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A television control room (Sheryl Nadler/Sheryl Nadler/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
A television control room (Sheryl Nadler/Sheryl Nadler/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The battle over local TV Add to ...

But in the flatlands that fill the 300 kilometres between Calgary and Edmonton, a more uncomfortable truth may be at work. For many, the loss of CHCA was not so much an event to be mourned as an event few noticed.

"I don't even know what channel it was," says Dave Schneider, the comptroller at Sims Furniture. "With satellite and all that, you don't get any local [stations]"

The Co-op grocery store, which regularly bought commercial time on the station, has seen no change in customer buying levels now that its ads no longer air. In fact, the Co-op is now saving advertising dollars.

The Red Deer Rebels, a Western Hockey League team that regularly led local sportscasts, has seen no effect. "I thought that loss of local coverage would have a fairly dramatic impact upon our attendance numbers. I really did," says Greg McConkey, the Rebels' vice-president of business development.

But when he sat down to review what happened in the season's first 12 home games, he found he was wrong. Season-ticket sales are down, largely because of the economic downturn. But walkup purchases are up. The Rebels have also installed their own arena video system. Instead of relying on TV to film and package highlights, they make their own. "That makes it to our website immediately following the game," Mr. McConkey said. "It's usually up by 11 p.m. on game night."

In the bare halls of what used to be CHCA, only one video feed still operates. It appears on a screen behind the empty reception desk, showing a stream from security cameras.

The rest of what used to be the station is nearly empty. In the former studio, desktop computers sit in a tidy row on a massive concave green screen that covers part of the floor. Nearby, a small stack of video monitors waits to be shipped out. Old camera jackets lie on the floor next to bits of wire. The boardroom table is gone. In its place, a vacuum cleaner.

By the end of the month, Bob Bourns, who still holds the title of station manager, expects the space to be empty. "It's very surreal, you know, to go from a hubbub of people - a lot of activity in the building and people mulling around - to just dark, empty offices and hallways," he says.

First licensed in 1957, Red Deer's station was owned by local residents until 1976, when it was bought by Monarch Broadcasting. After several other corporate owners, it became a CanWest property in 2000, although it kept an affiliation with CBC (which it had since it opened) - until five years later, when it was made part of CanWest's CH chain.

Those last five years were difficult for the station. Though its signal covered a sizable swath of central Alberta, more than half the viewers had switched to satellite, which did not carry the signal. Advertising revenue declined, and the station, which carried two hours of daily local news and once produced entertainment programming as well, shrank from 80 employees to 20.

When CanWest couldn't find a buyer, the Red Deer crew was too small to attempt an employee buyout. Worse, there was no local groundswell of support.

"I don't think that there was enough local interest," Mr. Bourns says.

The closing, he says, is "really disappointing because this station has been an integral part of the fabric of this community for 50-plus years. And now the people of this city, they don't have a voice any more."

Even if the station's disappearance had little economic effect, was the voice it provided still valuable? And does anyone miss it now that it's gone?

"I am really upset, but so is our community," says Janice Wing, CEO of the Red Deer and District Community Foundation. "There is a real need for us in this region to be able to have good, solid, local ways to communicate with people."

Though Red Deer is served by both a daily and weekly local newspaper - as well as six national and big-city dailies delivered here, plus the Calgary and Edmonton TV stations that occasionally report on the city - community leaders say CHCA was an important tool for local information.

Without the station, "there is no true video record being kept of activities in the community," says Michael Donlevy, vice-president of community relations with Red Deer College.

No longer able to depend on televised coverage of important speakers or sports events, the college is expanding its online social media presence.

"Do we miss them?" he said of the station. "I miss them."

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