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Recently, we heard from approximately 40 listeners, primarily in the Greater Edmonton area, about the outage of our AM transmission signal. The situation is now resolved, but we're facing a much bigger challenge related to our AM service.

The AM site requires an estimated $1M in upgrades to make it compliant with Industry Canada Safety Codes. CKUA has been given a deadline of 2014 to complete that work.

The costs to run the AM Transmitter make it the most expensive in the CKUA network.  The land for the AM site is leased on a year-to-year basis and should the landowner decide to sell it, CKUA would need to relocate the AM site. Relocating is not a simple process, as AM sites require large tracts of a very specific type of land and have a complex underground antenna structure in addition to the actual towers. The cost to purchase the land, should it be available for sale, is in the millions of dollars.  The total investment needed to rebuild the AM site on secured land could run up to $5 million dollars. CKUA will be filing an application with the CRTC to relinquish use of the AM frequency because we cannot afford to make the investment necessary to operate it.

Practically speaking, the AM Transmitter is largely redundant. It is a repeater for CKUA's FM broadcast signal and our FM network provides coverage to virtually all the areas that the AM currently reaches.

CKUA does not have $5 million dollars to invest in the AM service. Even if we had the necessary funds available, it's not the best investment relative to the other uses for the money, such as funding new programs or making necessary upgrades to our FM infrastructure, much of which also need repair.

We would like to work directly with anyone affected by the loss of the AM service to find solutions to ensure continued access to CKUA. You can reach us through our online listener feedback form or you can email us at am@ckua.com.

We are confident that given the coverage of our FM network, we can find solutions for almost everyone who may be affected. Many people who contacted us recently were not aware of our FM coverage in Edmonton. We will be personally reaching out to and working with everyone who left us their contact information but we also urge anyone else who listens exclusively on AM to please get in touch with us at am@ckua.com.

FAQs

Why hasn't work been done on the AM site to keep it upgraded?
The CKUA AM towers and transmitters were established on their current site in 1960. The shelf life of a transmitter is 15 to 20 years and 40 to 50 years for the towers. The AM transmitter itself is has been upgraded but the towers are past their shelf life. They have survived this long because CKUA engineering staff have kept things in good working order but at some point, as with any infrastructure like this, a full replacement needs to take place.

What specifically is not in compliance with Industry Canada Safety Codes?
The specific violation is "the use of open line transmission cables feeding power distribution to the three towers is exposed and poses contact safety concerns." While this may sound like a trivial issue, it pretty much requires a total re-build of the AM site in order to address it. There were several other Safety Code citations also noted in the report which CKUA has been able to address.

How much does it cost to run the AM site on an annual basis?
The AM service costs approximately $50,000/year to run and the bulk of that is the cost to lease the land. It is the most expensive transmitter in the network. The issue is not so much related to operating costs as it is to the estimated $5M in capital required to secure the land and make the necessary repairs.

Why didn't CKUA purchase the land to the AM before the price skyrocketed?

The AM site was established at its current location in 1960 and at that point, the parcel of land was not for sale. The land was available for purchase in 2006 at the height of the real estate market and it commanded a multi-million dollar price tag. CKUA did not have funds at that point to purchase the land. CKUA is on a year-to-year lease and the current owner is expected to sell the land at some point; however, given land values in the area where the site is located, it will cost millions of dollars to purchase.

Why can't CKUA move the AM site?

Relocating is not a simple process. AM sites require large tracts of a very specific type of land and have a complex underground antenna structure in addition to the actual towers. CKUA would face similar challenges from a financial perspective as we'd need the capital available to purchase a new tract of land.

Why can't CKUA rent space on someone else's AM towers?
Unlike FM radio, AM signals cannot easily be combined. In most cases, they require their own separate towers and underground antenna structure. While it is possible to combine two frequencies into one antenna array there are many technical considerations that must be met and it is a very expensive process provided it is even feasible for the frequencies in question.

When will the service be discontinued?
CKUA will be filing an application with the CRTC in February to relinquish the service. Following that application, CKUA will be notified by the CRTC as to how long we have to fully discontinue service. We're anticipating that will be 90 days from the notification.

Which areas will be impacted by the loss of the AM?
Based on our assessment of coverage maps, we anticipate the following communities primarily in the North-Eastern part of the province to be affected:
    Wainwright
    Cold Lake
    Bonnyville
    Lac La Biche
    Slave Lake
    St. Paul
    Provost
    Vermillion
    Westlock

We are connecting with all donors in these areas and will be running on-air ads to connect with any listeners in the area to see what solutions are available to serve these communities.

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