Some AM Jockeying for Frequencies

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Some AM Jockeying for Frequencies

Postby jon » Thu Jan 02, 2014 3:40 pm

In a move I don't remember seeing since the 1980s, the last few years have seen some Canadian AM stations moving to another AM frequency. What brought this to front of mind is my discovery today of a CRTC application from just before Christmas for CJSL Estevan, Saskatchewan, to switch from 1280 KHz to 1150 KHz. New transmitter site, too. But no increase in the current 10,000 watts of power.

Although it is still up in the air as to whether it is worth the effort to change frequencies, CFCW-790 Camrose-Edmonton apparently still has a "live" permit to move to 840. No, they aren't waiting around for an FM frequency. They made that very clear from the outset that FM would not serve their critically important rural audience.

There was also a lot of recent interest in Montreal in getting a better frequency among some of the AM stations there, as a domino effect from the CBC abandoning two AM clear channels.

Of course, we have also seen some new AM stations being proposed, but mostly in crowded FM spectrum markets where the applicant makes it quite clear that they want to be on FM, but figure that an AM license is better than no license at all.

Which leaves me with the question: with all the AM to FM flips that we have seen in Western Canada, and the huge number of available AM frequencies that have resulted, what frequency jockeying would be worth the time and money to make it happen for the station(s) involved?

I know I'm not the only one that feels that CKNW's movement from 980 to 730 would help a lot with coverage issues they are currently suffering. Personally, I find it hard to say whether that change would be good enough to provide an adequate signal inside the concrete walls with steel rebars that dominate the Greater Vancouver landscape. If I was a betting man, I'd be guessing that Corus would rather hold out for some way to get CKNW on a Mount Seymour 100,000 watt FM stick, which would really provide that urban coverage, even if it meant losing their present outlying coverage in places like Alert Bay and Hope. If they still really wanted Fraser Valley coverage, they could always resurrect the three AM frequencies abandoned in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Hope: 1270, 850 and 1240. And make them repeaters of CKNW-FM. The Island has some abandoned frequencies, too.

That doesn't necessarily mean killing either of the two existing FMs that Corus owns in Vancouver. Corus management may just have decided to wait out the CRTC until they allow more than 2 commonly-owned FMs in major markets, a move that has been predicted for years by investment analysts covering Corus stock.

In Edmonton, Corus could be playing the same waiting game for relaxation of FM common ownership rules. On the other hand, I have not heard the complaints about CHED's AM signals inside concrete walls that I do about CKNW's in Vancouver. The real issue here is holes in coverage outside of Edmonton, especially at night, much like CFCW experiences. A move to 880 by CHED would give them a great non-directional day pattern, but would still leave them with precious little signal to the South at night. This far North, stations run night pattern in the winter for most of their top billing periods: AM and PM Drive.

Of course, although we have all assumed it is a dead issue, Corus may yet convince the CRTC that they deserve equal treatment with the CBC in terms of getting nested FM repeaters in urban areas.

Back to the question at hand: as I see it, the most sensible AM frequency change in Western Canada would be CISL from 650 to 600. Thanks to the upcoming ownership change, CISL has very likely missed their window of opportunity, since there are already two published applications to the CRTC for 600 KHz.

Like CISL, Team 1040 has a day pattern that does not adequately cover Victoria. In 1040's case, there is a need to protect Port Angeles from co-channel interference of 1050 in Seattle. But only in the daytime, because 1050 was originally a daytime-only station.

Truth be told though, 600 is not a silver bullet either, as they also have a Null, day and night, towards the Island. But the Null is very tight as part of a three tower symmetrical pattern that protects Saskatoon. Draw a straight line from Saskatoon through (600's transmitter site in) Richmond and you end up just South of Nanaimo; Victoria still gets a solid signal.

And, of course, Rogers management must have thought about moving to 600 a couple of years back when they were tearing their hair out over sunrise and sunset interference from a daytime blowtorch (50,000 watts, most of it going North) just South of Portland on 1130.
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Re: Some AM Jockeying for Frequencies

Postby Bigbangboom » Thu Jan 02, 2014 8:14 pm

jon wrote:If they still really wanted Fraser Valley coverage, they could always resurrect the three AM frequencies abandoned in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Hope: 1270, 850 and 1240. And make them repeaters of CKNW-FM. The Island has some abandoned frequencies, too.


Hope - no problem... But why not go with an inexpensive fm repeat
Chilliwack/Abby? Nah.... Rogers would never support a rebroadcast when they already have originating stations. Simply not going to happen.
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Re: Some AM Jockeying for Frequencies

Postby skyvalleyradio » Fri Jan 03, 2014 12:22 pm

jon - some interesting thoughts and predictions on your part. It's hard to fathom a complete turn-around/revival of AM broadcasting, except for those with deep pockets prepared for the 'long haul' Costs of equipment, construction, land acquisition/leasing not to mention the necessity of maintaining the facility, including retention of a QUALIFIED engineer versus returns is a tricky endeavor. I was most surprised by the applications for AM 600 locally. I was even more surprised by the recent application by CJSL Estevan to not only change frequency, but build a NEW facility at a different location. Then I did some research. It would seem that as FM saturation hits major cities, those who think they can afford it are again looking to launch new stations on AM. This seems to be less prevalent in the US, where AM stations are literally given away, licenses turned in or given silent "STA authority" indefinitely. Of note are AM stations in the metro Toronto and Montreal regions that are 10 yrs old or less. Regionally, we need look no further than Andy Skotdal's adventurous launch of KKXA 1520 in the over-saturated FM environment that exists here. In the UK, there has been a recent upsurge of AM applications in London, Manchester, Leeds and other major cities with no space left on the FM band. There's no question that construction, implementation, operation and maintenance of FM transmit facilities is much cheaper with a faster return on start-up. However, if new broadcasters want to enter the business, they will be increasingly looking at these now abandoned AM frequencies as the only means of acquiring new licenses. Vancouver appears to now be at that stage and Edmonton & Calgary can't be far behind, although it's been awhile since I've looked at what FM allocations are still open in those cities. HD is another problem with AM - it's a failure for the most part and engineers continue to quietly shut off HD transmission gear at existing AM stations.

Locally, I certainly agree that CKNW would be much better off on 730 and Bore-Us could seriously consider selling 980 or operating it as a 'Fraser Valley' station. Both CKST & CISL would also benefit from a frequency change and as you pointed out, several possibilities exist.
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Re: Some AM Jockeying for Frequencies

Postby jon » Fri Jan 03, 2014 1:58 pm

One way being used to keep the costs down of the new AM stations is evidenced by the new station in Mississauga. Not sure if it is on the air yet or not, but its mandate is to only serve Mississauga and perhaps one neighbouring community in the Greater Toronto Area.

CKNT-960 is 2000 watts day and 280 watts night. At those power levels, it can be single tower non-directional. Which, of course, was the old trick used to populate the "Graveyard Frequencies" at the end of World War II. Small towns could have their own station with minimal outlay of dollars. Originally, just 250 watts, then 1000 day, 250 night, and now 1000 watts night and day.

Of course, the CBC used the same trick with their LPRTs, Low-Powered Relay Transmitters, initially 20 watts when they first went on the air during World War II. Later, 40 watts. Of course, they are all moving to FM now.

Actually, at those low power levels, the CBC did not even use a single tower for some of them. CBXQ-540 in Ucluelet, for example, has two wooden poles (think telephone poles painted like barber poles) in opposite corners of the dock parking lot, and a long wire between.
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Re: Some AM Jockeying for Frequencies

Postby skyvalleyradio » Fri Jan 03, 2014 3:35 pm

Single-tower arrays with lower power expectations is an excellent way to keep the costs of an AM plant to a minimum. When technically possible, diplexed/combined signals from two different AM transmitters, such as the 1410 & 1040 array would be another way to reduce costs. Brazil has chosen a much different approach to FM band saturation - expansion from 76-88 mHz. Their large cities suffer many of the same RFI problems plaguing AM signals, such as leaky hydro transformers, computers & other electronic devices & a large amount of high-rise buildings, commercial and residential. Tropical humidity can also wreak havoc with AM signals. A number of Brazillian AM broadcasters are hoping to eventually move to the new spectrum and there is talk of shutting down AM transmitters there.

CBC used a number of different antennas for their LPRT's often quite simple by design. I can think of another 40-watt CBC LPRT - CBUW 1170 Ft St John that also used a center-fed wire dipole strung between two poles.
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