At Cogeco’s annual general meeting recently, I managed to borrow Cogeco Media president Richard Lachance for a brief conversation about the company’s plans in radio. At an earlier meeting with Cogeco CEO Louis Audet, the focus was on the cable and telecom side, and the radio division didn’t come up until I asked at the very end if there was anything new there.
The truth is there isn’t. Cogeco hasn’t bought, sold or shut down a radio station in years, or even rebranded or reformatted. Its Rythme FM network has gained — and lost — some affiliates, but otherwise there has been little change in the past five years, following realignments that came from the Cogeco acquisition of Corus’s radio stations in Quebec.
There was discussion about Cogeco helping out community station CIBL, but here are a couple of other things I got out of him:
HD Radio: Cogeco’s FM transmitters are ready, or soon will be, to broadcast using HD Radio, a hybrid system that adds digital streams on top of the analog signal. Major broadcasters have been experimenting with it, mostly by simulcasting AM radio stations on FM HD (such as Bell is doing with CJAD and TSN 690 on their 107.3 signal). But Lachance was lukewarm on its appeal. Outside of cars, receivers are hard to come by, and demand isn’t that significant. And activating an HD signal has a negative effect on the power of the analog signal. Cogeco has experimented with an HD signal on CFGL-FM (Rythme FM 105.7), just rebroadcasting a digital version of the analog signal, but that’s no longer running.
If Cogeco followed the path of its competitors, it could rebroadcast its AM station (CKAC Circulation 730) on an FM HD transmitter like 98.5 or 105.7, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge rush to do even that.
CKOI: The days of Montreal’s most powerful radio transmitter are numbered. The 307,000-watt signal, grandfathered at that power when the federal government imposed a 100kW limit on FM stations in the 1960s, is being replaced by a new transmitter on the Mount Royal Antenna, that will be higher up but lower power (147kW) so its pattern doesn’t extend beyond its current one.
Lachance said the plan is to make the move this year, probably around June. After that, the existing transmitter and antenna on the CIBC building at Peel St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. downtown will likely be torn down. CKOI’s backup transmitter, and others for Cogeco stations and some Bell stations, is in Laval’s Auteuil district.
Most people won’t notice a change. But Cogeco believes the higher antenna will mean less interference from large buildings and the mountain itself.
Other Cogeco stations have applied for and gotten permission to increase to the maximum 100kW. The transmitter for CHMP 98.5 has already been increased. The Beat 92.5 (CKBE-FM) remains at 41kW and its upgrade, though approved, isn’t scheduled in the short term.