AM radio request falls on deaf ears

A last-ditch plea to maintain a CBC AM transmitter in Whitehorse was given fuzzy reception at Monday's council meeting.

A last-ditch plea to maintain a CBC AM transmitter in Whitehorse was given fuzzy reception at Monday’s council meeting.

“I’m here to try to convince council that the CBC 570 AM transmitter is an essential service and should be maintained as such,” said Shallow Bay resident Pete Beattie.

“It informs our community of road closures, forest fires, power outages, extreme weather events and disaster situations such as 9/11.”

A 700-name petition was presented to council by Beattie.

“I want to appeal to council’s sense of fair play,” said Beattie. “Your decision on this matter will have a profound affect on hundreds, perhaps thousands of residents who live outside of the city.”

The concern is that an FM transmitter, which has been proposed for a site on top of Grey Mountain, will not reach listeners in isolated areas outside of Whitehorse.

“(The AM signal) covers a 125-kilometre radius around Whitehorse with an easily accessible signal … and a simple antenna with 100 feet of insulated wire will extend the range of reception to at least 325 kilometres,” said Beattie.

The CBC decided to switch to an FM signal when it learned the territorial government lease for its AM tower would not be renewed once it expired in October.

The land is going to be used for the city’s new Whistle Bend subdivision.

Rather than build an FM tower, which only transmits “line-of-sight” reception, Beattie encouraged council to either work to keep the AM tower where it now stands or assist the CBC in finding another parcel of land on which to put a transmitter.

“You lost me when you said (council’s) decision is going to be instrumental to this,” said councillor Doug Graham.

“There was a decision made long ago to go ahead with the Whistle Bend subdivision. That decision has been made, I don’t know what other decision you expect us to make that will have an impact.”

It would seem even the CBC dropped its interest in maintaining an AM transmitter.

A new AM transmitter is not feasible, said John Boivin, CBC North’s Yukon program manager.

“For us the soil has to be right for an AM transmitter to work properly,” he said. “We have to have access to a power line and relatively cheap access to power. Another issue is getting out to the site.”

And building a new AM transmitter is very expensive, he said.

“Building a whole new tower would be huge,” said John Agnew, regional director for CBC North. “They’re big, and a lot goes into putting them up.”

Last week, the CBC discovered the Yukon government would extend its lease on the AM transmitter site for another three years, a decision that Agnew said wouldn’t impact the CBC’s decision to go ahead with an FM transmitter.

Switching to an FM signal means riding the wave of technology said Boivin.

“It’s the way the world is going. It’s like black-and-white television and colour television, eventually everybody (changes over).

“FM provides better sound and a better quality signal.”

Such a tower can transmit long-wave signals further than just “line-of-sight,” he said, in support of FM.

“I was driving to Skagway last week and actually got the FM signal as far as Log Cabin,” he said.

That didn’t sit well with Beattie.

“The claim that an FM signal from Whitehorse is accessible at Log Cabin, BC, I find suspect,” wrote Beattie in an e-mail. “All information I’ve been able to find suggests that FM transmission is strictly line-of-site.”

Yesterday, hearings began in Ottawa to determine whether the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission would grant the CBC a licence to build an FM tower in Whitehorse.

The cost of building a new FM tower has been pegged between $700,000 and $750,000.

The CBC has already invested one third of this cost into locating and surveying the land for a new FM tower, said Agnew.

“We’re looking for something that will be in everybody’s best interest.”

Contact Vivian Belik at