which makes it harder to do stories outside of game coverage and features, because there is an opportunity cost, but people want to read 'em.)

Anyway, to the Frontenacs, don't be closed off to the notion of an Internet-only broadcast if doesn't work out with a commercial station (and one hopes it does). It might be swinging with the times and it build ties to the community. It's publicity. You fellas have not been drawing them in the way you have in the past.

It's time to get creative, and no, that doesn't include making the players model in fashion shows. (Language not safe for work, nor endorsed by this site.)


MisterDB said...

Geeze what next for the good ship Frontenacs.

Tyler screws off to the good ole USofA

Mav has some serious health issues.

Radio coverage which for Kingston hockey dates back to at least the Aces, well over 40 years, is apparently no more.

All on top of a club that has an age distribution of one that would appear to be challenging for a title but is probably going to struggle again this year and the only goal is to make the playoffs.

sager said...


Well, it is not out of the realm of possibility they land on another station. The way radio market is these days, though ... I cannot see someone dedicating close to 180-200 hours of programming (across 68 games) to a team which might not be giving people motivation to tune in.

The Frontenacs need to get creative. We remember the intensive national coaching searches they held all those times.

Robert C. said...

No radio coverage of the Fronts. Other teams this would've surprised me but this story didn't.

History of bad play DOES have an effect on business, who knew? :)

Sportsdump said...

Another nail in the coffin for OHL fans and terrestrial radio. Gilchrist represented everything good in major junior hockey.