Q&A: CJLO vs. VPR

Since the announcement last month that Concordia’s CJLO radio station has applied for an FM retransmitter downtown to allow listeners at the downtown campus to hear it, but would block out Vermont Public Radio for many more, there’s been a lot of questions, debate and differences of opinion about this proposal.

The CRTC has already received 645 interventions, almost all of whom are radio listeners who support one side or the other. The majority are VPR listeners responding to the organization’s public call-out on its website. Others are CJLO fans who want to be able to hear the station on the downtown campus and say this is the only practical way to do so.

In most (but not all) cases, the interveners don’t have bad things to say about the other side. The VPR fans hope for an alternative solution to the reception problem. Both CJLO and VPR say they support the other and don’t want to prevent anyone from being able to listen to the other.

I look a bit deeper into this application in this story for The Gazette, which appears in Friday’s paper. Below, I’ll tackle some of the questions and perceptions that people have and try to come up with some unbiased answers to them.

A map of potential interference between VPR and CJLO on 107.9 FM, based on terrain data, created by Yves R. Hamel and Associates (click for larger)

A map of potential interference between VPR and CJLO on 107.9 FM, based on terrain data, created by Yves R. Hamel and Associates (click for larger)

I live in X. Which station would I hear if this is approved?

The biggest difference of opinion, and worry for listeners, is about the coverage of CJLO’s proposed transmitter, and which areas of the region would be prevented from listening to VPR after it goes live.

Unfortunately it’s a very difficult question to answer. A map submitted in CJLO’s application shows the interference could be widespread, going from Dorval to Anjou, from central Laval to La Prairie. But as broadcasting consultant Michel Mathieu explained to me, that map is based on a theoretical flat city in which an antenna sits 100 metres above the ground and there are no objects blocking its signal. In reality, downtown buildings would absorb much of what the transmitter would put out, and Mount Royal would block it to the north. He estimated that only people within about three or four kilometres of the transmitter would hear any interference, and only those within a few blocks of de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Mackay St. would hear CJLO cleanly.

Vermont Public Radio’s president Robin Turnau said they disagree with that assessment. VPR had another broadcasting engineer produce a “realistic” map of interference zones (above) that takes into account terrain data. It shows that Mount Royal would effectively block it to the northwest, but most of the rest of that zone could still face interference, as would a few areas outside that zone such as the western face of Mont St-Hilaire. The CJLO signal would be heard cleanly within a few blocks of the transmitter and areas of Westmount and the Sud-Ouest borough.

Even this map is still theoretical. It doesn’t take into account downtown buildings, many of which are taller than Concordia’s Hall Building, blocking the signal.

It also doesn’t take into account that every receiver is different. As anyone knows trying to hear a station on the fringe of its range, what kind of radio you have, what kind of antenna it uses, how it’s positioned and even how the human body is positioned next to it can make a difference as far as reception. Some people in these zones might face interference, but could eliminate it by simply repositioning their radios.

What we can say with a reasonable certainty is that if you live in western downtown, you’ll hear CJLO, and if you live in places like Ahuntsic, Laval, the West Island, north shore or most places outside the metropolitan area, you’ll still hear VPR and won’t even notice CJLO.

Isn’t there another FM frequency that CJLO could use?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is more complicated.

Mathieu said he’s been working on this file for two years now, and he’s looked at every possible frequency on the FM dial. Everywhere else is too close to another station and would cause or receive too much interference to be acceptable.

To give you an idea, here’s the FM band, and a list of the stations that can be heard on those frequencies. Go ahead and try to find a spot to put this station that’s at least three spaces from another in the city and wouldn’t interfere with a neighbouring market. (Industry Canada doesn’t allow stations to be closer than that in the same market, and a 2009 review of that policy concluded that it should remain that way.)

FM frequencies

(Click for PDF version)

Mathieu is convinced that 107.9 is the only one that can work downtown. And even then it’s not an ideal frequency. Because it’s right up against the edge of the band, special care would have to be taken to ensure it doesn’t interfere with air navigation frequencies just above it. Plus there’s all the interference it would get from VPR.

The CRTC said as far back as 2007 that all the FM frequencies in Montreal have been claimed. Since then, broadcasters have tried various means to get something done anyway, reducing power or moving far enough away from the city that a frequency can become usable. But for downtown, the options are very limited.

Wait, didn’t a new FM station just get approved? How did that happen if there are no frequencies?

Indeed. AGNI Communications has CRTC approval for an ethnic station at 102.9 FM from a transmitter on Chabanel St. in Ahuntsic. At only 50 watts, it wouldn’t reach far before it starts getting interference from four different stations.

Here, location makes all the difference, and moving just a few kilometres in any direction wouldn’t work technically.

The station has to protect five others from interference. Two are on the same frequency, two are on adjacent frequencies, and one is two frequencies away. In addition, there are two other stations three stops away from the dial that might see interference for listeners within a block or two of the transmitter.

CFOI-FM-1 102.9 St-Jérôme

CHOC-FM-2 102.9 St-Jacques-le-Mineur

On 102.9, the station sits between two others: CFOI-FM-1, a retransmitter of a Quebec City religious station in St-Jérôme, and CHOC-FM-2, a retransmitter of a community station in St-Jacques-Le-Mineur. An analysis by Yves R. Hamel and Associates done for AGNI shows the station is far enough away from CFOI to not cause interference to it in its coverage area, and would cause interference to only a small sliver of the coverage area of CHOC if CHOC was operating at its maximum parameters. And that area is already in the interference zone of CFOI, so this new transmitter wouldn’t cause any new interference problems. The fact that CHOC isn’t operating at the maximum allowed for its class, and the fact that a mountain separates the new station from CHOC, means there won’t be any realistic overlap.

The new station, on the other hand, would receive severe interference, particularly from CFOI, which limits the area people can listen to it in.

CKOD-FM 103.1 Valleyfield

CITE-FM-1 102.7 Sherbrooke

For adjacent-channel interference, one up or one down, the math is different. The potential interference area is smaller because of the difference in frequency. The analysis shows the station would stop just 500 metres short of interfering with CKOD in that station’s coverage area if CKOD were operating at its maximum allowed parameters.

CITE-FM-1, which broadcasts with 92,000 watts from the top of Mount Orford, has a booming signal into Montreal considering the distance, and a coverage area so vast that it actually includes eastern parts of the city. The new station would cause interference to an area of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve on that frequency. But that’s a small area. More importantly, since CITE-FM-1’s contours are actually larger than its theoretical maximum for its class (because of its height), the station shouldn’t expect to be protected from interference beyond that maximum, an 86-kilometre radius which stops well short of Montreal.

(It’s somewhat of a moot point anyway, since CITE-FM-1 is the Rouge FM station in Sherbrooke, and Rouge FM has a station in Montreal that people would listen to instead. But programming isn’t taken into account when measuring interference issues like this.)

CITE-FM-1 would be the largest cause of interference for the new station, even more than the other stations on the same frequency, if the theoretical analysis is right.

CHAA-FM 103.3 Longueuil

CHAA, which broadcasts toward the south shore from the top of the Olympic Stadium, would not cause interference to the new station in its coverage area, and CHAA’s coverage area doesn’t include the area near the new station’s transmitter where interference might be an issue.

CINQ-FM 102.3 Montreal

CKRK-FM 103.7 Kahnawake

With stations three and four stops away on the dial, the interference issues are limited to areas where one station severely overpowers the other. The only issues would be for listeners of these stations who are within two blocks of the new station’s transmitter. And even then the new station would deal with any complaints that arise.

All this to say that squeezing this station in between all these others was not easy, and it’s not perfect, and because of the interference it would cause to CHOC-FM-2, CITE-FM-1 and CHAA-FM in their contours, this frequency wouldn’t work downtown, even if it hadn’t already been snapped up by AGNI.

If FM stations aren’t allowed to interfere with others, why can CJLO interfere with VPR?

Because VPR is a U.S. station. A treaty between Canada and the United States protects radio stations, but only up to the border. This means that a Canadian station can’t be set up that would cause interference with VPR listeners on the U.S. side, but VPR is not protected from interference on the Montreal side.

Even if it was a Canadian station, VPR’s 107.9 transmitter is 125 kilometres away, and it wouldn’t be protected that far. The only reason its signal is so strong into the city is because its transmitter is so high. It’s on top of Mount Mansfield, which 800 metres high. (It’s the same deal for Sherbrooke stations on top of Mount Orford, which is 600 metres high. Mount Royal, by comparison, is only 250 metres above the average local terrain.)

What about Star 92.9, or 94.7 Hits FM, or other U.S. border stations? Why not block them instead?

WEZF (92.9) in Burlington, Vt., and WYUL (94.7) in Chateaugay, N.Y., also are unprotected across the border, and WEZF’s signal is about identical to VPR’s WVPS since both transmit from Mount Mansfield with about 45,000 watts. Neither is protected in Montreal, which is outside their coverage areas anyway.

But both frequencies are too close to Montreal stations, CKBE-FM 92.5 (The Beat) and CKMF-FM 94.3 (NRJ) respectively. CJLO would need the permission of these stations to operate so close to their frequencies in Montreal. And listeners close enough to CJLO’s transmitter theoretically might have problems hearing them. Though considering the distance from the Mount Royal tower, it’s more likely their massive power output will interfere with CJLO.

There might be some second-adjacent channels that might work, including one at 90.7 adjacent to CKUT McGill, if they can get the neighbouring station on board. But Mathieu said he looked at all those channels and none would be practical. I would expect VPR will also study these frequencies and come to its own conclusion about their feasibility.

Why not just increase the power on the AM transmitter?

CJLO’s AM transmitter, which is in Ville-St-Pierre, is 1,000 watts, which is pretty low for AM. But increasing the power won’t solve the problem, Mathieu says. Even 50,000-watt signals like TSN 690 have reception problems downtown. To create a signal that could be properly heard downtown, they’d need an array of huge antennas like CJAD to direct the signal toward downtown. Not only is this very expensive for a student radio station, it would also require real estate that it simply doesn’t have.

What about an AM retransmitter downtown?

Finding an AM frequency might not be that difficult, despite five unlaunched stations in Montreal that have been licensed in the past three years (600, 850, 940, 990 and 1610 AM). But because of their much lower frequency, AM antennas are much larger than FM ones, and the Hall Building downtown can’t support even a modest AM antenna, Mathieu said.

Some sort of low-power transmitter on a compromised AM antenna might work, but it would get drowned out during the night, when ionospheric conditions mean that distant AM signals can enter the city. (Mind you, since CJLO’s downtown transmitter would be for students on campus, being effectively daytime-only might not be so bad, at least outside of December and January.)

Why did CJLO set up a transmitter you can’t hear downtown?

By the time CJLO finally launched on AM in 2008, it had been actively trying to get on the air for seven years. It chose an AM frequency because FMs weren’t available, and chose the transmitter location because it was simple, practical and cheap. Originally the plan was to have the transmitter downtown, but practical considerations (particularly the lack of real estate to install an AM antenna on) prevented that.

CJLO also has reception problems that couldn’t be so easily predicted. Just west and east of the downtown campus, the reception isn’t quite as bad, according to its real-world reception analysis. It’s not good, either, but that adds to the problem.

How much does Vermont Public Radio rely on listeners in Montreal?

Turnau, VPR’s president, told me that they estimate they have about 20,000 listeners in Canada. But that’s only a guess, really, because Nielsen, the company that does U.S. radio ratings, doesn’t survey in Canada.

VPR relies on listener donations for much of its funding, and 1,000 of its members are Canadian. Based on the map submitted by CJLO showing an interference area with a 14-kilometre radius around downtown, it estimates about 350 to 400 of those members are in that zone. VPR’s average donation is about $100 to $120 per person per year. So if all of the members in this zone stopped receiving VPR and stopped donating to it as a result, this would mean about a $45,000 cut in its $7.5-million annual budget. “It’s significant, but it’s not going to put us out of business,” Turnau told me.

Couldn’t downtown listeners just get CJLO online/via HD Radio/on a subcarrier frequency?

Sure. But students don’t have HD Radio or special SCA subcarrier receivers, and many of them are too poor to afford the data usage that listening online with their smartphones would mean.

More importantly, any argument for an alternative distribution method for CJLO could also be used to distribute VPR to people who would no longer be able to hear it over the air.

Couldn’t CJLO and CKUT just timeshare or something?

No. Though they’re both campus stations, they’re licensed separately to separate owners, and their schedules are both full. The fact that they’re campus stations as opposed to commercial stations doesn’t give them any less of a right to the airwaves.

What about 87.7, which used to have CBC Television?

Below 88 MHz is the frequency for TV channel 6. Under the analog system, the audio signal for that channel was 87.75 MHz, and since it uses a similar FM transmission method, many FM radios were designed to be able to tune down to that frequency to pick it up (87.7, though slightly off frequency, was close enough). CBC TV in Montreal (CBMT-TV) has since vacated that channel to move to UHF, but the channel is still allocated to television broadcasting.

Industry Canada could choose to reallocate the channel or part of it to FM, opening up frequencies below 88 MHz. It would involve moving a handful of full-power stations in the country (none in major markets), and coordinating with the U.S., which might be tricky if they don’t do the same.

Since TV channel 6 is from 82 to 88 MHz, reallocating it entirely to FM broadcasting would increase the FM radio band by 30%, giving space for as many as 10 more full-power stations. But since few radios here go below 87.5, most people would need new radios. There’s a good reason to discuss doing something like this, but it won’t happen soon and neither CJLO nor the CRTC can decide to wait until it happens. And until the channel is re-allocated, the CRTC can’t authorize a radio station to operate below 88 MHz.

VPR transmits an HD Radio signal. Could I still hear it with an HD Radio even if I’m getting interference?

HD Radio operates on the same channel, 107.9 FM, though it operates around the analog signal (slightly above and below in frequency), at reduced power. Receivers who get some interference from CJLO might still be able to pick up VPR’s digital signal strong enough to get VPR on digital. But those very close to CJLO’s transmitter would get enough interference to block both the analog and digital signals of the VPR station.

What will the CRTC decide?

The CRTC likes to hear from the public and take their views into account. But there’s a decision that is almost exactly on point here. In 2008, the CRTC granted an application from CHLT-FM in Sherbrooke to move form 102.1 to 107.7 FM and increase its power. Because it’s an adjacent frequency to VPR’s WVPS station at 107.9, the move would have meant many listeners in the Townships would have had trouble listening to VPR. Dozens of listeners wrote to the CRTC, but the commission dismissed those concerns because VPR is a U.S. station.

There have been far more interventions this time around, but the CRTC doesn’t play that kind of numbers game. It can act based on a single intervention, or ignore hundreds that suggest actions that don’t follow policies.

The commission is different than it was in 2008. Its new chair, Jean-Pierre Blais, is more consumer-centric. But even he’s unlikely to ignore established policy and protect a U.S. broadcaster at the expense of a Canadian one.

If VPR doesn’t convince CJLO that there’s a better technical solution, it’s probably going to lose this fight.

When is the hearing?

There is no hearing. The CRTC published this application as a “Part 1” application, which means the public has a month to comment on it, but it’s not considered significant enough to warrant a public hearing. The commission can upgrade a proceeding if interventions come in that raise important policy issues. But it hasn’t done so in this case, and there’s no reason to believe it will.

When will the CRTC decide?

CRTC decisions can happen in weeks or months, depending on the nature and importance of the demand. Since there’s no rush in this case, it might take a bit longer, and a decision might come some time in late summer or fall. But there’s no deadline, and it could wait as long as it wants before issuing a decision.

If CJLO tries another frequency, can someone else apply for 107.9?

Yes. And this is something Mathieu points out. CJLO only wants to cover a few square blocks of downtown. A different application might come from a commercial broadcaster who would want as wide an area as possible, which could mean a much larger interference zone. So long as VPR is protected at the border and other Canadian stations aren’t interfered with in their coverage areas, a potential station on this frequency could be of higher power.

Comments on this application were due by Monday, May 26, at 8pm. The CRTC received a total of 930 interventions.

See also

40 thoughts on “Q&A: CJLO vs. VPR

  1. Brent Michaud

    Or, they could just wait until Radio 2 and Espace Musique disappear and apply for those frequencies.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Or, they could just wait until Radio 2 and Espace Musique disappear and apply for those frequencies.

      That might not happen. And even if it did, the competition for full-power FM slots in Montreal and other major cities would be intense. CJLO would be unlikely to win one just to help fill a coverage hole downtown.

      Reply
  2. Brett Morris

    Since you say a potential station of high power on 107.9 FM is possible why doesn’t CJLO become a medium or high power station on the FM band and lose it’s AM signal.

    VPR could easily apply for a repeater on 1690 AM and still keep many of its Montreal listeners if CJLO makes a switch to FM full time. It’s a solution worth looking at.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Since you say a potential station of high power on 107.9 FM is possible why doesn’t CJLO become a medium or high power station on the FM band and lose it’s AM signal.

      It’s possible, but it’s not easy. The VPR signal would still need to be protected at the border, so a high-power transmitter would have to be directed very strongly north to be acceptable. I’m told someone looked into it once, but gave up.

      VPR could easily apply for a repeater on 1690 AM and still keep many of its Montreal listeners if CJLO makes a switch to FM full time. It’s a solution worth looking at.

      You wonder why VPR doesn’t have an AM transmitter among all its FMs. Even a modestly powered one near the border would probably get into the city, at least at night.

      Reply
      1. Sheldon Harvey

        It is a challenge for VPR to reach all Vermont residents, many who live in small towns in difficult or impossible to reach from one major transmitter and antenna. As a result it has an extensive network of FM repeaters throughout Vermont. As much as they want to continue to reach listeners, and financial supporters, in Montreal, I wouldn’t see them installing an AM transmitter to do so. First off, running AM is more expensive than FM. Depending on which frequency they would use on AM, they could be looking at directional patterns that would require them to obtain a fair amount of real estate in order to install multiple towers to create the pattern; expenses that I am sure they would not want to incur. They are presently capable of reaching Montreal with what they already have on 107.9. We’ve already discussed the problems that so many AM stations are having with interference from numerous sources of man-made interference. Low powered AM stations, such as CJLO, already can’t get done what they were told they would be able to do with an AM signal on 1690 kHz, and that’s only trying to reach downtown Montreal from the Norman industrial park off Highway 20!
        So, I just don’t see VPR even considering the AM route.
        I honestly don’t believe than any major commercial broadcaster would ever apply for 107.9. If the engineering studies show that even 100 watts is potentially going to cause some problems across the border in New York State, just imagine what a high-powered transmitter on that frequency would do. I don’t think anything high powered in Montreal on 107.9 would be approved by the CRTC because of the cross-border agreements between the FCC and the CRTC/Industry Canada.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Low powered AM stations, such as CJLO, already can’t get done what they were told they would be able to do with an AM signal on 1690 kHz

          I don’t think anyone was really under the impression that CJLO on 1690 would have a clear in the downtown campus.

          I don’t think anything high powered in Montreal on 107.9 would be approved by the CRTC because of the cross-border agreements between the FCC and the CRTC/Industry Canada.

          Such a station would have to have a highly directional signal pointed north, and/or be far enough north not to not cross the border. The fact that no one else has applied for it is probably telling.

          (It’s Industry Canada, not the CRTC, that approves the technical feasibility of a broadcast station. And IC has approved the setup proposed by CJLO.)

          Reply
  3. Greg Stienstra

    Thanks for bringing this to a wide audience before it is too late.
    Putting CJLO on FM 107.9 is a very bad idea which should be stopped.
    CJLO and WVPS will both get interference. Lose-Lose.
    CJLO should work with CKUT to get some programming time on CKUT’s wide coverage station transmitting on 90.3 which already has a wide audience with lots of student listeners. Win – Win.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      CJLO should work with CKUT to get some programming time on CKUT’s wide coverage station transmitting on 90.3 which already has a wide audience with lots of student listeners. Win – Win.

      Except CKUT’s schedule is full, which means it would have to cut programming. And CJLO wouldn’t be able to get all its programming on CKUT.

      Reply
      1. Greg Stienstra

        CKUT might not have “dead air” time listed in their schedule, but “filler” is there if you look for it. A bit of timeshifting and rearranging could even improve the listener experience. The gain would be worth the pain.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          Except CKUT and CJLO are two different radio stations for two different universities with different funding structures and different constitutions and different management and governance and different styles of programming etc etc etc etc……….

          Reply
          1. Greg Stienstra

            The “needs of the bureaucracy have primacy” argument is widely used be used as a way to rationalize not doing anything different, often getting in the way of progress.

            McGill management several years ago made the decision to force CKUT to cut its “brand” links with McGill so it is now a “community” radio station serving the entire community, and furthermore, unlike most commercial radio stations, it is even multilingual. There is already a great diversity of content on CKUT much of it not at all related the McGill at all, and I would argue CKUT would benefit from somewhat more “Student oriented” content.

            While CJLO may indeed have its own different content I don’t accept that it is so different it could not coexist with CKUT’s already incredibly diverse programming mix of styles, subjects, and even languages.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              While CJLO may indeed have its own different content I don’t accept that it is so different it could not coexist with CKUT’s already incredibly diverse programming mix of styles, subjects, and even languages.

              Unfortunately this argument is a non-starter. CJLO is already a separate radio station and would never accept putting itself at the mercy of CKUT in order to solve a reception problem. Nor will the CRTC force this to happen in order to protect a U.S. radio station more than 100 kilometres away.

              Reply
              1. Greg Stienstra

                Transmitting programs via CKUT is a zero-new-frequency zero CRTC bureaucracy low delay way for them to reach an audience if they indeed want to do so. The concept of “I must have my own station” is not the only possibility open when it comes to community broadcasting.

              2. Anonymous

                This and CKUT has a beyond full schedule and CJLO has a very close to full schedule with the exception of overnights. It is already very difficult to get a show at CKUT and shows share time slots some broadcasting alternate weeks to the other. Beyond the fact that it makes zero sense for CJLO to want to merge with CKUT, there is simply no room for the extra programming.

  4. ATSC

    Nice work. Especially with the chart. Good reporting on the issue.

    1 – On 104.7 the local CBC Radio 1 has a retransmitted. Do we really need CBC Radio 1 blocking two FM positions in Montreal? Why can’t 88.5 handle it?

    2 – VPR on AM. I don’t believe HD Radio can offer sub-channels on AM. This would cut access to VPR Classical, and BBC World Service which Montrealers can access on 107.9 with a HD Radio.

    3 – I had read somewhere that the CRTC use to reserve space for CBC/SRC. Is this still being done? Industry Canada seems to block off OTA TV Channels for potential future builds, that will probably never, ever happen.

    4 – How many people really will listen to CJLO on FM with their 100w station from the Hall Building vs how many people in the Montreal area are actually listening to VPR?

    5 – Do we really want to be added to a list of countries that block the neighbouring countries radio signals that spill over? What if the FCC decides that spillage of CBC / SRC radio signals into the US needs to be stopped. The argument that VPR is not Canadian and we shouldn’t care is really low.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      On 104.7 the local CBC Radio 1 has a retransmitted. Do we really need CBC Radio 1 blocking two FM positions in Montreal? Why can’t 88.5 handle it?

      According to the 2003 CRTC decision licensing it, it was to solve “significant reception problems in the Westmount, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Côte-des-Neiges, Hampstead and Snowdon communities” that 88.5 was having.

      VPR on AM. I don’t believe HD Radio can offer sub-channels on AM. This would cut access to VPR Classical, and BBC World Service which Montrealers can access on 107.9 with a HD Radio.

      Are THAT many people really listening to VPR Classical or BBC World Service using HD Radio in the Montreal area that would be affected by CJLO and couldn’t just listen to those online?

      I had read somewhere that the CRTC use to reserve space for CBC/SRC. Is this still being done? Industry Canada seems to block off OTA TV Channels for potential future builds, that will probably never, ever happen.

      Sort of. The CBC had what it called a Long Range Radio Plan, in which more than 400 FM frequency allocations were reserved for future expansion of the CBC and Radio-Canada radio networks into the regions. Because the allocations were reserved, new proposals for stations had to ensure they wouldn’t be interfered with, even though no stations existed on those frequencies.

      The Long Range Radio Plan was abandoned with budget cuts in 2013. Which is probably for the better anyway, since it’s better to deal with urban sprawl and expansion of the network on a case-by-case basis than to try to predict the technical parameters of new transmitters years or even decades in advance.

      Since Montreal already has transmitters for the four CBC/Radio-Canada radio networks, it didn’t need additional allocations, so there was no LRRP allocation for Montreal.

      Industry Canada seems to block off OTA TV Channels for potential future builds, that will probably never, ever happen.

      Industry Canada created allocations for every conventional TV station in Canada in preparation for the move to digital broadcasting, and the related re-allocation of TV channels above 51. In fact, it created two, because each station needed both an allocation for a temporary digital transmitter to run (possibly concurrently with their analog one) before the transition, and a permanent channel to run after the transition. Those allocations are still in the IC database, even though many stations proposed alternative channels or technical parameters when they moved to digital.

      How many people really will listen to CJLO on FM with their 100w station from the Hall Building vs how many people in the Montreal area are actually listening to VPR?

      That’s the big question, of course, and it’s difficult to answer, because neither CJLO nor VPR gets Canadian rating information. I suspect that on the Concordia campus itself, CJLO will probably have more listeners, while in the city at large, it will be VPR. But since we don’t know which people will hear what, it makes it even more difficult to say how many VPR listeners will be inconvenienced vs. how many CJLO listeners will be served.

      From the CRTC’s perspective, the question is clearer: The proposed CJLO allocation is technically acceptable from a coordination standpoint, CJLO has clear reception problems downtown, and CJLO is licensed to serve Montreal, while VPR is not.

      Do we really want to be added to a list of countries that block the neighbouring countries radio signals that spill over?

      We already are, though obviously it’s not done with that intent. Canadian and American stations are not protected across the borders. The U.S. government can’t mandate that a certain station be heard in Montreal any more than the CRTC can mandate that a certain Canadian station be heard in Burlington, Vt.

      What if the FCC decides that spillage of CBC / SRC radio signals into the US needs to be stopped.

      There are similar cases the other way. Espace Musique in Sherbrooke broadcasts with 25kW on 90.7, but there’s a station in northern Vermont on that same frequency. Though realistically, stations wouldn’t try to fight with each other for the same frequency if they had a choice. CJLO doesn’t, because 107.9 is the only one available.

      Reply
  5. Mimo

    Every time I’ve been in Montreal around the Concordia campus I’ve had CJLO on various battery powered radio. One the Grundig G8, an other a $20 pocket radio from The Source that has very bad reception. CJLO was always crystal clear on both. I couldn’t say the same for FM on the $20 radio. Not a single station was listenable. How bad are the radios being sold today that CJLO can’t make it through. Maybe listeners on campus don’t know that turning the radio 45 to 90 degrees would probably clear up the signal issues. Most people don’t know AM radios are directional.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      For what it’s worth, I went inside the Hall Building at Concordia with a digital pocket radio. The full-power local FM stations came in fine, medium-power ones a bit noisy, and everything else didn’t. AM, particularly CJLO, was hopeless during the day except when you’re standing next to a window.

      Reply
  6. Dilbert

    The real issues at hand here at that the CRTC / Industry Canada have allowed the Montreal market to get great hurt by a large number of distant transmitters which infringe into the Montreal marketplace. Many of them appear to be retransmitters, which makes matters significantly worse.

    If they want to open up frequencies in Montreal, they need to get to work with the distant stations to work signal contours to avoid Montreal. Simply put, a station in Sherbrooke should not be holding up frequency allotment in Montreal. CITE-FM on Orford is a big offender here, with an over-reaching signal that is in fact just a duplicate of a Montreal station.

    If IC worked to deal with some of those situations, they would likely to be able to reshuffle the deck in Montreal, perhaps even granting MIKE-FM and such slightly better frequencies, while maintain some clearer channels for mid-range broadcasters such as CJLO. It’s entirely crazy that a significant portion of the Montreal radio spectrum is just not available because of overly powerful distant signals.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The real issues at hand here at that the CRTC / Industry Canada have allowed the Montreal market to get great hurt by a large number of distant transmitters which infringe into the Montreal marketplace. Many of them appear to be retransmitters, which makes matters significantly worse.

      Montreal’s FM band is at capacity because of the number of stations in Montreal (or very close to it), not distant stations. And very few of those distant stations are retransmitters. The only stations off the island that have contours cutting into Montreal are the ones just off-island, like CKRK, CKKI and CFZZ.

      If they want to open up frequencies in Montreal, they need to get to work with the distant stations to work signal contours to avoid Montreal. Simply put, a station in Sherbrooke should not be holding up frequency allotment in Montreal.

      I don’t see any that are. If someone wanted to put a station on the same frequency here, or an adjacent one, that would be fine, provided it doesn’t interfere with the distant station inside its coverage area. Which is difficult for an adjacent market because it’s closer than the minimum distance required between two full-power stations on the same frequency.

      CITE-FM on Orford is a big offender here, with an over-reaching signal that is in fact just a duplicate of a Montreal station.

      CITE-FM-1 is part of the same network (Rouge FM) as CITE-FM in Montreal. It is not, however, a retransmitter. The two are different stations with their own local programming. It is also not protected in Montreal, though its signal gets close to it and it’s heard very well here. In fact, a station was just approved that would be adjacent to it, and would cause interference to it in a good part of Montreal.

      If IC worked to deal with some of those situations, they would likely to be able to reshuffle the deck in Montreal, perhaps even granting MIKE-FM and such slightly better frequencies, while maintain some clearer channels for mid-range broadcasters such as CJLO.

      Neither IC nor the CRTC like to force stations to change their technical parameters after they’ve been approved. In an ideal world we could reshuffle everything in Montreal and open up a slot or two. But we still have about 25 FM stations squeezing into a 20 MHz band. And adjacent markets need to be coordinated with each other so they don’t trample over each other. It’s a very complicated system.

      It’s entirely crazy that a significant portion of the Montreal radio spectrum is just not available because of overly powerful distant signals.

      This isn’t true. There are no frequencies that are blocked from use in Montreal because of stations more than a few kilometres away. There are plenty of allocations that are limited because of distant stations, but that’s what happens when distant stations aren’t distant enough.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “that’s what happens when distant stations aren’t distant enough.”

        No, that’s what happens when distant stations are allowed to have high power, near unidirectional transmission patterns that end up hurting other areas. The leak over into Montreal (and Montreal to other markets for that matter) is all about contouring.

        It’s all hard to do in practical terms, because nobody is really interested in improving things, as improving it only adds competitors to the airwaves.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          that’s what happens when distant stations are allowed to have high power, near unidirectional transmission patterns that end up hurting other areas. The leak over into Montreal (and Montreal to other markets for that matter) is all about contouring.

          So what, we make it illegal for stations to transmit at the maximum power for their class? We don’t allow FM stations to enter into adjacent markets less than 100km away?

          Again, there’s no frequency in Montreal that would open up if Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières or Ottawa stations reduced power or disappeared all together.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “So what, we make it illegal for stations to transmit at the maximum power for their class? ”

            There you go again. Why so angry?

            No, you look at stations who impact the major markets (by signal encroachment) and require them in the future to adjust their transmission patterns so that they can use maximum power allowed, while at the same time not impacting the major markets that they are not specifically licensed for.

            “Again, there’s no frequency in Montreal that would open up if Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières or Ottawa stations reduced power or disappeared all together.”

            No full power ones. But as another poster here aluded to (and he has the technical background to back it up) this combined with a change of attitude by IC and the CRTC in regards to 2nd and 3rd adjacent channels would allow for a number of new lower power stations.

            There is no sane reason why a station for the Ottawa market should (a) expect protection in the Montreal market, and (b) have a strong enough signal in the Montreal direction to cause interference here. That is a failing of IC to allow such things to occur.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              There is no sane reason why a station for the Ottawa market should (a) expect protection in the Montreal market, and (b) have a strong enough signal in the Montreal direction to cause interference here.

              No Ottawa stations are protected in Montreal, nor do any of them cause interference to Montreal stations here.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                No, but the ottawa stations use rebroadcast towers in Cornwall and thus end up influencing what frequencies can and cannot be used in the Montreal area.

                You posted the chart. Didn’t you look at it?

              2. Fagstein Post author

                No, but the ottawa stations use rebroadcast towers in Cornwall and thus end up influencing what frequencies can and cannot be used in the Montreal area.

                There are no Cornwall stations or transmitters that are protected in Montreal either. The only impact they might have is to limit a Montreal station’s reach toward the west to avoid interfering with it in its coverage area. But I don’t think any Montreal stations are limited toward the west to protect Cornwall stations.

                You posted the chart. Didn’t you look at it?

                Yes, it lists stations that can be heard in Montreal. That doesn’t mean the stations are protected from interference here.

              3. Dilbert

                Yes, and a station that can be heard here as a result is a station that would cause interference and limit the operating range of a local station.

                The whole discussion here with VPR is just that: A distant station with absolutely no legal basis for protection holding up the use of a frequency in Montreal.

              4. Fagstein Post author

                a station that can be heard here as a result is a station that would cause interference and limit the operating range of a local station.

                Not all stations that can be heard here will cause interference or limit range. But sure, we can’t have markets less than 300 kilometres apart operate at full power on every frequency without interfering with each other in the places in between.

                The whole discussion here with VPR is just that: A distant station with absolutely no legal basis for protection holding up the use of a frequency in Montreal.

                But VPR isn’t holding up the use of a frequency in Montreal. Industry Canada has said that CJLO’s application is technically sound. It’s limited, to avoid interfering with VPR across the border (and VPR argues that there’s a possibility it could do that in some areas even under its current parameters), but that’s the only way it can work when you have markets so close to each other.

              5. Dilbert

                “There are no Cornwall stations or transmitters that are protected in Montreal either. ”

                Again, strictly speaking correct, but since their contours come very close to the island of Montreal (cornwall is just on the edge of that 86km distance) you end up with frequencies that are hard or impossible to use as a result.

                It would be a different story if the Cornwall stations were required to have a contour map that leaned away from Montreal, maybe moving that 20 or 30kms away from the city. Then it would be easier to come up with a use case for the same frequencies (at lower power) in the Montreal area.

                Put it this way: There are solutions if people want to go look for them. As another poster mentioned, the US uses channels much closer together for lower power stations, which would open up a number of slots in the Montreal area. The CRTC and IC chooses to use the most conservative system when it comes to allocations, and as a result, the band is “full” by their standards. it doesn’t help that they have allocated channels in a manner that leaves a few currently unusable blank spots by being 1 channel too far apart.

  7. Scott Fybush

    Excellent article, as always, Steve. A couple of points I’d like to add:

    Your explanation of HD Radio isn’t quite correct. In fact, the “constellation” of digital carriers for HD Radio, while centered at the same 107.9 MHz frequency, operates farther out from the center frequency than the analog signal. While the analog signals of WVPS and the proposed CJLO would overlap, covering the frequencies between 107.8 and 108.0 MHz, the digital carriers of WVPS operate below 107.8 MHz and above 108.0 MHz, on frequencies that would not be blocked by an analog-only CJLO. And so it’s possible that in some areas where the terrain is just right, there might be enough WVPS signal present under (or more accurately, “around”) CJLO to be heard on an HD Radio receiver. However, the HD Radio carriers are broadcast at a much lower power level than analog, so the distance between Mt. Mansfield and Montreal becomes a factor, as does the potential for interference to WVPS’ lower digital carriers (below 107.8 MHz) from the 107.7 in Sherbrooke.

    As for available channels, it’s interesting that after many years in which Canada was more liberal than the US in allowing the FM dial to be packed, the regulatory tide has shifted. Canada has long allowed for third-adjacent FMs (say, 107.3 and 107.9) to be co-located under specific circumstances. That has allowed for a lot of shoehorning of signals, such as 97.9-98.5-99.1 in Montreal or 93.5-94.1 in Toronto, in ways that the US never did and still doesn’t for “full-power” stations.

    But the US does now routinely allow for low-power (100-watt) FM stations and translators (250 watts or below) to be licensed not only on third-adjacent channels but even on second-adjacent channels, provided certain technical showings are made. That’s how Burlington can have a low-powered translator on 93.3, just two channels away from local WEZF on 92.9.

    If Industry Canada were to adopt those same spacing standards, which appear to work with little or no real-world problems in the US, it would be possible to put CJLO’s relay on a frequency such as 95.5 or 96.3, where it would benefit from a far lower level of received interference than it will suffer on 107.9 from WVPS.

    [By way of disclaimer, I served as a technical consultant to VPR some years back during its expansion to two statewide networks. I am not currently associated with them.]

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      And so it’s possible that in some areas where the terrain is just right, there might be enough WVPS signal present under (or more accurately, “around”) CJLO to be heard on an HD Radio receiver.

      I tried looking this up to see what the effect is, but studies were more concerned with HD Radio’s interference with analog signals than the other way around. I suppose this makes sense, but if you’re close enough to CJLO that it’s causing co-channel interference, you might be close enough that it’s causing adjacent-channel interference too.

      Reply
      1. Scott Fybush

        HD Radio receivers tend to be built around DSP (digital sound processing) chips, which makes them rather more selective than the typical analog tuner, making it a little more likely that you’d be able to reject the CJLO analog signal (which would occupy spectrum between 107.8 and 108.0 MHz) and get the digital carriers from WVPS (which are below 107.8 and above 108.0).

        This is more than purely theoretical. FM DXers of my acquaintance fairly routinely report having a more distant station’s HD carriers roll in right over a more local analog-only station on the same frequency. But, again, this won’t work for everyone. You’d have to have a fairly robust WVPS signal at your location to make it work.

        Reply
  8. BarryMTL

    Why can’t CJLO use the old analog audio frequency vacated by CBMT Channel 6, that is 87.7, when they converted to digital transmission? Most FM receivers go all the way down to 87.5.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why can’t CJLO use the old analog audio frequency vacated by CBMT Channel 6, that is 87.7, when they converted to digital transmission?

      Because that frequency is still allocated to television. There have been proposals to reallocate TV channel 6 to FM radio, and some U.S. TV stations on channel 6 are actually more like de facto radio stations, but it would be up to Industry Canada to do that, and it would probably mean reallocating it nationally, which means all TV stations on Channel 6 would need to move. (There are more 52 in the Industry Canada database, though only eight if you exclude low-power stations.) It might also require a new coordination agreement with the U.S.

      Reply
      1. shawn colley

        that might not be the case, as the FCC was thinking on re-allocating channels 5 and 6 to an expanded FM band shortly after their digital conversion in 2009… I have a feeling in about 10-20 years, we’ll see the FM band expanded down to the bottom of channel 5, at 76 MHz (which, coincidentally, is also the bottom of the Japanese FM band, which runs from 76 to 90 MHz)…

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          The big question is whether we’ll still be using FM radio in the same way in 10 or 20 years or whether mobile networks will be advanced enough by then that we’ll just stream whatever we want off the Internet.

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          1. Dilbert

            It’s much more likely that you will see radio moved to use DTV style frequencies, potentially in a manner that would allow them also to be received on TVs. Rather than having a transmitter for each station, a single entity (say like the CBC) could operate a transmitter and take on board a signficant number of stations as “sub channels”. Two or three TV channel transmitters would be enough to cover all of the stations in Montreal and give each one EXACTLY the same coverage and distribution – using a ton less bandwidth to get there.

            At that point, you can give back the FM band, give back the AM band, and still have a ton of space to expand.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              It’s much more likely that you will see radio moved to use DTV style frequencies

              That sounds a lot like Digital Audio Broadcasting. Considering how much money broadcasters wasted on that, I think they’ll be very hesitant to embrace another form of digital broadcasting that isn’t backwards-compatible.

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              1. Dilbert

                No, it’s nothing like DAB – because DAB was technology not supported anywhere outside of Canada.

                From a technical standpoint, the equipment to receive this (the tuner) is being turned on en-mass for the TV marketplace, and is very cheap (a couple of dollars for the main chip), which means adding it to future receivers would not be a big expense. Also, since TV in the US and Canada (and much of the world) will use this time of transmission system (varying standards) for the foreseeable future, it’s easier to see a transition. DAB was a transition to something supported by nobody, which required expensive receivers few were willing to pay for.

                But hey, it’s not like people choose to do the smart thing very often either.

        2. Scott Fybush

          The FCC hasn’t really been thinking about reallocating 76-88 MHz for FM radio. It’s a proposal from a group of broadcasters and consultants, and the FCC has showed no signs of any urgency in taking action on it. If the FCC is to be able to carry out its (very controversial) plan to repack the US DTV spectrum, taking as much as 120 MHz out of an already reduced UHF TV band, it will likely need to keep channels 5 and 6 available for “voluntary” moves by stations willing to be displaced from UHF or high-band VHF in exchange for a cut of auction proceeds that are, thus far, entirely theoretical.

          And if the FCC doesn’t pull channels 5 and 6 from TV use, it’s even more unlikely Industry Canada would do so.

          Reply

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