Posted in Montreal, Radio

CJLO applies for FM retransmitter at downtown campus

A rough guide to the range of the proposed CJLO FM transmitter. Red areas would experience interference from WVPS in Vermont.

A rough guide to the range of the proposed CJLO FM transmitter. Red areas would experience interference from WVPS in Vermont.

After much study, Concordia student radio station CJLO 1690 AM believes it has found a solution to reception problems it is experiencing at the university’s downtown campus. A long-rumoured application for a low-power FM retransmitter was published Friday by the CRTC.

If approved, the transmitter would operate on 107.9 FM, from an antenna on the Henry F. Hall Building, at 100 watts.

VPR interference

The frequency is one that has been previously identified as potentially usable in Montreal, but it comes with one big downside: It’s the same frequency as WVPS, the Vermont Public Radio transmitter in Burlington, and the only U.S. public radio station that reaches into Montreal.

Because of co-channel interference from the 48kW VPR transmitter, the CJLO FM retransmitter would have a very limited range, basically covering the core of downtown and not much else. On the other hand, areas around downtown will experience a great deal of interference, likely hearing both stations at the same time, and neither very well. (I can’t get too specific about this because the maps submitted with the application are blurry and black-and-white because they were sent by fax).

Though VPR’s 107.9FM signal reaches Montreal remarkably well, it is not protected in this city. We learned this two years ago when a proposed station in Hudson offered 107.9 FM as an alternate frequency if its first choice of 106.7 was rejected. The CRTC received some comments from VPR listeners upset at the potential of no longer being able to hear that station.

CJLO's AM antenna on Norman St. Increasing its power, or putting a transmitter like this downtown, are impractical solutions to downtown reception problems,

CJLO’s AM antenna on Norman St. Increasing its power, or putting a transmitter like this downtown, are impractical solutions to downtown reception problems.

Bad signal

CJLO’s report, prepared by broadcasting consultant Michel Mathieu, notes that signal strength readings were taken along Sherbrooke St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd. downtown, and they showed that the signal is particularly bad in the heart of downtown where Concordia’s downtown campus is. The signal starts dropping around Atwater St., and returns around Berri. The reason? Downtown skyscrapers absorbing the AM signal.

Even Laval, more than twice the distance away, shows a signal 10 times better than in some downtown blocks.

In case the quantitative data isn’t enough, the application also includes a dozen letters from CJLO listeners complaining of the signal quality downtown.

There’s clearly a problem here, and a low-power FM retransmitter makes the most sense as a way to solve it, even though the choice of frequency might not be to everyone’s liking. (Mathieu notes that even VPR’s signal is hard to receive downtown because of the same interference problems that CJLO experiences.)

Alternatives studied

CJLO’s application noted that it studied other options:

  • Increasing the power of its 1,000W transmitter in Lachine’s St-Pierre district was rejected because it wouldn’t solve the problem. Even TSN 690, operating with giant towers at 50,000 watts on a clear channel, has signal reception problems in downtown buildings.
  • An AM repeater (it’s unclear if this would have been on the same frequency or another one) “became out of the question” because of practical and cost limitations, being unable to put a 75-foot antenna on top of the Hall Building.

The report doesn’t mention looking at other FM frequencies, but with the FM band effectively at capacity in the city, it would be difficult to locate one to put even a low-power transmitter without causing interference

CJLO’s application can be downloaded here (2.8MB .zip file). The CRTC is accepting comments on CJLO’s application until 8pm on May 26. They can be submitted using this form. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (May 4): CKUT’s International Radio Report devoted its show on Sunday to this application, with comments from supporters of CJLO and VPR. You can listen to the show here in MP3 format.

Meanwhile, VPR is warning its listeners about the CRTC application and its consequences.

29 thoughts on “CJLO applies for FM retransmitter at downtown campus

  1. Marc

    AM reception is bad downtown not so much because of buildings, but because the island has rather lousy ground conductivity.

    Reply
  2. Sheldon Harvey

    One of the largest sources of income for Vermont Public Radio comes from their listenership in the Montreal region. I know a number of people who are not going to be happy with this application. Although the Vermont station does not specifically target Montreal and the CRTC is probably not going to be too concerned about interference problems that a CJLO relay on 107.9 MHz would cause to the VPR signal, it is still worth a shot for VPR listeners in Montreal to file comments or interventions with the CRTC. If they are listeners and, particularly, financial supporters of the VPR station, they should contact the station and let them know about this.

    Even though the proposed CJLO relay’s signal is weak in comparison to the VPR signal, there will probably be significant problems for many people trying to hear VPR with the CJLO transmitter on the same frequency.

    I’m not sure if comments or interventions will help because of VPR being a U.S. based station, and given the fact that the 100 watt signal of CJLO on 107.9 would not interfere with VPR listeners in the U.S., it is still important for Montreal area VPR listeners to make their voices heard.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      the CRTC is probably not going to be too concerned about interference problems that a CJLO relay on 107.9 MHz would cause to the VPR signal

      It will certainly take note of it if people object. The CRTC likes hearing from regular people. But from a coordination standpoint, stations are protected within their authorized contours, and that has a maximum limit of 100 km. Montreal is 120 km away from the WVPS transmitter. So as long as the transmitter doesn’t interfere with WVPS near the U.S. border there’s no legal reason to stop it.

      That said, the CRTC considers the best use of frequency spectrum. If enough people tell it that they want to hear VPR, they might decide to ask CJLO to choose another frequency.

      Reply
  3. Brett Morris

    Will be nice to hear CJLO downtown as I listen to 1690.AM daily except when I’m downtown.

    I don’t see a reason for CJLO not to be approved as VPR is American. Plus it doesn’t target Montreal. I can see it being an issue if they would have chosen 92.9 or 99.9 as they both do Montreal weather updates and have Montreal named when they mention target cities.

    Reply
  4. Charles Gauthier

    I was under the impression that there were no more FM allocations available in Montreal. I certainly hope this won’t go through and that this is not the beginnning of a relaxing of the CRTC rules . Thankfully, my setup allows me to listen to the digital signal (IBOC) from WVPS here on the south shore. I enjoy all three channels available (VPR, VPR Classical and BBC World Service) and since the IBOC signal is on 107.7, there shouldn’t be any problem even if this goes through. But I hope it won’t.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I was under the impression that there were no more FM allocations available in Montreal.

      That’s what the CRTC said in 2007. Though the commission was talking about full-power stations, the kind that could cover the whole city. Lower the power enough and you can find places for other transmitters, but they won’t have enough coverage to be financially viable.

      Another tactic that has been used is setting up medium-power transmitters in adjacent areas, such as 106.7 in Hudson and 89.9 in Kahnawake. But even then, as each new transmitter is allocated, the options become more and more limited.

      since the IBOC signal is on 107.7, there shouldn’t be any problem even if this goes through.

      It depends how close you are to the Hall Building. If you’re right there, the adjacent-channel interference would probably be enough to make drown out the Vermont station. If you’re in the West Island or Laval, the Concordia signal will be a lot weaker.

      Reply
    2. ATSC

      I don’t believe the IBOC (HD Radio) signal is on 107.7 FM. As I understand it, It should be on the sides of 107.9 FM. So, what might happen is that the analog 107.9 Fm will be effected. But probably not the sides. Again, it’ll depend on the interference levels, and your location.

      I think this CJLO application should be stopped. They should aim for another low power position on FM if one is available. If not, then they should look at HD Radio themselves. The CRTC is currently allowing HD Radio in Canada. CKUT and CJLO could both be available to listeners on 90.3 FM.
      Blocking WVPS is not a good idea at all.

      Reply
  5. Katie

    Firstly, I want to point out that I too value VPR and their content. However, I just to emphasize how important and scarce LOCAL community media is. I’m going to echo what I wrote in my show of support to the CRTC. CJLO provides not only quality, around the clock, diverse programming but it is also a vital launching point of industry experience for Concordia students. Without CJLO, I would not have had the successful career in the industry that I have had given the variety of professional experience I was able to obtain from volunteering and then working for the organization. I, and countless other CJLO alumni have gone on to work in professional broadcasting, the music industry, and journalism among many other fields. The station provides a vital voice to not only the Concordia students but a slew of diverse cultural communities. CJLO also provides important support and promotion for local musical talent of multiple genres. Many Canadian and Montreal bands and artists had their first spin on radio by CJLO as it broadcasts music content that you simply cannot hear on many Montreal radio stations. CJLO’s inability to be heard downtown is its greatest limitation. Concordia students simply cannot hear the content that is there for them and which they support. This station has grown in leaps and bounds from simply a student club in its infancy to now a professionally run organization and major contributor to the Montreal media landscape. It deserves to be heard by the students who support it and the community of Montreal no matter where on island the listener may be.

    Reply
    1. ATSC

      I understand the value in a Student Run Station, but blocking WVPS is a terrible idea. That station offers three signals (with it’s HD Radio signal – VPR, VPR Classical, BBC Worlds Service). CJLO will have to come up with a better solution. I know the AM band sucks, but getting a proper AM antenna on your radio will improve reception. And they need to look at other options on the FM dial.

      I don’t see why CKUT 90.3 and CJLO-AM can’t arrange to have CKUT apply for a HD Radio signal. Both can be on FM.

      CKUT-FM
      90.3 – HD 1 – McGill Student Radio
      90.3 – HD 2 – Concordia Student Radio

      If this were to happen, CJLO could even shutdown their AM transmitter if they wanted to.
      FM-HD Radios at the Best Buy in Plattsburgh cost $50 US.

      There are better ways to improve reception for the Concordia station. and that does not mean blocking a very important US public broadcaster thats serving the Montreal market.

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        FM-HD Radios at the Best Buy in Plattsburgh cost $50 US.

        And who’s going to subsidize the cost of buying those radios and distributing them to students? Regardless of cost, HD radios have little penetration, particularly outside of cars.

        Reply
    2. Sheldon Harvey

      I agree with your comments about CJLO; the excellent programming they offer; the opportunities they offer to individuals wanting to get their feet wet in the media business. I would like more people to sample the product that stations like CJLO have to offer. I realize that there are problems with the CJLO signal in downtown Montreal, but shoudn’t have those issues be dealt with at the time of the acceptance of 1690 kHz AM as a viable frequency for CJLO?

      It was the same broadcast engineering firm that looked after the application, testing, set-up and installation of the 1690 AM station that has now been contracted to apply for the relay. Should they not have been able to determine at the time that the location of the 1690 antenna would not be suitable for getting the signal to the downtown Concordia campus and immediate surrounding area? Now that same firm is suggesting an FM frequency that will only improve the coverage of CJLO by a very small amount, at the same time causing potential problems to some listeners to another quality radio station. Also given the fact that the relay will only be 100 watts, there is an additional concern that many people using sub-standard FM receivers in the downtown area may still have difficulty hearing such a low-powered signal. Much of the downtown area is saturated with high-powered FM signals, in particular the 307,000 watt signal generated by CKOI-FM 96.9 FM which transmits from atop the CIBC tower at the corner of Rene-Levesque Blvd. and Peel. That signal often generates all sorts of phantom or image signals on to empty or over top of low powered FM signals across the FM band.
      WVPS Vermont Public Radio’s 48,000 watts transmitted from high elevation on Mount Mansfield in the US puts in a very potent signal into Montreal.
      My first question would be “what guarantee is there that anyone in the downtown target area who wants to be able to listen to CJLO will be able to do so, interference free, on 107.9, and will listeners in that same area be deprived in any way of their ability to listen to VPR?
      There are alternative solutions that I will be presenting to the CRTC in my comments submitted to them.

      Reply
      1. Katie

        I cannot speak for the administration and the Board of Directors who were involved in the initial set up of the AM frequency but I am fairly certain it was a matter of doing what was thought to be best at the time. I’m not sure there were a whole lot of options or that they knew just how bad the signal would be in the downtown core. With that said, we can’t go back in time, all we can do is try to make it better and I am confident that the choice of using this frequency is the best option for the station or else certainly another route would be taken. Sheldon, I know you will be having the opportunity to discuss this with Mr. Mathieu on Sunday on your radio show. I’m sure he will explain these choices to you then.

        ATSC, CKUT and CJLO are independently run organizations with no affiliation to each other, just as McGill and Concordia Universities have no affiliation. I’m sure there is no interest for either party to share a frequency, not to mention what kind of branding nightmare that would be.

        Reply
        1. Sheldon Harvey

          Yes, we will discuss this issue this morning. If I were given a radio station license and presented the major target area that I wished to cover to my chosen broadcast engineer, I’d want to be damn sure that the installation was going to reach those target areas, first and foremost, before anything else. Just as coverage maps for the proposed 107.9 signal have been presented with the application for the frequency to the CRTC, the same thing would have had to be done prior to the 1690 am signal going on the air. The station goes to air and one of the two prime coverage areas is not served forcing the station to now have to spend more money to have an application submitted, consulting and engineering services and, if approved, antenna and transmitter equipment. Let alone this would be another case of one station needing to eat up two different frequencies to transmit the same station. Sound familiar? Just like the CBC had to do when they moved from 940 AM to 88.5 FM, telling the CRTC then that they would be in a position to better serve their listeners with a much better signal on FM than AM. What happened? They got approved and not long after were back at the CRTC’s doorstep begging for a second frequency, 104.7 FM, to serve a handful of listeners who couldn’t hear their 88.5 FM signal in NDG/Cote-St-Luc. What a joke!
          We will let the two sides have their say on our show this morning, but in the days ahead, I and some colleagues, will be filing an intervention with the CRTC regarding this application. There are other solutions available that need to be considered rather than eating up an FM frequency to simply rebroadcast a station that should have been able to get the job done with a properly thought out and strategically installed AM transmitter.

          Reply
          1. Fagstein Post author

            If I were given a radio station license and presented the major target area that I wished to cover to my chosen broadcast engineer, I’d want to be damn sure that the installation was going to reach those target areas, first and foremost, before anything else.

            Is there a technical solution that does this? An AM transmitter isn’t going to reach downtown properly unless it’s right there. And the FM band is pretty full, with no more frequencies available that will cover both downtown and the west end.

            Just as coverage maps for the proposed 107.9 signal have been presented with the application for the frequency to the CRTC, the same thing would have had to be done prior to the 1690 am signal going on the air.

            And it was. You can download the original application for CJLO here (.zip file). But there’s a difference between an area being inside a station’s contours (which the downtown campus is) and being able to receive the signal properly in that area.

            Just like the CBC had to do when they moved from 940 AM to 88.5 FM, telling the CRTC then that they would be in a position to better serve their listeners with a much better signal on FM than AM.

            There are some significant differences between CBC’s case and CJLO’s. For one, CJLO didn’t move from AM to FM. Second, CBME-FM’s 88.5 transmitter is on top of Mount Royal and gets into the supposedly dead spots of N.D.G. much better than CJLO’s signal reaches inside the concrete walls of the downtown campus. And finally, CJLO’s solution is a low-power transmitter with limited range, unlike CBC’s 104.7 transmitter that significantly overlaps the other signal.

            Reply
          2. Anonymous

            Everyone keeps saying there are other solutions but I would love to hear suggestions as to what those solutions actually are?

            Reply
        2. ATSC

          Katie…I know that McGill and Concordia are independent. But that does not mean the two can’t come up with a solution.

          At present, CKUT 90.3 is licensed to McGill.

          Possible working solutions…

          1 – CKUT applies for a HD Radio license converting CKUT 90.3 to a Analog/Digital station. Then, Concordia would rent the HD2 part of that stream. Assuming the CRTC allows rental of sub-channels.

          2 – McGill & Concordia create a co-op to own the CKUT 90.3 licence. And each student radio gets it’s own HD sub-channel. HD1 – McGill, HD 2 – Concordia.

          Both stations would get better sound quality, and Concordia would also get better coverage. I believe the current CKUT power output is about 5.6kw analog. the HD Radio power would be about 1kw to cover the same area as the analog.

          What’s also interesting about this set-up is that you can also get a HD3 in there as well. Perhaps another student run station might either rent it, or join a co-op of three parties to run CKUT.

          What I’m really trying to point out is that the present over the air radio technology has changed. The FM band in Montreal is crowded. This makes CJLO and others feel like their voices can’t be heard. But, that’s no longer the case. There is no need to block WVPS, or anybody else, so that you can get onto the FM band.

          Also, the CKUT example is just that, an example. Perhaps somebody else with a FM license in Montreal would be willing to go HD Radio, and CJLO would rent the HD2 or HD3 position.

          As for marketing sub-channels, that’s very simple. Each station has it’s own FM position. In the example of CKUT…Concordia’s radio position would be
          90.3 FM – HD2

          It’s just a different numbering scheme.

          Reply
          1. Fagstein Post author

            1 – CKUT applies for a HD Radio license converting CKUT 90.3 to a Analog/Digital station. Then, Concordia would rent the HD2 part of that stream. Assuming the CRTC allows rental of sub-channels.

            This would require students to buy portable HD radios that they don’t have. The technology is useless without the receivers.

            An alternative would be for CJLO to get its retransmitter but for VPR to be available as a subchannel somewhere.

            Reply
            1. ATSC

              I guess the students will get to the streets once again with their pots and pans over a $50 US HD Radio.

              Your point is very weak.

              Reply
              1. Fagstein Post author

                I guess the students will get to the streets once again with their pots and pans over a $50 US HD Radio.

                I don’t have the slightest clue what point you’re trying to make here. I’m guessing you’re being sarcastic, but I don’t see how apathy makes more of a case for VPR than CJLO.

    3. Brett Morris

      I totally agree with you Katie. CJLO allows many musicians across Canada to have a voice where commercial radio won’t give then the chance. I may not be a Concordia student but I listen for all the new and emerging music!

      Reply
  6. Greg

    This is hardly the emergency VPR and its supporters are making it out to be. The proposed CJLO signal would cover a small area of downtown affecting reception for a limited number of Montreal listeners. Saying all Montreal listeners are in jeopardy of losing the signal is just stirring up fear without fact. So many of the CRTC comments are from people in areas like the West Island that are not going to be affected. So you lose the signal in your car for a few blocks….big deal.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The proposed CJLO signal would cover a small area of downtown affecting reception for a limited number of Montreal listeners.

      Well, not quite. There’s a small area of downtown that will hear CJLO’s FM signal free from interference. But there will be a much larger area that will hear both signals interfering with each other. We won’t know exactly what areas this entails until the transmitter is active, but it’s almost certainly going to be more than “a few blocks”.

      Reply
  7. Tim

    Now that TV channel 6 is clear, would 88.1 Mhz be an option, or are there issues because CBC Radio One 88.5 is the second adjacent frequency?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Now that TV channel 6 is clear, would 88.1 Mhz be an option, or are there issues because CBC Radio One 88.5 is the second adjacent frequency?

      The transition to digital television hasn’t made any difference to frequency allocations in the VHF band. The FM radio band still ends at 88 MHz, and 87.75 is still part of TV channel 6. A frequency of 88.1 MHz is usable for radio (and in fact it’s the frequency for the information station at Trudeau airport), but because it’s the second-adjacent to CBME-FM at 88.5, it is not available for use by a new transmitter downtown.

      Reply
      1. Charles Gauthier

        I listen regularly to North Country Public Radio’s WXLU 88.1 from Peru NY here on the South Shore. I would not want to see CJLO there either.

        Maybe it’s time to realize that there are no more FM frequencies available in Montreal. It’s just too bad but unless and until the band expands or uses IBOC (something I do not want either) well, tough luck…

        Reply
  8. Pingback: Q&A: CJLO vs. VPR | Fagstein

  9. Montrealer

    We need more local radio stations? Whatever for? Aren’t there enough radio stations blaring out horrendous gossip column type content about the same old topics including local politics, the language debate, the traffic, pot holes, advertising for Lasik MD, protests, Bixi bikes etc etc. The reason Montrealers listen to VPR is because the content is far better quality and far more pleasant to listen to than anything Montreal or even the CBC has to offer. How “local” do we need to get? Montreal is not London or New York, lets not get ahead of ourselves.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    @Montrealer: CJLO doesn’t broadcast any of those things. The content is incredibly diverse, serves many different cultural communities, plays a range of music you will not hear on other stations and has very limited advertising. Won’t find an obnoxious morning show talking about bixie bikes and pot holes, they play jazz in the mornings. Gossip columns? No thanks. You’ll hear a community calendar of events and non profit fundraisers around Montreal and Comcordia instead. It’s not VPR but it’s part of the fabric of Montreal, especially for a huge demographic of 18-30 something’s who don’t want to hear any of the crap on commercial radio either.

    Reply

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