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.
The 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.