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CBC Radio 'reassessing' switch to FM

A Yukon government proposal to keep CBC Radio's AM transmitter standing for another three years is getting mixed reception from the national broadcaster. The 11th-hour decision to extend the lease for the Whitehorse tower --

A Yukon government proposal to keep CBC Radio’s AM transmitter standing for another three years is getting mixed reception from the national broadcaster.

The 11th-hour decision to extend the lease for the Whitehorse tower—proposed in a letter from Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers to Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway—has sparked renewed confusion at the CBC after its lease was revoked to make way for a new subdivision named Whistle Bend.

The tower and associated equipment take up a plot of land now claimed for a new subdivision. As a result, the CBC was told the transmitter had to go.

Now, after anger from Laberge residents who are going to lose the CBC signal, Cathers, the area MLA, has had a change of heart.

The Yukon and Whitehorse have come up with a way to give the tower a three-year stay of execution, according to the letter from Cathers, dated July 13th.

But the CBC isn’t sure if it will take the offer, said CBC North regional director John Agnew.

“We’re delighted to see the territorial government and the municipal government consider the CBC a vital part of the community,” said Agnew. “But this is a last-minute decision after a couple of years of planning.”

Downing the AM tower would mean a switch to FM for the CBC’s Radio One service. That caused an outcry from rural residents who depend on the AM signal, which travels longer distances than FM.

“What we really need to know is what’s going to happen in three years’ time,” said Agnew. “Are we back at square one with this again? Or do we pick up where we left off?”

The CBC has already spent considerable cash planning for a new transmiter at its FM-tower site on Grey Mountain.

The CBC was planning to move its Radio One service there in September, when its current lease was meant to expire.

“We spent money on the process,” said Agnew. “I’m not quite sure how much it is, but I know that there have been costs incurred.”

Bringing in engineers to find a replaceable AM site, which didn’t pan out, and then looking at how to hook up a new signal to the FM tower, was the biggest expense, he said.

“That’s going to be part of our thinking,” he said. “Do we walk away from that or in three years do we pick up where we left off?”

The Yukon government has caught the CBC especially off-guard because the broadcaster is supposed to apply for an FM permit from its regulator next week in Ottawa.

A decision on whether to continue with the permit submission has not been made, said Agnew.

“There’s been a couple of years of planning in anticipation of the CRTC deciding in favour of FM,” he said.

The July 21 hearing before the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission cannot be changed to adjust to the three-year proposal, he said.

The Yukon government did not tell Agnew about the extension proposal until the Cathers letter was faxed to media on Monday afternoon.

“That tells me it was pretty spur of the moment,” he said.

And Whitehorse can’t guarantee that the three-year extension will actually go down.

It’s still hasn’t planned the sewer and electrical line layout for Whistle Bend, and that could mean trouble for the AM tower site, said city planner Kinden Kosick.

“We’re not going to be releasing lots for sale until 2012,” said Kosick. “However, we don’t have a finalized infrastructure plan as far as water mains and sewer mains go.”

“We’re not sure how that’s going to affect the CBC lease,” he said.

The CBC is now caught between sticking with its FM signal plans or hanging onto a lease extension that might get cut in half.

With the hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, a decision will be made “very quickly,” said Agnew.

Calls to Cathers’ office were not returned. The department of Community Services did not return a call before press time.

Contact James Munson at