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Sunday 12 July 1998

- Column - TV & Radio -

Phantom DJs cut radio costs
Oldies 990's Mr. K will be backed by pre-recorded chat of five other jocks

The Gazette

A month into its renascence as a nostalgic rock station, Oldies 990 introduces disc jockeys tomorrow.

Andy K, who got his start as a high-school kid working weekends at CFOX about 100 years ago, will be on the air at 6 tomorrow. Oldies, which signed on June 12, will have completed a launch promotion that featured 10,000 musical selections, interrupted only by station promos and taped calls from Montrealers for whom the availability of old records on the radio makes life worth living again.

The city's newest morning man invented CHOM's Electric Lunch Hour and has a genuine passion for 30-year-old music. K is a pleasant fellow who's blessed with a voice that won't grate on the ears of listeners who like to go to bed in 1998 and wake up in the '60s.

(I am one of the select few who knows K's last name. The DJ has made it quite clear that should the secret name ever appear in print, he will abduct members of my family and make them listen to a tape loop of House of the Rising Sun. Suffice it to say that he is not Karla - although John Le Carre's Soviet master spy perfected the brutal and inhuman use of Troggs music as an interrogation tool.)

K's role at Oldies is unique: he will be the only DJ who actually works at the station. The other Oldies jocks - Charlie O'Brien, who follows K at 9 a.m., Gord James (2-to-7) and Marc Chambers (7 to midnight) on weekdays, Ingrid Shumacher and Bruce Marshall on weekends - ply their trade at CHUM Inc. radio stations in Toronto and Windsor.

After putting in their regular shifts, O'Brien and the other disc jockeys go into a studio and lay down tape tracks on which they record intros and extros to bracket musical selections. A computer then combines the DJ patter with music, time checks and openings for live news/weather/traffic breaks.

Should local events such as fires, floods or celebrity sightings necessitate live broadcasting, Oldies will have the flexibility to replace pre-recorded programming with coverage by the station's crackerjack news apparatus (which consists of Richard Dagenais and a cell phone).

But unless an outbreak of reality disturbs its Strawberry Fields Forever ambience, Oldies 990 will be on automatic pilot from 9 a.m. until K returns the following morning.

The employment of one lonely on-air announcer may strike some as an excessively frugal means of filling the airwaves. Well, welcome to the economic realities of fin-de-siecle radio.

CKGM's experiment with talk radio was a latter-day Charge of the Light Brigade. Well-paid blabbermouths bravely blundered into a battle they couldn't win.

Simply put, no one is making any money on the AM dial. Even the mighty "heritage" radio stations - CJAD and CKAC in Montreal - are able to keep reporters on the street and helicopters in the sky because their FM partners (Mix 96 and CITE respectively) are generating big revenue.

Savvy and prudent radio station operators - like Pierre Beland and Pierre Arcand, who own four Montreal stations - are reluctant to invest in the AM band. Beland and Arcand have pumped up CKVL (notably by importing Andre Arthur), but beyond astutely hiring Jim Duff to energize the CIQC morning show, the execs have not thrown pots of money at their English AM station.

The flow of advertising dollars toward FM - which is the band that most people with disposable income listen to - has been going on for 20 years. Innovations in technology (remember AM stereo?) and format (Talk Radio With Attitude) have not stemmed the tide, and no one who knows anything about the radio business expects a reversal of the trend.

Even the most popular AM stations face revenue squeezes that put pressure on costs. When a well-paid warhorse like Gord Sinclair finally totters off into the sunset, will CJAD run out and hire an expensive, high-profile journalist to replace him?

Or will we hear daily editorials by Olga and Laurie?

1998 The Gazette,
a division of Southam Inc.