Poor reception bound to be hurting some Winnipeg FM stations

Even though I’m still in my thirties, I’m old enough to remember the mid- to late ’80s when there were only five radio stations on the FM dial in Winnipeg: 92 CITI FM, Q-94, Kiss 97, CBC 98.3 and CKWG on 103.1.

Sometimes a fuzzy signal could be picked up from CFQX 92.9 in Selkirk until it bought a more powerful 100,000-watt transmitter and moved to 104.1 in the late ’80s, and most radios could pick up the audio portion of CBC Manitoba’s channel 6 television signal on 87.75. This only brought the total number of FM stations available up to seven.

Since the FM band wasn’t very cluttered and all of the stations except for CFQX had full-power transmitters, reception wasn’t much of a problem.

Since then, far more stations have jumped on the FM bandwagon. Some were started from scratch. Others were transplanted versions of existing or former AM stations such as CBC Radio One’s 89.3 FM signal (relaying their 990 AM signal), 102.3 Clear FM (the successor to 58 CKY) and 99.9 Bob FM (the successor to the venerable 630 CKRC).

Some stations might now have regrets about being on the FM dial.

Winnipeg’s FM dial is now clogged with more than 20 different signals, depending on how good a radio you use. Amid the cacophony, the high-powered stations still come in fairly well, but other stations are getting lost in the crowd.

The local stations that are suffering the most include Red River College’s 92.9 Kick FM, the University of Winnipeg’s 95.9 CKUW, possibly the University of Manitoba’s 101.5 CJUM, and volunteer-run nostalgia station 107.9 CJNU. Although licenced to serve Winnipeg, these stations were each untuneable on at least one of the three radios I tried to pick them up with from my home in south central Winnipeg.

It’s also possible that QX 104 might have a problem on its hands, as I can’t seem to get a tunable signal from them anymore on my alarm clock radio, even though they should theoretically come in loud and clear — and they do indeed come in well on two other radios (see below).

The inability for these stations to come in clearly on all types of radio is a serious impediment to their being able to reach both the early-morning-wakeup and the on-all-day-at-the-office crowds.

The chart below compares reception on my relatively cheap Nexxtech CD/Alarm Clock radio, an older Sony CFD-V17 radio/CD/cassette player, and a higher quality Sony ICF-SW7600GR radio.

Receivability of Winnipeg FM radio stations

Receivability of Winnipeg FM radio stations

The findings of this little experiment suggest that lower-powered stations like 92.9 Kick FM (250 watts) and CJUM (1,200 watts) lack the firepower to consistently be received clearly on the city’s FM radios, regardless of make or model. If they wish to cease to be lost in the cacophony of the Winnipeg FM dial, they need to find some way of putting out a better signal.

One way might be to gain access to a 100,000 watt transmitter and a taller broadcasting tower, which would provide these stations with the same firepower as Winnipeg’s better-known FM stations.

Running such a transmitter, however, might be more than just beyond their financial capacity:  it might also lead to interference with other stations. For example, 92.9 Kick FM is required to operate at reduced power to avoid interference with 92.9 KKXL in Grand Forks.

The alternative is to consider a move to the AM dial. There are currently six unused AM frequencies in Winnipeg. An AM transmitter operating at as little as 1,000 watts would still be strong enough to cover Winnipeg with a passable signal — and some stations are so hard to receive on the FM dial that it would be nearly impossible for them to lose listeners by moving to AM anyway.

The unused AM frequencies are:

580 — Former home to 58 CKY. At the far left hand side of the dial, but can be used with a transmitter of up to 50,000 watts. Should have fairly good reach even at much lower power.

630 — Former home to CKRC. Abandoned since the mid-’90s. Maximum power 10,000 watts.  On the low end of the dial, but probably doesn’t need a high-powered transmitter to get a signal out that covers the Winnipeg area.

750 — Assigned to Winnipeg, but never used or even applied for to my knowledge. Limited to a maximum power of 5,000 watts during the day and 2,500 watts at night, likely to avoid interference with 730 CKDM in Dauphin and 740 KVOX in Fargo. Well positioned to pick up listeners switching back and forth between CJOB on 680 and CBC Radio One on 990.

1120 — Assigned to Winnipeg but never used. Maximum power of 10,000 watts during the day, down to 4,000 watts at night. Still enough to cover the city with a fairly good signal. On the wrong side of the more heavily traveled 680-990 corridor, though.

1350 — Assigned to Winnipeg, but not used except perhaps in the distant past. Can be used to put out a high-powered signal if necessary — maximum of 50,000 watts by day, 10,000 watts by night. Faces limitations to prevent interference to a Grafton, N.D. station on 1340, and located at a place on the dial rarely visited by Winnipeg listeners.

1530 — Assigned to Winnipeg, but never used. Maximum power of 10,000 watts by day, 1,000 watts at night. Way up at the nosebleed end of the AM dial where few Winnipeggers ever go, unless they’re looking for CKMW 1570 from Morden-Winkler.

(Note: My ability to receive these stations might be influenced by both where I’m located in the city and the fact that I live above the ground clutter. If your reception of any of these stations is different, make a note of it in the comments section.)

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

11 Responses to Poor reception bound to be hurting some Winnipeg FM stations

  1. cancelbot says:

    Great post. It confirmed some of my suspicions regarding radio reception!

    When I lived downtown I chalked up my difficulty in receiving certain signals to life in the ‘concrete jungle’ – however, I’m surprised that this is still a problem now that I’m one of the inner suburbs, away from any tall buildings.

    My home Sony mini-stereo has terrible reception (some stations are completely unlistenable, such as 104.1), while I have better luck with a small Boston Acoustics model. Interestingly, I find that car radios blow plug-in models out of the water.

    As for AM, I suspect that most people under 40 never press the “band” button on their radios anymore unless they want to hear a Bomber game play-by-play. I think a station there aimed at anything but seniors would be quickly forgotten…

  2. Reed Solomon says:

    AM is dead IMHO. Digital tuning chips in mp3 players and such only include FM receivers.

    the only hope is some sort of dual digital/analogue broadcast or the expansion of the FM band to include a portion of the soon to be abandoned VHF-lo (after the TV stations switch to digital) .

    who knows what will happen

    for what its worth I find I get pretty good reception for kick FM and the university stations in most parts of the city.

  3. theviewfromseven says:

    I’m presuming that you use a car radio to pick up Kick FM and the university stations? Cancelbot also noted that they tend to offer better reception.

    A lot of the radios sold in stores for use around the home and office have cheap tuners that pull in very strong signals without much difficulty, but do a poor job rejecting the “splatter” from those stations or pulling in fringe signals. Car radios and radios designed for travelers and hobbyists seem to do much better, as do some older radios.

    I put some of the campus stations’ info into the FCC’s FM/TV signal strength estimator and got the following for reception in South River Heights:

    Kick FM — 1.2 mv/m
    CKUW — 14.1 mv/m
    CJUM — 16.4 mv/m

    Some of the better-known stations, by comparison:

    Hot 103 — 55.5 mv/m
    Power 97 — 59.5 mv/m
    99.9 Bob — 43.8 mv/m

    Contrary to perception, there are still new AM stations being launched in the U.S. (for which it’s easier to find this info than it is for Canada). Since New Years Day, the FCC has either granted or accepted for filing 12 applications to convert AM construction permits into regular licences. Having done the same for 57 new FM stations, though, it’s clear where the growth is happening.

  4. Drew says:

    I have long wondered why other stations did not migrate to 630 and 580 when CKRC and then CKY moved onto FM. Specifically, why CFRW did not move from 1290 onto one of these more lucrative frequencies.

    580 and 630 were blowtorches! My grandparents lived between Devils Lake and Grand Forks, ND. Both came in like locals. Especially CKRC which could be heard all the way to Fergus Falls, MN before it began mixing with KDWB from the Twin Cities. CKY was more restricted in this direction since they had to protect WNAX-570 in Yankton, SD.

    Also, would 1470 be on the list of available frequencies? This was the original home of CFRW before they moved to 1290.

    PS: I have airchecks of both Roger Kelly (CKRC-1978) and Raccoon Carney (CKY-580) on my website if anyone’s interested.

    Drew

  5. theviewfromseven says:

    Great site you have, Drew! The airchecks bring back memories of turning on an AM radio late at night and listening to local DJs and talk shows from all over the place.

    I’m not sure why CFRW didn’t move down the dial when frequencies opened up closer to the heart of the action. It’s possible that they couldn’t justify the cost. They were doing quite poorly in the ratings for a number of years in the ’90s and early 2000s, trying out talk radio, easy listening and all-sports formats under the call signs CIFX and CFST before resurrecting the old CFRW brand that had been previously abandoned in 1987. (Raccoon Carney now works the 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift there.)

    I was quite surprised at how well the Winnipeg stations were coming in as far south as Grand Forks-Devils Lake, although I probably shouldn’t be in view of the fact that some radios can pick up a weak but audible signal from 1 kW 1080 KNDK in Langdon during the daytime. I also recall a period in the late ’80s and early ’90s when KSNR 100.3 in Thief River Falls started coming in to Winnipeg with a fuzzy signal before disappearing again.

    1470 is no longer allocated to Winnipeg, possibly to avoid interference with 1470 KHND in Harvey, N.D., 1460 KKAQ in Thief River Falls and 1480 KKCQ in Fosston, Minn.

  6. Drew says:

    Thanks! It’s a labor of love!

    If y’all are interested, I’ll try to digitize and post some Winnipeg FMs from July, 1983. One night, I loosened the mast screws on Grandpa’s big TV antenna and turned it towards Winnipeg instead of Fargo.

    I have CITI/92.1, Q94, CHMM/97.5, and CKWG (103.1?) Which is pretty much everything that was on FM at that time, except for CBW-FM.

  7. theviewfromseven says:

    That would be great to hear!

    I think I still have a tape kicking around somewhere with some CFRW and CKY stuff from about 1985 or 1986 that I should try to digitize sometime.

  8. Anonymous says:

    More clutter less choice. About 4 years ago when Cafe 100.7 was on the other stations had more personality. Groove FM is a weird station. I liked the old smooth Jazz format. They could have mixed in some more vocals and pop. I listen to CFRW they play a bit of everything.

  9. Philip Stiff says:

    Great article. AM radio is still enjoyable, especially with a radio that has good DXing capabilities. I’m not so certain that 750AM would be a good choice for a Winnipeg station as 740AM KVOX (Fargo) comes in with a strong signal during the day in Winnipeg.

    Both in my car and on a portable Grundig G5, I regularly listen to KVOX from my home in North Winnipeg (Garden City). I think there would be tons of interference if 750 were used. In a way, I kind of like the fact that there are so many gaps in the local AM coverage in Winnipeg, it makes distance DXing much easier. At night I listen to KOA from Denver on 850AM, WGN 720AM from Chicago, and others. Trust me, with a good quality radio you can pick up these stations from Winnipeg very well.

  10. paul O'neil says:

    These are pure gold finds! I’ve been thru Devils Lk on Amtrak’s Empire Bulder a few times. I know ND well, I have cousins in Stanley and Watford City!

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