The Wavestack Antenna

The Wavestack Antenna arrived on the scene shortly after the launching of the CBC’s first two television stations in 1952 – CBFT in Montreal and CBLT in Toronto. Next in line for TV service was Ottawa where the CBC was about to build CBOT which would operate on Channel 4.

Bruce MacKimmee, an engineer in the employ of RCA, in Montreal had created a new type of TV antenna that had a number of features which appealed to CBC engineers. It was decided to test it on CBOT. As one engineer described it – “it worked great!” Over 40 successful operations followed from 1954 to 1964.

Nate Nathanson, a radio pioneer who had founded the first radio station in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1929, had already placed an order with Dumont for all of the equipment needed for a TV station in Sydney when he heard about the Wavestack. What appealed most to Mr. Nathanson was the ability of Bruce MacKimmee’s invention to provide a directional transmission pattern. Using a conventional omni-directional antenna system, CJCB-TVs signal would be wasted over the Atlantic Ocean. With the Wavestack, the power on the ocean side could be reduced substantially and re-directed and enforce the signal to where people lived.

The Dumont people saw his point and graciously allowed Mr. Nathanson to cancel his contract for a Dumont transmitter and the 3-bay super turnstile antenna. RCA received an order for a Montreal-built l0kw transmitter and a 300-foot channel 4 Wavestack. TheWavestack performed to expectations and Nate Nathanson’s station laid down a powerful 180kw signal over Cape Breton Island. Fifty years later, the CJCB-TV Wavestack was still performing well.

The directional ability of the Wavestack also enabled Ken Soble to establish CHCH TV in Hamilton in 1954 – and for a rather unusual reason. The television policy of the CBC Board of Governors at the time was to licence only one TV station per market and they held to it zealously. If CHCH were licensed on channel 11, its signal would overlap a portion of the “territory” of CBLT – the CBC Toronto station (then) operating on channel 6. Undaunted, Mr. Soble turned to the Wavestack. When he was able to demonstrate to the CBC that CHCH’s signal in the direction of Toronto could be reduced so as not to invade CBLT’s coverage, and that channel 11 allocated for a future station in Kingston would be technically protected from Hamilton interference, the CBC gave in. The triumvirate applicant (CHMLCKOC and the Hamilton Spectator) headed by Ken Soble received its licence to operate CHCH-TV on Channel 11. In the early years under the regulatory restrictions the MacKimmee Wavestack served CHCH-TV very well.

The Wavestack created by Bruce MacKimmee is but one of the many engineering feats of Canadian engineers in meeting and overcoming Canadian geographic and regulatory obstacles.

Robert Norton – 2003