CRTC revokes Sackville’s CBC North license

A few of RCI Sackville’s curtain antennas

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to report good news on the SWLing Post. Unfortunately, this news is of a very disappointing turn:  According to the CBC’s plan, Sackville’s shortwave broadcasting license for the CBC North Quebec service has been revoked by the CRTC. This was announced today on the CRTC website; it is an eventuality in the wake of the 80% cut Radio Canada International received in April of this year.

What’s most sad about this revocation is that communities in North Quebec and Northern Canada who rely on this service, many representing First Nations (American Indians), probably do not even realize that they’re about to lose that service–the only service capable of bringing news to their vast Northern region.  The “replacement” for the service will be low-powered FM, which will just not have the same reach as shortwave.

If the three provinces that make up north Canada were a country, it would be the 7th largest country in the world by land mass. Five low power FM transmitters cannot cover this region. (Map: WikiMedia Commons)

A closer look

How vast is this territory? After all, we’re talking about an area where most of us have never traveled. Well, the North Quebec administrative region, alone, is 747,161 sq km (288,480 sq miles)–that’s about the size of Afghanistan, or 200,000 sq km larger than France.

The three provinces which make up northern Canada have a combined area of 3,921,739 km2 (1,514,192 sq mi)–an area larger than India. If northern Canada were a country, it would be the 7th largest in the world.

The Sackville shortwave service covers the entire North Quebec region with ease, and probably most of Northern Canada.

FM can’t replace this service

The CRTC decision states:

The CBC also requested the revocation of its broadcasting license for the shortwave radio undertaking CKCX-SW Sackville, New Brunswick. It indicated that the new transmitters will ensure that the population of the aforementioned locations [Puvirnituq, Kuujjuarapik, Inukjuak, Salluit, and Kuujjuaq] continues to be served by the news and regional information programming of its Radio One service when CKCX-SW Sackville ceases operation.

Five low-power FM stations, one for each of these communities will, at best, cover a total land area of 500 square miles combined.  That equates to a land area about the size of New York City. Note that this is a very generous figure and assumes ideal FM transmission conditions.  Clearly, vast areas of the enormous region–where people live, travel, or hunt–will not be covered; in these areas, radios which once received programming from Sackville will receive only static.

Our petition lives on

Last week, I spearheaded a petition to Canada’s Heritage and Public Safety Ministers and the CBC management asking them to stop dismantling the RCI Sackville site –at least, we asked, please keep this site in a state that could support Canada’s domestic security and the North Quebec Service. While I’m fully aware that this petition is unlikely to alter the course of this previously-made decision (made before anyone could voice disagreement), the petition could still make a positive difference.

There is still time to save Sackville from being dismantled. This petition makes it clear that there is a large community of people who are aware of this arbitrary cut. Only last week, Senator Hugh Segal made a motion on the senate floor that the CBC be made accountable for their unfair 80% cut to RCI (while the whole of the CBC was only cut 10%).

This petition also validates the efforts of those who work at the Sackville site, with whom I’ve been in contact.  They are humbled and appreciative of the extraordinary outpouring of support, in the form of nearly 500 signatures from individuals all over the world. Among the countries represented:  the United States, Mexico, India, Taiwan, and various countries in both Europe and Africa.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to sign the petition and share it with your friends.

Petition to save RCI Sackville from being dismantled

Dear SWLing Post readers,

I don’t often ask you for favors, but over the past few days, I’ve been working hard in the background to stop the Radio Canada International Sackville, New Brunswick transmission site from being dismantled.

Now, I need a favor.

Could you please take a few moments out of your day to sign this Change.org petition I started? Your voice will be added to the petition and it will automatically email the appropriate Canadian politicians who could, at the very least, put a halt to the destruction of the RCI Sackville site.  Canada–indeed, the world–needs this vital shortwave resource.

You don’t have to be Canadian to sign (after all, I’m not), but just someone who cares about radio and believes in its role in domestic security and international relations.

Click here to  sign the petition at Change.org, or use the embedded form below. Also, please consider sharing this with your radio enthusiast networks and email groups. The more voices, the better!

Sincerely,

Thomas

RCI’s “radio silence”

This well-written, comprehensive take on RCI’s closures does an excellent job of addressing radio’s continued relevance in our current socio-political climate. It even includes a brief quote from yours truly.  Thanks, Rich, for bringing this to my attention.

(Source: rabble.ca by Garth Mullis)

Across the Indian sub-continent and Asia, shortwave radio sets scan up and down familiar frequencies, seeking a signal from Canada that had come to be known as “an old friend.” Internet-blocked Chinese activists search the dial for Canadian news of a Hong Kong demonstration. But an ocean of low static is all that emanates from the Sackville, New Brunswick transmitter. Canada’s once robust international radio voice has fallen silent, victim of the latest round of budget cuts.

Recently, choked with emotion, Mark Montgomery closed out the final transmission of Radio Canada International (RCI) after 67 years of shortwave radio programming to the world. Then, dead air. Radio station shuttered and budget slashed by 80 per cent, RCI is now reduced to an anemic web presence and a skeleton staff.

Like vinyl records, newspapers and incandescent light, the death of shortwave radio has long been heralded. But the global millions who listened regularity to RCI may disagree. So do I.

As a nearly blind child, my world was pretty small. But once I found shortwave radio, the world bloomed out of my orange foam headset. My dad slung a long wire up over a high branch in a neighbour’s tree. That antenna connected me to something bigger; fracturing the lonely alienation of the 1980s.

[…]Unlike the Internet, which is easily disrupted by dictators, hackers, wars or natural disasters, shortwave cannot really be jammed and does not require the massive infrastructure of fiber optic networks, servers and miles of phone or cable lines. Unlike reading this story on-line, listening to radio does not leave an electronic record. A profile of one’s interests cannot be generated by authorities. Though, Canadians surely would never have cause to worry about this.

I am not a cyber-luddite. Podcasting has given birth to a radio renaissance and an explosion of voices. Just listen to Memory Palace, 99% invisible or Transom to see how the format is being innovated. Yet, I would never want to see Vancouver’s Co-op Radio or CBC Radio One reduced to an on-line only presence. I want to live in a broad community, not a pod of one.

Radio waves easily cross the digital divide. About a third of the world has no access to phones or electricity, never mind Internet. But battery-powered and hand-cranked shortwave radios are ubiquitous over the developing world, and they won’t be hearing from Canada any more.

Shortwave is also a good backup when other forms of communication go down. It can be used to communicate internally in case of natural disasters (this was done during Hurricane Katrina) and can even transmit Internet content.

[…]Of 18 western countries, Canada is 16th in terms of expenditure per capita on public broadcasting, narrowly beating out New Zealand and the U.S., but RCI punched above its weight.

“Please, Canada, find a way to avoid severing your own tongue. The world is listening to you,” pleads U.S. citizen and founding director of U.S. NGO Ears to Our World, Thomas Witherspoon.

In the ’80s, 20 million Chinese listeners learned English from a series of RCI broadcasts running for months in advance of regular programming to the Middle Kingdom. But China is now more a market for Canadian petro-exports than radio.

Last weekend, Hong Kong erupted in pro-democracy protests. But on the Chinese mainland, the state was able to censor most reportage by blocking Internet content, through deep packet analysis, or simply by a flood of propaganda from government bloggers and tweeters. Previously, millions tuned into RCI’s “Voice of Canada” and would have heard such news. But RCI’s web-site is blocked in China.

International shortwave radio is old school for sure. At fractions of a cent per listener, it’s also cheap and accessible. It allows activists overseas to hear what their own governments are up to. Radio is part of the global conversation. The RCI Action Committee is an employee effort with union support campaigning to save the service.

Radio silence is a ham-fisted decision.

End of transmission.
Garth Mullins is a writer, long time social justice activist and three-chord propagandist living in East Vancouver. You can follow him @garthmullins on Twitter.

Read the full article here.

A glimpse of Radio Canada International’s Sackville, New Brunswick transmission site

The large RCI sign that has long stood beside the Trans-Canada Highway in Sackville, New Brunswick. (Click to enlarge.)

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to receive an extensive tour of the Radio Canada International transmitter site in Sackville, New Brunswick.

Of course, in light of the extensive cuts looming over this facility, the visit was bittersweet. It was an honor to see the transmitters and antennae I’ve listened to since I was eight years old, when I began listening to shortwave. But more impressive, still, are the people behind the scenes: despite a gloomy outlook, the site is busy and even humming due to their dedicated professionalism. The staff actively maintains the transmitters, antennae, and grounds, and it shows–the equipment, building and even floors are immaculate, demonstrating a palpable pride in a remarkable and still very useful site.  I thank them all, and wish them well…

Soon to come:  I’m writing a much more extensive post, outlining the tour and all that I learned.  I took hundreds of photos in an effort to photo-document the site.

Stay tuned!  Until then, here are a few teaser images:

The Sackville offices and transmitter building. I enjoyed a complete photo tour of this building, covering every hallway and office. (Click to enlarge.)

The new control station--completed only recently--allows for full remote operation of the site via the internet. (Click to enlarge.)

Shown above: the Harris transmitter, which almost exclusively carries the North Quebec service on 9,625 kHz. One of their oldest transmitters. (Click to enlarge.)

The right side of this double curtain antenna is used for transmissions to North Quebec on 9,625 kHz. (Click to enlarge.)

Yes, they use their RCI 4x4 truck all the time. The Sackville site is located on a marsh and experiences various challenging weather conditions. (Click to enlarge.)

The main floor, gleaming as ever. (Click to enlarge.)

When I post an article with the full tour and photos, search for the tag: Sackville

RCI Action: Last month of RCI broadcasts, unless…

(Source: RCI Action)

June 24, 2012, will be the last day of Radio Canada International’s radio programming unless we can convince Canada’s government that our national public radio and television broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada went too far when it cut our budget by 80% and decided we would no longer broadcast on shortwave or satellite, and be left with only a web presence on the Internet .

This decision to stop radio broadcasting fails to recognize that most people in the world do not have easy access to the Internet. It fails to recognize that there is very little access around the globe to contextualized Canadian news, news for those outside Canada. And since RCI’s mandate is to explain Canada to as much of the world as possible, CBC/Radio-Canada is making that harder for us.

That is why we are calling on Canada’s federal government to step in, stop the cut, and protect Radio Canada International’s international mandate.

Here’s where we need your help.

Please contact government (Conservative) Members of Parliament and tell them why access to Canadian news is important to you.

You’ll find the e-mail addresses for the MPs, and some more information on the impact of the cuts, announced April 4, 2012, here: http://rciaction.org/blog/what-you-can-do/