British Columbia

Recording studio plagued by interference from Rogers cell tower running out of options, clients

A world-class Vancouver recording studio says it has suffered from booking cancellations and lost contracts as a result of interference from a nearby cell tower owned by Rogers Communications.

Despite the interference, investigation found Rogers is operating within licensed parameters

Armoury Studios manager Paul Silveira says the company has lost time and money due to radio interference caused by the cell tower. (CBC News/ Jim Mulleder)

A Vancouver recording studio says it has suffered from booking cancellations and lost contracts as a result of interference from a nearby cell tower owned by Rogers Communications.

A third-party investigation has confirmed that interference is being generated by a cellular tower owned by the telecommunications and media company.

The tower sits atop a building next to Armoury Studios, which for more than two decades has recorded albums for world-famous acts including rock band AC/DC and singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan.

Despite attempts to fix the problem, Rogers now says there is nothing more it can do, leaving the recording studio scrambling to find a way to co-exist with the multibillion-dollar corporation's cellular equipment.

"The interference noise is very annoying," said Paul Silveira, studio manager at Armoury Studios, adding that a recording studio requires a silent space to succeed.

Many of the studio's microphones are picking up high-pitched frequencies that compound as more microphones are in use.

"People expect the highest quality from us and to have this outside noise coming in ... It's just not fair and it needs to be dealt with," he said.

Third-party investigation

Rogers has worked with the studio to try and fix the issue.

The team at Armoury, including studio technician Corey Dixon who led the initial investigation, believed the interference was being caused by a frequency emitted by the nearby Rogers tower. 

Rogers hired a contractor to further investigate, who confirmed the studio's suspicions.

"The hypothesis ... was confirmed by testing at the studio," Exotek Systems, who conducted the investigation, wrote in a report.

Listen to a sample of the interference below:

 

The report goes on to say that Rogers' cell tower is generating a powerful signal that nearby microphones, like those at Armoury Studios, are unable to filter out.

During the investigation, Rogers powered down a section of the tower, and the interference was eliminated. But on Feb. 11, that section of the tower was switched back on, and the interference whizzed back to life.

In Canada, telecommunication companies are licensed by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), a federal government department, to operate within certain radio frequency spectrums.

But despite the unintended interference, the investigation found that Rogers is operating within its parameters.

"We are unable to take any further steps regarding the matter of interference at Armoury Studio," said Howard Slawner, vice president of regulatory telecom at Rogers, in a letter to the studio.

This has left Armoury Studios in a position where it cannot operate at full capacity. 

"We're an international studio, we need the outside international clients coming in but we can't lie to them," said Silveira.

Dixon agrees.

"With this noise here, they will never be able to operate at the same capacity as they did before. It's just not possible," Dixon said.

Replacing equipment

In the letter, Rogers suggested the studio replace all of the studio microphones that are experiencing interference.

In addition to the financial costs of replacing the equipment, Dixon says it's an unrealistic solution, similar to asking a painter to use only three colours in his palette.

"It's art. We're creating art here. And there are tools artists like to use and contribute to capturing the art that they want to create," said Dixon.

A building pictured in Vancouver with a cellphone radio tower on top. According to Exotek Systems, Rogers' cell tower is generating a powerful signal that microphones at Armoury Studios are unable to filter out. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Certain microphones capture sounds in different ways, Silveira says, adding that artists and producers expect studios to have a wide range of microphone options.

"We can't tell our clients that, some of these popular microphones, they can't use," he said.

As an independent studio technician, Dixon says dozens of the studios he works with in B.C. and Alberta have been recently experiencing sudden unexplainable interference.

He surmises that the issue of interference from cellular towers, which produce signals that continue to grow more powerful, is widespread.

"They're at their wit's end because they're going, 'I have no idea what's going on here,'" he said.

Back at Armoury, Silveira is hopeful Rogers will change its mind and continue to work toward a solution, although he admits it often feels like a Goliath-sized challenge.

"We need to work together and keep this conversation going. Instead of just putting up a wall, like they have, and saying 'it's not our problem,'" he said.

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