One-on-one | Paul Arcand: the king of the waves

Paul Arcand welcomed new employees this week to Since you have to get up, the morning show he has hosted for 18 years at 98.5 FM. Montreal radio’s most popular show broke listening records last fall, with about a third of the market share. Abridged version of a media discussion, with the king of the airwaves.

Marc Cassivi: When you dominate the polls as you have for years, is it necessary to make changes to stay ahead or is it just that you like having new collaborators?

Paul Arcand: I would say it’s a mix of both. That is to say, when you are at the top of the ratings, the danger is to sit on it and ride the wave. Often it is a combination of circumstances. At the political column, Bernard [Drainville] expressed the desire to do only his show…

M. C.: And to sleep…

PA: And to sleep a little longer! We looked at different scenarios, different hypotheses. It’s also a question of timing, because there are people you think of who are not available. Finally, the choice fell on Jonathan [Trudeau, aussi animateur au FM93]. Since the start of the pandemic, comedians were called on Fridays and the reaction to Fabien [Cloutier] was so strong that we wanted him to be there regularly, about every three weeks. In the case of Jean-Francois [Lépine], I thought we had a weakness in international news. We have Fabrice de Pierrebourg for the terrorism aspect, but I’ve been dreaming of Jean-François joining us for a long time. We try to maintain stability while moving things. It keeps the motivation when you are able to renew the team a little.

M. C.: You wrote on Twitter that keeping this balance between information and entertainment is “not easy”. This balance is the strength of the show. We’re listening for the tight interviews and the leaders who are being hounded, but also for the fun you seem to be having…

PA: Being on the radio four and a half hours a day, five days a week, more than forty weeks a year, of course there has to be a chemistry that sets in. We can’t pretend we like each other if we don’t like each other. Balance is especially during a pandemic that I found it particularly difficult to maintain. On the one hand, there is a subject that imposes itself and dominates. People are told, “Here’s what you should know, and then here’s how we’re going to hound the decision-makers. At the same time, create something a little lighter or less formal. If I was doing hard news for four and a half hours every day, me first, I would pick up. We need to ventilate, to listen to a little music or comic extracts. It’s not easy because there is the immediate reaction of the audience who say: “You talk about it too much”, “you don’t talk about it enough”, “we want to hear something else”, “don’t make jokes, we are in crisis”, etc. Team people are not one-dimensional. [Alain] Crest, he’s not just a sports guy. He also has reflexes – as I often say – of guys from Quebec [rires]. Catherine [Brisson, chroniqueuse culturelle de l’émission], she is a girl from Saguenay who has character. All of this put together creates a hybrid formula.

M. C.: The show remains at the top of the polls all the time. Is it still a pressure?

PA: Of course there is pressure, but at the same time, it’s not an obsession. Not to the point that it’s crippling.

M. C.: Do you find that the public broadcaster cares too much about market share? Your competitor at Radio-Canada, Patrick Masbourian, has performance bonuses linked to ratings in his contract.

PA: Public radio is a world I know less about. I remember that when the polls were particularly good, the bosses of Radio-Canada were very happy. When the polls are worse, they say it’s public radio and don’t have too many expectations [rires] ! It’s correct. What I find interesting is that there are still a majority of listeners in the morning who opt for talk radio, when we add up Radio-Canada and us. It means that there is an interest in it, despite everything that can be said about media bashing and the presence of the web. Radio-Canada’s market shares are stable. I don’t know why there are bonuses. I’m a little surprised. I didn’t think it was in the style of the house.

M. C.: There is currently a very strong split in the population. In particular between the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated, and especially the antivax. How does this tense climate dictate your way of doing things? I don’t really hear you compromising in your opinions. Is there a reflection to be made around the way in which we treat the recalcitrant?

PA: I don’t wonder if people will agree or disagree with me. It’s sure that I’m going to be shouted nonsense, whatever. There are people who think we don’t go far enough, that we should imprison the unvaccinated [rires] ! There are others threatening to make citizen arrests and have us appear before the next Nuremberg. I don’t have to put up with people’s hatred, and I don’t have to wonder every day if I’m causing it. I don’t do it on purpose to set fires. I don’t get up saying to myself, “This morning, I’m provoking them. ” I say what I think. I speak with a lot of people every day in the health network. I talk to policemen, I talk to teachers. From what I see and hear, I make up my mind, then I share my point of view. You have the right to disagree.

M. C.: I come back to Radio-Canada, because the bosses of the state-owned company have been fantasizing about the idea of ​​poaching you from private radio for years. What would be the advantages and disadvantages for you of making the jump to public radio?

PA: When I left CKAC about 20 years ago, I had discussions with Radio-Canada, but it didn’t go very far. I have complete freedom to do whatever I want, as long as what I say is responsible and based on facts. I never feel pressure, even when I know that what I’m going to say won’t necessarily please my employer. I have already had a fairly close interview with the president of Cogeco, who took a position on immigration [Louis Audet invitait en 2017 le gouvernement fédéral à accueillir plus d’immigrants]. He wasn’t offended, because he understands my job. This freedom is extraordinary. It’s an impression, but I’m not sure I could say the same things to Radio-Canada. There are things that would scare me a little. I will give you an example: when I receive an author, I will read his book. I don’t want a researcher to read it for me and come up with a question sheet. I wouldn’t be able to completely rely on anyone else.

M. C.: Does this famous title of “king of the airwaves” please you or does it weigh on you?

P. A. : [Rires] Seriously, I know it takes pictures. There is also “the real questions guy”. What are the “real questions”? These are slogans. I’ve been doing this for 31 years. I won’t do it again for 10 years. Let’s say that I am part of the monuments, if you will [rires] ! What I find quite fascinating is meeting second-generation listeners, who knew me because their father imposed me in the car. At Vito, the butcher on rue Saint-Urbain, an Italian gentleman told me that he had learned French by listening to me. That touches me much more than slogans. “The king of the waves”, tomorrow morning, it may not be that anymore. It will be someone else. I’m down-to-earth enough, and I’ve seen enough, that the labels leave me a little cold.

M. C.: If it’s not 10 years, how many more years will you be doing this?

PA: I don’t know! It’s still a busy job. People think we quit at 10, but no. I will watch a film, listen to a series, read. I have to prepare for the interviews. I love radio, I think it’s a fantastic medium. I don’t want to retire, but at some point do I want to have a less demanding role? We take it one year at a time.

M. C.: For another five years?

PA: I will reserve the surprise for my employer [rires] !

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