Depending on which news story
you believe, both AM and FM (and television for that matter) over-the-air broadcasting
is dying out at an increasingly rapid rate. Between recordable podcasts, wired Internet
connections, and the growing ubiquity of Wi-Fi connectivity, a large majority of
people in the civilized world are getting their broadcasts via the Web. If you "follow
the money" in broadcast advertising, the
lion's share of dollars have shifted to online venues, simultaneously
draining revenue from local stations. When this story was written in 1946, OTA radio
was king for real-time and free reception of information - particularly in a mobile
environment. A dilemma arose in the form of RF spectrum allocation in border regions
between the U.S. and Canada, both of which were scrambling to
stake a claim on channels. AM (amplitude modulation) was old-hat
and sharing issues had largely been worked out, but the advent of FM (frequency
modulation) and an entirely new band of frequencies opened a real
worms for national and international regulators.
FM Radio in Canada
Transmitter building located at the new CBC International Short-wave
Service at Sackville. N. B. This building also houses the 50-kw. transmitter for
CBA. which is Canada's regional station for the Maritimes. The CBA antenna is to
the left of the building shown in the photograph. but the tower itself cannot be
seen. The antenna behind the building is used exclusively for the Short-wave Service.
By Dorothy Holloway
Highlights of the many controversial problems that confront radio broadcasters
A behind-the scenes power fight is quietly shaping up over FM north of the border.
Principal contenders are Canada's ninety private broadcasters, already on the
defensive against what they believe is a move by the Canadian government for still
more control over radio, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, spurred on by
U.S. activity in FM and what looks like a tight frequency supply along the Great
Lakes and northern New York boundaries.
While the Canadian government wants to nail down an FM policy quickly and to
press for immediate negotiation with the United States for an allocation of FM channels
along the border, the private licensees are playing for time.
Primarily, the private operators fear that Dominion radio authorities may force
them into FM before they are ready for the change-over. At the same time they register
almost 100 per-cent opposition to any Canadian Broadcasting Corporation policy which
might confine private operations to the FM field, leaving the government in complete
control of the powerful 50-kw. clear-channel and regional outlets which provide
service to the entire country.
Meanwhile, Dominion radio authorities are casting a wary eye southward at an
already clearly defined U.S. policy in FM and an allocation which promises to absorb
a lion's share of the border frequencies. Their goal is definitely an FM policy
for Canada by the first of the year.
The whole picture - under an earlier commitment of the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation to private industry - is slated for a partial airing at a meeting called
by CBC to discuss details of an FM allocation. The next step requires approval of
any allocation plan by the Department of Transport, which handles the technical
end of radio regulation. In any event it will be impossible for Canada to climb
aboard the FM bandwagon much before year-end.
Station CBL, the 50-kw. regional station for Ontario. The transmitter
is at Hornby, Ontario, about 25 miles from Toronto.
Meanwhile, however, the CBC's six-man board of governors has not been idle. A
confidential policy memo, under wraps in Canada, lays down tentative policies for
FM, certain to meet obstreperous opposition from Canada's private licensees.
Highlights of the CBC proposals are:
1. Canada should adopt the same band frequencies for FM as used by the United
States. This is, of course, the 100 channels from 88 to 108 megacycles, of which
the U.S. has earmarked 20 bands for use of non-commercial outlets.
2. Steps should be taken to protect Canadian interests in FM channels by the
immediate negotiation with the U.S. for a division of channels along the border.
3. The number of FM stations permitted in a given area shall in general be limited
to the commercial possibilities of the region. (The CBC has definitely taken the
position that "too many FM stations would result in cheap broadcasting." The author
of the proposal makes the point: "The method I suggest would justify us (the CBC)
to demand reasonable service from all stations, as competition would not be as keen
and chances of making reasonable profits would be better." This same policy, under
the CBC proposal, would apply to standard as well as FM operations.) A formula will
be worked out, defining the number of stations anyone area can reasonably support.
4. However (and this proposal will be anathema to private licensees), CBC stations,
because of the fact that they do not carry commercial spot announcements and local
commercials and are "primarily interested" in regional coverage and network operation,
may be added anywhere above the number permitted under 3, above.
5. An FM frequency would be given to any present standard station licensee provided
(a) that any time after June 1, 1948, the station could be given a year's notice
that it must abandon AM and operate exclusively on FM; and (b) that any FM station
operating in conjunction with an AM station "must carryall and the same programs
at all times except where a sustaining musical program can be produced for high-fidelity
transmission by FM." (The implication here is that CBC approval will be necessary
for any broadcast of non-duplicated FM programs, a more or less complete reversal
of earlier FCC policy in the AM-FM programming field.)
A typical CBC mobile unit. This particular unit is located at
Montreal. but similar ones are located at various CBC production points throughout
6. New applicants for stations will be permitted to operate on FM provided the
power and location of the station fits in the allocation plan. (In fact, the CBC
member's proposal goes farther. He writes: "Generally speaking, there should be
an attempt to use FM for any new application when equipment and receivers are available
and widely distributed, except where AM is essential." AM would be essential only
where wide coverage is desired, and presumably CBC stations will fill this need
under present government goals.)
7. All new FM stations must operate according to a regular schedule for a minimum
period of time daily as approved by the CBC.
8. Details of allocation methods will be determined after consultation with the
Department of Transport and private industry.
Some parts of Canada, like the U.S., have already reached the saturation point
in the standard broadcast band. The CBC memo emphasizes that it is "almost impossible
to find a frequency that can be used in southwestern Ontario even with directional
arrays to shield stations operating in the U.S."
Clue to CBC thinking in FM is a statement in the memo suggesting that by a proper
FM allocation, congestion would be relieved in the standard band and more clear
channels could be used for high-power regional service. Private broadcasters see
here a thinly veiled move by the Canadian government to confine them to a local
and community service in FM, which, under the policies outlined above, would place
them in an even more subsidiary role to the dozen powerful government stations which
do the coverage job. The CBC owns and operates all of Canada's 50,000-watters and
its stations are generally the highest-powered on the air. In addition, the Government
owns, operates, and programs both of Canada's networks, with complete sovereignty
over network programs of all kinds.
Control room at Vercheres in the CBF transmitter building. This
studio is representative of many others found in Canada.
Glenn Bannerman, president and general manager of the Canadian Association of
Broadcasters, prototype of our own NAB, takes the firm position that "the CBC should
wait at least five years, until we see what FM can do and have had some actual operating
experience, before blueprinting any hard-and-fast policy. FM in its pioneer stages
should be left with as few strings as possible."
Private broadcasters "simply won't stomach" the idea of relinquishing their AM
channels for FM on any arbitrary date without the benefit of practical experience
in the field, Bannerman asserts.
The CAB president also points out that, outside of a CBC FM station in Montreal,
there are only two privately operated experimental FM outlets - CFRB, Toronto, and
CFCF, Montreal. Ironically, there are only five registered FM sets in the whole
Bannerman adds: "I don't like the look of any plan whereby the CBC will limit
private broadcasters to FM. That way, they could shut out network operation from
any but government stations." Although he was not familiar with the nature of present
CBC proposals, he declared he saw no reason why private broadcasting service to
the public should be reduced at gain of the CBC outlets.
Private broadcasters generally do not object to the government's hand in radio
and frankly admit that without government participation most of Canada's rural population
would be left without radio service. Nor do they object to the government-imposed
$2.50 license fee on receivers or the licensing fees collected from broadcasters
on a sliding-scale basis. Under the sliding-scale arrangement, a 5000-watter in
Vancouver, for example, each year pays to CBC around $4000 for its year-long permit
Any attempt by the CBC to tie up private operators in FM, however, will simply
delay its development, according to the general opinion among private licensees.
As Mr. Bannerman points out, private licensees of several of Canada's regional stations
"simply cannot parallel their present coverage job in FM." And they will be reluctant
to provide less, rather than more, coverage in FM.
A CBC prewar studio design. The one shown in the photograph is
studio "H" located at the Montreal production center.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government has given the green light to all types of
radio construction and is eager to move swiftly in acting on the sixty some applications
for FM stations now before it.
In any event, Canadians may use a January meeting in Washington with U.S. and
Latin American representatives on extension of the North American Regional Broadcasting
Agreement as springboard for an FM offensive. The NARBA, which apportions channels
in the western hemisphere, expires in March 1946, although both Canada and the U.S.
are willing to extend it for another year. That treaty, which now applies only to
standard broad-cast operations, may be enlarged to embrace FM allocations along
this country's northern and southern boundaries.
U.S. engineers agree that constantly rising demand for FM frequencies in Cleveland,
Toledo, Detroit, Rochester, and Buffalo may mean a tight squeeze for Canadian stations
just over the line, since Canada's most congested areas adjoin these centers. However,
they point out, the problem is not insuperable. Canada could, for example, use the
twenty channels now spotted for use of U.S. educational FM stations in this area,
or could locate its high-powered metropolitan stations on the U.S. low-powered so-called
"community station" FM frequencies.
In any event, the consensus is that Canada must move and move soon, and FM will
clearly highlight the direction which CBC has planned for Canadian radio in the
postwar years. The Canadian system, now plainly "neither fish nor red herring,"
is target of attack from all three Canadian political parties, whose counterproposals
run the gamut from an outright BBC monopoly to a variation of the "American system."
Posted April 14, 2022
(updated from original post on 3/25/2015)