Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When you’re taking someone to Toronto for the first time – someone, mind you, who lives and breathes broadcast facilities – where do you go right away?
The CN Tower, of course: it’s the home to most of Toronto’s TV facilities and all the FMs that managed to find combiner and antenna capacity before running out of space up there. (When it was built in 1977, who could have imagined Toronto would have needed more than eight full-power FMs?)
On this particular trip, unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the connections we needed to get NECRAT’s Mike Fitzpatrick in to the transmitter floors at the CN Tower, so we waited in line like civilians and paid our way up to the observation deck, whereupon we looked over for a spectacular view of the other major rooftop site in Toronto.
First Canadian Place, at just under 300 meters (978 feet), is no slouch itself as buildings go. By the time it went up in 1975 as the tallest skyscraper in Canada (an honor it still holds), it didn’t end up with much broadcasting on it, since the CN Tower was already in the planning stages a few blocks to the south.
That changed quickly, as new FM signals arrived in town without capacity at CN. All-news CKO (99.1) was the first signal up here in 1977, followed in later years by college stations CKLN (88.1) and CIUT (89.5), then later by a slew of commercial signals including CIRV (88.9), CKIS (92.5), CFXJ (93.5), CFMZ (96.3), CKFG (98.7), CJSA (101.3) and CFPT (106.5).
What we’re here to see, however, after two elevator rides up from the lobby, is the facility the CBC built here in 1999 when it took Radio One off the AM dial and moved from CBL (740) to the new CBLA (99.1), which replaced the long-defunct CKO. Not even the CBC had available antenna space at CN for its flagship station, so CBLA occupied a spiffy new room here next to what was then the transmitter room for Rogers’ “OMNI 2” (CJMT-TV 44).
Another CBC facility, French-language CJBC-FM (90.3), had signed on in 1992 at low power from CN, but it moved here in 2001 to share the room with CBLA. Today, each station has a pair of Nautel HD transmitters in an alternate-main configuration, feeding a combiner that feeds the big eight-bay panel antenna on the north tower up on the roof.
There’s also a backup transmitter here for the CBC’s CN Tower FM transmitter, CBC Music’s CBL-FM (94.1); the CBC Music service is also heard on CBLA’s HD2, just as the main French-language service from CJBC (860) is heard on the HD2 of CJBC-FM (90.3).
Want all the detail on who’s who up on the First Canadian Place towers? Mike has all the antennas detailed on his NECRAT page for the site.
Back up at the CN Tower, we’ll leave you this week with some previews of sites you’ll see later in our Toronto trip recap.
With a long lens, it’s easy to look out to Toronto Island, which separates downtown from Lake Ontario, and to catch some glimpses of the two AM stations that call the island home. CHKT (1430) is the slightly closer of the two sites, while CHIN (1540) is in the distance; we’d get out there on foot later on, and you’ll see those sites here in a few weeks.
We can see some studios from up here, too, including the complex at 299 Queen Street West that used to be Moses Znaimer’s CITY-TV and MuchMusic.
In a complex deal after Bell acquired most of Znaimer’s properties, CITY-TV itself went to Rogers and moved to a different location at Dundas Square, while Bell moved in to the Queen Street building, which we’ll see in great detail in two weeks.
And it’s easy to look straight down from the CN Tower to see the CBC Broadcast Centre, which fills an entire city block. We didn’t get the tour here this time (there are still pandemic precautions keeping visitors mostly away), but we did at least walk by and go through the atrium to see some of the historical displays that remained after the CBC museum here was closed down a few years back.
Thanks to the CBC’s Mick Carberry for the tour!
FEBRUARY IS ALMOST GONE
We are down to our final copies and they won’t be reprinted.
This is the 23rd edition of our popular wall calendar, featuring gorgeous full-color photos of tower and transmitter sites from around the country, and sometimes the world. Our photos capture the sites throughout the day and throughout the year.
This makes a great gift for the tower enthusiast in your life — or a special treat for yourself!
Don’t miss out — order yours today!
And don’t miss a big batch of Toronto IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More Toronto