Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Think of Toronto and what comes to mind first? The iconic CN Tower, of course, which has stood since 1976 as the tallest self-supporting structure in North America (and, for quite a while, the entire world) – and which has served for just that long as the primary home of FM and TV in Canada’s biggest market.
If there’s any flaw at all in this massive communications monolith, it’s this: when it was built, its designers didn’t imagine Toronto would ever need more than a half-dozen TV stations or 10 big FMs. And so the stations that were privileged enough to be here early on get to enjoy the benefits of high-power transmission from 1800 feet above the heart of downtown, while later arrivals ended up at about half that height on the nearby First Canadian Place.
The transmitters of the CN Tower fill most of two small floors in the main pod about 1100 feet above ground, above the main public observation deck and restaurant. TV takes up most of the lower (fifth) level, including a big room shared by the CBC’s CBLT and CBLFT (and their original FM sister, CBL-FM 94.1) and TVOntario’s CICA. Up above them is the FM facility, which was originally designed to house charter commercial tenants CHFI (98.1), CKFM (99.9), CHIN-FM (100.7) and CHUM-FM (104.5) in neat rows adjacent to the big Marconi combiner that the stations all owned together under the aegis of “Master FM, Limited.” (You can read more about how that situation came to be over at the Canadian Communications Foundation website.)
Over the years that followed, more FM stations moved from downtown rooftops and suburban locations, while a few lucky broadcasters were able to start brand-new signals here. Both CFNY (102.1), which moved from Brampton, and CILQ (107.1), which had been elsewhere downtown, are now co-owned by Corus and occupy adjacent rooms just down the curving hallway from the master FM room. Both rooms have undergone recent renovations, and now boast pairs of Nautel transmitters. There are more rooms along this hallway, too, that we don’t get to see: Newcap’s CHBM (97.3) was a late arrival up here, signing on in the 1980s as CJEZ, and CJRT (91.1) has its own room as well. (And despite what you may read elsewhere – looking at you, Wikipedia! – classical CFMZ 96.3 transmits from over at First Canadian Place, not here at CN.)
In the 1970s, the CN Tower was the first tentative step toward revitalizing what had been a barren industrial area along the lakeshore west of downtown; four decades later, Corus is trying to do its part to revitalize the lakefront with its Corus Quay development at the foot of Jarvis Street on the east side of downtown. This building opened in 2010 (you can read more about it from Corus here), but still looked brand-new when we got our tour four years later.
Visitors enter from a lobby adorned with a cylindrical display of all of Corus’ many radio, TV and interactive properties. After a few minutes figuring out which of those stations we’d visited (not enough!) we head inside and down a five-story, wood-lined corridor that leads past two TV studios and control rooms to the glass-walled atrium that looks out to the lake. Yes,that’s an indoor slide above at left, leading down to the atrium from conference areas built atop the TV studios in the middle. No, we didn’t get to try it. Yes, we’d love to go back and fix that…
We were here primarily to see the radio stations, which line the outside part of the first floor on the west side of the building. A glass-enclosed rack room greets visitors heading in this way, leading to an L-shaped corridor that’s home to rocker CILQ (Q107) and “Talk 640” (CFMJ). Q107 gets the corner facing the lobby, while AM 640 gets the front wall of the building, starting with a control room that looks through the spacious main talk studio over to two small booths that lead off the corner newsroom, which is decorated with wallpaper featuring famous quotes from newspeople through the years.
Around the west side of the building, there’s another TV studio adjacent to the very unusual space occupied by CFNY (102.1 the Edge). If this studio looks bigger than most, there’s a good reason: the “studio” itself sits on a platform that overlooks a much larger space where bands can come in and perform. If it’s a nice day (as this warm September day was), the glass wall of the studio can be raised to open the whole thing up to the harborfront park outside. How cool is that?
Most of the radio offices are directly upstairs, where there’s also a suite of production rooms that overlook the atrium below.
We didn’t see too much of the rest of this building, but we did get to cross over to the other side of the second floor, where there’s a mammoth rack room that ties together all of the complex networking in this huge facility, as well as a big master control facility for all the cable TV networks that Corus originates here. It’s one impressive plant!
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!
And don’t miss another big batch of Canadian IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Heading for New York’s North Country