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.