Cogeco is ready for HD Radio, but isn’t eager to jump on it

Richard Lachance, president of Cogeco Media

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’s current antenna atop the CIBC building

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.

2 thoughts on “Cogeco is ready for HD Radio, but isn’t eager to jump on it

  1. Anonymous

    I think the problem of only having CKAC-AM 730 on the AM band in this market complicates their HD Radio options. Does one really need that low quality sound channel in HD? Perhaps they can use HD Radio to provide traffic data as is done in some markets. They can probably even provide it in both languages.

    Bell Media has CJAD-AM 800, and CKGM-AM 690 to place on their 107.3 FM HD2, and HD3 streams. And I can tell you that the sound quality is far superior than listening to those stations on analog AM. And Bell Media needs to do better promoting their HD service on CJAD, and CKGM.
    A simple thing as CJAD 800 AM (also available on 107.3 – HD2 FM) would be something.

    Cogeco could consider placing CHMP-FM on the HD2 position of 105.9 fm. That could solve a problem of what to put on the HD2 position.

    As for HD Radio home radios. There are plenty around. You just need to look.
    Try myhdradio.ca, and amazon.ca

    Reply
  2. "Ray Parkay"

    I remember when “CJAD Stereo” was briefly tried on the AM band. It didn’t make much sense to have a talk-news format where audio quality wasn’t important. HD radio might be great for FM music stations and Internet stations and maybe Bell is quietly moving CJAD over to HD-FM so it can pull the ? plug on AM – once the demographics show the plug has been pulled on the aging baby-boomer audience.

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