March 4-11, 2004

Fredericton, New Brunswick

If you consult your 2004 Tower Site Calendar (and you do have one by now, right?), you'll see that today - March 4 - is the 40th anniversary of CBC service to New Brunswick's provincial capital on CBZ (970) in Fredericton.

What better occasion, then, to bring you some pictures from a June 1998 visit to that pleasant small city, part of a larger Maritimes trip that we've documented in part here (on our Prince Edward Island page) and in more detail over at the Boston Radio Archives?

We'll begin out on the southeast side of town, where Highway 7, the Vanier Highway, meets what was then Highway 2, the Trans-Canada Highway (it's now Highway 8, the Trans-Canada having been rerouted to a new freeway south of town since then.) That's where we found two stocky square cross-section towers carrying the 10 kW CBZ signal out to New Brunswick and the world. (Well, a good chunk of the Maritimes and New England, in any case - your editor fondly recalls tuning in CBZ one winter midday from the parking lot of WBZ in Boston, where he was then employed.)


A sign alongside then-Highway 2 even announces the site and promotes CBZ's "Information Morning" and "Mainstreet" shows. The former is actually the only reason for CBZ's continued existence, since Fredericton now receives a strong CBC Radio One signal on FM via CBD (91.3), which operates from Saint John but transmits from Mount Champlain, halfway between the two communities.

The history of CBC service to this part of New Brunswick is a bit tangled; from the late thirties until CBZ and CBD went on the air in 1964, CBC programming reached Fredericton and Saint John via the powerful CBA transmitter south of Moncton and via privately-owned affiliate stations CHSJ Saint John and CFNB Fredericton, about which more later.

CBD was initially on AM 1110, serving only Saint John, but added the FM transmitter in 1981 and phased out the AM signal in 1988 - and while the FM signal serves both cities, each has its own local "Information Morning" broadcast, so Fredericton kept its own transmitter. The two cities share a Radio Two transmitter, CBZ-FM 101.5 from Mount Champlain.

And this AM 970 site will someday be history, too; the CBC has received permission to move its Fredericton Radio One signal to FM on 99.5. For now, though, it's still on 970 and still bringing "Information Morning" and the rest of the Radio One schedule to Fredericton and beyond. (That's the studio building, above, at 1160 Regent Street just south of the heart of downtown Fredericton; it's also home to the CBC Television operation for New Brunswick, CBAT-TV.)

Just a few blocks away from the CBC, at 715 Priestman Street, we find the Centre Communautaire Sainte-Anne, a gathering place for the sizable Francophone minority in Fredericton and home to French-language community station CJPN (90.5), whose two-bay antenna can be seen about a third of the way down from the top of the NBTel tower just behind the center. (New Brunswick is Canada's only officially-bilingual province, though the bulk of the French-speaking population is in the northern part of the province and to the east in Moncton, where Radio-Canada's New Brunswick operation is based.)

When CJPN's not offering its own local programming or programs from other Francophone community stations, it simulcasts the "Rock Detente" format from CITE-FM in Montreal, and we had a chance to hear both flavors of its programming while we were in town.

(Community radio for the Anglophones in town came from the University of New Brunswick's CHSR 97.9, whose antenna we saw on a building on the UNB campus.)

Near the north end of Regent Street, on the banks of the Saint John River, we find the Legislative Assembly Building that's the historic seat of the provincial government - and from there we cross the Westmorland Street Bridge to the north side of town, where we find McLeod Hill Road and the three towers of Fredericton's other AM signal, the 10 kW facility on 1260 that was then CIHI, top 40 "C-Hi AM & FM."

Why the FM? Suffice it to say that this is one of the less potent AM signals Canada's ever offered - it does OK during the day, when it's non-directional, but at night these three towers produce a narrow figure-8 signal aimed northwest and southeast, with the south side of Fredericton rather profoundly in the null that's protecting the 1260 signal down the coast in Boston. So CIHI applied for and was granted two low-power FM relays on 95.1 in New Maryland (due south of downtown) and on 103.5 in Oromocto (southeast of town), a rare situation indeed in Canada. (The only other such example that comes to mind is Toronto's CHIN 1540 and its low-power FM relay in Etobicoke.)

CIHI was then owned by a company called Radio One (no relation to the urban broadcaster here in the States), which also owned sister station CKHJ-FM (105.3) and operated yet a third station, "Capital FM" CIBX (106.9). We'll get to CIBX's history in a moment, but first we'll note that a couple of years after our visit, CIHI was itself history, with "KHJ" (yes, just like the Los Angeles top-40 giant, only playing country music) moving to the 1260/95.1/103.5 trimulcast and 105.3 becoming classic rock "The Fox," CFXY. All three stations are now owned by Astral Media, the big Quebec broadcaster.

(We didn't get to the 105.3/106.9 site; those two signals share a common tower about 10 km north of the 1260 site, out McLeod Hill Road.)

Now to CIBX: it was a brand-new station when we visited in 1998, but it was the heir to a much longer history, that of CFNB (550). CFNB signed on way back in 1923 (as "10AD") and eventually grew into one of the province's biggest radio stations. By 1959, CFNB had grown to 50,000 watts from two 303-foot towers out to the southwest of town, alongside Highway 3 in Smithfield.

Though most of CFNB's signal was beamed east, it was a common catch in New England as well, right up until June 11, 1996, when it signed off for good and was replaced by CIBX-FM. The only remnants of CFNB that we could find in Fredericton were a few old mikes and other remote gear displayed in a glass case in the studio lobby of CIBX/CKHJ/CIHI at 206 Rookwood Avenue, east of downtown.

Imagine our delight, then, as we headed out of town on Highway 3 and saw the old CFNB transmitter building rising out of the fog, giant callsign and all. I wonder if those towers are still standing today?

We'll have to revisit Fredericton one of these days. In addition to the changes at the Astral cluster, the city is now home to another low-powered signal, religious CIXN (96.5 Joy FM) - and of course there's the eventual debut of CBZF on 99.5, replacing CBZ on 970.

Next week, though, we'll continue our look back at the 1998 trip as we visit some of the small towns of northern Maine. Madawaska, anyone?

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