"Jack FM would love to have those numbers," says Janik. "Classical 96.3 has already proven there's an audience for it. People are listening, and the numbers indicate they tend to listen a long time. It's a format that performs well even with a smaller listening base because the numbers of hours that audiences spend with the station are long. That drives up their share of the tuning."
The big question, though, is whether Znaimer will be able to popularize classical music and bring it to the youthful masses. Time will tell, muses Janik. But she figures if anyone can, it's probably Znaimer.
Over the years, Znaimer's been called many things: media visionary, television addict, brilliant impresario, crazy as a fox, mercurial, unpredictable, a lady's man and a marijuana advocate.
The one thing he most assuredly is, however, is a master of invention. And this $12-million investment is testament again to a man who never dips a toe in -- but jumps in with both his Lucchese boot-clad feet.
Sitting on the stairwell in his second-floor lobby, Znaimer explains his marketing assault strategy, set to go into effect in the new year. First, he's going to hire "a classical core" of young people who will be divided into two so-called "brigades."
The first team will be made up of roughly a dozen attractive "reporters" of both sexes who will travel around the city reporting on the latest classical events. They'll travel in easily identifiable "zippy" cars (model still to be decided), he adds, painted with Classical 96.3's tag line: "Relax. Refresh. Recharge."
The second "brigade" will be made up of classical performers -- soloists, duets, trios -- who he plans to send into "at-risk" neighbourhoods -- such as schools in the Jane and Finch area. His aim? To give young adults -- who may never have heard of Mozart or Chopin -- an alternative to hip hop.
One has to wonder how keen these guinea-pig musicians will feel about his scheme. "Hey, this is coming from the daddy of video rock 'n' roll," says Znaimer, who early on in his career owned a Toronto recording studio called Thunder Sound that boasted a sauna in the basement where bands used to go to sweat and smoke dope. "So I think I'm the proper guy to say I think there's room in radio to try something else."
Janik, who points out that Classical 96.3's five-point market share in the GTA is ahead of younger-format stations such as The Edge and Z103.5, says the greatest challenge for Znaimer and his Rambo classical tactical squad will be "finding the sales force that's willing to be original and aggressive in identifying what the key benefits are for this kind of format in this city."
Znaimer is undaunted. "I'm doing this because I truly love the music. And I believe that some level of showmanship applied to this rather severe realm is going to yield some excitement. There's a delicious irony in a guy who brought Canada video rock 'n' roll taking this turn."
In a way, Znaimer's move into classical has returned him to his childhood roots. As a pre-teen growing up on Montreal's Rue St-Urbain, Znaimer's parents (dad, a shoe salesman, mom, a waitress) scraped and saved every penny to put him into piano lessons at McGill University's faculty of music.
Alas, he discovered after a few years that he was no virtuoso. "I got to the age of girls, movies, reading books and shooting pool, and knew I wasn't Leif [Ove Andsnes]material." He eventually graduated with a degree in philosophy and politics from McGill and earned a masters in government from Harvard (and by then, his parents had finally forgiven him for dropping out of the faculty of music).
In the early 1970s, he teamed up with partners to launch CITY-TV, which he eventually sold to CHUM Ltd. He then became programming guru for an rapidly expanding media outlet before resigning in 2003.
Then he went underground, presumably to nurse some wounds.
But in the last year, the man's been everywhere -- investing in Cannasat Therapeutics, a publicly traded company pioneering a new class of drugs from marijuana), producing a comedy called Rumours for the CBC -- and now his mug can be seen on buses and billboards around the city in ads promoting Classical 96.3. A riff on earlier ads that showed a comely young lass in the bathtub saying, "I'm listening," Znaimer's ad says, "Are you listening?" And it has superimposed his wicked elfin face onto the girl's suds-covered body.
Classical 96.3's office -- a stone's throw from Toronto's Humane Society at Queen and River streets -- is a placid, restful spot, distinctly at odds with the mayhem-in-motion that is such a part of the cult of CITY-TV.
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