Farewell to CKO

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Farewell to CKO

Postby cart_machine » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:27 am

30 years ago today, Canada's attempt at an all-news radio network failed. CKO signed off the air.

A more odd collection of characters could not have been put together over the life of the Vancouver station (born Nov. 21, 1977). Things happened that couldn't possibly happen anywhere else. Unfortunately, that isn't the story you're going to read below.

Here is a collection of newspaper stories about the abrupt end of the network. First is a wire story.


News network bites the dust
TORONTO (CP) — The national CKO radio network died Friday after losing $55 million in a 13-year life during which it never managed to sell its all-news format to advertisers.
CKO's nine English-language stations abruptly signed off the air at noon eastern time with no explanation. Telephone calls to the chain's Toronto headquarters were answered by a recording saying the office was closed.
But at a news conference two hours later, a spokesman for the company that ran CKO blamed the demise on consistent losses including nearly $1.5 million in the last two months and the lack of any company willing to buy the network.
"The decision was made after a comprehensive study of the business alternatives, but there was no one who wanted to take over the financial risk," said Robert Dittmer, executive vice-president of Saskatoon-based Agra Industries Ltd.
He said CKO's stations in Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Ont., Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver are closed and their licences will be turned over to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal broadcast regulator. All but the Montreal outlet are FM stations.
The network also had FM licences for Regina, Saint John, N.B, and SL John's, Nfld.—relics of a never-realized expansion plan.
CKO and its subsidiary Newsradio, a news service for radio stations that was picked up in 1987, employ 225 people. Newsradio will operate until Nov. 24, but will close unless a last-minute buyer can be found.
Dittmer said employees will receive severance packages, but gave no details.
CKO stations consistently turned in low ratings in their markets, but Dittmer said there were recent indications audiences were increasing.
"We think we were producing a gradually improving product, and we had an audience," he said. "But we haven't been able to convince advertisers to accept our product."
Several Newsradio reporters learned of CKO's demise while covering the first ministers' conference in Ottawa, said Bob Quinn, Ottawa bureau chief for the service. They were told to pack up their gear and return to the office.
"We were shocked," Quinn said. "We didn't think in our wildest dreams it would ever close down."
Agra, with interests in food-processing, pharmaceutical and engineering firms in Alberta and Saskatchewan, received licences for its CKO stations in 1976 and began broadcasting a year later. Agra last year transferred the network to Cybermedix Inc., in which it owned a controlling stake.
Earlier this fall, however, Agra sold its interest in Cybermedix to Cogeco Inc., a Montreal-based media conglomerate that almost immediately announced CKO was on the auction block.
Cybermedix, which takes its name from a chain of clinical laboratories that Cogeco sold off, also includes a cable-television business that serves 200,000 subscribers in Ontario and Quebec.
Dittmer said the decision to close CKO was made this week by Agra, which retained control of the radio network pending CRTC approval of the Cybermedix sale. A Cogeco spokesman said the company supported the shutdown. "They (Agra) asked us if we had any magic solutions, which we don't," Michel Carter said from Montreal. "The only solution was to shut it down, so we regrettably concurred."
A spokesman for the CRTC in Hull, Que., declined comment on the closure, saying the commission is awaiting official notification.
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Re: Farewell to CKO

Postby cart_machine » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:29 am

Here is how the Edmonton Journal reported on the end of CKO.


Plug pulled out on all-news radio
11 Edmonton employees losing jobs

Journal Staff Writer and Canadian Press
Edmonton—The 11 employees of CKO Radio in Edmonton were among 225 across the country who lost their jobs Friday following the death of the network.
The all-news radio network lost $55 million in its 13-year life and its owner was unable to find someone willing to buy it.
Local employees found out in a morning conference call. "We were all called in at 10 a.m. and ... were told that CKO was ceasing operations," reporter Wayne Wood said later.
"We hadn't been expecting this. We knew we were being shopped around—I was told they wanted the meeting to say we'd been sold."
But Bob Dittmer, executive vice-president of Agra Industries of Saskatoon which owned and managed CKO, said all efforts to sell the nine-station English-language news network failed. After CKO lost $1.5 million in the past two months, there was nothing for it but to pull the plug.
"We have spent $55 million on CKO (since launching the network in 1976), and we have also many times made contact with other broadcasters to try and interest them in being partners or purchasers," Dittmer said. "But we couldn't attract anyone."
Dittmer said he believed CKO stations were given the best sales and news resources possible.
"Clearly for a commercial enterprise, there's no such thing as unlimited resources, so you do it in a certain framework," he said. "If there had been someone else with a different plan, we were more than willing to listen to that.
"Obviously I'm disappointed this didn't work out. Agra has always felt that it (the all-news format) was a concept on radio in Canada that was going to be the new approach. That's why we stuck with it for so long. Now we're conceding that we can no longer keep trying."
Reporter Wood said CKO reporters also supplied a news feed to clients such as King-FM and other stations; he will continue to supply that service for a week or two to allow clients to secure alternate news sources.
He suspected all-news radio never found a large enough market in Canada.
"I think there's a public-acceptance issue," he said. "They didn't appear to have a whole lot of listeners. I'd have to say there's not much room for all-news in private radio it was a money-loser right from the beginning."
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Re: Farewell to CKO

Postby cart_machine » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:31 am

The Calgary Herald reported on the closure of the local operation.


Closure shocks Calgary workers
By Kate Zimmerman

(Herald writer)
The tables were turned on CKO News and Information Radio Friday when the network itself became the story.
Employees at the Calgary station were called into a 10 a. m. meeting that they expected would reassure them about the company's immediate future. Instead, they were informed that, effective immediately, CKO-FM was off the air.
At a shock-absorbing liquid lunch with colleagues in a nearby bar, afternoon man Bob Brown said the most dramatic news anyone had anticipated was that CKO would wind down its operations over the course of a few months.
The staff's initial reaction to the news, therefore, was "a little stunned."
"Then, actually, the gallows humor jokes started to fly: 'No news is good news,' This WAS CKO. . .' It was a combination stunned/fun atmosphere, if such a thing is possible."
Because of the meeting, few of the 15 staff members witnessed the station's last gasp on the 10 a. m. news. At the bar, Brown filled his coworkers in on what he described as an ironic twist. "The lead story was 'The CKO radio network has ceased to exist,'" he said. "(The Toronto announcer) read the rest of the newscast, and then the plug went."
Account executive Glen Schey saw another irony in the closure: despite the company's general money woes, for the first time in CKO's history, its sales in this province were on budget.
Schey said the decision to shut down the nine CKO stations across Canada "sets an amazing precedent in broadcasting.
"Every money-losing AM station in this country can now go to the (CRTC) and say: 'See, we're losing money. We're going to shut this operation down.' "
"Forty percent of the stations across the country are losing money," added morning host Doug Gossen.
The reporters agreed that working at CKO had been fun. "At most radio stations any more, news isn't very important." said Brown. "At CKO ... it was your life."
Ken McGillivray had trouble accepting his changed status.
"This is the first time I've ever been a news story," he mused. "Usually I'm the other end of the pen."
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Re: Farewell to CKO

Postby cart_machine » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:33 am

Now the Montreal Gazette's tale of events.


CKO all-news radio network signs off.
Money-losing CKO Radio, saying its national all-news network may have been ahead of its time, abruptly signed off the air for good at noon yesterday.
The shutdown leaves 213 people across Canada out of work, including 13 in Montreal.
Launched in 1976, the network broadcasted continual news in nine major cities across the country, but never managed to attract significant numbers of listeners or advertisers.
CKO president Stan Stewart said the Montreal station's share of English radio listeners was "nil to 1.5 per cent" according to different surveys.
Stewart said it is hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong: "If we knew we'd have fixed it."
However, he said, Canada has never really had specialty radio stations.
"We were a little ahead of time, he said, and CKO's competitors "had credible news (programs) in their own rite." [sic]
The shutdown was officially announced at 2 p.m. at a news conference in Toronto.
B. B. Torchinsky, chairman of CableNet Ltd., which owns the network, said more than $55 million in losses over 13 years -- including $1.5 million over the past two months alone -- was enough.
The network operates stations in Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. It also has licences to operate in Regina, Saint John and St. John's.
Torchinsky said all the licences will be voluntarily returned to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). All but the Montreal outlet are FM stations.
CableNet, which is owned by Agra Industries Ltd. of Saskatoon but is in the process of being sold to Cogeco Inc. of Montreal, had been looking for someone to buy CKO.
However, Torchinsky said "no one has been prepared to accept the financial risk of the operation." Michel Carter, vice-president of finance for Cogeco, said the Montreal-based cable television and radio company is in the process of obtaining CRTC approval to takeover CableNet, but agrees with the shutdown.
"We had been asked (by Agra) if we had any magic idea for turning around the CKO network," Carter said. "We didn't."
Carter said Cogeco will continue its plans to takeover CableNet, which also provides cable television services to 200,000 subscribers in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Kathy Coulombe, co-host of CKO's national Good Morning Canada broadcast, got the news at noon yesterday when Montreal station manager Jim Connell read an announcement that the network would surrender its broadcast licences.
"There was a newspaper story early in the week that this might happen," Coulombe said, "but people who have been at the station for a while said don't worry, we go through this every year. You hope for the best and you figure that the CRTC likes the concept of all-news radio and won't let it die.
"We didn't see this coming. We thought the owners might tell us that in six months we were to be out of work, but no one thought the shutdown would be effective immediately."
Coulombe said CKO staff in Montreal had been optimistic about the station's prospects after some technical changes that were to Improve CKO signal strength in downtown Montreal. The 1470 kiloHertz broadcast frequency, inherited when CKO bought West Island station CFOX in 1977, was to be changed to 650 kH this fall.
Coulombe did not join colleagues at an impromptu wake held in a bar near the CKO studios.
"I figured I couldn't afford it so I brought a couple of people over to my place and we got store-bought beer. We're being responsible."
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Re: Farewell to CKO

Postby cart_machine » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:48 am

Finally, the Vancouver Sun story from Nov. 13, 1989.

The black plastic liner mentioned in the story belonged to a garbage can in the newsroom which was there when the station signed on and there when it signed off for good. It was the home of a small fire several weeks into the station's operation when Gerry Gifford tossed a lit cigarette into it and some wire copy turned into cozy flames. The unmonikered can sported numerous large dents from being kicked by Vic Bianchin. In the early years, Vic had a Monday night soccer show which was promoed on the air with "Kick! Vancouver's only soccer show." Production manager Milt York included a large ball-kick sound after the word "Kick." Vic used to reenact the promo and kick the garbage can to create a convenient sound effect. It's a little hard to believe Gerry, Milt and Vic are all gone now.

Squire, of course, went on to bigger and better things and he's probably CKO Vancouver's best-known alumnus, having started his career there. Few CKO Vancouver people are still on the air; Catherine Urquhart comes to mind and Richard Dettman was there when the station signed on. Erica Johnson moved on to the CBC back east.

I pretty much liked everyone who worked there but the place was crazy and its death was just as well. Still, for a station run by a corporation, it was anything but corporate radio and there is something to be said for that.


Final CKO sign-off shocks staff
with Canadian Press
Staff at the Vancouver station of the CKO radio network are angry and in "complete shock" following the abrupt closure of the network, the station's former sports director said today.
"It was almost like someone had dropped a bomb in the place," said Squire Barnes of the announcement Friday that the all-news network was going off the air at 9 a.m. Vancouver time that day. "
Although there were rumors the network was up for sale, "nobody really seriously thought they would shut it down," he said. "There is a lot of anger."
"I think what everybody around here is so shocked about is that it happened so quickly," said Harley Kennedy, a Vancouver CKO reporter.
"It happened in a matter of a week basically. We were pretty well sure we would get some word one way or the other. We just didn't think the word would be so final."
The 50 staff members donned black armbands made from a plastic garbage bag when rumors of the closure started circulating early Friday morning, Barnes said.
An unsigned statement from the network's head office in Toronto was released saying the station was closing at noon Toronto time that day as a result of losses "in excess of $55 million" over the past 13 years, said Barnes.
The release said Cogeco Inc., a Montreal communications firm that bought the network this fall, tried to reverse the financial problems or find a buyer. "Unfortunately, those efforts were unsuccessful," it said.
Staff members were told they would be paid through Nov. 15 and would continue to receive benefits for two months. The release said each employee would receive details of individual severance packages in the near future.
Barnes, who had worked for the network for 5 1/2 years, said the locks were being changed at the Vancouver office at 2780 East Broadway as the announcement was being read. "That was almost a kick in the face," he said.
Barnes said many staff members felt the Vancouver station hadn't been given a chance to become competitive.
He said most editorial staff members haven't started looking for other jobs yet.
"People need time to absorb what's happened before they look for new work," he said.
Because of the abrupt nature of the closure, Barnes said he has heard the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will hold a special meeting to discuss it today.
The CKO network, which began in 1977, has nine English-language stations from Halifax to Vancouver. Telephone calls to the chain's head office in Toronto were answered by a recording saying the offices were closed.
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Re: Farewell to CKO

Postby J Kendrick » Sun Nov 10, 2019 11:02 am

Not the first... but the second time that the plug was pulled on CKnothing (CKO) Vancouver...
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