Representing Private Radio’s Interests in 2010 and Beyond?

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

In 1926 an organization was formed in Canada to represent radio’s interest regarding copyright issues. It was known as the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, or CAB. Along came television and they asked to join because they also had similar requirements regarding copyright matters. Then the specialty television channels also became part of the CAB. The CAB was built into a strong organization and under Michael McCabe it became the largest broadcast lobby group in Ottawa and had a huge influence. But with consolidation and cross platform ownership came some major conflicts and on 31 May 2010 the CAB was officially wound down.  Around the same time the Radio Marketing Bureau also closed up shop and radio found itself without a national voice and without a voice in Ottawa.

Elmer Hildebrand of Golden West Broadcasting, who was the Chairman of the CAB at the time it was disbanded, has spent the last few months working on a possible solution. He talked to many of the private radio broadcasters and decided to start a new organization called the Canadian Association of Radio Broadcasters (CARB). I spoke to Elmer recently and asked him about this new organization.

Why did the CAB fail? There were probably a number of reasons, but two summers ago you may recall the television channels and BDU’s were fighting over fee for carriage and that got rather ugly. Many of these same people were sitting around the CAB board table, and found it difficult to be in the same room with each other. When the economic meltdown happened about the same time some of the large companies, who contributed large amounts to fund the CAB, decided they did not want to be part of this organization anymore. What is interesting to note is that of the 25 people at that meeting who made the decision to close the CAB, only two were owners of radio stations. 

Why will CARB be different? Well first of all it will be private radio only, so even though radio stations compete with each other they do not have the philosophical issues that radio, television, and BDU’s seem to have. We intend to start out small and only deal with relevantly few issues. Down the road that may change, but our goal is to represent the private radio industry across Canada to the regulator and the various entities that are part of our everyday life, including the CRTC, Industry Canada and the copyright organizations. Our plan is not to have any full time staff, but we will employ people on a part time or consulting basis as required. This means our fees will be modest.

Does the CAB still have responsibilities for broadcasting matters? Yes, to our surprise we found that the CAB could not be totally wound up because there were still industry matters that had to be maintained. The CAB is responsible for the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It also administers over $12 million annually from various stakeholders that have to be distributed as mandated by the CRTC. The former CAB CFO, Sylvie Bissonnette, has been hired on contract to deal with these matters. So the Canadian Association of Broadcasters will continue to focus on Copyright issues, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and spectrum issues. Therefore, all broadcasters, including private radio, continue to pay a small fee to ensure this all happens.

Who has been representing Radio’s interest since June 1st? As you know, the CRTC is still making decisions and there were a number of things that needed to be addressed, so six or seven broadcast companies got together and hired some people to do the work, so because of those kinds of things it just does not make any sense not to have a national presence. I hope the provincial associations will also become stronger because they may have to do some of the work that the CAB used to take care of. We saw a great example of this recently with the OAB “Connection 2010” conference in Toronto. They honoured two broadcasters (Duff Roman and Jim Waters) with Lifetime Achievement Awards. These two broadcasters have made significant contributions to the Canadian broadcast system across all of Canada and not just Ontario. This also became an appropriate venue for CRTC Commissioner Rita Cugini to deliver a timely speech to update broadcasters on the thinking of the CRTC.  

What is the proposed mandate of the CARB? CARB will first and foremost represent and advance the interests of private broadcasters working in conjunction with the CAB.  CARB has already taken over the TRAM system that tracks advertising spending in the 12 largest markets in Canada. We could not let this tracking system fail or it would have negatively impacted national radio revenue in these 12 markets, which most likely had significant trickledown effect on all radio markets in Canada. The CARB will focus its efforts on:

  • Exchanging and discussing options on key issues effecting private radio
  • Disseminating intelligence on CRTC and other matters to members
  • Providing recommendations to CAB on use of CARB funds in trust
  • Ensuring that medium and small radio companies’ point of view is taken into account
  • Representing a unified industry position if required
  • Maintaining and updating the former RMB website
  • Housing the creative library of the former RMB
  • Coordinating with regional association’s necessary functions such as Gold Ribbon Awards, Half and Quarter Century Clubs
  • If and when deemed desirable, to continue to fund a person in Ottawa to find Government Advertising for radio

What is the biggest issue that radio stations are facing today? In my opinion it remains copyright issues, and in some ways this is an issue that we have little control over. But unless we represent private radio’s interests strongly at all the appropriate copyright hearings, broadcasters may end up paying such a large percentage of revenue in fees that the broadcast model as we know it will become unsustainable. Copyright issues cut across all platforms, which is why the CAB will continue to represent the interests of broadcasters. In my opinion it is hard to know how these issues will play out and CARB may take a larger role if it’s to appropriately represent the interest of private radio broadcasters.  But until we get a Board of Directors in place so they can make some decisions on the specific areas they want to focus on, these types of decisions will not be finalized. That said, I am confident this new Board will do whatever the private radio members want, and very quickly we will be dealing with all kinds of matters.

When will we see the CARB in action? I provided some seed money to get CARB incorporated so we have a charter from Industry Canada so the wheels are in motion. We expect to be fully up and running before the end of this year and the Board should be in place before Christmas. The four major radio companies are supportive, and every medium and small broadcaster I have spoken to is supportive of this new organization.  The CRTC are very concerned that currently private radio does not have representation in Ottawa. They are not eager to be talking with 400 different broadcasters on any one issue. They want to have some industry voice and are therefore very supportive of the CARB.

Conclusion: The private radio industry needs a strong national voice now more than ever, because technology platforms are changing so rapidly and private radio’s share of audience and revenue is being impacted. We also need a unified voice in Ottawa to ensure that private radio’s interests are front and centre with Industry Canada and the CRTC. That said, perhaps we can all take some comfort from Elmer’s final comment when it comes to the formation of this new industry organisation; “All it requires is a little patience and things will be fine.”