Late-morning host Scott Rintoul is the biggest winner in the surprise closing of his crosstown rival by Bell Media.

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A month after Bell Media’s surprise closure of TSN 1040, Sportsnet 650 can claim it has made some early gains in the ratings book.

In the latest numbers published by Numeris this week, every show on 650 is up, a clear result of not facing much competition.

The biggest winner, though, is Scott Rintoul, whose tricky 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. show — which is also simulcast on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary from 10 a.m. to noon, and is Canucks-centric from noon to 1 — appears to have picked up the bulk of the former audience of the former Don Taylor-Bob Marjonavich show, as he pulled in a 5.2 share in the key men 25-to-54 category in February, quadrupling his 1.3 rating from January. (Taylor and Marjanovich pulled a 6.1 share in the September-to-November ratings report.)

For Rintoul, the numbers are good news from a business perspective but still bittersweet, since they are partly the result of some very bad news in the industry.

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“It’s great to have more listeners engaging in the conversations we’re having, but no one ever wants that to come at the expense of friends and colleagues losing jobs,” he told Postmedia Thursday.

Overall, it appears that 650 picked up about 40 per cent of 1040’s previous audience over the past month, as every show saw a bump in the 25-to-54 slot.

The Perry Solkowski-James Cybulski morning show, The Starting Lineup, went from a 1.1 share in January to 3.8 in February. Reach Deep, the show that runs after Rintoul’s featuring Randip Janda and Dan Riccio, bumped up from a 2.2 in January to 4.1.

And The Program with Andrew Walker and Satiar Shah went from a 1.6 in January to a 3.6. (The author is a contributor to The Program.)

It all adds up to mean that the station is now in the middle of the pack in the ratings battle, rather than mostly sitting at or near the bottom of the Lower Mainland’s radio market.

The ratings bump was also seen in an increase in text line engagement, as listeners sent three times as many texts into the station during February 2021, approximately 19,700, as they did in February 2020 (6,900).

The question now is whether this surge will be sustained or even increased. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that many have tried to make the switch from 1040 to 650 but haven’t enjoyed the product, but it’s also clear that many have.

The challenge now will be for the station to convert more of the former 1040 listeners. When there was competition for listeners, 650 struggled in the ratings against their two-decades-old competitor. If Rogers is truly interesting in growing 650’s audience, they would seem wise to make investments in the station and not just sit on small gains that came from happenstance; those gains could disappear just as quickly as they arrived.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction

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