Montreal's most popular radio personality will host his last show Friday

MONTREAL — It’s the end of an era for a giant of Quebec media.

Known as the “king of the airwaves,” radio personality Paul Arcand will step away Friday from his wildly popular morning show on Montreal’s 98.5 FM.

His departure from "Puisqu’il faut se lever" -- which translates to "Since we have to get up" -- has sent ripples across the province and has prompted a flood of tributes from politicians, journalists and members of the public.

“(His show) is almost a religion,” said Claudine Blais, a guest professor of journalism at Université de Montréal and a former journalist with Radio-Canada. “It’s almost like going to church or going to mass for those who work in politics or media. Paul Arcand is indispensable.”

Known for his direct style and distaste for political doublespeak, Arcand has been a fixture of morning talk radio in Quebec for 34 years. He has been at 98.5 for the last two decades, where his show is a required stop for politicians and cultural icons alike. In the last few months, his guests have included Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Quebec Premier François Legault and singer Roch Voisine.

"It's the start of the day in Quebec politics," said TVA host Paul Larocque, who worked with Arcand at a Montreal-area radio station in the 1980s and 1990s. Even in those early days, Larocque said, it was "written in the sky" that Arcand would make it big. "He's tough but fair," Larocque said. "Right to the point."

Arcand's show often has an influence on political decision-making in the province, said Pierre Martineau, director general at Cogeco Média, which owns 98.5. Martineau called Arcand a "barometer" for politicians.

In April, Quebec magazine L’actualité named Arcand one of the province’s 10 most influential people of the year. But Arcand is quick to downplay his clout, preferring to say he merely “disrupts” rather than influences the political agenda of the day. “I think it’s a bit pompous to say you’re an influencer,” he told Quebec TV talk show "Tout le monde en parle" in April.

He is discreet about his private life and his personal politics, and his audience stretches across generations and political stripes, from the suburbs to the downtown core. He dominates the airwaves in the Greater Montreal area, where his program attracts nearly 35 per cent of the market, and the station says rating data places him among the most listened-to radio hosts in the country.

“As a journalist, if you were interviewed by Paul Arcand for an article, that meant you had made an impact,” said Blais. “When Paul Arcand interviewed you, it was a big deal.”

But Arcand is unsparing in his interviews with politicians. Earlier this week, he grilled Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante about the closure of restaurant patios ahead of the city's Grand Prix weekend, telling her she owes answers to Montrealers. "You're the mayor," he said. "I'm asking you very sincere questions that Montrealers are asking .... You haven't answered."

Despite his departure from "Puisqu’il faut se lever," Arcand is hardly setting down his microphone. He has said he wants to work less — he currently wakes up at 2:45 a.m. every day — but not stop altogether. "Retirement for Paul Arcand is a 40-hour work week," said Martineau.

Arcand will continue to air a 6 a.m. daily review of news headlines that has been a mainstay of his radio show, though now in podcast form. He told "Tout le monde en parle" the new schedule will let him sleep in until 4 a.m. And he will pen a weekly column in Quebec’s La Presse. Well-known Quebec commentator Patrick Lagacé takes over from Arcand in August.

"(Arcand) was not an ideologue. He didn't try to influence people's politics. We have to recognize his enormous honesty," said Larocque. "It's a big chapter that's closing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2024.

Maura Forrest, The Canadian Press