History of broadcasting in Canada

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The active history of broadcasting in Canada begins in 1921, as Canadians were swept up in the radio craze and built radio sets to listen to American stations.

Main themes in the history include the development of the engineering technology; the construction of stations and the building of networks; the widespread purchase and use of radio and television sets by the public; debates regarding state versus private ownership of stations; financing of the broadcast media through the government, licence fees, and advertising; the changing content of the programming; the impact of the programming on Canadian identity; the media's influence on shaping audience responses to music, sports and politics; the role of the Québec government; Francophone versus Anglophone cultural tastes; the role of other ethnic groups and First Nations; fears of American cultural imperialism via the airwaves; and the impact of the Internet and smartphones on traditional broadcasting media.[1][2]

Early period[edit]

American stations could easily be received in the heavily populated parts of Canada.

The first Canadian station was XWA, an experimental station from the Marconi Company in Montréal. It began its broadcasts in late 1919 and continued them during 1920, with the call sign later changed to 9AM.[3] In April 1922, the station received a commercial broadcasting station license as CFCF[4]—which stood for Canada's First. [5] In Toronto, the first radio station was operated by the Toronto Star newspaper. The station first used the transmitter and call letters of the Canadian Independent Telephone Company's experimental station 9AH (later CKCE) on March 19, 1922, with a series of broadcasts of concerts[6]

These broadcasts were so well received that The Star pushed forward with its own studios and transmitting facilities, returning to the air as CFCA in late June 1922.[7] Meanwhile, in Montreal, another newspaper, La Presse, put its own station, CKAC, on the air in late September 1922. Because there were governmental limitations on radio frequencies back then, CKAC and CFCF alternated—one would broadcast one night, and the other would broadcast the night after that.[8] For a time, CKAC was broadcasting some programs in French, and some in English: in 1924, for example, the station rebroadcast fifteen Boston Bruins hockey games from station WBZ in Boston.[9] Meanwhile, in other Canadian provinces, 1922 was also the year for their first stations, including CJCE in Vancouver, and CQCA (which soon became CHCQ) in Calgary.

At first the audience consisted largely of young men tinkering with crystal sets. They were powered with batteries, and earphones were required to listen so only one person at a time would be connected. In 1925 Edward Rogers invented a radio tube using AC current that immediately became a worldwide standard for much more powerful and easier-to-use radios. He set up the Rogers Majestic company to manufacture radios and established several broadcasting stations, including station 9RB (later CFRB, Toronto).[10] By the late 1920s radio sets were easy to use and widely available. Although expensive, they opened up a much broader audience, attracting the middle class who could afford them, and also restaurants clubs and taverns, who wanted to attract customers. Even remote towns and localities could listen.

CNR Radio 1923–33[edit]

The Canadian National Railway Company (CNR) had made itself known in radio since 1923, due in large part to the leadership of its president, Sir Henry Thornton. It began equipping its trains with radio receivers, and allowed passengers to hear radio broadcasts. In 1924, CNR began building its own stations, and by 1928, it was able to create a network.[11]

CNR Radio, (officially the Canadian National Railways Radio Department)[12] was the first national radio network in North America[13][14] - developed, owned and operated by CNR to provide en route entertainment and information for its train passengers. As broadcasts could be received by anyone living in the coverage area of station transmitters, the network provided radio programming to Canadians from the Pacific coast at Vancouver to the Atlantic coast at Halifax.

During its nine-year existence, CNR Radio provided music, sports, information and drama programming to Canadians. Programming was produced in English, French and occasionally in some First Nations languages, and distributed nationwide through the railway's own telegraph lines and through rented airtime on other private radio stations. However, political and competitive pressure forced CNR Radio to close, with many of its assets and personnel migrating to a new government-operated agency, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.

Rival railway Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had applied for licences in January 1930 to compete with the CNR Radio service, but the onset of the Great Depression meant that CPR did not end up pursuing these applications, but instead operated a phantom station in Toronto known as "CPRY"; the initials standing for "Canadian Pacific Royal York"[15][16] While a network of affiliates carried the CPR radio network's broadcasts in the first half of the 1930s, the takeover of CNR's Radio service by the new Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission removed CPR's need to have a network for competitive reasons, and it was discontinued in 1935.

The Aird Commission[edit]

A number of problems had arisen during the 1920s, causing debates on how broadcasting should be managed. These problems included the feeling that religious radio stations had "...emerged as a new weapon with which one religious group could bludgeon another...",[17] and that U.S. stations unfairly dominated the airwaves despite an agreements to reserve some frequencies exclusively for Canadian stations.[18]

In December 1928, P.J. Arthur (Minister of Marine and Fisheries) founded the "Aird Commission", officially the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting, to investigate options and the perceived American radio threat. Sir John Aird, Charles A. Bowman and Augustine Frigon were members of this commission. The Aird Report recommended the creation of public broadcasting system.

Public broadcasting[edit]

In 1930 the election of a Conservative government led by R.B. Bennett, made the future of the Aird Commission's recommendations in favour of public broadcasting uncertain, and the Canadian Radio League was formed to lobby for their implementation.[19] It influenced public opinion in support of public broadcasting by making the case to trade unions, farm groups, business associations, churches, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Canadian Club of Toronto, newspapers, university presidents and other influential public figures.[19][20]

In 1932, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) was formed. At its creation, Bennett spoke of the need for public control of radio saying:

"This country must be assured of complete Canadian control of broadcasting from Canadian sources. Without such control, broadcasting can never be the agency by which national consciousness may be fostered and sustained and national unity still further strengthened."[21]

However the commission had severe internal political troubles and was replaced in 1936 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). CBC was controlled by the national government, and funded largely by a Taxes(licence fees) from owners of radio sets. CBC took over the regulatory role of the Radio Branch, and focused most of its attention on providing programming for a national network. However, private stations continued to exist, and they were allowed to rebroadcast CBC programs.[22]

Play-by-play sports coverage, especially of ice hockey, absorbed fans more thoroughly than newspaper accounts ever could. Rural areas were especially influenced by sports coverage.[23]

French-language services[edit]

CBC set up a French-language network in Quebec and adjacent Francophone areas. Although the French-language service had little competition from American stations, it proved quite conservative in technology and programming. It was closely aligned with powerful newspaper and church interests and became a propaganda forum for the traditional elites of Quebec. It did not promote separatism or a sense of Québec nationalism.[24][25][26][27]

In 1969 the province of Quebec established its own radio and television system, breaking the federal CBC monopoly. Radio-Quebec became an instrument of the provincial government, and often presented separatist viewpoints.[28]


The development of radio news broadcasting in Canada, as in the United States, was delayed by bitter conflict between newspaper and radio interests.[29]

Talk radio[edit]

In contrast to talk radio stations in the United States, where syndicated programs tend to make up a significant part of most schedules, privately owned Canadian talk radio stations tend to be predominantly local in programming and focus. There is no Canadian content requirement for talk radio, or "spoken word," programming, unless the individual station's license expressly stipulates such a requirement; most do not. (In Canada, prospective radio stations may propose certain restrictions on their license in order to gain favour with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and have an easier time obtaining a license.)[30]

The only nationally syndicated, politically oriented weekday talk radio show in Canada is Adler On Line, hosted by Charles Adler and heard on eleven stations across the country. Until 2006, Peter Warren's Warren on the Weekend was heard Saturdays and Sundays. Both programs are or were distributed by the Corus Radio Network and, coincidentally, both hosts had hosted different morning call-in programs in the same time slot on Winnipeg, Manitoba's CJOB 680 before they became nationally syndicated (Adler's show still originates from CJOB and retained its original title, while Warren was based in Victoria, British Columbia.) Prior to Adler On Line, Corus had syndicated Rutherford, hosted by conservative Dave Rutherford and originating from its Calgary station, QR77. Rutherford is no longer syndicated nationally but continues to air in Calgary, Edmonton, and London.[31]

Other Canadian talk radio programs which have been syndicated to different markets include:

The two largest talk radio networks in Canada are the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's English language CBC Radio One and French language Ici Radio-Canada Première. These stations typically produce their own local morning and afternoon programs and regional noon hour programs to go along with the network programming that is aired during the rest of the day. Both networks are commercial-free. CBC Radio One's flagship national talk program is the weekend Cross Country Checkup, which has been broadcast since 1965.

CFRA (580 AM) in Ottawa (formerly part of the CHUM network, which is now part of CTV) has a large and dedicated listening audience. The station is heard throughout the Ottawa valley and on the Internet. Several key programs focus on local political and world issues. Christina Sgro offers a bit of both worlds on her show, Christina's Corner, which has been gaining popularity since its inception in 2010.

Privately owned talk radio syndication networks in Canada are generally formed for the purposes of sharing programs across a group of stations with common ownership, although some are formed to distribute their one or two talk radio programs to a number of stations regardless of ownership. The largest of these is the Corus Radio Network. TSN Radio, the successor to the long-defunct the Team, is one of the newest national networks in Canada, with operations in three of its major markets, and has room for expansion.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Robert Armstrong, Broadcasting Policy in Canada (2013)
  2. ^ Marc Raboy, Missed Opportunities: The Story of Canada's Broadcasting Policy (1990)
  3. ^ "Strays", QST magazine, November 1, 1921, page 47.
  4. ^ "Radio Department: Broadcasting Stations", Winnipeg Evening Tribune, April 25, 1922, page 5. This first group of assignments also included CFCA (Toronto), CFCB (Vancouver), and CFCE (Halifax).
  5. ^ Mary Vipond, Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting 1922-1932. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.
  6. ^ "Star's Broadcasting Bridges the Sea of Air." Toronto Star, April 5, 1922, pp. 1-2.
  7. ^ "Broadcast Radio from New Plant in Star Office." Toronto Star, June 22, 1922, p. 1.
  8. ^ Canadian Communications Foundation History of CKAC Radio
  9. ^ "Ryan to Announce Hockey Games." Boston Herald, November 22, 1925, p. 21.
  10. ^ "Edward Samuel Rogers" in Canadian Encyclopedia online
  11. ^ "Canada's First Network."
  12. ^ Radio Drama, English Language, Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed January 23, 2008
  13. ^ CBC/Radio-Canada milestones (1901-1939) Archived 2008-01-13 at the Wayback Machine, CBC/Radio-Canada Corporate Website, accessed January 23, 2008
  14. ^ CNR Company Fonds[permanent dead link], Provincial Archives of Alberta, accessed January 22, 2008
  15. ^ Pacher, Susanne (30 August 2007). "Presenting: A Behind-The-Scenes Look At The Historic Royal York Hotel – One of Toronto's Crown Jewels (part I)". Advisor.d6cn.com. Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  16. ^ "The Radio Broadcast that Fulfilled the Promise". Archived from the original on 27 August 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  17. ^ McGowan, Mark (May 2012). "The People's University of the Air: St. Francis Xavier University Extension, Social Christianity, and the Creation of CJFX". Acadiensis. University of New Brunswick. 41 (1). Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  18. ^ "Canada Radio Fans Fight Interference." Tampa (FL) Tribune, January 16, 1927, p. 12D.
  19. ^ a b "The CRBC (Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission)". Archived from the original on 2006-10-10. Retrieved 2017-06-26. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  20. ^ Johnston, Russell, "The early trials of Protestant radio, 1922-38," Canadian Historical Review, September 1, 1994
  21. ^ John D. Jackson and Paul Millen, "ENGLISH-LANGUAGE RADIO DRAMA: A COMPARISON OF CENTRAL & REGIONAL PRODUCTION UNITS", Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 15, No 1
  22. ^ Gerald Hallowell, editor, The Oxford Companion to Canadian History (2004) pp 90-91
  23. ^ Stacy L. Lorenz, "A Lively Interest on the Prairies": Western Canada, the Mass Media, and a 'World of Sport,' 1870-1939," Journal of Sport History (2000) 27#2 pp 195-227
  24. ^ Mary Vipond, "One Network or Two? French-Language Programming on the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, 1932–36," Canadian Historical Review (2008) 89#3 pp: 319-343.
  25. ^ Elzéar Lavoie, "L'évolution de la radio au Canada français avant 1940." Recherches sociographiques (1971) 12#1 pp: 17-49.
  26. ^ Pierre Pagé, Histoire de la radio au Québec: information, éducation, culture (Les Editions Fides, 2007)
  27. ^ Marie-Thérèse Lefebvre, "Analyse de la programmation radiophonique sur les ondes québécoises entre 1922 et 1939: musique, théâtre, causeries." Les Cahiers des dix (2011) 65: 179-225. online[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ Kenneth Cabatoff, "Radio-Quebec: a case study of institution-building." Canadian Journal of Political Science (1978) 11#1 pp: 125-138.
  29. ^ Mary Vipond, "The continental marketplace: Authority, advertisers, and audiences in Canadian news broadcasting, 1932–1936" (1999)
  30. ^ Andreas Krebs, "Reproducing colonialism: Subject formation and talk radio in English Canada." Canadian Journal of Political Science 44#2 (2011): 317-339.
  31. ^ Paul Saurette and Shane Gunster. "Ears wide shut: Epistemological populism, argutainment and Canadian conservative talk radio." Canadian Journal of Political Science 44#1 (2011): 195-218.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ali, Christopher. "A broadcast system in whose interest? Tracing the origins of broadcast localism in Canadian and Australian television policy, 1950–1963." International Communication Gazette 74.3 (2012): 277-297.
  • Armstrong, Robert. Broadcasting Policy in Canada (2013) excerpt
  • Allen, Gene, and Daniel J. Robinson, eds. Communicating in Canada's Past: Essays in Media History (University of Toronto Press, 2009)
  • Cabatoff, Kenneth. "Radio-Quebec: a case study of institution-building." Canadian Journal of Political Science 11.01 (1978): 125-138.
  • Edwardson, Ryan. Canadian content: Culture and the quest for nationhood (U of Toronto Press, 2008)
  • Filion, Michel. "Broadcasting and cultural identity: the Canadian experience." Media, Culture & Society (1996) 18#3 pp: 447-467. Online
  • Gasher, Mike, and David Skinner, eds. Mass communication in Canada (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Gasher, Mike. "Invoking public support for public broadcasting: The Aird Commission revisited." Canadian Journal of Communication (1998) 23#2. online
  • Godfrey, Donald G., and David R. Spencer. "Canadian Marconi: CFCF television from Signal Hill to the Canadian Television Network." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 44.3 (2000): 437-455. online
  • Johnston, Russell. "The emergence of broadcast advertising in Canada, 1919–1932." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (1997) 17#1 pp: 29-47.
  • MacLennan, Anne F. "American network broadcasting, the CBC, and Canadian radio stations during the 1930s: A content analysis." Journal of Radio Studies 12.1 (2005): 85-103. online
  • Murray, Gil. Nothing on but the Radio: A Look Back at Radio in Canada and How It Changed the World (2003) online
  • Peers, Frank W. The Politics of Canadian Broadcasting, 1920-1951 (1973)
  • Peers, Frank W. Public Eye: Television and the Politics of Canadian Broadcasting, 1952-68 (1979)
  • Raboy, Marc. Missed Opportunities: The Story of Canada's Broadcasting Policy (1990); a wide-ranging history of broadcasting excerpt and text search
  • Robinson, Daniel J., ed. Communication History in Canada (Oxford University Press, 2004), scholarly essays
  • Roth, Loma. Something New in the Air: The Story of First Peoples Television Broadcasting in Canada (2005)
  • Rutherford, Paul. When Television was Young: Primetime Canada, 1952-1967 (1990)
  • Skinner, David. "Divided Loyalties: The Early Development of Canada's" Single" Broadcasting System." Journal of Radio Studies 12.1 (2005): 136-155.
  • Stewart, Peggy. Radio Ladies: Canada's Women on the Air 1922-1975 (2nd ed. Magnetewan Publishing, 2012)
  • Stewart, Sandy. From Coast to Coast: A Personal History of Radio in Canada (CBC Enterprises, 1985)
  • Troyer, Warner. The sound and the fury: An anecdotal history of Canadian broadcasting (1980)
  • Varga, Darrell. Rain, Drizzle, Fog: Film and Television in Atlantic Canada (2009) online
  • Vipond, Mary. Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting 1922-1932. (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992)
  • Vipond, Mary. The mass media in Canada (James Lorimer & Company, 2000)
  • Vipond, Mary. "The Mass Media in Canadian History: The Empire Day Broadcast of 1939." Journal of the Canadian Historical Association/Revue de la Société historique du Canada 14.1 (2003): 1-21; The 2003 Presidential Address of the CHA
  • Vipond, Mary. "The beginnings of public broadcasting in Canada: the CRBC, 1932-1936." Canadian Journal of Communication (1994) 19#2 online
  • Vipond, Mary. "The continental marketplace: Authority, advertisers, and audiences in Canadian news broadcasting, 1932–1936." Journal of Radio Studies (1999) 6#1 pp: 169-184.
  • Vipond, Mary. "London listens: The popularity of radio in the depression." Ontario History 87 (1996): 47-63.
  • Vipond, Mary. "One Network or Two? French-Language Programming on the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, 1932–36." Canadian Historical Review 89.3 (2008): 319-343.
  • Vipond, Mary. "Going Their Own Way: The relationship between the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission and the BBC, 1933–36." Media History 15.1 (2009): 71-83.
  • Vipond, Mary. "British or American?: Canada's ‘mixed’broadcasting system in the 1930s." Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 2.2 (2004): 89-100.
  • Webb, Jeffrey Allison. The voice of Newfoundland: a social history of the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland, 1939-1949 (University of Toronto Press, 2008)

Primary sources[edit]