September 5, 2008
So we're all done with our recap of Big Trip 2007 - and just a few days ago, a big pile of boxes of Tower Site Calendar 2009 came back from the printer, all ready for sale and for your office or transmitter shack wall.
For the next few weeks here on Tower Site of the Week, we'll feature some of the sites shown in the new calendar - and we hope you'll take a moment to get your order in for the calendar, or better yet, show your support for Site of the Week and NorthEast Radio Watch with a subscription!
This week, we take you to Kingston, Ontario, a pretty little city that sits at the northeastern corner of Lake Ontario. It's just 100 miles or so as the crow flies from our home base in Rochester to downtown Kingston, but with the lake in the way, it's about a three-hour drive over to Syracuse, up I-81 to the Thousand Islands Bridge, then back down Highway 401 into Kingston.
Our visit in March 2008 came as the market was shifting dramatically. In the course of just a year, Kingston's two AM stations both moved to FM, another new FM signal came on the air, and several US-based signals serving the market shifted formats as well.
Our first Kingston stop came in the suburban area on the city's north side, at the studios at 993 Princess Street that have been home to CHUM Limited's (now CTVglobemedia's) radio group for the last few years. The big gun here is CFLY (98.3), a pop-leaning top-40 outlet with a big signal that even makes it down to Rochester sometimes. CFLY is the FM outgrowth of one of the city's original AM stations, CKLC, which operated on 1380 for many years before shifting to FM on November 29, 2007.
The new CKLC-FM (98.9) programs a "classic alternative" format as "98.9 the Drive."
The building's L-shaped studio corridor (with a sizable newsroom at the corner of the "L") is also home to a Kingston studio for another nearby CTV station, CJPT (103.7 Brockville), which runs adult hits as "Bob FM."
After a nice lunch in downtown Kingston with our host, CFLY/CKLC program director Dan Mellon, we head for the city's other big commercial broadcasting cluster. At 170 Queen Street, just a few blocks from the bank building at 99 Brock Street that housed CFLY/CKLC for so many years, we find the Corus stations: CBC-TV affiliate CKWS (Channel 11), rocker CFMK (96.3) and AC "Lite" CFFX (104.3).
The building, as shown above from Queen Street, is deceptively small: it actually spreads out at the back of the block, behind that house to the left of the front door, to make room for TV control room and studio facilities.
There's not much TV control going on here these days - Corus "hubs" the CKWS operation from its sister station CHEX-TV over in Peterborough, where master control and commercial playout is handled. Only the local "Newswatch" newscasts are controlled from here - a half-hour at 5:30 that's primarily features, an hour at 6 PM and a half-hour at 11.
From the TV studio at the back of the building (when built in 1953, it was the largest in Canada at 64 by 48 feet), we go upstairs, past a production facility and sales area, to the radio studios that overlook the front lobby. CFFX is the old CKWS(AM), which operated on 960 until January 15, 2008, when it completed the move to FM that started in the fall of 2007, when its AM oldies format gave way to "Lite 104.3."
The CFFX studio looks into the "FM96" studio, which in turn overlooks the lobby and Queen Street. These are relatively new studios, dating back only to 2002, when the radio stations returned here from studios on Counter Street that they had used for two decades or so.
From the Corus studios, we head for the docks to catch a ferry to Wolfe Island, home to many of Kingston's transmitter sites. The "winter dock" lets us off within site of the CKLC tower site, which has been converted from AM to FM use. Last fall, the old four-tower AM array was taken down, first supplanted by a little two-bay FM setup next to the transmitter building, then by a new 500-foot tower out back where the AM sticks used to be. From here, CKLC-FM uses 8.7 kW, directional, sending most of its power north and west over the city.
We've made a wintertime trip to Wolfe Island in large part to see the other AM array here, still standing two months after its January 15 sign-off.
CKWS, later CFFX (960), called Wolfe Island home as early as 1942, and the tower configuration here dates to the mid-sixties, when the station increased power to 10 kW days, 5 kW nights. (Two of the six towers were replaced after coming down in a 1977 storm.)
By the time we got here in March 2008, this site was silent, and the towers wouldn't be standing much longer. Corus had already sold the land, and the site is being redeveloped as a wind-power farm, we're told.
(It's this site, shown at left, that's featured in the 2009 Tower Site Calendar!)
The biggest transmitter site on Wolfe Island sits right at the middle of the island, home initially to CKWS-TV (Channel 11) and CFMK (96.3). Their old 825' tower, a fixture on Wolfe Island since 1960, came down in the big ice storm of January 1998, and a decade later, we find a new 1000' tower at the same site.
The new CKWS-TV antenna is an unusual 12-bay panel that's side-mounted at the top of the tower. Below it, a master FM antenna carries three FM stations: CFMK, the new CFFX-FM (104.3) and CIKR (K-Rock 105.7), a new station that John Wright put on the air in 2001.
Having seen all of Wolfe Island's towers, we head back to the ferry and to the mainland, making our way north to a ridge that runs along the north side of Highway 401. Several towers dot the landscape here, most notably the one owned by the CBC and home to three FM signals and two TV transmitters.
At the top of the tower are Radio-Canada outlet CBLFT-14 (Channel 32) and TVOntario's CICO-TV-38 (Channel 38), and below that is a master antenna used by CBC Radio One's CBCK (107.5), Radio Two's CBBK (92.9) and Radio-Canada's CJBC-2-FM (99.5). With its 100 kilowatts, the CBCK signal is especially potent from up here; with the demise of CBL (740) in Toronto, CBCK is our last remaining usable CBC Radio One here in Rochester across the lake.
Just down the road is what looks like an old telephone company tower, where close examination turns up a little panel antenna (noted by the arrow) that's used by Kingston's newest radio station. CKXC (93.5 Kix FM), which had just signed on in January. "Kix" is a sister station to John Wright's K-Rock, and its format actually migrated across the lake from the 102.7 licensed to Cape Vincent, New York. That station is operated out of Wright's Kingston studios (in a nondescript office building near the CFLY/CKLC studios), and now does standards as "The Lake," WLYK.
About a dozen miles to the north is the small town of Harrowsmith, Ontario, and just east of town is a tall tower that's home to CFLY's 100 kW signal. This site, too, was damaged in the 1998 ice storm, when a chunk of falling ice pierced the roof of the transmitter building, knocking the station down to low power for a while until the site could be rebuilt.
Back out along Highway 401 as we head out of town, we find a utility tower on a small knoll near the highway, and careful examination shows a six-bay antenna near the top. This is CFRC (101.9), the radio station of Queen's University, and it has a long and proud broadcast history. Queen's has been on the air on FM since 1944, when experimental VE9BH signed on as one of Canada's first FM signals; on AM, 9BT, later CFRC (1490), began operations in 1922 and remained on the air until 1990, when it was silenced in favor of FM operation. CFRC-FM moved here (to the "Cantel Tower") when the AM was silenced, relocating from its old 91.9 frequency to 101.9.
The 91.9 frequency ended up in the hands of Kingston College and Vocational Institute, which runs low-power CKVI with just 6.5 watts on that channel; we heard it, but didn't go looking for the transmitter while we were downtown.