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Bell Canada head office is seen on Nun's Island in Montreal on Aug. 5, 2015. Bell is dumping an all-sports format at three of its radio stations in Canada.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

TSN Radio axed its all-sports radio stations in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton on Tuesday, telling listeners in an online posting that it “was a difficult decision, but the realities of the quickly evolving broadcast media landscape in Canada have made this change unavoidable.”

The move comes one week after Bell Media, the division of BCE Inc. that owns TSN as well as CTV and other outlets, laid off hundreds of employees in radio and TV operations across the country, including the high-profile departures of TSN personalities Dan O’Toole, Natasha Staniszewski, Brent Wallace and Kristian Jack.

The changes to the radio operations caught listeners and staff by surprise. Online reports said Vancouver’s TSN 1040 cut into its morning show hosted by Mike Halford and Jason Brough shortly after 9 a.m. local time with a recorded message to listeners that the station was changing formats.

TSN 1040 (aka CKST) had been operating with an all-sports format since 2001.

Though it ranked 16th out of 19 stations in the Vancouver market in the most recent ratings book from the ratings agency Numeris, with a 2.6-per-cent share of listeners, TSN 1040 was handily winning the all-sports battle with Sportsnet 650 despite losing the radio rights to Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Blue Jays games to that Rogers Sports & Media-owned station a few years ago.

In the most recent ratings book, Sportsnet 650 earned a meagre 0.4-per-cent share, ranking it dead last in the Vancouver market.

Bell Media’s advertising sales department claimed TSN 1040 had an average weekly reach of 254,000 listeners, which placed the station second out of the seven in TSN’s national radio network. Toronto’s TSN 1050 was the only one that ranked higher, with an average weekly reach of 452,000 listeners.

“I was there on Day 1 of TSN 1040 20 years ago,” reporter Rick Dhaliwal wrote on Twitter. “So many worked hard and built a special place for Vancouver which is sadly no more today. Many many special people worked at 1040. The city lost a jewel today.”

Winnipeg’s TSN 1290 (aka CFRW) scored a 3.8-per-cent market share in the spring 2020 ratings book from Numeris, the most recent data publicly available, placing the station 11th out of 14. Bell’s advertising sales department claimed the station earned an average of 78,100 weekly listeners.

The station had been the radio home for the Winnipeg Jets since the NHL team returned to the city in 2011, a companion to Bell Media’s ownership of the regional TV rights. But last fall the radio rights were grabbed away by Corus Radio’s CJOB in a long-term deal. As part of the agreement, CJOB also launched a new daily 30-minute lunchtime show focused on the Jets.

The format change announced Tuesday leaves Winnipeg without an all-sports radio station.

According to Bell Media, Hamilton’s TSN 1150 (aka CKOC) claimed an average weekly reach of only 23,600 listeners. On Tuesday afternoon, the station relaunched as BNN Bloomberg Radio 1150, airing a simulcast of the audio from the financial service’s cable TV channel as well as other content.

Bell also airs Bloomberg Radio in the Vancouver market on AM 1410, which had been a TSN station until its business-oriented rebranding in 2018.

A memo issued Tuesday to Bell employees said the TSN Vancouver and Winnipeg stations would relaunch on Friday with local versions of the company’s Funny stations, which are currently in the Calgary and Hamilton markets, airing stand-up comedy. The memo from Wade Oosterman, who took over the top job at Bell Media at the beginning of the year, first appeared on an online message board, the Southern Ontario/WNY Radio-TV Forum.

As news about Bell’s layoffs broke last week, spilling out across a number of days, many on social media accused the company of hypocrisy for positioning itself as an advocate for mental health with its Let’s Talk campaign while undercutting the mental health of ex-employees and remaining staff through mass firings. In the most high-profile example, O’Toole mocked the company’s commitment to mental health with a series of tweets on Saturday morning. He later deleted the tweets.

In his memo, Oosterman alluded to the poor optics of the cuts.

“Business decisions may be logical, and they may offer the best benefits to the company and to the broader team over the long term, but they have impacted some of our colleagues, the real people affected by this necessary change. We’re ensuring those that have left the company do so with support, and our respect and thanks for all their contributions to our company and our communities. There’s never a right time to make these kinds of changes, other than when they’re required for the stability and growth of the business and the benefit of our broader team nationwide.”

The memo also suggested to employees that the corporate restructuring, which had kept many of them in suspense over the past week, was over, saying “these changes are now complete.”