Red Deer’s only television station for 52 years will go black on Aug. 31.
Canwest Global Communications Corp. announced on Wednesday that it’s pulling the plug on CHCA-TV and CHEK-TV in Victoria.
A news release issued by the financially troubled company said it had “no viable options” for the two stations.
Both are part of Canwest’s E! network, which also includes CHBC-TV in Kelowna, CHCH-TV in Hamilton and CJNT-TV in Montreal.
Last month, Canwest struck a conditional deal to sell the Hamilton and Montreal broadcasters to a Toronto company, and it said on Wednesday that the Kelowna station would be rebranded into its Global network.
John Douglas, vice-president, public affairs with Canwest, told the Advocate that approximately 80 employees — including network support people — will be affected by the closure of the two stations.
He would not disclose the number of staff working at CHCA, but said the Victoria station employed more than twice as many people as its Red Deer counterpart.
He said the employees in Red Deer will not be reassigned.
Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said news of the pending closure was “distressing.”
The station has played an important role in carrying local news, he said, and been a valuable part of the community.
The loss of a business and its employees is also very unfortunate, he said. Councillor Larry Pimm echoed Flewwelling’s comments.
“I’m afraid without them we lose that local content.”
Mike Axworthy, president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, said he realizes that Canwest’s decision was motivated by business considerations.
But CHCA’s demise is still “very unfortunate” and will have an adverse effect on the city.
Canwest, which had previously eliminated jobs at CHCA as part of broader cost-cutting efforts, said in February that it was reviewing its E! network. Sales or closures were possibilities, said president and CEO Leonard Asper.
In Wednesday’s news release, Canwest Broadcasting president Peter Viner said: “When we began this process about six months ago to determine if there was any way to keep these local stations on the air in the current regulatory environment, we said that we would examine every avenue. From the outset, we said that closing stations would only be considered as a last resort.”
Douglas emphasized this point. He said Canwest dealt with about 75 prospective buyers, with some interested in the Red Deer station, and did all it could to accommodate these.
“None of them really came forward with a concrete plan or funding that really provided any level of certainty for either the stations, the employees or the communities they served.”
Price was not the main stumbling block, he said, pointing out that the Hamilton and Montreal stations sold for $12.
“There had to be certainty that the operations could continue on,” said Douglas, adding that the key consideration was whether the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was likely to approve the transfers.
CHCA was founded by Fred Bartley in 1957 as a CBC affiliate. In 1965, its call letters were changed to CKRD-TV.
The owners from 1969 to 1976 were Henry Flock and Gordon Spackman, who also owned local radio stations CKRD-AM and CKRD-FM. Monarch Broadcasting purchased the station in 1976, and then in 1989 it became an Allarcom property.
Allarcom merged with WIC Western International Communications Ltd. in 1991, with that entity purchased by Canwest in 2000.
CKRD carried CBC programming until 2005, when it joined the CH television system and changed its call letters back to CHCA. The station and its CH affiliates were rebranded as E! stations in 2007.
Canwest and CTVglobemedia have warned about conventional TV stations not surviving without new revenues. The CRTC has so far rejected broadcasters’ requests for carriage fees from cable and satellite services that carry their programming.
“When it comes to local television in Canada, we need to find a way to provide fair value for local TV for those signals that are provided to the cable and satellite companies,” said Douglas.
The Advocate was unable to reach CHCA station manager Bob Bourns on Wednesday. CHCA’s evening newscast included a brief story about the station’s pending closure.