Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When you’re taking a tower-obsessed friend to Toronto for the first time, there’s a lot of ground to cover, at least if you want to see the city’s AM sites.
Three of the big Toronto AM stations actually broadcast from across Lake Ontario in the Niagara region, and they’re such a long drive from the city (well over an hour even without traffic) that we’ll feature them in a later installment. But even without those three at the bottom of the dial (CJCL 590, CFIQ 640 and CFTR 680), it can still take half a day or more to see the rest.
If you’re coming around the lake from Hamilton, as we usually do, the first couple of sites are easy: the 50,000-watt sites of CHUM (1050) and CFRB (1010) are located within sight of each other on the Lake Ontario shore in present-day Mississauga.
CHUM is the southernmost of the two, literally on the lakeshore along Clearview Creek, just south of the big Ford plant along the QEW superhighway. Its six-tower site here went up in 1964, replacing an earlier daytime-only site north of Toronto, and for more than three decades this was the top-40 station in town, before evolving into today’s all-sports format.
When CHUM moved out here in the sixties, it drew initial protest from its older neighbor. As we recounted in last week’s installment, CFRB had been on the clear channel of 860 until the CBC forced it to swap frequencies with its own CJBC after World War II. CFRB’s new facility on 1010 went up in Clarkson, where it remains today – but today’s five-tower arrangement here is the result of a 1990s agreement between CFRB and co-channel WINS in New York that allowed both 1010s to let out their patterns somewhat.
There’s a shortwave station here, too: CFRX (6070) rebroadcasts CFRB for remote audiences, from a short tower on the north side of the property that’s maintained more as an engineering hobby than anything else these days.
Leaving our car at the GO Train station in Clarkson, we head into Toronto and part ways with NECRAT’s Mike Fitzpatrick for a few hours: while he checks out the Hockey Hall of Fame, we’re headed for the ferry to Toronto Island. Most Torontonians use that short ferry ride to enjoy all the recreation the island offers – an amusement park, rental bikes and a lovely beach along Lake Ontario.
We, however, set out on foot for a very purposeful hike of a mile or so, past the beach, down a turnoff to the island’s nature school and over toward the swamp where one of two island-based AM sites sits.
CHKT (1430) started out here as a two-tower, 250-watt facility on 1400 back in 1950, when hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt put CKFH on the air as a spunky little independent station. It added more towers in 1959 when it moved to 1430 as part of a multi-station swap that sent CHEX in Peterborough from 1430 to 980 and opened the way for a new 1420 in Peterborough, CKPT. (Those two AMs have since moved to FM.)
By 1970, CKFH was up to 50,000 watts from six towers here, which were subsequently rebuilt in 1986. By then, 1430 had become CJCL, a callsign that would be swapped down the dial to 590 in 1995. 1430 went country for a bit before settling in as a Chinese-language outlet, today’s CHKT (Hong Kong Toronto).
In 1985, 1430 got some company just to its southwest. Multicultural CHIN (1540) had signed on in the late 1960s as a daytimer, using the frequency and site west of Toronto that had belonged to the old CHFI-AM before it moved to 680.
It took the move to the island site (built atop part of a city water plant) to get 1540 to full-time operation, with a tight directional pattern that avoided sending signals south into the US and toward the Bahamas, which claimed 1540 as a clear channel.
It’s hard to get a really clear shot of either Toronto Island AM, since they were deliberately designed with short towers to avoid creating much visual disruption out on this scenic island – but with such a beautiful day, we’re able to walk around several sides of the sites to get some good pictures, including the big view above that shows part of CHIN, part of CHKT and the Toronto skyline that includes the CN Tower, home of CHIN’s FM sister, CHIN-FM (100.7).
(And with 14-year-old Eli in tow, we also make a stop at the Gibraltar Point lighthouse west of the towers for some pictures before the long hike back to the other ferry dock to head back into the city.)
The next day finds us out in the suburbs near Pearson Airport, looking for two of metro Toronto’s newer AM stations. CINA (1650) signed on in 1998 from Mississauga, serving many of the area’s Southeast Asian communities. While its antenna coordinates put it on a shopping center on Eglinton Avenue just east of Highway 403, it took us a bit of sleuthing to find the actual inconspicuous Valcom whip antenna, in a field a bit south and west of that shopping center.
An even newer ethnic outlet, CIRF (1350), is “Radio Humsafar,” serving the South Asian communities, and it’s not hard to find at all: its Valcom whip antenna sits right above its studios in an industrial park on Rutherford Road in Brampton.
(There are two more Valcom whip sites on the east side of Toronto we’ve still never seen: one, near the Cherry Street docks, carries Spanish-language CHHA 1610 and Toronto Metropolitan University’s CJRU 1280, while another east of downtown is home to Greek-focused CHTO 1690.)
One more site we did get Mike to is over here west of Toronto in Oakville. CJYE (1250 Oakville) is the descendant of Oakville’s original AM 1250, CHWO, which signed on in 1956 and added a multiethnic daytime-only sister station, CJMR (1190 Mississauga) in 1974. Development quickly encroached on the station’s shared site near the QEW, sending them out to a new site along then-rural Highway 5 near Third Line Road in 1980.
With some modification, that’s the site that’s still on Highway 5 (with new development now encroaching) today – but the stations have changed. CJMR was able to go full-time on 1320 in 1990 after the former CFGM moved to 640. In 2001, CHWO won CRTC permission to take over the 50,000-watt 740 signal that had been the CBC’s CBL, but the Caine family obtained a new license to keep operating 1250 in its current incarnation as Christian AC CJYE (Joy 1250).
As so many other ownership structures have changed, the Caine family still owns both AMs, holding fast out here on the western edge of the Toronto metro – at least until development gets to this site, too.
CALENDARS ON CLEARANCE
If you don’t have your 2023 Tower Site Calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get it. Because we have lowered the price to just $14.
The calendar has great photos of broadcast sites near and far (everywhere from Navajo Nation on the cover to Boston to Toronto to Texas, and beyond), plus a lovely “centerfold” you can keep on your wall for 2024.
It’s still shipping regularly, and you can have yours in just a couple of days!
Order your copy and you’ll see what we mean.
If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of where IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: North, West and then South…