A little bit of CBC radio history fades away · 23 February 2017 by colin newell
If you are much under the age of 40, the concept of “radio, the medium that reaches the masses” is probably not a thing that resonates with you.
But for many residents of British Columbia, over the last 70 years, if you lived in an out of the way place, CBC Shortwave on 6160 Khz was likely your only source of news, commentary and entertainment. This service has been on for as long as I can remember. I was a 12 year old when I first discovered CBC 690 in Vancouver was being relayed by a low powered transmitter out on the mudflats of Richmond, British Columbia. It was part of my daily routine as a kid living on the West Coast to see how the news of the day sounded, as transmitted through a crackly and occasionally fading shortwave transmitter.
In the last year, however, amidst one more trim to CBC services, the Shortwave service quietly faded into history for British Columbia. And sure, it is easy to say, in an era of satellite and internet communications, “who listens to the radio anymore anyway?”
Well, through the years, this little 1000 Watt transmitter covered British Columbia and the Pacific North West with a pretty darn good signal – often being heard around the World. It served the fishing fleet in the Pacific, hunters and trappers in the wilds of British Columbia, geologists and foresters working in places served by nothing more than fresh air, sunshine and moon light.
But time moves on. In 2017, our news stories comes at us in 140 character snippets on our social media and video footage is viewed in HD quality on our smart phones. Heck, we hardly need television anymore.
Illustration below – Telus composite Cell coverage for British Columbia – around 15% of the Province has high speed cell coverage.
There was a time, when radio was king and the hardy and adventurous among us kept in touch the old fashioned way and listened to the sweet sounds of the CBC via radio skip. Many of us still do that in some of the more isolated nooks and crannies of this great province via the old style CBC AM radio service. For those of us who tuned the CBC with a multi-band transistor radio, a cranky ionosphere often made for quirky sounding audio and the fading associated with signal conditions gave this regional broadcaster a very retro and way back sound.
Quote from radio operator VE7SL – “Located on the mudflats of far western Richmond (Steveston) and a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean’s Georgia Strait, CKZU’s gets out very well for its compartively small 500W transmitter.”
Photo by Mark Matilla – VA7MM of the CKZU Antenna Array
In the last year, hobbyists and radio amateurs were noting that the little signal from Vancouver had been struggling after 7 decades on the air – a power supply component was creating distortion that was making the signal unlistenable. The decision was made. The plug was pulled. There was likely nary a moment when an outdoors person or fisher looked up from their work to note that CBC’s long range regional service was gone.
When contacted and asked about the regional radio service (via a CBC insider), the engineering department responded… “It’s broken, old and there are no parts…” Right.
Steve VE7SL of Mayne Island continues… “It appears to confirm the rumor that the antenna system consists of a two-wire beam (using wide-spaced folded dipole style elements) … one element being driven and the other element being a reflector. According to Mark, the orientation would beam the relayed CBU-690 signal up the coast of British Columbia and not towards the SE as the original Google photo appears to indicate. It is certainly a well ‘overbuilt’ structure. No doubt its height contributes to its ability to radiate a good signal all around North America (and Europe).”
On the other coast, in Newfoundland, it’s a different story. Private radio broadcasts began on the rock in 1932 but in 1939 the government of the day took over radio. A shortwave service began there in 1940 and used different frequencies depending on the time of day. Newfoundlands finest hours happened in 1940 as debate started about what would become of this British colony including thoughts cast towards joining the U.S.A. as a new state! Through the years equipment was updated and many radio stations carrying national broadcasts were added to the out of the way places in Newfoundland. That being so, Labrador, its own territory with its own special needs was covered by station CKZN out of St. Johns and future plans are to consider fully supporting regional shortwave broadcasting to reach the nooks and crannies of this rugged area.
So, what of British Columbia? At 365 thousand square miles (Newfoundland and Labrador are 165 thousand square miles combined) you would think we would be still worthy of regional shortwave radio service. There are, arguably, thousands of square miles of this great Province with little or no cell coverage and certainly no radio coverage during the day or night. So the question remains – why has CBC British Columbia simply gone “Meh…” as their primary and only regional Shortwave transmitter has puffed out? I’d love to know.
I’m not going to be bitter about it. CBC Shortwave service in B.C. is gone, but not forgotten. Thank you CBC. For decades of service to the small places and reaching the hardy faces of those brave souls who tamed the rugged vista that is British Columbia. Your radio waves are gone, but we will remember the good times when you brought the news, entertainment and music into the distant hills and valleys of this most rugged of Canadian provinces. But if you want to re-think this loss of service or entertain ideas about bringing it back, I am all ears!
Video below – CKZU 6160 khz as picked up in Japan
Update – By 1946, CBR operated a shortwave relay for remote areas of British Columbia using the call sign CBRX and operating on a frequency of 6160 kHz (in the 49m band). The call sign changed to CBUX in 1952 when the AM station became CBU. In 1965, the call sign changed to CKZU, recognizing that the ITU prefix CB was not assigned to Canada, but to Chile. The transmitter operates at 1000 watts and is located adjacent to CBU’s AM transmitter.
Colin Newell is a long time Victoria resident who finds stories in the odd places… and tries to tell them like it is…
Talking Ham Radio on CBC Spark with Nora · 11 November 2016 by colin newell
Social media and its evolution – where did it begin? And where is it going?
We enjoy a spectrum of social media tools and experiences in the 21st Century and rightfully so. We have the tools and the technology to make great things happen. But how did we get to where we are today?
Humans have been communicating, somewhat inefficiently, for thousands and thousands of years – with foot messengers, smoke signals and simple peer to peer links, one on one, through the chapters of human history.
It is only with the advent of the telegraph and, soon after, the radio that we can reach a lot of people, reliably and over great distances. And it was radio, in the form of amateur or ham radio, that facilitated the instantaneous and often random social connections that would become the World’s first social media medium.
I talked at length with Nora Young on CBC Spark. The entire show was around 55 minutes and covered some of the history of early social media and its links to amateur radio technology and popular music.
Feel free to enjoy the entire episode over here
Or, if you are short for time, have a listen to our near-5 minute chat with Nora on the subject so dear to my heart – Amateur or Ham Radio and its relationship to the modern social media we enjoy today. –
If you cannot see the audio player below, click here for the mp3.
Book review - Straddling the Hound - The Curious Charms of Long-Distance Bus Travel · 30 August 2016 by colin newell
When humanity first put one foot in front of the other and locked its gaze on the horizon, the force of curiosity and exploration would inevitably build nations.
Without a curious nature and desire to follow the sun, we would be an entirely different people living in an entirely different world.
Retired medical doctor, Trevor Watson, is one such 21st-century explorer who finds the attraction of the open road impossible to resist. At a very early age, Trevor would sit in his bedroom and gaze at a large full colour Mercator map; he would imagine ocean journeys between tropical outposts. These junkets would often involve ingenious plans to avoid pirates, bandits, and encounters with malarial mosquitos.
Responsibility and practical demands of life in the adult world settled in and Trevor (in a candid and wry admittance) reluctantly decided on a career in family medicine. It would be a wise choice since it created an opportunity to meet his lovely wife of 46 years and travel and work in some interesting corners of the globe. Being a family physician also led him to write a column dealing with health issues for several Canadian newspapers in the 1990s.
In Trevor Watson’s debut release, Straddling the Hound he takes us on a series of explorations into the American hinterland. He frequently integrates etymological and linguistic analysis of place names, regional personalities and the very industry and infrastructure of the open road.
The book has more substance and surprises than what you would expect at first glance. Straddling the Hound is a very satisfying reading experience – as page after page of first person travel observations reveals unflinchingly detailed explanations of place names, people and the regional origins of successful businesses that ultimately thrived because of travel.
As you would expect, a book about bus travel in North America is not all about smiling faces. This is not the simpler times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A journey on a trans continental bus is as much about discovering something new as it is seeing the seedier side of the American experience:
One chap particularly caught my eye; he was as stocky as can be; his neck must have been 20” around. He was, I imagined, Carlos “Chopper” Ramirez, out on weekend parole. He had cryptic messages tattooed on his neck and bald scalp. His head actually seemed suffused, as though it was about to explode. Oddly enough, he had – of all things – a huge golden polo medal hanging around his neck. I’ll bet you anything it was stolen, or maybe won in a knife fight.
I found myself drawing the curtains on my suburban home as I fell deeper and deeper into Dr. Watson’s first person dystopian vision of downtown America. That feeling would pass as the writing gave way to a folksier and journalistic treatise on the very fabric of America’s open road, its people, the itinerant among us and the many meanings of our journey.
Straddling the Hound is not just about the bricks, mortar, concrete and blacktop of our interconnecting matrix of highways that connect all the people in their varied splendour. Its also a fearless gaze at the strata of society. Dr. Watson takes us on a sojourn under the soiled fingernails and into the duffle bags of the every day people that ride the bus – heading home, leaving home, and often away from a temporary home. He flirts with often acerbic descriptions of frustrated employees and drivers of Greyhound. He explains the origins of highway-byway diners like Denny’s:
Denny’s was founded in 1953, in Lakewood, California, by Richard Jezak and Harold Butler. The original name was Danny’s Donuts, but a few years later was changed to Denny’s to distinguish itself from a competing chain called Doughnut Dan’s.
More than anything else Trevor Watson wants to achieve his mission; to find out about the very essence of the people that he encounters; to understand them and their history and their place in the modern world. It is, I think, the thirst for knowledge that powers, in part, the motivation of the (as Trevor describes himself) hodophiliac – someone who’s fond of or loves traveling.
Dr. Watson (Photo above) takes us on a dusty road trip leaving us significantly more curious about the world around us. I am very confident that readers of this blog would definitely enjoy putting on their traveling shoes and taking a ride on this bus. Copies of “Straddling the Hound” are available on Amazon.ca and also at Tanners Books in beautiful Sidney, British Columbia, Bolen Books at the Hillside Mall and Ivy’s Books in Oak Bay.
Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, who is constantly in search of a great cup of coffee and a good book to read.
A slight book review - Adventures in Solitude · 11 August 2016 by colin newell
One would hardly think that we could improve on the relative paradise of Kona, Hawaii – a coastal village often basking in a seemingly endless summer sun, caressed by a cleansing surf and feeling the gentle quiet of the off season.
Despite this perfection, we did. And we did it with a book no less.
And what better book than one that dishes out surprises and regional familiarity by the pail full.
As a Canadian West coast resident who grew up in the in-between zone of not quite country but not quite city life of Southern Vancouver Island, it felt familiar reading a comprehensive, compelling and honest tale of a young man’s coming of age in the blustery South West coastal region of British Columbia. This area, often so unflinchingly merciless, so physically and mentally challenging, was the backyard of my childhood.
Although I have never been in the heart of Desolation Sound, I have been in the region. One of the towns mentioned in the book, Lund, which is the gateway to Desolation Sound, was one of my last stops on many roads trips exploring the area. It is up the road a ways from Powell River at the end of a fully paved 6600 mile road that reaches all the way to Santiago de Chile. And yet, it is, has been and will always be the road less traveled.
I have been to similar places to Lund on Vancouver Island like Port Renfrew, Port Hardy, Telegraph Bay, Ucluelet and many, many others. They are the very fabric of this region and offer a glimpse of what life is like in almost complete isolation.
As pages rolled by I would soon come to realize how much of B.C. wilderness was in my own blood – ready to be relived and re-appreciated.
Adventures in Solitude chronicles the life (particularly the early child development) of CBC host and journalist Grant Lawrence – a fellow who comes across as a chatty and witty pop culture expert and music critic perhaps lacking the kind of depth and dimensionality I have come to expect from other more seasoned and elderly statesmen of Canada’s beloved public broadcaster.
So, imagine the delight of tucking into a randomly selected volume from Victoria’s premier bookstore Munro’s for the purpose of getting me through the fairly routine 5 hour flight from the West Coast to Kona, Hawaii and realizing that there was something truly great between these soft covers. Its resonance with so many hardy Canadians, in part, explains why the book has picked up so many accolades so quickly.
Because, for me, a slightly outdoors kind of guy, here was a story that resonated so deeply in my coastal consciousness that on some minute level I felt like parts of me were incorporated into the book.
Raised in a dissimilar vein to my own, Grant’s background was from tony West Vancouver where lawyers, developers and family money call home. Grant’s dad was a property developer of some note and success and happened upon a piece of land in B.C.‘s coastal wilderness at one of those “just at the right time” moments. Spending summer after bucolic summer in Desolation Sound, the Lawrence family found themselves becoming part of the regional history and folklore of the area.
I do not want to spoil the story though folks – you will have to buy a copy for yourselves. Any long time B.C. resident or Canadian that loves the outdoors and spent part of their formative years anywhere near the coastal wild of the West Coast needs to read this book.
This book reminds me of a really good non-fiction version of a Doug Coupland novel – and I hope that neither of the authors find this insulting because I think Coupland is utterly brilliant – and of course as a British Columbian I relate to his work as well.
And another important lesson for me revealed – having figured out that Grant Lawrence was more than the sum of some City parts…
Never judge a Man… or a Book… by its cover.
On location in Kona, Hawaii – I am Colin Newell.
Rare Radio Canada Broadcast from December 24th, 1989 · 24 December 2015 by colin newell
Click here for audio file if you cannot see flash player above.
The following is a 128kbps stream of a Radio Canada International broadcast originally aired on December 24th, 1989 – called a “Native Indian Christmas in Canada” – although a bit dated, it gives an interesting perspective and historic context of life in North America well before the European settlers arrived.
This article has a very, very limited life span and the file will be pulled on December 30th. Enjoy it while you can. This program originated from a 1/4” Reel-reel CBC Master tape. Sadly, much of the CBC archives have been trashed or disposed of due to cuts and restrictions on space. This little bit of history is now preserved for all time in the digital realm.
Are you ready? Chapter One · 9 April 2015 by colin newell
It is 2:22 AM on the dot when the ground starts to move in Victoria. You are sleeping soundly in your bed and, initially, the noise and vibration doesn’t fully awaken you. Like emerging from an under water dive, you gasp at first as you reorient yourself to the full reality of being awake. By now 10 seconds has passed by and the side to side movement appears to be intensifying. You are now fully aware as the thunderous grinding noises of earth and rock pitched against each other unfold. Everything moves helplessly atop this geologic canvas in a way that is at once fully terrifying and at the same time cartoonish.
Everything that is not tied down is being thrown around as if in a childhood toy box. And now, you are just one of the toys at the mercy of forces both devastating and unseen.
You roll out of bed trying to stand up and as you reach for some clothing in the darkness, you realize that you control nothing – you are entirely at the mercy of this event. It starts and ends when it is good and ready. Through the window and in the street power poles pendulum back and forth, whipping power lines taut. They fracture, power transformers hum, flash and explode in a shower of sparks.
Before you know it you are pushing your way to the front door of your home, oddly still standing, its corridors littered with a lifetime of personal possessions. Common sense mixed with a supreme quantity of fear and dread set in. You remember some of the things you have heard about earthquakes, how most of the injuries occur while fumbling around in the minutes following the shaking. Much to your astonishment, you discover that you have pulled on a pair of shoes because it is a good thing: the floor of your home and the outdoors are layered with broken glass. It’s everywhere.
The suburb where you live has just been hit with an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 – the shaking lasted 27 seconds which seemed like much more. As you look around you are struck by the normality of everything on first glance. Nothing fell over, you think. As your hearing starts to kick in amidst the darkness and chatter of neighbors emerging from their homes, you take stock of your immediate surroundings. In the distance you can hear the hiss of broken gas lines, the report of people calling to each other, and even the sound of terror – those alone, staggering into the street wondering what is next.
Your earthquake check list is well established in your head. You instinctively reach for your tool kit that you keep in your car (and an extra set in the garage) and shut off the gas main to the house. Thankfully, there is no water rushing into the street as evidenced by a ruptured water main. Even though you are almost frozen with fear, you keep moving and pushing yourself through the experience.
Your check list scrolls in your head:
a.) Water… got at least a weeks worth in bottles (and lots of beer!)
b.) Candles… check c.) dried food… (enough for a dozen or so neighbors for a week!)
d.) first aid kit… check e.) shelter… house is still standing. It’s summer and I have a 4 person tent. Excellent.
f.) Radio. You grab it on the way out of the house. It’s tuned to a local AM station and has fresh batteries.
The local radio station is running on emergency power. This is your first and primary way of assessing what has happened on a broader scale. Your cell phone is currently a paper weight overloaded by panicked 911 calls and toppled towers. As you divide your attention between the crackling radio and the downtown horizon in the distance, you are overwhelmed by the site of a rising orange glow over the city.
To be continued
Colin Newell is a writer, technician and advocate for emergency preparedness – who is, more or less, prepared for anything nature can throw at him.