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
can of worms for national and international regulators.
FM Radio in Canada
By Dorothy Holloway
Highlights of the many controversial problems that confront
radio broadcasters 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
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
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.)
A typical CBC mobile unit. This particular
unit is located at Montreal. but similar ones are located
at various CBC production points throughout the country.
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.
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."
Control room at Vercheres in the CBF
transmitter building. This studio is representative of many
others found in Canada.
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 Dominion.
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 to broadcast.
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.
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
A CBC prewar studio design. The one shown
in the photograph is studio "H" located at the Montreal
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
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 March 25, 2015