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).
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.
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)
- 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.
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.
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.