Why Vancouver's Top Dog needs an FM signal

Post by Mike Klassen in

6 comments

translink articulated trolley
Translink articulated trolley bus, photo courtesy Transport BC 2000

Coast Mountain Bus Company is understandably proud of their big shiny articulated trolley buses. They are fantastic people-movers, they are quiet, and they cover some of Metro Vancouver's major thoroughfares such as the Broadway corridor. They debuted a year or so back on Main Street, and there are plans to have them on Fraser in my neck of the woods soon.

Manufactured by New Flyer Industries in Winnipeg, MB, these bus behemoths are powered by a very dependable German-built electric propulsion system. What most drivers with their AM radios tuned in know about these machines is that they create havoc for broadcast signals.

cknw logoThe electromagnetic interference, or RFI as it's also known, is a by-product of having an electric motorized bus system. If you wanted to listen to a hockey or football game on an AM station, or a good discussion on the Bill Good Show in your car you just kind of suffered through the noise and poor signal quality. But the new trolleys, especially the articulated buses, are kicking out so much RFI that you can't listen within 2 blocks of one of these babies.

We here at CityCaucus.com think that CKNW deserves a low level FM signal in Vancouver's downtown core. Here's why, and how you can support our campaign.

Why should anyone care about CKNW's success? CKNW has been a ratings leader for generations in the Vancouver market. As the global economic recession kicks the heck out of TV and newspapers, radio remains a vital medium. We're staring down layoffs and station closures as ad revenues decline. New technology is supposed to improve communications, not undermine it. Everyone loves the new trolley buses, but the unintended consequence of better transit in this case is bad radio reception.

Vancouver's focus on greater density and taller buildings in its downtown core is also wreaking havoc on the ancient AM band. FM is still the most viable way for car travelers (and apartment dwellers) to get radio.

Speaking with Corus Radio's Vancouver General Manager J.J. Johnston, he explains that the company is doing everything in its power to remain a part of everyone's radio diet. "Corus has made a significant investment in what we call 'heritage stations' across the country. Talk radio is an extremely expensive medium to maintain, and the fact we can't be heard without interference when you drive around Metro Vancouver is a real concern for us."

"We've tried everything we can to get the signal improved. We've moved transmitters, created repeater signals, but nothing cuts through the RF and the effects of high buildings. We're now pounding away on our online offering in hopes people will listen on their laptops and home computers downtown, but that still doesn't help us with car commuters."

"We think we are the station that people turn to in emergencies. There is an enormous value in that for the public. We also provide dialogue and discussion you don't get anywhere else in this market. The answer to our problem with CKNW would to be able to transmit at a low level on the FM band. However, the CRTC sees this strictly as an ownership issue at this time."

Johnston admits this is not only a problem in Vancouver with his station, saying there is a case to be made for some other stations getting access to FM in certain parts of the city where transmissions are most problematic. He says they have also been trying without success to get talk radio stations on FM in other Canadian markets.

Many CityCaucus.com readers are also big fans of Vancouver's "Top Dog" CKNW. It's possible that many of you might be experiencing the same frustrations of listening to the station in your cars.

So how can you support getting CKNW on FM?

For starters we've created a CKNW on FM Facebook group that anyone can join. You can join the group not only if you think that The Mighty NW is good entertainment, but an important public service. Whether it's discussing the Canucks with Dan Russell, or getting into Victoria politics with Bill Good and Vaughn & Keith on Cutting Edge of the Leg', CKNW provides a place for dialogue we'd be worse off without.

It's not a magic bullet. The CRTC can ignore us if they want. But we think the Canadian broadcast watchdog knows that with changing times and new technology comes a need to revisit and revise policy. Let's hope they hear this one and make it easier for us to listen to CKNW.

6 Comments

I'm sorry, but not only is Radio a dead medium in terms of advertising (the demographic advertisers want to target in the downtown core aren't the drivers, they're the young professionals who spend money...and they don't even listen to radio anyway), CKNW isn't even a station worth saving. I grew up listening to the Big 98 in my parent's car. But over the years, the news has become more sparse, the talk shows more polarized and sensational, and the opinions less and less informed. For me, it's little more then a partisan mouthpiece that does nothing to inform people in this city. Add to that the loss of the Lions and the Canucks broadcasts and you have even less of a reason to tune in. On top of that all is the failed NW2 experiment and the fact that if you need quick news or traffic you can simply tune into News1130, I see no viable future for CKNW as it stand right now. If I was going to support an FM signal for anyone, it would be for 1130, at least it's useful in short bursts as you drive in the core.

For countless decades,and too this very day,the media enmass has listened too/listens too,as has/ does to this very day, the public locally,provincially,nationally,worldwide... to "BC's Most Listened to RADIO STATION CKNW!!!!(Not the bookend "timecheck" News1130) that ALVIN,Feb 11,2009,10:51 proclaimed as everyones "Go Too Source for radio" The CRTC,bureaucratic yesterday,today,and no doubt forever more will come around,likely "kicking and screaming"as only a bureaucratic agengy does,and see the light to granting "THE SOURCE" CKNW FM Signal status . LONG LIVE CKNW(THE SOURCE!!)LONG LIVE CKNW,ABLE TO GET TO "THE SOURCE" and ,tell it as it is.In step with CKNW,all be they "silent partners",in this request,the other Vancouver Radio stations,who know full well,so goes CKNW,so too,"Go They"(GO AWAY??)"We think not,and rest assured CKNW,"WE THE PEOPLE WILL SPEAK(LOUD and LONG,LOUD and PROUD" for the delivery of your request .

I have to disagree with Alvin. I listen to NW regularly and while some days are better than others, I enjoy their programming. The reception problem is a big turn off though.

NW offers a public service that no one else does, not even Canada's "national" broadcaster. NW has a future, and I believe it's a bright one. I hope the CRTC gives a little and lets the Top Dog onto FM.

I also think CKNW needs an FM connection. I've been trying to find a portable AM player so I can listen while on the run. It's pretty much impossible because apparently the AM antenna takes so much room, that no one is bothering to make a portable unit that also does AM.

My new iPod nano has FM and I'd like to listen to CKNW on it. So after reading this I decided to email the CRTC. In a nutshell they have no clue what you are talking about, its not the CRTC that is preventing CKNW from going to FM.

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Dear Jo:

Thank you for taking the time to contact the CRTC.

It is not true to say “CKNW is not allowed on FM”.

CKNW was licensed as an AM station in the year 1944, long before FM was in use. CKNW could apply to the CRTC to become an FM station, but there are a limited number of FM frequencies available in the Lower Mainland.

It is important to note that CKNW is a market leader on the AM band. It is very possible that the owners of CKNW are happy with that situation and don’t want to covert to FM. CKNW has been the Number One radio station in the Lower Mainland for many, many years as an AM station. It is not the role of the CRTC to decide for CKNW whether they want to be AM or FM.

It is also true that CKNW is largely a “talk radio” format which is popular on AM radio. AM frequencies do not have the same quality or fidelity of signal that FM does. FM is largely reserved for musical formats – with greater signal quality and better sound.

I hope this information is helpful in understanding the CRTC’s role. Thank you again for contacting the CRTC.

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All my radios at home including my Tivoli get poor reception from CKNW. I live directly south of airport near Westminster Highway which is a good distance away fom the Eburne Bus parking lot. I would think the signal to be better. Perhaps new electronics at the airport may compound the problem. Just a thought.

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