Switzer takes over as CHUM CEO

For the first time in its 48-year history, CHUM Limited is no longer led by a member of the Waters family. Eighty-one-year-old founder and controlling shareholder Allan Waters stepped down on Dec. 2, passing day-to-day control of Toronto's radio and TV powerhouse to newly appointed president and CEO Jay Switzer.

For the first time in its 48-year history, CHUM Limited is no longer led by a member of the Waters family. Eighty-one-year-old founder and controlling shareholder Allan Waters stepped down on Dec. 2, passing day-to-day control of Toronto’s radio and TV powerhouse to newly appointed president and CEO Jay Switzer.

Swizter takes over a company that has aggressively and rapidly expanded both internationally and across Canada. Over the last few years, CHUM has launched versions of MuchMusic in Brazil and Finland, and of Citytv in Bogota, Colombia and Barcelona, Spain. Closer to home, the broadcaster recently launched Citytv Vancouver, several digital channels, and has also applied for licences in Edmonton and Calgary.

And yet CHUM has had a hard year – reporting a $4-million loss and laying off 40 employees in the fall – and many see the shuffle as preparation for further hardships. The company’s flagship station Citytv faces new competition in the already harsh Toronto market from Rogers-owned OMNI 2 and from Craig Broadcasting, which is preparing to launch toronto|one in September 2003.

But Switzer denies his appointment or CHUM’s recent moves into the Alberta market mean the company is readying for a fight. ‘That’s just a media story that’s been inflamed,’ he says.

He concedes, however, that broadcasting is now ‘more competitive, and that forces us to be more disciplined about the businesses we’re in.’

Switzer is also quick to put down talk that CHUM is building a national network. ‘That is not a business for us…there’s no aspiration to build a network in any way,’ he says. ‘Others like CTV and CanWest [Global Communications] are stressing single voice, single look, single national approach; we continue to move in the other direction…strong local stations can do an even better job.’

CHUM will likely, however, develop certain ‘back-office connections’ among its various radio, TV and specialty holdings. ‘We have to look at ways of doing things more efficiently, maybe in administration or accounting or perhaps technology,’ says Switzer.

The company, frequently described as secretive, will also improve communications with the investment community, he says.

Switzer, a seasoned veteran at 45, moves up after two years as president of CHUM Television. He first worked at City, which his mother cofounded and CHUM later purchased, as a switchboard operator. After a short stay at The Financial Post, he joined CHUM in 1983 as a program manager for City and Much.

Outgoing president Waters has semi-retired, but still holds 87.9% of the company’s common shares and continues to serve as a consultant and director on the CHUM board. His sons, Jim and Ron Waters, stepped down from top posts at CHUM and CHUM Radio to take over as chairman and vice-chairman of the board, respectively. Switzer plans to hire new radio and television presidents by the spring.

-www.chumlimited.com