CBC AM transmitter gets three years’ grace
After forcing the CBC to move its Whitehorse AM radio antenna to make way for the new Whistle Bend subdivision,
Photo by Whitehorse Star
TOWER GETS STAY OF EXECUTION - The CBC's AM transmission tower, seen this morning, is located in an area of the Porter Creek lower bench that will eventually accommodate the planned Whistle Bend subdivision. Strar photo KIERAN OUDSHOORN
After forcing the CBC to move its Whitehorse AM radio antenna to make way for the new Whistle Bend subdivision, it appears the Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse are not in such a hurry after all.
“Progress of planning of the Whistle Bend development and revisions to the the timelines have made it clear that an extension to the lease for the (CBC’s) AM tower may be granted to Sept. 30, 2012 without interfering,” reads a letter from Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers to Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway.
The city, bent on developing its 2,000-unit subdivision in Porter Creek’s lower bench, wanted the CBC’s antenna off the land the broadcaster currently leases from the Yukon government there; a lease that expires at the end of this September. The CBC first entered into the lease in November 1958.
Despite talks over seven years between the city and the CBC, in which the public broadcaster offered to insulate underground wires and cut its lot size from eight acres to three, the city refused to budge, according to John Agnew, managing director of CBC North.
In an interview with the Star at the end of March, Buckway said she was unaware any such talks ever took place and Mike Gau, city planning manager, said one tower would, “not alienate the land and future development around it.”
Under the Yukon’s Municipal Act, Whitehorse has subdivision authority for Yukon government land within its boundaries and CBC’s lease expiration offered the city an opportunity to evict the broadcaster.
Meanwhile, after talks with the city failed to bring a compromise, the CBC made an application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to switch to FM and situate a new FM transmitter on Grey Mountain. CRTC hearings on the matter are to start July 21.
If approved, the new antenna will cost the already cash-strapped broadcaster $750,000 and would ultimately signal the end of CBC’s AM radio, which serves listeners well outside the licensed 22-kilometre (12-mile) broadcasting range.
The fact the AM signal goes well beyond the CRTC licence mandate is a fringe benefit, not a requirement Agnew told the Star.
Nevertheless, public outcry swelled after word spread of the pending switch; listeners in the outlying regions feared their access to CBC would be forever lost as FM signals do not have the range of AM service.
Pete Beattie, at the south end of Lake Laberge, started two petitions to save the AM transmitter - one he sent to Ottawa with Yukon MP Larry Bagnell and another he intends to present to the Yukon legislature this fall.
“This gives us time to think of Plan B,” Beattie said today of his hopes the transmitter can be relocated.
“We do really consider it an essential service ... from the same part of my heart as the medical system and education, to have it available to people free of charge.”
Before Beattie’s petition drive, the Yukon government offered lip service in the legislature, urging the CBC to keep its northern broadcasting system intact; this while government plans not to renew the lease with the public broadcaster were already in the works.
Agnew said the three years’ grace appears to be good news for the AM transmitter, but he is unsure how it will play out in the long term.
“First off, we’re delighted the Yukon territorial government has recognized the significance of the CBC to the community, but on the technical side of things, this is terribly last-minute,” he said.
“And where do we stand three years from now? I’d have to say it’s helpful now to have this on offer, but we’re really looking for something that will help us with the longer vision of serving the Yukon.”
Significant money has already been spent on acquiring new FM equipment and preparing to make the switch.
Maintenance of AM equipment would also play into any final decision, Agnew added.
“It’s outmoded technology and extremely expensive to repair.”