Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Northern Quebec Shortwave Service from RCI Shortwave in Sackville

RCI Sackville (Wikipedia)
It was in the Summer of the year 1923 that the Westinghouse radio complex in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania launched its earliest programming that was beamed on shortwave to the frigid areas of the far north in Canada.  This early programming grew into what became the KDKA-8XS Far Northern Service, and it was on the air from 1923 - 1940, a total of 18 years.

            Out of the KDKA-8XS Far Northern Service grew the equally famous Canadian Northern Messenger Service, a program that was originally produced by CRBC, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, in its Toronto studios at mediumwave CRCT in 1933.  This radio program,  the Canadian Northern Messenger, was taken over by CBC the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation nearly four years later towards the end of the year 1936.

            However, radio coverage of the far northern areas of Arctic Canada grew from this single weekly program on mediumwave and shortwave into a multi-station network of programming services, again on mediumwave and shortwave.  Here’s Ray Robinson with what happened.

            Back in 1938, CBC established a 50 kW mediumwave station, CBA, on the edge of the huge Tantramar Marshes near Sackville in the province of New Brunswick.  The Tantramar Marshes, one of the largest tidal salt water marshes in the world, cover an area of nearly 80 square miles.  They are located on the edge of the Bay of Fundy, which claims the highest tidal movement in the world, a rise and fall of 55 feet twice each day.  The maximum tidal rise there of 71 feet occurred in 1869.

            At the same location, they later installed an RCA 50 kW shortwave unit, and the first test broadcast on shortwave took place on December 16, 1944.  A few days later, on Christmas Day, CBC made a special broadcast for the benefit of Canadian personnel on duty in Great Britain and continental Europe.  A second shortwave transmitter was then added, and a regular daily international shortwave service via the two RCA 50 kW transmitters began exactly two months later, on February 25, 1945.

            A year or two later again, CBC began special programming that was beamed to the frozen north, and the two shortwave transmitters carried the same programming in parallel on 6090 and 9620 kHz.  At this stage, the northern programming was presented under the title CBC North West & Arctic Settlements.  During the winter, the Northern Messenger program was included in this shortwave scheduling.

            In 1958, the CBC announced plans to install a 50 kW shortwave transmitter in Vancouver, British Colombia, for coverage into the western areas of the Canadian Arctic, that is the Yukon and the North West Territories.  However, that project was never implemented, and instead the CBC augmented its daily Northern Service on shortwave from RCI Sackville and gave it a new name, The CBC Northern Canada Service.

            At this stage, the CBC also took over a small community medium wave station in Yellowknife, station CFYK on 1450 kHz, which had been established by the Royal Canadian Signal Corps in 1948.

            Nearly 40 years later, the Northern Canada Service became the Northern Quebec Shortwave Service, though it was still on the air from the same transmitter site at Sackville.  However, over the intervening years, the older 50 kW transmitters (by this time now three RCA units on air) were retired in favor of newer transmitters rated at 100 kW and ultimately 250 kW.

            In the 1960’s, a total of eight northern medium wave transmitters were carrying a relay of the CBC northern service, generally as an off-air relay from shortwave RCI Sackville.  In 1968, the CBA mediumwave transmitter and one 460 foot high antenna tower were removed from the Sackville shortwave station and re-installed near Moncton, New Brunswick, on Dover Road at Fox Creek.

             During the 1970’s, the specialized program service, the Northern Messenger, was phased out as no longer being necessary, due to other more modern forms of communication, though the Northern Quebec Shortwave Service itself continued as usual.

            The international shortwave service from CBC-RCI Sackville, with its official callsign CKCX, ended on June 23, 2012; though the Northern Quebec Shortwave Service was continued for several more months, coming to a final end on November 30 in the same year 2012.  The northern Canadian programming was now available via satellite, and a total of five new low power FM relay transmitters took over this programming for the benefit of small local communities.

            For much of the lifetime of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s northern programming, CBC issued a special QSL card for the verification of their shortwave programming from Sackville.  At least half a dozen of these very attractive QSL cards are known over the years.

            Interestingly, after the CBC-RCI shortwave station at Sackville was closed, the entire property was sold off.  In February 2017, a First Nations group, MTI, bought the entire property, including the 2½ storey building with its bevy of transmitters and additional electronic equipment.

            Included in the sale, was the on-site original RCA transmitter from 1944, Model MI733A, no longer in working condition, but preserved as a museum piece.  In an endeavor to save this historic transmitter from destruction and sale as metallic scrap, MTI offered it to any interested buyers for $5,000.

            And just a couple of months ago, in February this year, William Steele purchased the historic old unit and announced plans to install it as a museum piece in an old and equally historic prison that he procured a few years ago.  The prison is located in nearby Dorchester, New Brunswick.  The building is now in use as a guest house, and the old transmitter will occupy pride of place in a former prisoner cell.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 477)