Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Our 2014 travels took us north of the border several times, and today’s Site of the Week installment mixes photos from a July trip and the longer one in September that we began showing you last week.
When you’re driving from western New York up to Toronto, you pretty much have to take the QEW, the aging, traffic-choked highway that loops the western end of Lake Ontario. There’s not much to redeem that drive, unless you’re an AM tower junkie (hi there!) approaching the Hamilton area. That’s where three massive 50 kW arrays dot the landscape along the lake’s south shore and the Niagara Escarpment that rises above.
These sites all showed up in the 1980s, when clever Toronto engineers figured out they could aim directional signals north across the lake right into downtown Toronto. Most prominent, at least from the highway, is the eight-tower array of CFTR (680), north of the highway right on the lakeshore in Grimsby, Ontario. When these towers went up, this was a rural area, and for years the only company these towers had nearby was a small commercial strip with a Tim Horton’s, a Swiss Chalet and a Harvey’s hamburger joint. (Guess where we liked to stop for a snack along the way?)
That strip is still there, but today a burgeoning crop of condos and townhomes has filled much of the landscape right up to the edges of the transmitter site.
Heading into Toronto, we get some quick outside views of some broadcast landmarks, new and old: up above, there’s an updated view of the top of First Canadian Place (aka “Bank of Montreal Building”), which we’d seen in detail back in 2006.
Way up above First Canadian Place, there’s the CN Tower, of course, all lit up at night (we’ll see more of that in the next installment) – and downtown at Dundas Square, across the street from the Eaton Centre, we catch an outside view of the new (2009) home of Rogers’ local Toronto TV stations, CITY-TV (Channel 57) and the OMNI multilingual duo, OMNI 1 (CFMT-TV 47) and OMNI 2 (CJMT-TV 44). CFMT itself used to be a highway landmark, with studios at 545 Lakeshore Drive West alongside the Gardiner Expressway, the QEW’s continuation into Toronto; CITY, for its part, spent two memorable decades in another historic building at 299 Queen Street West, the structure that became known as the “ChumCity Building.”
Here’s where things get tangled up in weird, weird ways: the whole time CITY-TV was at 299 Queen Street West (1987-2009), that building was not actually home to CHUM’s radio stations. CHUM (1050) and CHUM-FM (104.5) were uptown at the 1331 Yonge St. building that they’d called home since 1959. Only after Bell had acquired most of ChumCity’s assets did the CHUM stations leave Yonge Street for the complex of buildings connected to 299 Queen West – and by then, CITY had been spun off to Rogers and moved over to Dundas Square. The main building at 299 Queen West remained home to the specialty networks Bell kept from the ChumCity deal, including MuchMusic and the CP24 all-news channel, and the signage on the building changed from “City” to “CTV,” though the main CTV production facility stayed put out east in suburban Scarborough. After some uproar about its possible removal, the old Citytv “news car” sticking out of the building’s east side stayed in place, now with CP24 signage.
We were lucky enough to get a late-night peek inside the radio side of the building, which bears the address 250 Richmond Street West – and a modified version of the famed CHUM neon sign that adorned 1331 Yonge Street for half a century.
CHUM-FM’s studios sit right on the corner, looking out to Richmond and Duncan streets directly beneath the bottom of he CHUM sign. Like its former Yonge Street space, this is a spacious studio with lots of room for a busy morning show, including a separate producer/news booth facing into the main studio. And what’s that on the thick door leading into the studio? The very same “Through these doors…” sign that came over from the old CHUM studios! (As always, click on each picture for a larger version.)
We arrived at 250 Richmond West just a few weeks after CHUM got some new company down the hall. Its original FM neighbor around the corner was urban station CFXJ (93.5 Flow FM), but when Bell bought out Astral Media it spun off its own CFXJ and Astral’s CHBM (Boom 97.3) and instead kept Astral’s CKFM (Virgin Radio 99.9) and CFRB (Newstalk 1010). CFXJ moved in with Boom uptown at another historic radio site, 2 St. Clair Ave. West, while CKFM and CFRB left St. Clair after more than 50 years to join CHUM down here. Virgin’s production and on-air booths now sit in the former Flow space just down the hall from erstwhile competitor CHUM-FM.
CFRB, meanwhile, ended up two floors up in a new and very spiffy newsroom/studio complex. The main talk studio at the core of the complex, about halfway down the Duncan Street side of the building, is more than just a radio studio: it’s got a full lighting setup for TV simulcasts and video streaming. One side of the studio looks into the main CFRB control room (where the evening’s talk show is originating off-site), and the other looks into a second studio space.
Down at the end of the hall, right at the corner two stories above the CHUM-FM studio, CFRB’s newsroom gets a nice view of downtown Toronto – and who could ever have imagined, even a decade ago, that CFRB would make its home directly beneath the giant neon sign of longtime competitor CHUM?
(And what ever happened to CHUM’s AM station on 1050? It’s now all-sports “TSN Radio 1050,” with programming coming from CTV’s Scarborough facility, home to TSN’s TV studios.)
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Next week: Even more Toronto…