Your Guide to Digital TV in Winnipeg and Southern Manitoba

(Updated May 20, 2012 with more realistic coverage maps and updated information on KNRR’s directional antenna.)

As Winnipeg’s TV stations prepare to shut off their remaining analog transmitters for good, there have been many visitors landing on this blog seeking information about digital TV. Thus, I’ve decided to put together this guide meant to help those who are getting ready for the digital switchover.

You’ll notice that the maps below are colour-coded.

Orange zone — Deep Indoor strength: Very strong signal. Should be fairly easy to receive in most homes and offices if you’re using the right antenna (i.e., a larger VHF antenna for CTV, KNRR and Citytv, and a smaller UHF antenna for the others). Signal might be less reliable in areas where people generally don’t spend much time watching TV anyway, such as elevators and parkades, or in areas with a lot of electrical and mechanical interference on the VHF channels. (Signal strength: 90+ dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Magenta zone — Residential Indoor strength: Strong signal. Generally strong enough to penetrate the interior of most homes. Reception should be good for CBC, SRC, Global and Joy TV, all of which operate on UHF; VHF stations CTV, KNRR and Citytv might require the use of a good-quality VHF antenna with the rods lowered to horizontal and at a right angle to the transmitter. On the VHF channels, it’s best to have the antenna as far away as possible from refrigerators, air conditioners, microwave ovens and other appliances that might cause interference.  (Signal strength: 80-89 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Light Blue zone — The “Maybe Zone”: Use an outdoor or attic antenna pointed toward the transmitter for best results.  Or, if you’re using a hand-held device, try going outside. Indoor reception might be good in signal-friendly areas, such as rural and low-density suburban areas, or on the transmitter side of a high-rise. Indoor reception will likely be more difficult in inner-city areas and in the depths of the urban jungle. (Signal strength: 70-79 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Dark Blue zone — Rooftop Antenna Recommended: This signal generally won’t be received well inside a building unless you’re in a low-density suburban or rural area and near a window facing the transmitter. UHF channels might still come in reasonably well if using a hand-held device outside of the urban jungle. A rooftop antenna pointed toward the transmitter should offer more favourable results.  (Signal strength: 60-69 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Grey zone — No Indoor, Hit-and-Miss Outdoor: The signal will be quite weak in these areas. Don’t count on any indoor reception, or even on getting good results with an outdoor antenna in the heart of the city. You might get good reception, though, using a rooftop antenna in low-density suburban and rural areas.  (Signal strength: 50-59 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

CBC Winnipeg (official call letters: CBWT) abandoned its long-time home on a tower located near Starbuck, Man. and relocated to a transmitter located at Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg. Since the lower channels are vulnerable to interference — which causes mild static or squigly lines to appear on analog signals, but which can seriously mess up digital signals — CBC moved up to Channel 27  on the UHF band, but will still show up on receivers as virtual channel 6.1. Reception remains good in Winnipeg.

CBWFT 3.1 coverage area

CBWFT (SRC) Channel 3.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


SRC, the French language equivalent of the CBC, also spent most of its life on the low end of the VHF dial since going on the air in 1960 as CBWFT on Channel 6, then switching to Channel 3 a few years later. Like its English-language sister station, Manitoba’s only French-language TV station now operates from high above Portage and Main at Channel 51 (virtual channel 3.1) on the UHF band. Indoor reception remains strong in Winnipeg, but varies elsewhere. Reception is reported to be quite good throughout Winnipeg.

CKY 7.1 coverage area

CKY (CTV) Channel 7.1 coverage area (Copyright lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)

CTV Winnipeg (a.k.a., CKY-TV) has not moved to the UHF band, opting to stay on its longtime Channel 7 VHF frequency. This could have both advantages and risks for the station. The advantages lie in the fact that over-the-air viewers do not have to invest in new UHF antennas in order to continue receiving the station. But as noted in the comments section, many viewers are having difficulty picking up CTV due to interference and the transmitter’s distance from the city.

Some VHF digital stations also fear being at a disadvantage as new handheld and mobile Digital TV devices come on the market in the near future. CTV Winnipeg still has the option of applying for a UHF channel, however. Reception should be better in the southern half of Winnipeg than the northern half.

CKND (Global) Channel 9.1 coverage area

CKND (Global) Channel 9.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Global Winnipeg (a.k.a., CKND) was the first Winnipeg TV station to make the transition to digital in 2010. Like the CBC, Global’s digital signal originates from Portage and Main at Channel 40 on the UHF band (Virtual Channel 9.1). Reception has been reported to be very good in Winnipeg.

CHMI (Citytv) Channel 13.1 coverage area

CHMI (Citytv) Channel 13.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Like CTV, CityTV (formerly known as 13 MTN, and later the A-Channel) is taking its chances on the VHF band, remaining on the Channel 13 frequency it has called home since going on the air in October, 1986. They’re running at only 8,000 watts, versus 24,000 watts for CTV, so their signal is hit-and-miss throughout Winnipeg.

CIIT (Joytv) Channel 35.1 coverage area

CIIT (Joytv) Channel 35.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Joy TV is to Winnipeg television what CKJS is to Winnipeg radio — it’s there, but most people are only vaguely aware of its existence. It’s really just a specialty channel that can be received without a cable or satellite subscription. But, if you’re a fan of Joy TV’s religious programming and reruns of The Waltons and The Rockford Files, you’ll be happy to know that this station, which began broadcasting in 2006, is still on Channel 35. Indoor reception is definitely better in the south end of the city than the northern half.

KNRR (Fox) Channel 12.1 coverage area

KNRR (Fox) Channel 12.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Poor old KNRR never had much luck. It was imminently about to go on the air in 1982 when something went wrong, causing the station’s launch date to be pushed back to 1986. In the interim, Canadian broadcasting regulations had changed in such a way as to effectively block KNRR from getting a slot on Winnipeg’s cable systems.
Thus, trying to pick up the then-independent KNRR’s diet of Star Trek and movies became something of a sport for Winnipeggers in 1986, who then only had seven English-language channels to watch on cable TV unless they subscribed to pay TV — which even then brought the total number of choices to no more than a dozen channels.

After missing the U.S. digital switchover deadline and being forced off the air for four months, KNRR began offering the first digital signal to extend more than a few miles north of the Canadian border in October 2009. But KNRR’s signal is too weak to be received with any reliability in Winnipeg — one local Digital TV enthusiast recommends a 40-foot mast in your backyard for best results. (This might not be so popular with your neighbours, though.)

If you live in Morden, Winkler, Morris or Altona, your luck should be considerably better, particularly with a VHF antenna pointed toward Pembina.

Note that to receive digital TV over the air, you will need either a newer TV set that is capable of receiving ATSC signals or a special converter box — not necessarily the same kind of box provided by your cable company — hooked up to your traditional TV set.

* – Images source: Communications Research Centre/Google Maps.

Technical assumptions all based on F(95,99) at 9 metres above ground.

Resurrected Pembina station to provide Winnipeg’s first over-the-air digital signal

(Update, Oct. 15: KNRR is reported to be back on the air. Digital TV owners in Winnipeg are already filing reception reports online.)

I’ve covered a lot of topics in this blog since it was first launched earlier this year, but the July 11 post on the uncertain future of KNRR-TV in Pembina, N.D. has stood out among them as being one of the most frequently visited and re-visited pages over the past three months.

KNRR might have been licenced to serve tiny Pembina and the surrounding farms and small towns of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, but the station had actually been meant to serve Winnipeg, 100 kilometres to the north.

The business plan seemed to make sense. It was the brainchild of Fargo independent station KVRR, which had decided to put up a 1,400-foot tower near Pembina to relay the Fargo station’s programming into Winnipeg. If a sales office in Winnipeg could just sell enough commercial airtime to cover its own costs plus those of keeping the Pembina transmitter up and running — a fraction of the cost of running a full-service TV station — it could generate a tidy profit for the station’s owners.

All they had to do was to get the station on to Winnipeg’s cable systems, to which the vast majority of the city’s TV sets were connected.

That turned out to be easier said than done.

Winnipeg’s cable companies applied to the CRTC to add KNRR to their lineups shortly after the Pembina station went on the air in January 1986. However, the owners of Manitoba’s TV stations, who were already competing with each other plus WDAZ’s Winnipeg sales office, had no intention of allowing yet another competitor on to their turf.

The broadcasters lobbied the CRTC to keep KNRR off of Winnipeg’s cable systems. In October 1986, they got their wish.

For the next 23 years, KNRR would stay on the air nevertheless, delivering its parent station’s signal to northeastern North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and the dwindling number of Manitobans using rabbit-ears and rooftop aerials to receive TV signals.

During those years, KNRR was something of a money pit for its owners, generating neither profits nor cash flow. In 2008, however, the economic crisis in the U.S. and the $1-million price tag to convert KNRR over to digital by the June 2009 deadline made the station’s losses intolerable.

The station’s owners appealed to U.S. broadcast regulators to allow KNRR’s analog signal to stay on the air beyond the June 12 digital-switchover date, admitting that they were seriously considering shutting down KNRR, turning in its broadcasting licence and dismantling its tower.

When the appeal was denied, KNRR was left with no choice but to shut off its analog transmitter on June 12. It looked as though the station was dead.

On July 11, this blog suggested that Prairie Public TV give some consideration to buying KNRR while it still had its tower up.

As Winnipeg TV stations were then pleading with government regulators to relieve them of their local programming commitments, and KNRR’s owners seemed to welcome any opportunity to get the station off their hands, it appeared to present Prairie Public with the opportunity to strengthen its brand in southern Manitoba.

Half of Prairie Public’s audience and many of its donors lives north of the border, and four of the corporation’s 17 directors are from Winnipeg — including the chairman of the board — so why not use the Pembina frequency to shoot a signal across the border tailored to its Manitoba audience?

To my surprise, I then found out that KNRR’s owners had decided to keep the station on the air as a “public service”, informing U.S. broadcast regulators in early July that they intended to have the station back on the air with a digital signal by Oct. 18.

An employee of parent station KVRR indicated in an online discussion forum Monday that the date is real, writing that, “KNRR will also be lighting back up very very soon.”

When the station goes back on the air any day now, it will be the first over-the-air digital TV signal to cover Winnipeg and southern Manitoba.

According to TVFool.com, it should be possible to receive a passable signal in Winnipeg if you use a rooftop aerial or live in a high-rise above the ground clutter. Reception is expected to be good to excellent in Morden, Winkler, Altona, Morris and Carman.

KNRR's expected coverage area when it returns to air any day now. (© TVFool.com)

KNRR's expected coverage area when it returns to air any day now. (© TVFool.com)

The arrival of the first over-the-air digital signal should be good news for Manitobans who have watched with envy as broadcasters fired up digital transmitters in Vancouver and Toronto while putting off upgrades in Winnipeg until closer to the Aug. 31, 2011 deadline for all Canadian TV stations to go digital.

KNRR’s resurrection is also a good opportunity to reconsider the station’s exclusion from Winnipeg’s cable systems.

In 1986, Manitoba broadcasters objected to KNRR getting a slot on the cable dial out of fear that their Winnipeg-based sales reps would undercut the rates charged by Canadian TV stations and undermine the local programming those advertising dollars helped pay for.

Today, there’s little likelihood that KNRR would ever open a Winnipeg sales office. Just ask WDAZ what a worthwhile pursuit that was — they closed theirs long ago. KNRR would get a less-than-stellar place in the cable lineup to boot, taking over WUHF Fox Rochester’s channel 49.

Even then, whenever a popular Fox show is on a Canadian channel and a U.S. channel at the same time, CRTC rules require that the Canadian signal be carried on both cable channels — which would block out KNRR’s signal during several hours of prime time every week.

Without a Winnipeg sales office, there is no reason to believe that the Pembina station poses any significant threat to either the Winnipeg stations’ profitability or to their (ever decreasing) local programming commitments.

Now that the signal is almost back on the air, MTS and Shaw might as well seek to add it to their offerings.

Ailing KNRR could allow Prairie Public to fill Manitoba’s local programming void

(Originally posted July 11, 2009; updated May 8, 2012) 

Televisions stations are no longer the huge profit makers that they used to be, and many of them have cut back on local programming over the years to help make ends meets. They have also lost their connection to the community over the years as they dropped their local identities in order to create homogeneous national brands. Goodbye CKY, CKND and 13 MTN; hello CTV, Global and Citytv.

Another station that has fallen on tough times is KNRR. That might sound familiar to some Winnipeggers, or might not, given that the Winnipeg Free Press stopped carrying their listings some time ago.

KNRR is a satellite station in Pembina with no local programming of its own that was originally intended to relay Fargo Fox affiliate KVRR into Winnipeg. But when it was blocked from Canadian cable systems by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 1986, because of objections from Manitoba broadcasters to the competition it would create, it only ended up reaching the dwindling number of Manitobans with neither cable nor satellite.

KNRR station ident, 1987

Here is what the Red River Broadcast Company had to say about the station in an April 16, 2009 filing to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission regarding KNRR’s inability to meet the mandatory deadline for all U.S. TV stations to switch over to digital broadcasting:

Red River Broadcast Co., LLC (‘Red River’) has operated KNRR for many years. As previously reported to the Commission, throughout this time, the station has not been profitable in terms of actual revenues or cashflow. These circumstances have forced Red River in the past to consider surrenduring its licence for KNRR. Due to the economic downturn and the large capital costs that would be required for KNRR to construct digital facilities, Red River must again consider whether to surrender KNRR’s licence.

Though Red River noted that they had not yet reached “a final decision regarding KNRR’s financial viability,” they did re-launch the station in October, 2009 after four months off the air — but with such a weak signal that indoor reception is difficult anywhere north of Morris, Manitoba, and virtually impossible in Winnipeg.

This might create a unique opportunity for Prairie Public Television. Prairie Public has long been a familiar name to Winnipeggers. It’s been on Channel 3 on Winnipeg’s cable systems since 1975, and thousands of young Winnipeggers grew up on the North Dakota PBS affiliate’s daily diet of Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

In fact, the station is so closely tied to Winnipeg that four city residents (as of Jan. 2012) sit on the Fargo-based station’s Board of Directors, and Canadian viewers have long been a major source of funding during the station’s regular pledge drives. In return, Prairie Public had made serving Manitoba almost as much a part of its mandate as serving North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

Purchasing KNRR — or convincing Red River to donate the station in return for a tax receipt — could help Prairie Public strengthen its Manitoba presence and fill a void in northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, areas far from Prairie Public’s Grand Forks/Crookston and Devils Lake transmitters.

Such a move has a precedent: In 1978, the owners of Missouri CBS affiliate KMOS-TV wanted to offload the unprofitable station without creating an opening for a competitor. So, they donated the station to Central Missouri State University, which turned KMOS into a non-commercial PBS affiliate.

Though KNRR’s 4,440-watt Channel 12 signal doesn’t reach Winnipeg, an upgrade to a 75,000-watt system would push an indoor-quality signal into the fast-growing Morden/Winkler area of southern Manitoba as well as into Pembina County, N.D. and Kittson County, Minn., both located too far from Prairie Public’s existing transmitters to be adequately served.

A 75,000-watt signal should also be strong enough to reach the Shaw Cable head-end in southwest Winnipeg with a signal their engineers can work with.

An upgrade to a UHF channel — channel 20 should be acceptable based on existing rules governing minimum distances between TV stations sharing the same channel — could be considered after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission lifts its freeze on new channel allotments.

Pros and Cons of  Prairie Public making a dash for the border

Pros

  • They could probably purchase KNRR from Red River for a very reasonable price, or ask for it as a donation in return for a tax receipt. It’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in the station.
  • It would be far less expensive to use an existing tower and transmission site than to start a new one up from scratch
  • It could allow Prairie Public to strengthen its brand presence in Winnipeg and southern Manitoba (where almost half of its viewers live) by using the Pembina station to create a specialized Manitoba feed on a subchannel.
  • They have already done some local programming about Manitoba, which has been shown state-wide in North Dakota, even though it’s not entirely relevant to that audience. By keeping Manitoba-specific programs restricted to the Pembina feed, they can use these time slots to offer more relevant programming to their U.S. audience.
  • They could justify the purchase to the FCC by saying that broadcasting from Pembina will allow their signal to reach areas of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota where their existing Devils Lake and Crookston/Grand Forks signals get limited reception.
  • They could potentially create local Winnipeg programming without going to the trouble and expense of building a second set of studios by renting existing production facilities in the city. They could also purchase some Canadian programming from Ontario public TV broadcaster TVO, which is not available in Manitoba.
  • There is no direct competition in Manitoba. We don’t have a public broadcaster here, and the local TV stations are all but happy to get out of local programming. Prairie Public, being a viewer-supported station, has taken the opposite view: that local programming is an important way of building up audience loyalty.
  • Since Prairie Public is already on Winnipeg’s cable systems, and there is no direct competition in Winnipeg, there would be few (if any) bureaucratic headaches of the type that made KNRR unviable.
  • Shaw and other Manitoba cable providers reportedly receive WDAZ and Prairie Public through an intercity microwave relay link from the U.S. It is possible that Shaw’s head office in Calgary might eventually want to shut down this link in favour of more economical satellite feeds from the Minneapolis/St. Paul ABC and PBS affiliates. An over-the-air presence in Winnipeg, even with a signal that can only be picked up with outdoor antennas in Winnipeg, could save Prairie Public from the financial distress that losing its Canadian audience would cause.

Cons

  • It would cost money (always an issue for a non-profit broadcaster)
  • There might be cheaper ways of creating a Manitoba-oriented feed that don’t involve maintaining yet another transmitter, such as an Internet feed.
  • An over-the-air digital feed from Pembina would reach a limited audience in its own right, as most of Prairie Public’s viewers get the station on cable. A Pembina tower would be more of an added convenience to cable systems and mobile/handheld users than anything.
     
  • KNRR’s tower was never tall enough to do an adequate job of reaching Winnipeg. An extra 100 metres (328 feet) would have improved their Winnipeg coverage significantly.

Expected coverage area if Prairie Public were to take over and upgrade Channel 12 Pembina, N.D. from 4.44 kW to 75 kW using KNRR-DT’s existing directional antenna. Source: lrcov.crc.ca


TV stations no longer a licence to print money

Do you have any memories of KCND-TV or the early days of CKND-TV, either as an employee or as a viewer? Or any anecdotes to share about the personalities mentioned below? Please share them in the comments section or e-mail them to theviewfromseven@gmail.com, as they would be an important and valuable contribution to maintaining a written history of local television in Winnipeg and the Red River Valley.

Next week, the power brokers of the Canadian television industry will be gathering in Gatineau, Quebec to tell the government agency responsible for regulating the public airwaves what broadcasters need to survive.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission — better known as the CRTC — is used to hearing broadcasters tell them about threats to their viability. It has long been a tradition for existing broadcasters to tell the Commission of their concerns about “audience fragmentation” whenever a new TV or radio station sought a licence.

But this year’s talk of financial woes in the television industry have taken on a more urgent tone. Winnipeg-based media giant Canwest Global is fighting desperately to avoid bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the awkwardly named CTVglobemedia has put CKX-TV in Brandon up for sale, warning that Manitoba’s only non-Winnipeg-based TV station will shut down on Aug. 31, 2009 if no one buys it.

As Canwest itself noted in a Feb. 23 letter to the CRTC:

“For perspective, between 2004 and 2008, annual operating profit [for Canwest’s conventional TV stations] declined by $100 million (from $113 million to $13 million). Even with the proposed changes to our licences, our financial projections show that these conventional television stations will post negative operating income in Broadcast Year 2010.”

So much for the famous quote attributed to Canadian business tycoon Roy Thomson, describing the fabulous profits made by early TV stations: “Running a commercial television station is like having a licence to print money.”

Not anymore, Roy.

And it shows how far we’ve come from those heady days 35 years ago, when a hastily assembled group of men were ready to do all sorts of things to get once of those valuable TV licences.

The path to where Canwest is today started on June 28, 1973. It was election night in Manitoba, and after putting up a spirited campaign, Liberal Party leader Izzy Asper was reconciling himself to the fact that he was not going to be the Premier of Manitoba.

He hadn’t even come close. The Liberals finished the election in third place, with just 19 percent of the vote and a mere five of the 57 seats in the Legislature.

Not eager to hang around the Legislature for another four years as leader of a third-place party with little hope of gaining power, Asper began looking for other career options.

As legend has it, Asper’s assistant Peter Liba — later Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba — was reading the newspaper one day, when he spotted an interesting advertisement. The CRTC was seeking applications for a new TV station in Winnipeg. He showed it to his boss.

Asper was sold on the idea.

So too was Stuart Craig. He was the president of Western Manitoba Broadcasters, Ltd., the parent company of CKX-TV in Brandon. Craig and his associates prepared an application.

He then made the mistake of calling Paul Morton, a Winnipeg businessman who Craig thought might be helpful in starting a new station in the province’s largest city. Morton asked to see a copy of Craig’s still-confidential CRTC application, and Craig obliged.

The problem was, Morton was also in touch with Asper. Soon, Morton was on the Canwest Broadcasting team, a start-up company that was now competing with Western Manitoba Broadcasters for the Winnipeg licence. And Morton knew the intimate details of the other team’s application.

However, Canwest still had a problem to deal with. The Brandonites had two strong points in their application that would impress the CRTC: Their twenty years’ experience in running a TV station, and a proposed schedule that would feature heavy local content.

Canwest’s team had much less experience, and Asper himself was being kept out of the CRTC’s sight as he was still a member of the provincial legislature.

So, they came up with a bold plan that had never been tried before, but that might just impress the CRTC.

In the late ’50s, a group of American investors took note of the fact that while TV viewers in Fargo, N.D. had multiple TV stations to choose from, viewers in the much larger Winnipeg market had no choice: the CBC ran the only television station in town.

As foreign ownership of TV stations was (and still is) outlawed in both Canada and the U.S., the investors decided to do the next best thing. They would start up a TV station in the tiny border town of Pembina, N.D., and aside from producing some nominal local programming, run it as though it were a Winnipeg TV station, complete with offices on Portage Ave.

Their station, known as KCND-TV Channel 12, went on the air on Nov. 7, 1960 from a quarter-mile high tower located a mere 1,800 feet south of the Canada-U.S. border — roughly the distance between The Bay and Mountain Equipment Co-Op in downtown Winnipeg. They literally couldn’t get the tower any closer to Winnipeg if they tried.

By the ’70s, the vast majority of KCND’s revenues were coming from Winnipeg advertisers, even though KCND didn’t have the Winnipeg rights to the programs it bought. The Asper team knew that KCND’s practices were a thorn in the CRTC’s side.

Thus, Canwest proposed to buy out and shut down KCND, move the station across the border to Winnipeg, and launch a new station. With an existing staff and clientele in Winnipeg, the station would have an experienced staff from day one and would quickly become profitable.

Asper entered into negotiations with Gordon McLendon, the eccentric Texas millionaire who had owned KCND since the mid-’60s. He would later remember his negotiations with McLendon as being some of the toughest in his long career. Not to mention the fact that he arrived at McLendon’s ranch to find the Texan roasting an entire cow for dinner.

Eventually, McLendon agreed to sell.

It was a bold move that immediately positioned Canwest as the front-runner when the CRTC arrived in Winnipeg in May 1974 to hold public hearings on who should be given the new TV licence.

Then, everything nearly fell apart.

The Canwest team had co-opted Jerry Johnson, KCND’s Winnipeg manager, to help design a proposed schedule for the new station. Johnson knew that the CRTC would be looking for Canadian content, and ensured that the schedule had plenty of it.

Rejecting this, they asked Johnson to redo the schedule with more lucrative American programming. This schedule was then presented to the CRTC.

Brandon’s Stuart Craig and Western Manitoba Broadcasters was suddenly back in the game when their proposed schedule, with much more Canadian and local content than Canwest’s, was unveiled. Jerry Johnson had been proven right.

And then Craig dropped a bombshell, revealing that John Boler, the owner of CBS affiliate KXJB-TV in Fargo, was already planning to start a new station in Pembina if Canwest shut KCND down. Canwest’s application, based on the premise that the new station would face no competition from Pembina, suddenly seemed to be based on a questionable assumption.

The Canwest team brushed off Boler’s proposed new station, but used a more bizarre tactic to deal with the Canadian content problem. They went back and obtained Johnson’s original schedule, loaded with the Canadian content he knew the CRTC was looking for. Ordering Johnson to remain in a hotel room, the Canwest group then went back to the CRTC with Johnson’s original schedule — and proceeded to blame Johnson (of all people) for preparing a schedule with too little Canadian content, while the accused was conveniently unable to defend himself.

Canwest had recovered from a fumble, albeit in a way that might strike some as not being very nice.

By the end of 1974, Canwest had won the licence, defeating both Western Manitoba Broadcasters and a poorly financed cooperative group that never really had a chance.

KCND says goodbye, 1975

KCND says goodbye, 1975

On Aug. 31, 1975 at 9 p.m., cable subscribers in Winnipeg saw KCND’s channel 12 signal disappear as CKND signed on for the first time. Little did they know that they were witnessing the birth of a broadcasting empire that would extend to Chile, Australia and the U.K.

CKND prepares to sign on

CKND prepares to sign on

Eventually, the Craigs of Brandon would win the Winnipeg licence they wanted so much, with 13 MTN (later known as “A-Channel” and now as “Citytv Winnipeg”) going on the air in October, 1986. And Boler would get an FCC licence to launch a Pembina TV station, initially under the call letters KWBA-TV, by November 1979. However, the project would remain stalled for another six years before Boler’s Pembina station, by this time known as KNRR-TV, finally signed on in January 1986.

However, neither of them would prevent CKND from being a success for many years, financially and in the ratings.

For a while, having a commercial TV licence really did seem like having a licence to print money. The sort of thing that might justify partaking in tough negotiations, sequestering a man whose good advice was not heeded in a hotel room, and witnessing a cow being roasted by a strange Texas millionaire.

Next week’s CRTC hearings in Gatineau will show us just how far we’ve come from those days.


Related links:

YouTubers help keep Winnipeg television history alive

A collection of six posts about KCND Pembina on St. Vincent Memories

BibliographyCanadian Communications Foundation, Television Station History: CKND-TV Winnipeg
Herschel Hardin, Closed Circuits: The Sellout of Canadian Television (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985)
Allan Levine, The CanWest Global Story: The First Twenty Years, 1977-1997 (Winnipeg: CanWest Global Communications, 1997)
Peter C. Newman, Izzy: The Passionate Life and Turbulent Times of Izzy Asper, Canada’s Media Mogul (Toronto: Harper Collins, 2008)
Chris Wood, Live to Air: The Craig Broadcast Story (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000)