Bell activates Montreal’s first HD Radio station, simulcasts CJAD, TSN 690 on FM HD

TSN 690 being received via HD Radio signal on 107.3 FM.

As major Canadian broadcasters begin their experimentation with HD Radio transmitters, Bell Media has quietly launched a transmitter on its CITE-FM station in Montreal (Rouge FM 107.3), and is using it to simulcast CJAD 800 and TSN Radio 690.

A Bell Media spokesperson confirmed that this is a “soft launch” of the transmitter, with plans to publicize it more in the coming weeks, once testing is complete and everyone is back from the holidays. The plan is to keep the three channels going forward:

  • HD1: Rouge FM
  • HD2: CJAD 800
  • HD3: TSN 690

The Rouge FM station was chosen for this for technical reasons. I don’t know specifically what they are, but CITE-FM is a full-power station (currently at 42.9kW), and has plenty of space on both sides of the frequency to accommodate the extra channels without causing interference to adjacent-channel stations.

There are no plans “at this point” to add more HD channels.

Trend among major broadcasters

Rebroadcasting of AM talk stations on FM HD channels seems to be the starting point for the big three broadcasters in large cities:

  • Bell’s CJMJ-FM 100.3 Ottawa rebroadcasts CFRA (580) and CFGO (TSN Radio 1200)
  • Rogers’s CKIS-FM 92.5 Toronto rebroadcasts CFTR (680 News) and CJCL (Sportsnet 590 The Fan)
  • Corus’s CING-FM 95.3 Hamilton rebroadcasts Toronto’s CFMJ (AM 640 news/talk) and Hamilton’s CHML (AM 900)
  • Corus’s CKRY-FM 105.1 Calgary rebroadcasts CHQR (Newstalk 770)
  • Rogers’s CJAX-FM 96.9 Vancouver rebroadcasts CKWX (News 1130)
  • Corus’s CFMI-FM 101.1 Vancouver rebroadcasts CKNW (News Talk 980) and CHMJ (AM 730 traffic)
  • Bell’s CHQM-FM 103.5 Vancouver rebroadcasts CKST (TSN Radio 1040) and CFTE (TSN Radio 1410)

In addition, there are ethnic stations in Toronto (CJSA-FM 101.3) and Markham, Ont. (CFMS-FM 105.9) that use HD channels for dedicated foreign-language programming, and stations in Hamilton (Durham Radio’s CHKX-FM 94.7) and Woodstock, Ont. (CIHR-FM 104.7) that use HD channels for alternative music programming.

Better quality audio

The main advantage to getting an AM station on HD Radio is the quality of the audio. Because it’s digital, not only does it have the audio frequency range limitation inherent to AM radio (making it sound muffled), but there’s zero noise, either from nearby electrical interference or from signal fading.

The flip side, though, is that once you’re out of range, the signal disappears entirely. Similar to digital television, it’s an all or nothing proposition.

Time to get an HD Radio?

Unlike in the United States, where HD Radio is used by many stations, in Canada it’s still in its infancy. So far in Montreal, there are just the two Bell Media anglophone AM stations (it doesn’t own any French AM stations) that are made available using this format.

Montrealers can also pick up another HD Radio station, though: WVPS-FM 107.9 out of Burlington, Vermont. Its HD signal broadcasts:

  • Vermont Public Radio on HD1
  • VPR Classical on HD2
  • BBC World Service on HD3

Other Montreal stations may be headed toward HD Radio implementation:

  • CBM-FM 93.5 (CBC Radio Two). Industry Canada has authorized the station for HD Radio broadcast. But Martin Marcotte, head of CBC Transmission, says there are no plans for additional audio services on the transmitter. Instead, the setup is being used to experiment for data services. “We are still conducting some lab tests to determine if a data only implementation is even feasible,” he says.
  • CKOI-FM 96.9. As part of a request to move the transmitter from the CIBC tower to the Mount Royal Tower, owner Cogeco Media noted the new antenna would be HD Radio compatible. There’s no indication of whether Cogeco would use this, or when. But Cogeco does have an AM traffic station in Montreal it could simulcast, and it could use an HD channel in case of scheduling conflicts with Canadiens/Alouettes/Impact game broadcasts.

Avoiding a repeat of DAB

As I explained three years ago, the industry is taking a cautious approach with the implementation of this digital technology because of the wasted millions they went through in the late 1990s with Digital Audio Broadcasting. That, too, was supposed to provide excellent sound quality and solve the problem of frequency band saturation so that more channels could be made available.

Because HD Radio is used widely in the United States, the impression is that those problems won’t repeat themselves. (Though DAB is in use through much of Europe, so much so that Norway is in the process of shutting down its FM radio networks.) HD Radio receivers are more common in North American cars, where much of radio listening takes place.

Non-car receivers hard to find

When I heard about this station being on the air, I decided it was time to finally get an HD Radio receiver. Surprisingly, despite how common it is supposed to be in North America, it’s difficult to find a receiver that isn’t designed for cars. You can’t just walk into a Best Buy and come out with one (I’ve checked, and they have only a single model of AM/FM portable radio, and it has no digital components). And phones and other devices with FM radio chips don’t have HD Radio capability.

I finally ended up going online, to an industry-supported website that sells HD Radios. Most of them are at least $100, but an older model that receives only FM HD is available for $30 plus tax and shipping. (Use promo code CKNW, AM640 or 1047HEART to get 10% off.)

If the industry is serious about getting people on this technology, it needs to be more proactive about getting devices out there, and not just in cars.

Of course, if all they’re using HD Radio for is rebroadcasting AM stations, there isn’t really much of a reason to buy one anyway.

 

8 thoughts on “Bell activates Montreal’s first HD Radio station, simulcasts CJAD, TSN 690 on FM HD

  1. Robert

    Re your DAB comments. I was in TO recently and was underwhelmed by the usability of HD in the car that I rented. You might be interested to learn that DAB listening in the UK, where I live, has rocketed in the past 2 years. It is now greater than 32% of hours listened. New cars come with DAB (separate button like AM, FM, CD) and most homes have acquired a radio set. London has c.40 radio stations on DAB, many of which are neither AM or FM stations. The big radio groups control roughly 2/3 of the stations (rebroadcast of AM and FM but also add-ons to the main channels with a somewhat different music mix to the main channels. However it has allowed new stations to enter the market e.g. Jazz FM, Chris Country.)
    Of course, without the US lead, DAB will not progress much in Canada.
    Link: http://www.rajar.co.uk/docs/2016_09/RAJAR%20Q3%202016%20-%20Chart%201%20-%20All%20Radio%20Listening%20-%20Clean.pdf

    Reply
  2. Brett

    The CRTC needs to look at how other countries such as the US is operating HAD radio. Look at their model and how they are promoting the use of HAD devices.

    HAD radio could be a solution for markets such as Montreal where there are no room for new FM radio formats. Could HD radio bring in hip hop, adult hits it classic hits for the English market? Only time will tell.

    Reply
    1. dilbert

      It is doubtful that you will see great changes in the radio market in Montreal, mostly for reasons of how the CRTC looks at granting the rights to operate in a market, regardless for broadcast format.

      The US is an open and free market. Generally if there is a frequency open or in this case an HD channel open, licensing is a purely technical thing. Get the specs right, and you get a license.

      In Canada, the CRTC does not allow new radio or TV entries into a market unless they feel that there is a solid business case and that entering into the market would not harm incumbent stations and push them into financial troubles. The CRTC is unlikely to allow many more stations to be added to the Montreal marketplace as a result, as the current stations are profitable but apparently not overwhelmingly so.

      Second point is that since a very few companies own almost all of the existing transmitters, would you have to find one or more of them willing to create a new format station that is ONLY available of HD radio. It would be pretty hard to make a business case for that right now. HD radio is at best in the same position FM radio was when Montreal was graced with CKGM-FM, which was a rebroadcaster of it’s AM station for quite a while. There weren’t may listeners to start with because few people had the equipment to receive it.

      It’s much more likely the current trend will continue, putting AM stations onto FM where the company owns the existing AM stations. It means that a company like TTP would find themselves shut out of the market place unless someone like the CBC were selling HD slots to pay the bills.

      Reply
  3. Mark

    Very good article and there is also good detailed info via the US web sites that also provide a unique perspective for both HD and DAB. http://Www.markramseymedia.com explains a lot of variables with the pecarious journey for HD in the US. Next is http://www.diymedia.net comparing progress for HD radio vs DAB. On a personal note have been down the road before with A Sony FM/AM stereo reciever late in 1988 and in my new Dodge truck by 1989 and all looked promising. Try and find that on the airwaves now is a chalenge over the years as now the US has practicaly shut down that format and the Canadian staitions no longer maintain or have removed the equipment. So I am shy and cautious while living just outside of Kingston On, can provide some US radio stations but do not see at this time the need to leap to HD. Unfortunatly HD is a better warmed up version of AM stereo using the sideband singnal of the anolog output so when you loose the signal you are back to noisy audio from the weak signal just as AM stereo did. DAB is the way to go as it is 100 percent digital and would make sense in Canada as it does in Norway due to landmass, population and topography simalarity. Yes there is added cost but that is the way to go as the technology change is nessasary and hanging on to AM and FM anolog signals is not the wave of the future.

    Reply
  4. MBR

    Many of the iHeartRadio stations in the app are simulcasted on HD Radio in the US. Maybe Bell will go that route too (someday?).

    Reply
  5. J

    I just checked it out on my Insignia HD Radio. And yes, CITE-FM 107.3 is transmitting a HD Radio signal.

    107.3-HD1 : CITE-FM (sound very clear)
    107.3-HD2 : CJAD 800 (also very clear in comparison to their AM signal.)
    107.3-HD3 : CKGM 690 (also very clear sound.)

    Thanks for the info. The sound of analog AM is so bad that I never tune into anything on that band. But, now, I’ll tune into CKGM.

    You also mentioned that CBM 93.5 fm has been authorized to go HD Radio. If the CBC was smart, they would turn that into a multicast station and run…

    HD1 – CBC Radio 1
    HD2 – CBC Radio 2
    HD3 – CBC Radio 3

    And shut down their 88.5fm

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If the CBC was smart, they would turn that into a multicast station and run…

      HD1 – CBC Radio 1
      HD2 – CBC Radio 2
      HD3 – CBC Radio 3

      And shut down their 88.5fm

      It would cause the CBC a lot of problems if it made either CBC Radio One or CBC Radio Two in Montreal available only on HD Radio before even a decent fraction of the audience had receivers capable of getting it. Both are on FM now, which is satisfies their current needs.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    I really don’t like hd radio. Like other bad digital sources, there are too many digital artefacts in the upper frequency range.

    Reply

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