A little bit of CBC radio history fades away · 23.02.17 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…