Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
The Great Lakes are big – so big that even the smallest of them, our hometown Lake Ontario, takes the better part of a day to drive all the way around. That’s one reason we don’t often find ourselves driving nearly halfway around the lake to get to Durham Region, just east of Toronto and a solid four-plus hours through Toronto traffic to reach by road from Rochester.
But last fall, we found ourselves motivated to gas up the car, grab our NEXUS card and head for the border.
We’ll show you the motivating reason at the bottom of the column, but before we get there, we had a long-delayed visit to make to fellow broadcaster Doug Kirk at the Durham Radio cluster that controls most of the region’s radio.
Here in the shadow of the massive Toronto radio market, Doug has assembled a nifty cluster of two FMs plus an AM with a “nested repeater” on FM – and we find it all in the incongruous confines of a second-floor office suite at the Oshawa Municipal Airport on the north side of town.
Power Broadcasting put two of these stations, CKDO(AM) and CKGE(FM), in this space back in the 1990s, and when Durham Radio bought them from subsequent owner Corus in 2003, it moved its own CJKX(FM) in here as well, expanding and renovating the space.
CJKX, which does country as “KX 96,” sits in one of the new studios at the center of the complex, while the two original Power/Corus stations are down the hall past the newsroom in studios with a nice window vista of the Oshawa Airport runways. (The announcers here tell me they’ve learned more than a little bit about general aviation just from watching pilots practicing outside.)
CKGE does rock as “Rock 94.9,” aiming not only at Durham Region but at the greater Toronto area to the west (“KX 96” also has an on-channel repeater in downtown Toronto, as well as CJKX-1 on 89.9 in Sunderland to serve northern Durham; areas west and south of Toronto can hear country from sister station CHKX 94.7 in Hamilton, which we visited in 2015.)
CKDO, then, is the purely local station for Durham, playing “Good Time Oldies” on 1580 AM and 107.7 FM, with a heavy diet of local news as well.
“Want to see some transmitters?,” Doug asked us during this October 2016 visit, and yes, we sure did – so we set off to the northeast to see the site that CKGE shares with former Corus sister station CHEX-TV-2 (Channel 22) on Enfield Road in Mitchell Corners.
This area is about to get busier with the construction of the final eastward extension of Highway 407 just to the north, but for now it’s still a bucolic rural hilltop, once you get past the construction traffic out Tauntin Road.
On a clear day, you can see the downtown Toronto skyline from here, and it’s pretty clear this afternoon as we look up at the antennas for CKGE and CHEX-TV-2 and then step inside to see their transmitters inside this compact building. (Did you really expect anything other than a Nautel in a Canadian FM station?)
Time and traffic keep us from going westward to the CJKX tower just north of the 407/412 interchange, which also hosts the CKDO-1 107.7 transmitter and antenna, and instead we head southward toward the lakeshore in Courtice, where the CKDO AM site sits south of the 401 near the foot of Courtice Road.
This site went up in 1956, when then-CKLB moved from 1240 to 1350 and upped power from 250 watts to 5000 watts. At the time, it used four towers, adding a fifth when it increased power to 10 kW in 1960.
The move to 1580 in 2006 (filling the class A channel left vacant when CBJ in Chicoutimi, Quebec went to FM) meant a reduction to just two towers, though a third has been left standing since the changeover; a second Harris DX10 transmitter came into the building at that point, too.
Which brings us back around to the reason we picked this particular day to head north: under Power and then Corus, these stations had been sisters to CHEX-TV-2, an odd little TV station that signed on in 1992 as a repeater of then-CBC affiliate CHEX-TV (Channel 12) in Peterborough.
CHEX-TV-2 filled a UHF allotment that had been used by Global for years up in Uxbridge, north of Oshawa. (Global finally got a true Toronto signal on channel 41; Uxbridge went radio silent for more than two decades until Frank Torres put CIUX 105.5 on the air up there in 2015.)
In 2004, CHEX-TV-2 split off from its Peterborough parent to be licensed on its own, and by then it was already doing separate local newscasts branded first as “CHEX Durham” and then as “Channel 12 Durham,” originating from a small streetfront studio in downtown Oshawa.
In 2015, CHEX and CHEX-TV-2 switched from CBC to CTV, and in 2016 “Channel 12 Durham” began carrying newscasts from Global, even though it also carries CTV entertainment shows. It rebranded on October 31 as “Global Durham,” and our visit on October 28 gave us the chance to park out by the tower and watch the last “Channel 12 Durham”-branded newscasts from the downtown studio, in glorious analog SD.
Thanks to Doug Kirk for the tours!
And don’t miss a batch of Oshawa IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Jamestown, New York