Radio silence: Ulukhaktok goes 2 winters without sound on the airwaves

Some communities in the Northwest Territories are having issues with radio service.

'It seems like nobody wants to get it up and going,' says Donald Inuktalik

Residents of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., say they have had no radio for the past two winters. Lennard Plantz, the transmitter maintenance co-ordinator for CBC in Yellowknife, said the problem is with the transmitter in Ulukhaktok. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

For the past two winters, radios in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., have been silent.

Local resident Donald Inuktalik said this is an issue for those in the community without access to a cell phone or computer — particularly elders who used to tune into Inuktitut programming. Inuktalik said he's been raising concerns for more than a year to no avail.

"The radio station was always there until it just quit working," he said. "It seems like nobody wants to get it up and going. I'm trying to find out what's the problem."

Lennard Plantz, transmitter maintenance co-ordinator for CBC in Yellowknife, said the problem is with the transmitter in Ulukhaktok and that CBC is working on sending a replacement.

There are communities other than Ulukhaktok that also have issues with radio service. Plantz said the radio transmitter in Lutselk'e failed a year ago.

In Jean Marie River, the CBC radio transmitter and the CKLB satellite receiver failed, and both have expensive parts to replace. But this community has found a solution — parts from each were combined and the community now listens to CBC radio on the CKLB frequency.

Not like the 1970s

Plantz noted the CBC doesn't own and operate TV and radio transmitters in Ulukhaktok, Lutselk'e or Nahanni Butte as it does in bigger communities like Yellowknife and Inuvik.

He explained that in the 1970s, the public broadcaster had an accelerated coverage plan where it installed and maintained transmission equipment in every community with a population of more than 500. The territorial government then funded installation and maintenance for smaller communities across the N.W.T., including those that are now part of Nunavut.

But that funding was cut in the late 1980s and responsibility for maintaining equipment shifted onto communities, Plantz said.

He added that CBC, CKLB and APTN help as much as they can, but CBC doesn't have the budget to replace expensive parts. 

CBC will however replace satellite radio receivers in the communities when it shifts to a new satellite system. That last happened 12 years ago and will happen again by the end of August, meaning communities will be getting new radio receivers.

"Ever since the 1990s, the Ulukhaktok radio transmitter has belonged to the local community as a Community Owned Operated Broadcaster site," Douglas Chow, a corporate spokesperson with CBC/Radio-Canada, said in a statement.

"CBC/Radio-Canada does not operate this transmitter. Unfortunately, the state of the tower has declined over the years. However, serving Northwest Territories audiences is important to us; we have offered Ulukhaktok community leaders our expertise in finding a solution to the signal issue."


  • This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that CBC will replace satellite radio receivers, not transmitters.
    Apr 27, 2018 7:30 AM CT


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