Owned and operated by Corus Entertainment, the station broadcasts on 730 kHz with a power of 50,000 watts as a clear channel (class A) station, using a slightly directional antenna pointing east (towards Montreal) with the same pattern day and night.
The station has an all-sports format since April 2, 2007. It previously had a full service format mixing news/talk and sports, with some music (mostly oldies) during weekends. Part of that tradition has continued after the format switch, as longtime nighttime hosts Jacques Fabi (weeknights) and André Pelletier (weekend) still have their open-line shows every night on CKAC; these shows are also simulcasted locally on sister stations CINF and CHMP-FM, but they still originate from CKAC.
Currents hosts on the station include : Michel Langevin, Gabriel Grégoire and Dave Morissette (morning show), Jacques Theriault (mid-mornings), Jean-Charles Lajoie (early afternoons), Michel Villeneuve (afternoon drive), Jean Chartrand (early evenings), Ron Fournier (late evenings), Pierre Trudel (weekend mornings) and Martin Lemay (week & weekend evenings).
CKAC is famous for being the first French-language radio station in the entire world. The construction of the station was announced on May 3, 1922, and it started to regularly broadcast on September 22, 1922, as reported by daily newspaper La Presse, which created the station and owned it until 1969.
While some sources indicate that the station started to broadcast on October 2, 1922, that date actually refers to an official inauguration concert, and not to the actual beginning of regular programming.
The station was originally on 360 metres (833 kHz) and had a power of 2,000 watts. In 1925, the station switched to its current frequency of 730 kHz, using a power of 1,200 watts. It shared time with CFCF (now CINW) until 1928, at which point it became the only station on that frequency. Power was increased to 5,000 watts fulltime on October 19, 1929, using an omnidirectional antenna from a new transmitter site located in Saint-Hyacinthe. CKAC applied to increase its power to 50,000 watts the following year, but this application was denied by government authorities.
The station became an affiliate of the CBS network in 1929. This affiliation was established to broadcast concerts from renowned American orchestras on CKAC. CKAC also created its own orchestra that year, which would produce concerts aired on American stations twice a week until 1933. (CKAC did keep its CBS affiliation until the late 1940s.)
In 1950, CKAC increased its daytime power to 10,000 watts (nighttime power remained at 5,000 watts), and the station began to broadcast 24 hours a day.
On October 1st of that same year, CKAC began to air the "Le Chapelet en famille" (the "Family Rosary Hour") as recited by archbishop Paul-Emile Léger in the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral, and this program proved so popular that competitors actually lobbied hard to get permission to simulcast that program -- to no avail. (The program disappeared in 1970 as religious practice declined precipitously in the late 1960s in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec and ratings were down, but this provoked many complaints among still devout Catholics.)
On March 13, 1958, CKAC raised its power to 50,000 watts fulltime, using a directional antenna pointing east using two towers, as it moved to its current transmitter site located in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, just west of the Island of Montreal. The station now had one of the best signals in Eastern Canada, which was quite an exceptional situation for a privately owned station. In the early days of radio in Canada, the CBC used its dual role as regulator and broadcaster to ensure that most of the country's clear-channel allocations went to CBC-owned stations.
CKAC faced serious competition which intensified in the 1960s as new French-language stations such as CKVL (opened in 1946), CJMS (opened in 1954) and CKLM (opened in 1962) were attracting listeners. While none of these stations had a signal nearly as impressive as CKAC (especially considering nighttime signal restrictions), this was not yet a problem for these stations as urban sprawl was still minimal.
However, CKAC quickly regained the top ratings spot in 1970, due to the crucial role its highly-regarded news service had in keeping listeners informed during the October Crisis, in which the terrorist and separatist Front de libération du Québec movement kidnapped and murdered provincial Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.
The station was sold from Power Corporation (which bought La Presse and CKAC in 1968) to Telemedia in 1969, and CKAC became the flagship of the new Télémédia network, which also included CHLN 550 in Trois-Rivières, CHLT 630 in Sherbrooke, and the now-defunct CKCV 1280 in Quebec City, CKCH 970 in Hull (now Gatineau) and CJMT 1420 in Chicoutimi (now Saguenay).
From 1970 until the late 1980s, CKAC was regularly one of the very few stations in Canada to attract over one million listeners according to BBM ratings and regularly made millions of dollars in profits every year, as it was home to such famous and renowned hosts as long-time morningman Jacques Proulx, mid-morning host Suzanne Lévesque and 1980s midday host Pierre Pascau.
CKAC became the French radio flagship of the MLB Montreal Expos (who became the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season) in 1972 and broadcast post-season games in addition to all (or in the last years, most) Expos regular-season games until 2003, with legendary play-by-play host Jacques Doucet describing over 5,500 games.
The station got an FM sister station in 1977, when Telemedia launched CITE-FM on 107.3 MHz. (The two stations became competitors in May 2005; for more information, please see "Recent decline and sale to Corus Entertainment" section.)
CKAC ran into ratings difficulties in the early 1990s, mostly because of a resurgence from CJMS. These difficulties had a disproportionate economic impact on CKAC because of the recession that was particularly difficult in Montreal, and Quebec in general. In addition, radio in Quebec was generally suffering from the appearance of the new Télévision Quatre Saisons TV network, which provoked a severe advertising price war.
Because of these factors, Telemedia merged its Quebec AM radio operations with Radiomutuel on September 30, 1994 to form the new Radiomédia network, and six AM stations across Quebec closed that very same day at 6 PM, including competitor CJMS 1280. Radiomutuel acquired 50 % of CKAC, with the remainder still being owned by Telemedia (both companies continued to compete on the FM side).
While CKAC survived thanks to its superior signal (compared to CJMS), most of the new programming included hosts from CJMS, and the merged newsroom was dominated by former Radiomutuel journalists.
The merger did help CKAC to regain many of its lost listeners and market shares, but still CKAC did not dominate in ratings as it used to do. Even the format switch of competitor CKVL to all-news radio in late 1999 did not prop up CKAC in any significant manner. CKAC actually started to lose significant numbers of listeners to Première Chaîne (CBF-FM 95.1) in the early 2000s.
In 2001, Astral Media (successor of Radiomutuel) got permission from the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to buy Telemedia's Quebec radio properties, which included the RockDétente network as well as 50 % of the Radiomédia network. However the Competition Bureau, another federal agency, partially blocked the deal over concentration of ownership issues, and ordered Astral Media to sell Radiomédia stations, which were temporarily put into trusteeship.
A first attempt failed when TVA (Quebecor) and RNC Media were refused permission by the CRTC in June 2003 to buy the stations, because of ownership concentration concerns. A second deal was announced in September 2003 with businessmen Gaétan Morin and Sylvain Chamberland, but a month later popular CKAC morningman Paul Arcand unexpectedly announced his departure from the station, and in late November Corus Entertainment announced that it would launch a new news/talk format on CHMP-FM 98.5 (then CKOO-FM) in January 2004, with Arcand as its morningman. Jean Lapierre, who was the afternoon drive host, also announced his departure as he returned to active politics; as a result Morin and Chamberland exercised their option to cancel their acquisition, paying a million-dollar fee to do so.
Astral Media then concluded in March 2004 an exchange of assets deal with Corus Entertainment; the latter publicly announced in June its intention of dramatically reducing programming expenses if the deal was approved, most notably by shutting down the CKAC newsroom.
Despite widespread opposition against that deal, the known existence of at least four other serious and much less controversial contenders to buy the Radiomédia stations, and numerous allegations to the effect that Corus Entertainment's offer was actually part of a larger plan to prevent any meaningful competition to its new FM talk format (as Corus seemed to try to weaken and steal listeners from CKAC and not from the increasingly popular CBF-FM, and its sales representatives claimed to clients that they would be better advised to buy advertising at CHMP-FM and not CKAC as they pretended the latter was going to close shortly no matter what would happen), the deal was approved in January 2005 by the CRTC in the midst of strong rumours that Astral Media would close CKAC if the deal was not approved. The deal took effect a few months later after a failed attempt by CKAC employees to appeal the decision to the Federal Cabinet.
On May 30, 2005, Corus Entertainment closed the reputed CKAC newsroom in favour of the lowly-regarded CINF (Info 690) newsroom, which now produces newscasts for all French-language Corus Entertainment stations under the name "Corus Nouvelles". The Radiomédia network became known as the Corus Québec network, and CKAC continued to be the flagship of the network as it continued to be the source of talk programming for Corus' talk stations outside of Montreal. However ratings continued to suffer, and CKAC fell well below the 500,000 listeners mark according to BBM ratings.
The format switch to all-sports was announced on March 1, 2007 and took effect on April 2, 2007. Sister station CHMP-FM became the co-flagship of the Corus Québec network. The long-time tradition of airing news bulletins on the 45th minute of the hour, a practice that was begun in 1972, was ended. Music programming also disappeared from the station's schedule for the first time ever, although some sports talk hosts are authorized to play a few songs during their shows.
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