Network Coverage Extended by “Twin Sticks”

Canadian Television in the 1950’s was by single stations in each city. In 1958, CBC was the only English network with six CBC owned and operated stations and 40 private station affiliates, while two French CBC stations and 8 private affiliates made up the Radio Canada (French) network. Sixty percent of the homes in Canada were covered by the system.

Second stations were licensed in eight of the larger markets in 1961, and later what would be called the CTV Network took to the air in the fall.

By 1968, the CBC English and French networks covered 93 % of Canada while the CTV network covered only 70%. The CRTC encouraged the CTV to expand their coverage.

When the CBC private affiliates in the smaller markets heard that the CTV stations were considering expanding their coverage economically with unmanned re-broadcasting stations (repeaters) they became alarmed at losing audience and the possibility of having to cut back local service in order to survive.

A group of these stations banded together and petitioned the CRTC to make this intrusion into their territory as orderly as possible to protect their investments.

The CRTC ordered the CTV stations to work out arrangements to protect these small market stations.

This protection evolved in several different ways. The most popular choice was a “Twin Stick” approach. “Twin Stick” can be described as two antennas on the one tower of the existing small station, with the second transmitter (if room permitted) being installed alongside the first transmitter in the original building – if not, a second small building would be built. Of course, this was a practical approach since there was no need for the purchase of land or for the erection of a second tall tower.

The large market station paid for the equipment, installation and maintenance costs and the existing station was allowed to cover (replace) the local commercials of the nearby larger station so that viewers in the coverage of the small market would not be enticed to drive into the big city to buy a car or other merchandise bypassing local merchants. Some stations were also able to replace the local newscasts from the bigger market.

Ideally, this concept served Canadians in most small or remote communities or cities like Lethbridge and Northern Ontario, while maintaining the viability of the locally-owned station.

To bring CTV to Brandon from the Winnipeg CTV affiliate, the two private stations formed a separate company to set-up the second stick in Brandon – an arrangement that worked for five years.

One of the most extensive twin stick operations was in Northern Ontario where the four private stations in Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie, all CBC affiliates, joined together to form Mid Canada Television to add the CTV programming to their areas.

By the turn of the century, CBC’s Accelerated Coverage Plan, which had started in the early `70s to give the CBC full coverage of the country with its own transmitters, took a major step forward when the corporation purchased the Twin Sticks of Mid Canada Television.

By then, CTV had purchased most of its affiliates in the smaller centers as their founders passed on or retired, and the original need for twin sticking was reduced to a handful of remote areas. It was however, a “made-in-Canada” plan that served Canada well during the orderly development of television in our country.

Other Extensions

There were other network extensions, the two most notable being in Northern Ontario in the 1960s and in British Columbia in the 1970s.

Conrad Lavigne extended the coverage of his CBC affiliate CFCL-TV in Timmins in 1957, and by 1972 had added 7 re-broadcasting stations in small communities in Northern Ontario using more than 2,000 miles of microwave, at the time the longest private microwave network in the world.

CTV affiliate, BCTV Vancouver extended its coverage in mountainous British Columbia in the late 1960s and early 70s by installing small re-broadcasting transmitters on the tops of mountains, initially using off air signals rather than microwave, but WIC International (owners of the station) became part owners of CanCom, a Canadian satellite company, and the BCTV signal was delivered to the more than 100 mountain-top re-broadcasters by this method, giving the station almost 100% coverage of the province.

Ross McCreath – February, 2003