Due to significant challenges we faced in continuing to broadcast on our AM frequency (see below for details), CKUA ceased broadcasting on 580AM on November 21st, 2013.
As Grant says, it was a bittersweet day for all of us at CKUA. In the radio documentary above, produced by Brian Dunsmore, Grant Stovel profiles the history of our AM signal. CKUA began broadcasting on November 21 1927, and we wanted to pay tribute to 580AM on this anniversary, recognizing the key role it played in our history.
John Worthington (who was CKUA’s General Manager in 1955 and who has been hosting The Old-disc Jockey since 1974) shares his thoughts on the milestone, along with some other familiar voices of announcers past and present.
The AM site required an estimated $1M in upgrades to make it compliant with Industry Canada Safety Codes. CKUA was given a deadline of 2014 to complete that work.
The costs to run the AM Transmitter made it the most expensive in the CKUA network. The land for the AM site was leased on a year-to-year basis and should the landowner decide to sell it, CKUA would have needed to relocate the AM site. Relocating is not a simple process, as AM sites require large tracts of a very specific type of land and have a complex underground antenna structure in addition to the actual towers. The cost to purchase the land, should it be available for sale, is in the millions of dollars. The total investment needed to rebuild the AM site on secured land could have been up to $5 million dollars. CKUA filed an application with the CRTC to relinquish use of the AM frequency because we could not afford to make the investment necessary to operate it.
Practically speaking, the AM Transmitter was largely redundant. It is a repeater for CKUA’s FM broadcast signal and our FM network provides coverage to most of the areas that the AM currently reaches.
CKUA did not have $5 million dollars to invest in the AM service. Even if we had the necessary funds available, it’s not the best investment relative to the other uses for the money, such as funding new programs or making necessary upgrades to our FM infrastructure, much of which also need repair.
We are confident that given the coverage of our FM network, we can find solutions for almost everyone who may be affected.
Why hasn’t work been done on the AM site to keep it upgraded?
The CKUA AM towers and transmitters were established on their current site in 1960. The shelf life of a transmitter is 15 to 20 years and 40 to 50 years for the towers. The AM transmitter itself is has been upgraded but the towers are past their shelf life. They have survived this long because CKUA engineering staff have ingeniously kept things in good working order but at some point, as with any infrastructure like this, a full replacement needs to take place.
What specifically is not in compliance with Industry Canada Safety Codes?
The specific violation reads “the use of open line transmission cables feeding power distribution to the three towers is exposed and poses contact safety concerns.” While this may sound like a trivial issue, it requires a total re-build of the AM site in order to address it. There were several other Safety Code citations also noted in the report which CKUA has been able to address.
How much does it cost to run the AM site on an annual basis?
The AM service costs approximately $50,000/year to run and the bulk of that is the cost to lease the land. It is the most expensive transmitter in the network. The issue is not so much related to operating costs as it is to the estimated $5M in capital required to secure the land and make the necessary repairs.
Why didn’t CKUA purchase the land to the AM before the price skyrocketed?
The AM site was established at its current location in 1960 and at that point, the parcel of land was not for sale. The land was available for purchase in 2006 at the height of the real estate market and it commanded a multi-million dollar price tag. CKUA did not have funds at that point to purchase the land. CKUA is on a year-to-year lease and the current owner is expected to sell the land at some point; however, given land values in the area where the site is located, it would cost millions of dollars to purchase.
Why can’t CKUA move the AM site?
Relocating is not a simple process. AM sites require large tracts of a very specific type of land and have a complex underground antenna structure in addition to the actual towers. CKUA would face similar challenges from a financial perspective as we’d need the capital available to purchase a new tract of land.
Why can’t CKUA rent space on someone else’s AM towers?
Unlike FM radio, AM signals cannot easily be combined. In most cases, they require their own separate towers and underground antenna structure. While it is possible to combine two frequencies into one antenna array there are many technical considerations that must be met and it is a very expensive process, provided it is even feasible for the frequencies in question.
Will the FM service be affected?
No. The FM frequencies will continue to broadcast as usual.
Can you boost the FM signals?
A few things are required to ‘boost’ power. First of all, it is usually the case that we are already at the legal maximum of 100,000 watts, and cannot boost the signal any more. For towers where we are not at maximum, in the small towns, to increase the wattage would also mean building a new FM structure. It’s not a case of just enhancing what we have – we’d also need to essentially replace what’s there, to accommodate the requirements of the increased wattage. And for any power increase to FM, there is a required CRTC and Industry Canada process that can take many months, potentially including public hearings, and ultimately, because of frequency parameters, a power increase might still not be allowed due to potential interference with other local stations.
What do you recommend if we want to enhance our own FM reception?
Good speakers and antennas make a difference. Listeners have told us that even moving their radios or receivers to different places in their homes can make a big difference.
You might also wish to purchase a personal antenna, such as the following (please consider having them professionally installed for safety):
ST-2 Antenna: ($125) About 140 cm long – can be mounted indoors or outdoors, & requires an F-type antenna input or adapter on the receiver.
Yagi antenna: ($100-$300). About 1.5 meters square – needs to be mounted outside, usually on a pole or tower, but gives more gain and thus better reception.
Are you going to be available on satellite radio?
We’d love to be carried on Sirius XM and similar satellite channels, but the decision on who to carry on their network is up to them – we have no influence or ability to request that they carry us. CKUA did petition the CRTC to require satellite radio providers to open at least one channel on their systems at the time they were licensed, so CKUA or other community-based stations could be carried along with the CBC (which did get mandatory carriage), but both CRTC and the satellite providers refused our request.
Which areas are affected by the loss of the AM?
Based on our assessment of coverage maps, we anticipate the following communities primarily in the northeastern part of the province to be affected:
Lac La Biche
Other Ways to Listen
We will continue to broadcast on our 16 FM Transmitters and online at ckua.com.
We are also carried by the following providers:
Shaw Direct (Star Choice) 828 or 492
Telus Optik 7046