Yukoners oppose CBC switch to FM

The dismantling of CBC Radio One's AM service in Whitehorse is transmitting political discord. The national broadcaster's AM tower is being scrapped to make way for a new subdivision.

The dismantling of CBC Radio One’s AM service in Whitehorse is transmitting political discord.

The national broadcaster’s AM tower is being scrapped to make way for a new subdivision.

The move will force CBC to switch to an FM signal because there’s no suitable replacement land for the elaborate AM transmitter, said CBC North’s regional director John Agnew.

“There was an extensive amount of work put into this,” said Agnew. “There isn’t the amount of land available.”

An AM tower needs at least 2.8 hectares for its cables to be properly placed, he said. It also needs the right topography; AM signals are heavily influenced by hills and mountains.

So the plan is to begin broadcasting CBC Radio One through a tower on Grey Mountain where CBC Radio Two is now transmitted.

The $750,000 move will require installing an extra transmitter on the existing tower, said Agnew.

The switch isn’t certain yet—a hearing on July 21 before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will determine if the licence is granted.

“My understanding is that this isn’t written in stone at all,” said Agnew. “The CRTC hearing is exactly for that. Anybody who has an objection to (the move) can do that.”

The switch threatens remote residents who depend on the AM service—which travels longer distances than FM—for breaking news, emergency warnings and weather.

It wasn’t the CBC’s choice to switch to FM, said Agnew.

“We’re not eager to take service away from anybody,” he said. “We wouldn’t make this change, but we’re in a position now where we have to.”

The local program manager has been fielding calls from people in Braeburn, Mayo, Dawson and the McClintock Valley, worried that they’re going to lose an important information lifeline.

“In order to (move out), we have to lose some audience,” said Agnew.

The switch isn’t just about locations, it’s also a question of money.

CBC North’s English radio service has a $10-million budget.

“Up until this year, the budgets have largely been stable,” said Agnew.

The 2009-10 budget was cut by five per cent, or around $500,000, he said.

It isn’t clear whether an AM-friendly location could be found with more searching, or if extra signalling equipment could be used to amplify a weak location.

But the CBC can’t just spend money at will, said Agnew.

“There is a cost balance for us in all of this,” said Agnew. “The money is limited.”

Opposition parties are charging that more research and money could save the day.

New Democratic Party MLA Steve Cardiff issued an open letter on Thursday (see page 10) calling on the Yukon government to ensure that the existing service be maintained.

The letter quotes Justice Minister Marian Horne lamenting the threat budget cuts pose to oft-neglected rural constituencies, and Cardiff asks her to stick to those words.

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell also called on the Yukon government to spearhead a solution to the dilemma, mentioning his attempts to bring the issue up in the legislature.

The CBC’s tower has to be moved by October when its lease on the land expires. The Yukon government issued the lease, but because Whitehorse has reserved the area for a new subdivision named Whistle Bend, the Yukon government did not renew it.

Contact James Munson at