Cuts by Bell Media leave a void in the Vancouver sports media market
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“It seemed like a station that was on top of its game was taken out for a corporate strategy when results and performance weren’t really considered in the decision.” – Paul Chapman, The Province
On the morning of February 9, regular listeners of TSN 1040 were listening to morning hosts Mike Halford and Jason Brough; it was just another ordinary day. Suddenly, the third hour of the show was interrupted and replaced with US radio programming from ESPN. Perhaps there was a technical malfunction? —and the show would be resuming? Then TSN 1040’s Twitter account was deactivated. What the hell was going on?
Later at 9:30 am, listeners heard a pre-recorded message played about the station’s future that sounded like it was recorded inside a makeshift US bunker: “We have some news to share today about changes to our programming. As of today, CKST 1040 AM will no longer be a sports talk radio station. It was a difficult decision, but the realities of the quickly evolving broadcast media landscape in Canada have made this change unavoidable. We want to thank our on-air personalities, advertising partners, and sponsors, and everyone who has contributed to this station. But especially we want to thank you—our listeners. Our work here at TSN 1040 was driven by our passion to bring you the very best sports, news, and discussion. We sincerely appreciate the time you have spent with us.”
Afterwards, a very questionable song choice was aired: “Good Riddance” by Green Day. A radio coup had just occurred as TSN 1040 was removed from the airwaves—taking listeners and station staff by surprise (TSN 1290 in Winnipeg and TSN 1150 in Hamilton also removed). It was the latest in a series of job cuts by Bell Canada to its media operations across the country. The Province on February 10 obtained an internal email sent to staff by Bell Canada management. The email stated TSN 1040 would be replaced by an all-comedy station, Funny 1040 (premiered February 12). A conference call was later held with affected staff by Bell Canada’s western regional general manager, James Stuart Hewson. He claimed years of “major losses” as the result of ongoing high costs of producing sports radio content led to the decision to close the station. Staff was stunned as they were then told they had 30 minutes to gather personal items before corporate security began a “shutdown process.”
Paul Chapman, deputy editor with The Province, had a long-standing association with TSN 1040. He was perplexed with what transpired, posting on Twitter: “Who is the nameless, faceless ghoul they brought in to record this robotic bloodbath, hollow message. JFC Bell Let’s talk indeed…” Chapman says he is saddened that the station is gone, telling the Other Press in an email interview: “I was stunned. In the key demographics and key time segments they were beating their competitor 10 to 1 in the ratings. They had a solid lineup, lots of advertisers, it seemed like a station that was on top of its game was taken out for a corporate strategy when results and performance weren’t really considered in the decision.”
Sadly, it is the end of an era in Vancouver sports radio. TSN 1040, originally called TEAM 1040 (CKST), made its debut in May 2001. The station’s founders were Tom Mayenknecht, David Stadnyk, and the late Paul Carson. In 2014, TEAM 1040 was rebranded to TSN 1040—and was three months away from celebrating its 20th anniversary. A plethora of talented broadcasters would make their mark at the station: David Pratt, “Bro” Jake Edwards, Rick Ball, Barry Macdonald, Brook Ward, Scott Rintoul, Don Taylor, Bob “The Moj” Marjanovich, Mike Halford, Jason Brough, Rick Dhaliwal, Jeff Paterson, Matt Sekeres, Karen Surman, and Blake Price. In addition, there was Rob Fai, Shantelle Chand, and Aneesa Heatherington. Other key staff included Andy Cole, J.D. Burke, Andrew Wadden, Jay Kroeker, Iain McLetchie, Ryan Henderson, and Tom Mayenknecht.
With TSN 1040 gone, Sportsnet 650 remains the only sports radio station in Vancouver. When news broke of TSN 1040 ceasing operations, many of Sportsnet 650’s on-air personalities like senior writer, Iain MacIntyre, expressed support for staff affected. During an appearance on The Scott Rintoul Show February 9, MacIntyre said it is sad when anyone loses their job—regardless of whether they are competitors: “I have never understood this lust that some have for others to lose their job, no matter what the field. […] Most people are just trying to (in whatever the field they’re in) earn a living, pay for a house or an apartment, feed their kids, look after their families [.…] So, there is no victory dance for anybody on a day like this. And if there is, there is something wrong with you.”
The Province reported February 9 that although TSN 1040 lost the Vancouver Canucks radio broadcast rights in 2017 to rival sports station Sportsnet 650, TSN 1040 continued to rank as the top-rated sports radio station in the Vancouver market. Interestingly, the BCE, the holding company that operates Bell Canada—released its latest earnings report the first week of February. The report contradicts the company’s claims of losses that led to the shutdown of TSN 1040. In the report, its overall net earnings (fourth quarter) had increased 28.9 percent over the same period in 2019 to $932 million.
Lastly, the loss of TSN 1040 leaves a huge void in the Vancouver sports media market ending prematurely with its future bright—with strong ratings and a loyal listenership. It also leaves uncertainty as to what the future will be for the “all sports” radio format in Vancouver. Paul Chapman states that TSN 1040’s legacy should be as a groundbreaking and influential sports radio station that made an impact in the Vancouver market for 20 years. “It should be that it brought so many great personalities to the [forefront] and was one of the leading sources for sports,” Chapman said in the same Other Press email interview. “Along with The Province and Sports Page, it was a place where if you got wind that something big had happened, you needed to turn them on right away because you had to hear what they had to say about it. Sadly, that legacy should be continuing. When you look at the personalities they were bringing along, Shantelle Chand, Rob Fai, Aneesa Heatherington, J.D. Burke, Andrew Wadden, Jay Swing, there was a whole new generation ready to step up. Now you wonder where those platforms are going to exist. I am profoundly sad this happened and am still struggling to make sense of it.”
Stay tuned for the follow-up article on TSN 1040 in next week’s issue.