I’ve been getting a lot of questions (and a few conspiracy theories) from irate over-the-air TV watchers over the past few weeks because Montreal-based stations have been going off the air overnight.
Overnight shutdowns aren’t new. The same thing happened last year when they installed a microwave receiver on the tower.
So I asked Martin Marcotte, director of transmission for CBC, which owns the tower, what was up. He explained that this time they’re installing a standby antenna for UHF digital TV stations — CBC, Radio-Canada, Global and V — which allows those stations to be switched to that antenna in case the main one fails. (Ironically, that requires shutting down the transmitters for safety reasons.)
“Our current UHF antenna for DTV is now over 30 years old. Because of new code restrictions on work in confined spaces, we are no longer able to service that antenna. So the standby antenna is required to ensure continuity of service if ever there are problems on our main antenna as we can no longer repair the main antenna,” Marcotte explains.
The shutdowns, which start shortly after midnight, don’t just affect the four stations broadcasting on the UHF DTV antenna, but also the two using the VHF antenna (CTV and TVA) as well as most of Montreal’s FM radio stations, though most of those have standby facilities that allow them to stay on the air at reduced power (you may have noticed some of them being a bit noisy at night — Virgin Radio in particular seems to have a very poor standby signal).
The plan is to keep the UHF DTV antenna until 2022 when it’s scheduled to be replaced. If something breaks before then, that replacement would be moved up.
Installation work for the standby antenna is continuing. It’s expected to be done by Sept. 18, but that assumes ideal weather and no unforeseen problems.
Delivery of TV and radio signals through cable, satellite and online are not affected by this work.
The work has annoyed OTA viewers partly because the CBC doesn’t have a webpage that explains what they’re doing, and partly because there are often things to watch just after midnight. People missed Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show on CTV and part of Stephen Colbert’s first Late Show on Global because of these shutdowns.
You might wonder if delaying the start of work until, say, 1am each night might solve that problem. But then it would either have to continue later into the morning or be extended over more days.
So I guess you’re just going to have to live with it for another week.