Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fight at the border

The U.S. borders 5 countries if you include maritime boundaries and territories: Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Russia, and Cuba. You might say hold on there partner, those are international water there. Not so, after September 28th 1945 we actually have rights extending to the boundaries of our continental shelf. I bring this up because at every boundary two sets of broadcasting laws meet and must reach an accord.In the U.S. we have the FCC and in Canada they have the CRTC. They have tried to work it out but in general there's a don't ask don't tell policy on signal conflicts. They let the stations impotently duke it out. I cite for example the harrowing tale of 99.5 WDCX, in Buffalo, NY.

WDCX was granted a CP back in 1959. Crawford broadcasting was in it's infancy and was building FM stations in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and Illinois. After letting the first CP lapse, Crawford re-filed and went on air at WDCX in 1963. They were then just as they are now, a Christian radio station.

In 2003 in Kitchener, Ontario 90 miles away... yes 90... the CRTC licensed a CIKZ to operate at a mere 16,00 watts. Still, 1,600 Kw is more than a local service and it cut into the coverage of WDCX. After a lot of phone calls the reception problems for both stations were ended by CIKZ moving over to 106.7. After that, all was well.Until January of this year. CKKW signed on at 99.5. Despite the problems before, the CRTC licensed the frequency again. The CRTC has been aggressively moving it's AM stations onto the FM band. They (unlike the FCC) is committed to evacuating the noisy AM band. CKKW replaces 1090 CIKV-AM. The CRTC knew there would be interference. But the protected part of the WDCX protected contour ends at the Canadian border. 99.5 is the last FM frequency available in Kitchener, if they are to move to FM at all this is their only option.

There are three important facts to know here:
1. WDCX was on the FM band and serving the metro area first and have changed virtually nothing in almost 50 years.
2. WDCX is one of a handful of FM stations grandfathered in to operate at over 100,000 watts. Their reach is unusually far which somewhat agravates the problem.
3. As 1090 CIKV-AM, CKKW actually signed on in 1959, make of that what you will.

So what's the solution? Last time it was a move, the one option not available. If they fight it out, both stations face revenue loss as coverage loss = listener loss = lower ad rates. My personal feeling is that CKKW certainly has a right to provide local service in a city almost 100 miles deep into a foreign nation. If both stations went directional and reduced power, it would greatly reduce problems. But for WDCX that means sacrificing some of their beloved 401 corridor between them and Toronto and themselves becoming more of a local Buffalo station. But the alternative is probably extinction. As a newcomer CKKW has nothing to lose.