Corus Entertainment has formally applied to amend the licence of CFGQ-FM Calgary to add an AM rebroadcasting transmitter for the station, while revoking the licence for its current Calgary AM, 770 CHQR.
The move comes more than five months after Corus Radio moved to flip its Classic Rocker Q107, which was formerly broadcast on CFGQ-FM, to simulcast CHQR’s news/talk programming on FM. That prompted the CRTC to question whether Corus was in compliance.
Corus says it intends to deliver CHQR’s current news/talk programming line-up – deemed a “specialty” format by broadcasting regulations on an FM station – in addition to requesting an added condition of licence for CFGQ-FM ensuring that more than 50% of all programming broadcast each week consists of material from Category 1 – Spoken Word.
“CHQR is a legacy AM station that has served generations of Albertans with timely news, talk and information content. However…the station continues to suffer from technical limitations in downtown Calgary and surrounding areas,” reads the Corus application. “To address these issues, in 2011, Corus applied for a new nested FM transmitter for CHQR. The CRTC denied that request, holding that it would have given us a third FM “presence” in Calgary, which would have infringed the Common Ownership Policy (“COP”). Since then, CHQR’s signal issues have worsened.”
Corus says over the same period, the economics of the Calgary radio market have become more challenging with a 32% drop in total market revenues since 2019 that have not materially improved.
“Given its technical limitations as an AM station, CHQR faces a uniquely challenging future, and so therefore does the news, talk and information content it delivers to Calgarians,” the application states. The network maintains that shifting CHQR’s programming line-up to an FM frequency would enable Corus “to properly serve a segment of the audience that CHQR has been licensed to serve for nearly six decades, but which it can no longer consistently reach on an AM frequency alone.”
Viability of AM radio
The application questions the viability of AM going forward, citing, in addition to CHQR-AM’s unique reception challenges, RF noise floor from electrical devices like flat screen televisions, power lines and phone chargers. While AM receiver manufacturers have attempted to mitigate interference issues by using a narrower receiving bandwidth, Corus says that can generally lead to a “tin can” effect resulting in a loss of audience to FM, satellite radio, and online streaming services with better sound quality. With electric vehicles accounting for an increasing proportion of transport on Canadian roads, the broadcaster says the conflict between electromagnetic fields that operate in the same frequencies as AM radio signals are cancelling out AM frequencies.
“AM radio is already struggling to reach audiences. According to Numeris, in Fall 2022, it reached just 27.1 percent of Canadians in the Adult 25-54 demographic. This trend threatens to worsen as electric vehicles account for a greater proportion of the market. The Canadian government has set a mandatory target for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sales to be zero-emission by 2035,” states the application. “Permanently shifting CHQR’s programming line-up to an FM signal, while retaining its place on the AM dial, would enable us to properly serve a segment of the audience that CHQR has been licensed to serve for nearly six decades, but which it can no longer consistently reach on the AM band alone.
Corus says its hope is that by delivering CHQR programming on FM, the station will attract new listeners, particularly in younger demos, pointing to the audience success of CBC Radio One on FM.
“Put simply, there are compelling technical and financial reasons to support this application and we believe it is strongly in the public interest. Removing a mainstream musical FM station, as we propose, would promote better balance in an overcrowded market with minimal technical and competitive impact on other incumbent stations. Most importantly, it would support news, talk and information content – the most vital and economically challenged category of programming – on Calgary commercial radio,” stated Corus.
The Part 1 application is open to comments until June 23.
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