When all else fails, just call it “new”

Many Winnipeggers have a pattern to their radio listenership. They wake up in the morning to an alarm clock radio normally permanently set to one preferred station, and drive around town listening to one or two preferred stations. Some people might listen to a single station for extended periods during the day at work.

Few will ever have spent a significant amount of time listening to 100.7 FM in Winnipeg, known as Jewel 101 in its latest incarnation. The station, which currently plays a wide-ranging format ranging from Barry Manilow to Rihanna — billed as “light and refreshing” — has experimented with nostalgia, country and rock formats over the years in an unsuccessful attempt to rise above its lowly place in the Winnipeg radio ratings.

How bad are things at Jewel 101? In the Fall 2013 Winnipeg radio ratings, 100.7 FM (officially known as CFJL-FM) reached just 19,500 listeners in Winnipeg and the surrounding region. This placed them second-last among the 15 stations that subscribe to the BBM rating service in terms of the number of ears reached. Of the fifteen, only French-language station CKSB reached fewer people — but they’re not dependent on advertisers for their survival.

Jewel 101’s problems are not unique. The station now known as Virgin Radio 103.1 spent about a decade casting about with different brand names and formats between the late ’80s and late ’90s before achieving success with the hit-music oriented Hot 103.

Current stations 99.1 Fresh FM and TSN Radio 1290 also did their fair share of experimenting with different formats over the years, none of which turned out to be hits.

Normally, a station in Jewel’s position would consider strengthening its commuter-oriented morning and late afternoon offerings. Jewel’s morning show, hosted by Winnipeg radio veteran Don Percy, only gets fleeting promotion on the station’s web site; its afternoon drive-time show hosted by Russ Tyson, another radio veteran, appears to get no top-page promotion at all.

Or it might review its pickles-and-ice-cream mix of Manilow and Rihanna, which might not be quite what the leave-it-on-in-the-background-all-day audience is looking for.

Yet Jewel 101 is trying something completely different. In a recent filing with the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast regulator, Jewel’s owners see the station’s 100.7 FM frequency as being somewhat jinxed. As their supplementary brief puts it:

Since the licence was initially granted in 2002, the specialty format on 100.7 has failed to generate audience interest. Consequently, the frequency itself has become stigmatized as “a station no one listens to”.

Therefore, the station’s owner, Dufferin Communications Inc., proposes that the answer to its problems might be found in sliding one FM channel over to the supposedly stigma-free 100.5 FM:

 

. . . While The Jewel format is fresh and new in the Winnipeg market, is enjoyed by those who tune it in, and is successful in other markets where it is played, it can not escape the stigma that comes with the frequency after so much time at the bottom of the ratings. Listeners have told our marketing department the station is a “loser”, and consequently, potential advertisers see the station as perpetually “last in the market” to our financial detriment. It is our belief that a change in frequency to 100.5 MHz will help Dufferin overcome and shed some of the negative baggage associated with the 100.7 frequency.

. . . We also believe that migrating 100.7 to 100.5 is the next logical step which will both give Dufferin an opportunity to capitalize on an “all new” Winnipeg Jewel, and improve the station’s technical parameters.

The last sentence refers to the fact that Jewel proposes increasing its transmitting power from 80,000 watts to 100,000 watts, which would give the station a slightly better chance of reception in office buildings and other signal-challenging environments.

It’s difficult to understand how 100.7 FM could be any more jinxed than was 103.1 FM, for example, during that station’s decade in the wilderness during the ’90s; or 1290 AM was when it tried its hand at everything from talk radio to World War II-era music, to reviving the CFRW glory days of the ’70s and ’80s before finally settling on a reasonably well-regarded sports format.

Likely, Jewel’s core problem is that its something-for-everyone format has long been and still is too broad for anything more than a relatively small number of listeners to bother tuning their alarm clock or car radios to; and that its drive-time shows are all but invisible even to those who might be fans of their veteran hosts.

But if they want to try moving their station just a nudge to the left on the FM dial and calling it “new” to see if that solves their problems instead, then good luck to them.

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QX 104, Ignite 107 seek stronger signals in Winnipeg

Have you been having trouble getting clear reception of QX 104 or Ignite 107 on your alarm clock radio or in the office?

Apparently the owners of those two stations have heard your complaints, and are taking steps to improve reception in Winnipeg.

QX 104 has been battling the fuzzies since it signed on in 1981 as CFQX 92.9, a small-town community station from Selkirk with little more than a fringe signal in parts of Winnipeg. A new, higher-powered transmitter and a move to 104.1 in the late ’80s allowed the station to reach a larger audience and possibly save the station from going dark.

Their equipment still wasn’t able to push a fuzz-free signal in office buildings and high-density neighbourhoods, so the station is seeking broadcast regulator permission to move from its current transmitter site just west of Selkirk to a new site near Oakbank, about 15 kilometres closer to central Winnipeg.

If approved, this should guarantee a reliable signal on even the cheapest of the city’s radios, as well as providing the Steinbach area with better coverage.

A transmitter closer to Winnipeg will leave some listeners in Gimli, Winnipeg Beach and other Interlake communities with a weaker signal.

QX 104’s request comes on the heels of Ignite 107.1 getting regulatory approval last month to upgrade its flea-powered signal.

The plan approved by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will see Ignite 107.1 close down its 920-watt transmitter on top of Chateau 100 on Donald St. and switch on a new 100,000-watt system on Highway 2 between Oak Bluff and Starbuck.

This move will allow Ignite to offer a better signal on indoor radios in suburban areas, and expand its car radio coverage to Morden, Winkler, Portage, Stonewall and Steinbach. Indoor fuzziness might continue to be an issue in the downtown area and the eastern half of Winnipeg.

The station previously had a troubled history, once shutting down for a year due to financial difficulties, returning to air, and then continuing to bleed red ink  until it was sold to Golden West Broadcasting in 2008 for less than the cost of a Vancouver handyman-special bungalow.

Ignite’s move into the big leagues will reduce the city’s stock of low-powered microstations by one, leaving only 45-watt CJNU 107.9, 250-watt Kick FM 92.9 and  450-watt CKUW 95.9 continuing to operate at less than 1,000 watts.

Lost on the Dial: Winnipeg’s Lesser-Known Radio Options

Scan up and down the radio dial and it might seem that there are more choices than ever on Winnipeg’s airwaves. Indeed there are: No fewer than five new radio stations have gone on the air in Winnipeg since 2000.

That number rises to seven, if you include the rebirth of the failed Freq 107 (now Ignite 107) and the temporary presence of Flava 107.9, which was being run from a 700-square-foot apartment by the time it collapsed in 2007 amid allegations of unpaid wages and the existence of “real” and “fake” members of the Board of Directors.

Despite the increased variety over the past decade, the local radio market continues to be dominated by just a handful of veteran stations. Though a total of 28 stations put a reasonably solid signal into Winnipeg, the top five — CJOB, Hot 103, CBC Radio One, QX-104 and Power 97 — accounted for nearly 60 percent of all listener-hours in Fall 2010, while the top 10 stations accounted for slightly more than 85 percent of listener-hours.

Now here’s a primer on the also-rans in the Winnipeg radio market — the stations you might not have known existed.

810 CKJS Winnipeg

Format: Ethnic  (primarily Filipino); some religious programming

Morning Show: “Good Morning Philippines”

Afternoon Drive Show: “Afternoon Pasada”

Survival Strategy: Target niche audiences, not the general public. Rely on community to generate low-cost programming.

On air since: 1975

Ownership: Newcap Radio

Transmitter: 10,000 watts, located off Waverley south of the Perimeter

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Excellent

Web Site: www.ckjs.com (Streaming Audio link)

920 CFRY Portage la Prairie

Format: Country music and rural community programming

Slogan: “Real Country Radio”

Morning Show: Ryan Simpson

Afternoon Drive Show: (None in particular)

Survival Strategy: Local, local, local

On air since: 1956

Ownership: Golden West Radio

Transmitter: 25,000 watts (less at night), located just west of Portage

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Good to excellent

Web site: www.cfryradio.ca (no Streaming Audio)

950 CFAM Altona

Format: Mix of classical music, rural and religious programming

Slogan: “Your Community Station”

Morning Show: “Al, Michelle and Jayme”

Afternoon Drive Show: “The Drive Show with Kevin Geisheimer”

Survival Strategy: Give the Bible Belt what they want to hear

On air since: 1957

Ownership: Golden West Radio

Transmitter: 10,000 watts, located  south of Winkler next to the U.S. border

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Good

Web site: www.cfamradio.com (Streaming Audio link)

1250 CHSM Steinbach

Format: Classical/rural/religious

Slogan: “AM 1250”

Survival Strategy: Focus on the needs of Steinbach and the sparsely populated southeastern corner of the province

On air since: 1964

Ownership: Golden West Radio

Transmitter: 10,000 watts, located on Hwy. 59 west of Steinbach

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Excellent

Web site: www.steinbachonline.com (no Streaming Audio)

CKMW 1570 Morden

Format: Country music

Slogan: “Country 1570”

Morning Show: “Mullin in the Morning”

Afternoon Drive Show: “Afternoons with Wayne Lamb”

Survival Strategy: Shares studio space with CFAM Altona and Winkler’s Eagle 93.5 to keep costs down

On air since: 1980

Ownership: Golden West Radio

Transmitter: 10,000 watts, located south of Morden

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Rimshot to good, depending on quality of radio

Web site: www.ckmwradio.com (no Streaming Audio)

CKXL 91.1 Winnipeg

Format: Manitoba Francophone music/culture

Slogan: “Envol 91” (“Flight 91”)

Morning Show: “Un Rayon de Soleil” (“A Ray of Sunshine”)

Afternoon Drive Show: “CDTraké” (“CD Track”)

Survival Strategy: Non-commercial community station supporting Franco-Manitoban culture

On air since: 1989

Ownership: La Radio Communautaire du Manitoba Inc.

Transmitter: 61,000 watts, from the CBC tower southwest of Winnipeg

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Excellent

Web site: www.envol91.mb.ca (Streaming Audio link)

92.9 CKIC Winnipeg

Format: Talk/Music/Variety

Slogan: “92.9 Kick FM”

Survival Strategy: Target the Red River College campus

On air since: 2004

Ownership: Crecomm Radio

Transmitter: 250 watts, located at the RRC Notre Dame campus

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Good within a kilometre or two of campus, probably acceptable in most of northwest Winnipeg if your radio has an antenna. Strictly a rimshot signal (i.e., passable on a car radio but too weak for reliable indoor reception) for those living east of the Red River or south of the Assiniboine or in the middle of downtown.

Web site: kickfm.blogspot.com (no Streaming Audio)

95.9 CKUW

Format: Music/Talk/Variety

Slogan: “Open Playlist Opens Minds”

Survival Strategy: Volunteer support at the University of Winnipeg

On air since: 1999 (as a radio station; previously operated closed-circuit)

Ownership: Winnipeg Campus-Community Radio Society

Transmitter: 450 watts, located on a high-rise in Osborne Village

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Good in central Winnipeg, but might require an antenna in suburban areas. Rimshot signal only in ex-urban areas.

Web site: www.ckuw.ca (Streaming Audio link)

101.5 CJUM

Format: Music/Talk/Variety

Slogan: “One-oh-one.five UMFM”

Survival Strategy: Volunteer support at the University of Manitoba

On air since: 1998 (Predecessor station was on air from 1975 to 1980 on 101.1 FM)

Ownership: University of Manitoba Students Union

Transmitter: 1,200 watts, located on top of one of the office towers at Portage and Main

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Good to excellent in most of Winnipeg; antenna might be required on the city’s outer fringes

Web site: www.umfm.com (Streaming Audio link)

Link I’ll catch hell for if I don’t include: Winnipeg Internet Pundits

107.9 CJNU

Format: Nostalgia

Slogan: “Music of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and More”

Survival Strategy: Volunteer support, and use a temporary “special events” broadcasting licence to get a foot in the door

On air since: Intermittently since 2006, pending the awarding of a permanent broadcasting licence

Ownership: Nostalgia Broadcasting Cooperative

Transmitter: 45 watts, located on top of an Osborne Village high-rise

Signal quality in Winnipeg: Should be good in the centre of the city, might require an antenna in some older post-war suburbs. Strictly a rimshot signal if you live out beyond Assiniboine Park, Lagimodiere Blvd., Bishop Grandin or the Chief Pegius Bridge. (Which is probably not bad if your transmitter is less powerful than most lightbulbs!)

Web Site: www.cjnu.ca (Streaming Audio link)

Other stations capable of putting a rimshot/deep fringe signal into Winnipeg which might be audible on more sensitive radios:

  • Mix 96.7 (Hit music; Steinbach)
  • CKDM 730 (Country music; Dauphin)
  • 740 The Fan (Sports talk; Fargo, N.D.)
  • CKLQ 880 (Country music; Brandon)
  • Maverick 105.1 (Country music; Cavalier, N.D./Morden, Man.)
  • Z 106.7 (Hit music; Walhalla, N.D.)

Other stations capable of putting a rimshot/deep fringe signal into Winnipeg:

 

 

The CBC as a “cultural conduit connecting our coasts”? That’s so 1986!

© thefuton

It was a debate that divided the community, pitting Winnipegger against Winnipegger. The newspapers covered every development, radio talk shows took passionate calls from both sides, and even U.S. television stations sent reporters to Winnipeg so that their viewers could find out what all the fuss was about.

It was the great North Dakota vs. Detroit debate of ’86.

It all started when Videon, the cable company that then served the western half of Winnipeg, proposed dumping the four North Dakota TV stations it carried — PBS affiliate Prairie Public TV, CBS affiliate KXJB, ABC affiliate WDAZ and NBC affiliate KTHI — and replacing them with four stations via satellite from Detroit.

The pro-Detroit camp in Winnipeg argued that Videon’s plan would mean better picture quality — no more problems with the U.S. network stations becoming barely watchable every time a blizzard or thunderstorm crossed Interstate 29 — along with more movies, more sports and 24-hour programming. The pro-North Dakota camp argued that we were cutting our ties to our peaceful Red River Valley neighbours and threatening to corrupt our youth with Detroit’s “if it bleeds, it leads” newscasts.

In March 1986, a compromise was announced: the weaker Fargo NBC and CBS signals would be replaced by the Detroit equivalents, while the stronger Grand Forks ABC and PBS signals would stay put, government regulators decreed.

It was an eventful year in local broadcasting. In the midst of the North Dakota vs. Detroit debate, Winnipeggers were also investing in rabbit-ears antennas in hope of picking up Star Trek re-runs and Madd Frank’s Saturday night horror movies following KNRR-TV’s Jan. 1, 1986 launch from Pembina, N.D. And in May, Winnipeggers weighed in on whether or not the unassigned channel 13 licence should be awarded to a Portage-based commercial station called CPLP-TV (renamed 13 MTN before it launched the following October) or a Winnipeg-based educational station called Manitoba Public Television (which obviously never made it to air).

It was also the first full year in operation for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an interest group formed  the previous year in opposition to the Mulroney government’s funding cuts to the CBC.

“How you can fight back to restore the CBC to its former glory,” reads one of their fundraising letters. “The CBC is a cultural conduit connecting our coasts, carrying thousands of expressions of our diverse national heritage each year — as important to our country as the St. Lawrence Seaway, the national railways and the Trans-Canada Highway.”

This quaint, flowery prose certainly sounds like something that might have been written in 1986. It actually wasn’t written all that long ago — it just arrived today, a six-page essay labeled “Exposed — Stephen Harper’s secret plan to destroy the CBC”.

Coincidentally, this missive arrived on the same day as an announcement which could have a far more profound effect on Canadian broadcasting than the $200 million CBC funding cut, CBC Radio 2 format changes and the pre-emption of Marketplace in favour of Jeopardy!, among other things the Friends essay bemoans.

The CBC’s Mrs. Brady — a cultural conduit since 1957

This far more important announcement? Yes, Google is getting into the TV business.

Not as a broadcaster or producer, of course, but as a search engine that will allow users to “look through live programs, DVR recordings and the Web, delivering a relatively compact list of results that can be accessed with a push of the button,” according to Reuters.

The real test of the technology will be this fall, when Sony will introduce a line of Internet TVs and Logitech International launches an adaptor that will bridge the gap between the Internet and existing high-definition TVs.

Internet TV is already a reality in some ways. If you can tolerate the small screen, you can watch Michael Moore’s latest movie online for free, glamorous people reading the evening news from Paris or even the first few minutes of the Feb. 24, 1992 edition of The National.

This, however, is a mere preview of what’s to come when a wireless router in your home will allow you to bypass the traditional broadcasters, cable operators and regulators — when you’ll be able to access Google through your TV set to find the programs you want  to watch, or set your alarm clock radio to wake up to a nearly commercial-free online radio station like France’s Live 9.

It’s a change that could turn the Canadian broadcasting industry on its head — and call the very existence of the CBC into question, given that its mandate is rooted in an era when its programming was one of just a handful of options on radio and television.

Funny that the Friends’ fundraising letter doesn’t mention that, opting instead for prose about the CBC as a “cultural conduit connecting our coasts” that sounds as dated as the ’86 North Dakota vs. Detroit debate and the aging, weather-worn Channel 12 antennas still pointed toward Pembina.

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.)

Gimli area could soon have own local radio station

It has a hotel good enough for Harrison Ford, a decent pizza house called Brennivins, some nice new condos and an airport large enough to briefly get Air Canada Boeing 767 service — well, sort of.

But the Gimli area has never had its own radio station.

That might change when the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) opens hearings in Gatineau, Que. on Sept. 29th to consider two applications to start the region’s first homegrown radio station.

The first applicant is Bill Glade of Swan River, Man., who proposes to start a low-power station on 93.7 FM with an even lower-powered relay on 99.5 FM in Arborg. The station would broadcast a country-pop-rock mix over an area stretching from Petersfield to Camp Morton and from Komarno to just shy of Grand Beach.

Glade also wants to start a low-power station on 97.1 FM in Neepawa playing country music, with a coverage area falling just shy of Minnedosa and Gladstone.

He’s up against Riding Mountain Broadcasting, the owners of Brandon stations CKLQ and Star FM. Riding Mountain also has its eyes on the 93.7 frequency in Gimli. They’re proposing an Adult Contemporary format, featuring music by Coldplay, Sheryl Crow and Savage Garden, with plans for a more powerful signal that would cover an area stretching from the northern outskirts of Winnipeg up to Arborg, and from Inwood to Pine Falls.

Once the CRTC holds public hearings, a decision could be handed down by the end of the year. If a licence is awarded, the new stations could be on the air anytime from several months to a year or two from now.