TV gets shut down for maintenance

CBC antenna atop Mount Royal, and the giant crane working on it

A lot of people who rely on old-fashioned antennas to get their television service have noticed this summer that all the TV stations in Montreal disappear after midnight.

The reason is simple: The transmitters are being shut off for maintenance work.

For the past couple of months, workers have been busy replacing antennas and doing other work on the 50-year-old CBC transmission tower atop Mount Royal (just northwest of the Belvedere, at the mountain summit, in case you’ve never seen it before).

Old antennas laying on the path of Olmstead Rd.

One of the main purposes of the maintenance is to replace antennas as television broadcasters make the switch to digital. An antenna that CFCF-12 has been using since it launched in 1961 has been replaced with a new one that will be used for digital transmission. The station even did a news piece on it (skip to the 8:40 mark). Though the station got approval today to operate a 10,600-Watt digital transmitter, it looks like it won’t be put into service until after the transition deadline of Aug. 31, 2011.

For safety reasons (we’re talking about transmission power in the hundreds of thousands of watts), all the transmitters have to be shut down while the maintenance takes place. To minimize disruption, this work is taking place overnight, when Mount Royal Park is closed and when TV viewing is at its lowest.

But the TV viewing isn’t zero. Just after midnight is when CFCF airs The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And many of its fans are annoyed that they can’t watch the show over the air (or even more annoyed that they can watch the show but get cut off midsentence, as you can see in the clip below).

There is a workaround if your antenna is strong enough and you’re on the north or west sides of the mountain – tune your TV to channel 8 and try to pick up the Cornwall retransmitter of CJOH Ottawa, which also airs the Daily Show at 12:05 and Colbert Report at 12:35. Or, if you don’t mind waiting a day, you can watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report online.

The CBC tower stands next to a building at the end of a driveway at the summit of the mountain.

CFCF isn’t the only affected station. Just about every television and FM radio transmitter in Montreal is located on this tower:

  • CBFT-2 (Radio-Canada)
  • CBMT-6 (CBC)
  • CFTM-10 (TVA)
  • CFCF-12 (CTV)
  • CIVM-17 (Télé-Québec)
  • CFJP-35 (V)
  • CKMI-46 (Global)
  • CJNT-62*
  • CBME-FM 88.5 (CBC Radio One)
  • CISM-FM 89.3 (Université de Montréal)
  • CKUT-FM 90.3 (Radio McGill)
  • CIRA-FM 91.3 (Radio Ville-Marie)
  • CFQR-FM 92.5 (the Q)
  • CBM-FM 93.5 (CBC Radio Two)
  • CKMF-FM 94.3 (NRJ)
  • CJFM-FM 95.9 (Virgin Radio)
  • CHOM-FM 97.7
  • CHMP-FM 98.5
  • CJPX-FM 99.5 (Radio Classique)
  • CBFX-FM 100.7 (Espace musique)
  • CFGL-FM 105.7 (Rythme FM)
  • CITE-FM 107.3 (Rock Détente)

*CJNT’s transmitter seems to be unaffected by the maintenance. It continues to transmit during the blackouts.

In fact, it’s easier to make a list of those FM and TV stations not transmitting from atop Mount Royal: CKOI 96.9FM (CIBC tower), CIBL 101.5FM (Olympic Stadium), CINQ 102.3FM (Rosemont and St-Denis) and Canal Savoir CFTU-29 (Université de Montréal), as well as community stations around the city like CKRK in Kahnawake CJVD in Vaudreuil.

Because AM transmitters require much larger antennas and height isn’t as much of an issue, they aren’t located on top of the mountain.

TV and radio transmission antennas atop the CBC tower, including new antenna for CFCF-12 and CFTM-10 at centre

With each transmitter putting out transmissions in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of watts, I can only imagine what the power bill must be like.

There is so much RF coming out of the antennas that the top of Mount Royal is actually a cellphone dead spot. It’s not because the transmissions can’t reach the cell towers, it’s because there’s so much radio noise there that your tiny cellphone can’t make heads or tails out of it.

A sign for passers-by explains what's going on

Knowing that people would be curious about all the equipment in the middle of the park, the CBC put up signs around the work site explaining what’s going on, and has a website with an FAQ.

The individual broadcasters have also been letting people know about the service interruptions. CTV’s website has a little animated graphic, while Global’s has a very short story. CFCF has also mentioned the work repeatedly in its newscasts, as you see in the above video.

That hasn’t stopped casual TV watchers (as you would imagine most people without cable would be) from wondering what’s going on, going on to online forums, or just emailing me.

The work is supposed to be complete by the end of August, at which point the disruptions will stop.

But that will only last a year. The CRTC is still set on an Aug. 31, 2011 deadline for a transition to digital. Those people with analog sets have already lost the American channels (I’d forgotten that the other day when I tried to tune them in to test my antenna), and they’re now a year away from losing the Canadian ones as well.

One giant crane to move giant antennas around

58 thoughts on “TV gets shut down for maintenance

  1. Colin

    I can’t wait until more stations are digital. I put an antenna on my roof to watch the world cup in high definition and it will be a happy day when I can pull in more than CBS and CBC.

  2. Mark

    Really? “An” FAQ? I mean I know that’s presuming people pronounce it “eff ay kyoo,” but it looks so, so wrong. (And I think most people just say “fack.”)

  3. Vahan

    While waiting for the work to be completed, you could watch both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online. Granted that CTV and The Comedy Network post them later on the next day of broadcasting, yet the option is there. Plus you get the extended interviews when they go long.

  4. Marc

    In the list of stations not transmitting from the mountain tower, there’s also CKOI 96.9 which transmits from the CIBC Tower.

  5. steve81

    Does this mean actual HD OTA channels (CBC, Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec & V) will start broadcasting from the mountain next month? I can get them with my indoor antenna in Villeray, but sometime I have to adjust the antenna to get reception.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      CBC and Radio-Canada already broadcast form the Mount Royal tower in digital. Télé-Québec’s digital transmitter is on top of the Olympic Stadium and V’s is downtown. I’m not sure at this point if or when those two will move.

      Either way, these are all transitional transmitters, because the analog ones are still running. When the analog shutoff occurs on Aug. 31, 2011, the digital transmitters will change frequencies and be able to make substantial power increases. This will help in DTV reception.

      1. Faiz

        Actually the current HD signal for CBC radio-canada is broadcast from a small antenna on the roof of the CBC building.

        Also, while the physical antenna will be ready next month, much of the rest of the wiring and equipment will not be ready till next year, if then.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Thanks for the correction. I was looking at the wrong file for its location. It is authorized to transmit from Mount Royal, but isn’t operating there yet.

        2. ATSC

          There are other reports posted at Digital Home which indicate that CBFT-DT and CBMT-DT is expected to start transmitting from the new site this fall with some increase of power. I hope these reports are correct. I’d like to be able to watch Hockey Night in Canada in HD this October.

  6. Philip

    Thanks for putting this article up, Steve. Much appreciated. My family has not gone digital yet. We had an antenna last year and got all the networks American and Canadian I was a tad upset last year when we lost the American stations. Even if I miss some shows, the rest of my family says that as long as we get CTV CBC and Global (as well as the French stations), that’s enough until next year. I can try catching up on shows on the web.

    When it first started happening last year, I thought it was down to the fact that we had not gone digital. I am sort of a night owl and I was wondering why the signal always cut off at the same timee very night. I never got an answer last year. I thought it was down to my TV, but then I tried to listen to CBC on 87,7 FM but that didn’t work so I suspected something different was going on.

    However this year, it seems that the media is making these new changes evident this summer and putting it out that these changes are happening. There is more exposure to the repair work going on this year which seems great. I am pissed that the stations are down for the night this summer. Especially as last year, I could always turn on CJAD if the television went down, but this year they’ve gotten rid of all the good stuff on CJAD and replaced it with George Noory, who I hate, so I end up listing to Joy Browne on the Hamilton AM 900 station even if it comes out fuzzy.

    It’s all going super fast for me. The dates approaching very quickly. I am just glad that this shut off at night is notg oing to last for much longer. I’m really looking forward to the Conan O’Brien show later this year and that’s something I’m really looking forward to.

    BTW, that Youtube clip you posted on top, that’s from Thursday night, if I’m not mistaken? I seem to remember both the Call Tv and the Daily Show Clip. Cool :)

    1. ATSC

      If you have an Antenna in place, but you don’t have a flat screen digital TV, you can still get those US broadcasts. A simple Digital to Analogue box will do the trick. They run between $50-$100. This box will take the digital signals, and convert them so that they can be displayed on your old TV. Just make sure you get a box that have the following label on it. Analog Pass Thru. This will allow all the analog stations in our market to pass thru the box when the box is turned off.

  7. AlexH

    On the closeup, the caption is “TV and radio transmission antennas atop the CBC tower, including new antenna for CFCF-12 and CFTM-7 at centre” – is cftm moving to channel 7?

    1. ATSC

      If you want a simple indoor antenna, I would suggest you look at the Channel Master 4040. This is a UHF antenna, but it will also pick up VHF channels. It’s just that It’s not optimized for VHF. Also look at the stuff offered by Antenna Direct. They offer a DB2. Ugly looking thing. Same as the CM4040, a UHF antenna with some VHF ability.

      Don’t forget, after the Digital transition. Only CFTM and CFCF will remain on VHF in Montreal. All the other stations will be on UHF. Even if they appear as not. Example… CBFT-DT appears as 2.1, but it really is on Channel 19.

      1. Richard

        Hi, thanks!

        Um, so just to be clear (because this whole transition thing is mighty confusing), will I still get CFCF and CFTM after the transition with one of these antennas?

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Yes, provided you have a television with a digital tuner, or a digital converter box.

          You could theoretically still get the stations in digital with rabbit ears too, depending how close you are to the transmitter.

        2. ATSC

          Like I said, either one of these antennas will pick up VHF signals. But they are not optimized for VHF. There are other antennas available at those sites. Take a look. Read the info.

          There are various factors that influence getting any signal.

          – The transmitter power of the signal being sent.
          – The placement of the Antenna
          – Your distance from the transmitter site.
          – The terrain blocking you, or not, from the transmitter site

          I listed those two websites so that you can do your homework before you spend any money. Also, don’t forget, you will still need either a TV with a digital tuner box (usually inside most flat screen TV’s) or a digital to analog box for your old TV. The digital tuner is using the ATSC standard.

          Look at what channels you’re getting now with your Rabbit Ear Antenna set-up. Pretty good chance you’ll be getting the digital channels when the conversion is complete.

          As for CFTM-DT & CFCF-DT, both of these channels have been assigned to transmit a signal of 10.6kw of power. When the US stations completed their transition, stations using channels 2-13 reported reception problems. Some requested a increase of power, while others requested to use a UHF frequency instead. I’m not sure that 10.6kw in a large city is enough power because of the way VHF signals behave. But, we’ll see when the time arrives. You see, there is no snowy reception in digital. You either get the signal picture perfect, or you don’t. If the signal is not stable, you will get a pixel break up. Hard to watch anything when that happens. So aiming you antenna towards the proper direction is a must.

          There are also signal stabilizers available at those two websites I listed. Channel Master has the CM3410, 3412, 3414 and the CM3418.

          We really have about a year to get this all done, so take your time and do your homework.

          1. DraicKin

            ATSC, I don’t know why you said that CFTM (TVA) and CFCF (CTV) will remain on VHF after the digital transition, looking on wiki for CFTM and CFCF , the infos are the following

            CFTM : Digital: allocated 59 (UHF)
            CFCF : Digital: allocated 21 (UHF)

            In fact , the only channel that I know that is in VHF is WVNY (ABC) .

  8. Bill

    If you are unemployed it probably means two things: you’re using analog and you’re up late watching it. I guess the poor get poorer!

  9. Ricky Leong

    About CJNT-62: Although they transmit from atop Mount Royal, their antenna is *not* on the main tower but on the roof of one of the transmitter buildings up there. That’s probably why they are the only station on the mountain to stay on the air overnight.

  10. Philip

    I just had a small question. I know that the TV stations are going dark most nights after midnight. But when do they go back to normal? When will I be able to see TV shows after midnight like I did last year? when will they finish the repairs?

    Also, I’ve noticed that the radio stations go dark as well. Well, I’ve noticed that 87,7 CBC goes dark. When the switchover happens will I still be able to get CBC TV on the radio. I know that my parents are big Coronation Street fans and when they are on the road at night they turn to CBC AT 6:30 to listen to Corrie. Will they still be able to do that after the big switch?

    They also tell me if you have a good antenna, you really won’t need to buy a new tv. Is there any website with a good explanation of what to do during the switch?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I know that the TV stations are going dark most nights after midnight. But when do they go back to normal?

      They said the maintenance would be until the “end of August”, so supposedly it should be done by now.

      Also, I’ve noticed that the radio stations go dark as well. Well, I’ve noticed that 87,7 CBC goes dark.

      87.7 isn’t a radio station. It’s the audio channel of TV Channel 6, and CBMT in Montreal happens to be on that channel.

      When the switchover happens will I still be able to get CBC TV on the radio.

      No. The audio transmission of CBMT-6 on 87.75MHz is part of the analog broadcast and will be replaced by a digital transmitter by Aug. 31, 2011. At that point, an FM radio won’t hear anything on that channel.

      They also tell me if you have a good antenna, you really won’t need to buy a new tv.

      More like if you have a good antenna, you don’t need to buy a new antenna. An analog TV won’t receive digital signals directly, which means you either need to get a new TV (most TVs made in the past few years have digital tuners) or buy a digital converter that takes the digital signal and creates an analog one that your TV can accept.

      Is there any website with a good explanation of what to do during the switch?

      The technology is the same as used in the United States, so you can use their DTV transition information site for guidance (note that there isn’t currently a coupon program in Canada). Wikipedia also has lots of information, though it may seem a bit technical.

  11. Pearl

    Well August has gone and I was hoping to return to normal broadcasts after midnight, but nnnooooo ! It goes on and on and on, and I’m starting to be REALLY pissed. When is this suppose to be over now? Is there a new deadline ? But then why am I surprised by this delay…we’re talking about construction guys who just CANNOT respect deadlines, no matter what. It must be part of that particuliar culture to have NO respect for there customer’s lives !

    1. Fagstein Post author

      1. There wasn’t really a deadline in the first place, just a projection that it would be done by the end of August. They hope to be done by the end of September, but the reality is they’ll be done whenever they’re done. It’s complicated work and very weather-dependent.

      2. Your opinion about “construction guys”, which I’m guessing is entirely based on stereotype, may or may not be accurate. The CBC says the work was delayed by adverse weather and technical complications (remember that some of this equipment dates back to the early 60s).

      3. You’re not paying for your TV transmission, so I’m not sure how you qualify yourself as a “customer”. And the fact that they’re doing this work between midnight and 5am suggests to me that they’re trying to minimize disruption of service, even if it means they have to work in the dark and live on a backwards sleep schedule for a summer.

  12. Pepemcgill

    Hi guys, I noticed that fox 44 is coming in stronger than ever. Never got it before but picked it up tonight. Watched baseball. Lucky or is something going on?

    I am in ndg.

    1. Chris

      It could be the weather. I have a tower mounted antenna on my house. 44 is one of the weaker signals and is often interrupted by storms. On hot humid days I noticed that the signal strength is unstable.

      Right now I’m picking up, CBS 3, NBC 5-1, THISTV 5-2, ABC 22, PBS 33-1,33-2,33-3,33-4, FOX 44-1, CW 44-2, PBS 57-1, 57-2, 57-3.

      Funny I can’t get the CBC signal from downtown, Can’t wait for those transmitters to switch over.

  13. Philip

    Has Global Television (Channel 46 on my TV) made the permanent switch to digital?

    I still have an antenna, though just got a new TV. I watched Glee last night and watched Global for a good part of the night. There was more Glee on tonight but when I turned on Channel 46, I just got a blue screen ,nothing else (like some of the other stations that are not available like the American stations.)

    I hadn’t checked Global at all today as I was out. I was wondering if Global switched over before CTV and CBC or if the blue screen is a temporary thing most likely because of the weather. I wouldn’t rally think that because all the other stations are all right. I can watch them?

    Is anyone else having this problem? Seems some other people like Fagstein were watching the Alouettes parade, but they might have a better set up then we have!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Has Global Television (Channel 46 on my TV) made the permanent switch to digital?

      I’m unaware of such a change. Keep in mind that CKMI-46 has never been particularly high-powered compared to CFCF (CTV) and CBMT (CBC). It could simply be too weak for your television to pick up.

      1. Philip

        Sorry to dredge up an old topic, but I have noticed now that I can get all 4 French networks as well as CBC and CTV, but I still can’t always get Global on my TV. I have the blue screen option set on my tv. (for stations with static) and I can get the feeds from all the other stations, but with Global it’s a whole different story. When I go to channel 46, I get the blue screen. It’s really a crap shoot. Sometimes, I can get a semi-good signal and sometimes I can’t watch at all. I’ve been able to watch Glee, but I was not able to watch Animation Domination at all on Sunday night and the blue screen didn’t even flick back to a semi- good signal.

        I am a bit peeved at this and hope it will resolve itself soon, before the switch over. (We will ge a better receiver to go digital) but I know it may just be that our antenna is not that great, but good.) That sucks, but perhaps I’ll just have to go on the Global website to watch stuff. :(

        1. Fagstein Post author

          I have noticed now that I can get all 4 French networks as well as CBC and CTV, but I still can’t always get Global on my TV.

          Global’s transmitter on Mount Royal transmits only 33 kilowatts, which is about a 10th of what the other channels broadcast with. From the beginning, Global was more concerned with being on cable than being accessible over the air.

          That may or may not change when the digital switch happens on Aug. 31.

      1. Chris

        Does anyone know when they will start transmitting digitally from the tower on Mount Royal? I know the transition date is in August but I would assume they’d have to start before that.

  14. wreed

    today is January 25 and all week broadcast has stopped about midnight. Any idea why ….is maintenance started again as one post says . would appreciate info as I watch tv from a regular antenea. Thank you

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Yes, maintenance has resumed overnight on the Mount Royal antenna, knocking most analog transmitters off between midnight and 5am. CFCF’s website says this will continue until March 12.

  15. Jack Nathanson

    Today is March 15, and most TV stations are still usually off the air shortly after 12 midnight. This antenna maintenance is taking longer than Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel did.

  16. Ter

    I saw a couple of weeks ago an anchor from cfcf mention the work would be done by march 8th..and i was able to watch jon stewart and stephen colbert but the next day and everyday since the signal goes off at approx 12:06 (depending if the news runs long, notice it doesnt go out at midnight if that happens??)..i am a single parent and had a choice to make as a far as luxuries go, cable or internet and since my daughter uses the computer and not the tv to help with school projects, i opted for getting a simple antennae. It almost seems as if the broadcasting companies dont really care for us “poor people” and only cater to the people who can afford cable. Speaking for myself, i would say to them BE HONEST ABOUT HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE AND STOP WITH THE BS!!!If it takes 6 months i would rather be told than be annoyed, pissed off and completely frustrated every night for those 6 months not knowing if it will be on or not.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      The thing is, it’s kind of a moot point because those transmitters are going to be turned off at the end of August anyway, for good. At that point you’ll need a digital TV or digital converter to watch anything over the air. And if you already have one, you can watch TV without interruption because the digital transmitter isn’t being turned off at night.

  17. Ter

    ok at the risk of sounding completely stupid..would i still need to get cable if i got a digital tv and/or digital converter?..because i cant afford it right now and to be honest videotron disconnected me when i owed 30 bucks so i kinda hate them and they are the only cable company i know of without getting into satelite territory which i really cant

    1. Fagstein Post author

      would i still need to get cable if i got a digital tv and/or digital converter?

      It’s an either/or thing. If you have cable, you’re fine and don’t have to worry about anything. If you have a digital TV or digital converter, you’ll have access to the over-the-air stations you can receive with an antenna (if it’s good enough, you’ll get the across-the-border American stations as well). It would be a one-time purchase without any monthly fees.

  18. Alex H

    Are they finally moving the HD transmitters up the hill, or is that going to be put off until the very last minute?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Are they finally moving the HD transmitters up the hill, or is that going to be put off until the very last minute?

      I imagine the digital transmitters are replacing the analog ones, which means they’ll move them when the analog transmitters shut down. The new digital-friendly antennas are already up.

  19. Jill

    Does anyone know what channel Global is broadcasting over in digital? We used to pick it up very clearly on 46 analog. With our digital converter we can get CTV on 12 and CBC on 6, but no Global.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Does anyone know what channel Global is broadcasting over in digital?

      It’s not, yet. It’s probably going to wait until the deadline – Aug. 31 – and then switch to digital directly rather than run a temporary digital transmitter. When it does switch, it will occupy Channel 15, which will be mapped on TVs as 46.1.

  20. Andre - Montreal Canada

    cftm (TVA) (10). The worst reception channel. Sometimes all is good and then, suddenly (without even touching my antenna) ….for no reason, i loose the reception for days and even weeks. I live in La Prairie, on the south shore of Montreal (maybe 5 miles in a straigh line with Mont Royal) I get a perfect reception on channels 2 – 6 – 12 – and even all 3 PBS channels 57-1, 57-2, 57-3 (You know, The USA north country… I’m a French Canadian and i can’t understand how come my hometown TV channel is the worst ever….

  21. Philip

    I think it’s happening again. I wsa watching the CTV Montreal newscast. I thought I’d watch The Mentalist, but then all the channel signals were lost except for Canal Savoir. Are they doing maintenance on the towers overnight some nights? I’m still on antenna, but it seems strange that after the news tonight, the signas are lost most likely until morning. Or is there another erason?

      1. Andre - Montreal Canada

        Same thing in la Prairie (south shore of Montreal)…. However, all PBS 57-1, 57-2, and 57-3 channels were brodcasting 5 on 5….. Our Montreal/Quebec/Canada technologie must be the cheapest in the world…. Is anybody with authority and pride even reading thse comments… Are we writing these comments to no end


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