Winnipeg is a terrific sports town, filled with lively banter, discussion and debate about the teams and players we love — and those we love to hate.

Opinion

Winnipeg is a terrific sports town, filled with lively banter, discussion and debate about the teams and players we love — and those we love to hate.

Sadly, the home of the Jets, Blue Bombers, Goldeyes, Valour FC, Moose, Ice and so many others suddenly finds itself without an all-sports station after Tuesday's out-of-the-blue decision to shutter TSN 1290 AM in the middle of the broadcasting day.

The blood-letting began last week with more than 200 layoffs, including some high-profile television faces including Dan O’Toole, Natasha Staniszewski and Brent Wallace. Now it's continued here in Winnipeg and at similar TSN radio outlets in Vancouver and Hamilton, with an unknown number of layoffs.

All of this just days after fourth-quarter earnings for 2020 showed a 28.9 per cent increase in net revenues, to $932 million. And after members of parliament revealed the country's largest telecommunications company received $122 million in COVID-19 relief as part of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Game over for sports-only radio station TSN 1290

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Andrew "The Hustler" Paterson was one of the on-air hosts fired today at TSN 1290. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Andrew "The Hustler" Paterson was one of the on-air hosts fired today at TSN 1290. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Posted: 2:53 PM Feb. 9, 2021

Winnipeg's only all-sports radio station has been sidelined for good.

Bell Media scrapped the sports format of TSN 1290 AM on Tuesday just before 11:30 a.m. when it informed listeners a new plan for the station would be revealed Friday.

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It also comes less than two weeks after Bell beat their annual social-media drum for better mental health awareness and supports. Now they've sent hundreds of talented workers straight to the unemployment line.

Bell Let’s Talk....about the disgraceful way you've treated your employees, putting profit over people during a global pandemic, and how your greed has left a gulf in the Winnipeg media landscape.

Full disclosure: I'm furious. For my hard-working friends over at TSN 1290, some of whom learned through social media that they were out of a job. For what this city now doesn't have. And, on a purely selfish level, for losing the ability to talk shop several times a week with the likes of Andrew "Hustler" Paterson, Rick Ralph, Kevin Olszewski, Brian Munz, Jim Toth, Troy Westwood and Brandon Rewucki.

I've always known I had a face for radio, and a big smile washed over it every time I got to jump on the air. It was often stupid, silly fun, a reminder not to take any of this too seriously. A few daily moments of light in otherwise dark times.

Sadly, we have been reminded yet again that an escape from reality is usually only temporary. And Bell Media deserves the public scorn now coming their way.

Nobody on the ground saw this coming. In fact, only a couple hours earlier, TSN 1290 employees got an email from their boss touting strong recent streaming numbers. As you likely know, the station bailed on the final year of its 10-year partnership with the True North Sports & Entertainment for exclusive broadcasting rights to the Jets, citing massive financial losses.

CJOB, the all-news talk station, stepped in and they're doing a terrific job through the first month of this new NHL season. I have friends over there as well, and hosted my nationally syndicated "Crime & Punishment" radio show on Corus for more than a decade, until I shifted from the justice beat to sports in 2016.

Although no longer being the "Home of the Jets" hurt, the move was sold at TSN 1290 as a positive development that would actually ensure the long-term viability of the station. And they had soldiered on, with extensive game-day wrap-around coverage, beginning at 6 a.m. and not ending until hours after the final buzzer.

They had re-branded as "The Voice of the Fans,", and I was proud to play a small role in their programming. At a difficult time when many folks are stuck at home and turning to things like call-in radio for comfort, it's ironic Bell has silenced such talk in this market.

Having spent the past 26 years in journalism, I'm well aware of the fragile nature of our entire industry these days. Whether it's print media, or television, or radio, there is more competition for eyeballs and ears — not to mention precious advertising dollars — than ever. And it can be a cut-throat business. I get all that. Survival of the fittest, right?

And I understand TSN 1290's ratings weren't stellar. In the Spring 2020 book — the most recent that's been done since COVID-19 turned the sports world upside-down last March — they had slumped to a 3.8 overall share and an 11th-place showing on the dial, down from 5.2 the previous year. (I'm told they were stronger in certain key demographics).

So yes, perhaps change was inevitable. But what happened to a little common decency and respect? Where was all of that on Tuesday, for those who were already on the air, or just planning to go on the air, to talk up that night's Jets vs Flames game? And from a company that tries to portray itself as a leader in that regard? Shameful.

Under ideal circumstances, everyone now out of of a job will land squarely on their feet, with even bigger and better opportunities. The unfortunate reality is it's never been more difficult to find fulfilling work in this field.

Which serves up one more important lesson out of this saga, one I can't preach loud or long enough: Support local media. Buy a subscription. Frequent local advertisers. Spread the word. Because without that kind of grassroots backing, we're likely to see more of these sad stories play out, and an ever-shrinking industry is going to keep getting smaller.

And the sound of silence will grow even louder.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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