Radio Canada International
|Type||International public broadcaster|
|Owner||Canadian Broadcasting Corporation|
|February 25, 1945|
|CBC International Service (1945-1970)|
Radio Canada International (RCI) is the international broadcasting service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Prior to 1970, RCI was known as the CBC International Service. The broadcasting service was also previously referred to as the "Voice of Canada". In June 2012, shortwave services were terminated and RCI became accessible exclusively via the Internet. It also reduced to services in five languages (in contrast with the 14 languages it used in 1990). CBC also ended production of RCI news.
- 1 History
- 2 History of RCI's foreign-language services
- 3 Station
- 4 Transmission Network
- 5 Sackville relay station
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The early years (1942–1953)
The idea for creating an international radio voice for Canada was first proposed as far back as the 1930s. The CBC Archives website, however, has no archived news stories showing the historical documents where this early shortwave service is discussed. Several studies commissioned by the CBC Board of Governors in the late 1930s had come to the conclusion that Canada needed a radio service to broadcast a Canadian point of view to the world.
By the early 1940s, this need was also recognized by a series of Parliamentary Broadcasting Committees. Finally, in 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King announced that Canada would begin a shortwave radio service that would keep members of the Canadian Armed Forces in touch with news and entertainment from home. The CBC International Service became a reality with the signing of an Order-in-Council on September 18, 1942.
By the end of 1944, both the production facilities and the transmitting plant were ready for test broadcasts. These tests, which began on December 25, 1944, were broadcast to Canadian troops in Europe in both English and French. Psychological warfare in German to Europe began in December 1944 as well. The German section was staffed by refugees such as Helmut Blume and Eric Koch and would go on to broadcast "denazification" programming as well as broadcasts aimed at East Germany during the Cold War.
In early 1945, it was announced that the CBC International Service was ready and would go on the air for real on February 25 using the name the "Voice of Canada".
By 1946, the CBC International Service had expanded to include regular transmissions in Czech and Dutch. Beginning in July, special once-a-week programs were broadcast to Scandinavia in Swedish and Danish and later in Norwegian, as well.
Daily Spanish and Portuguese transmissions began on July 6, 1947. At around the same time as the expansion into the Caribbean and Latin America, the CBC International Service became involved with the newly formed United Nations. United Nations broadcasts through the CBC International Service continued until November 29, 1952, when they were transferred to larger shortwave facilities run by the Voice of America.
Early Cold War broadcasting (1950–1967)
Throughout its early years, the CBC International Service concentrated on broadcasting to Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II.
By the early 1950s several international shortwave stations began to beam programs into the Soviet bloc countries in an effort to circumvent heavy censorship of world news to their citizens.
- The CBC International Service's Russian-language transmissions were jammed during the 1950s and into the mid 1960s stopping about 1967.
- On March 4, 1961, the Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish services were all discontinued.
- In addition, the German service was reoriented from its previous emphasis on West Germany to focus on East Germany.
The Cold War era (1967–1991)
The CBC International Service played a major role in covering Canada's Centennial celebrations in 1967. Ceremonies from coast to coast were carried over short-wave to the world on July 1, 1967 as Canada marked its 100th birthday.
In July 1970, the service was renamed Radio Canada International.
The change took place because it was felt that RCI should have its own identity, separate from the CBC domestic network, even though RCI had just been fully integrated into the CBC system.
On November 7, 1971, RCI inaugurated its new 250 kW transmitters which were five times more powerful than the existing units. This significantly improved RCI's signal quality in Europe and Africa.
Canada recognized the People's Republic of China in 1971. Before beginning its Mandarin Chinese service, RCI produced a 40-week series called Everyday English which was broadcast in 1988 and early 1989 over local stations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. With an estimated audience of almost 20 million, the course was a huge success.
Just 10 months after beginning the Chinese broadcasts, RCI started a series of Arabic broadcasts to the Middle East. This coincided with the United Nations effort in the Persian Gulf to support the Gulf war, of which Canada was a participant.
RCI under threat (1991-2006)
In early 1991, facing further budget deficits, the Government of Canada ordered an across-the-board budget cut. Every ministry and Crown corporation, including the CBC, was required to participate. After evaluating its own budget, the CBC decided it could no longer pay for Radio Canada International without extra funding from the federal government. To save the service, RCI Program Director Allan Familiant announced a major restructuring that took effect on March 25, 1991. As a result, six of the 13 languages included in the programing (Czech, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, and Portuguese) were discontinued.
While the English and French services survived, all RCI-produced programming (except for news broadcasts) were eliminated and replaced with CBC Domestic network programs. Since then, some RCI-produced programs in English and French have been restored. RCI then began a two audio stream, which became a three audio stream programming delivery structure after 2000.
Initial programming delivery structure (2000-2004)
- RCI-1 English / French
- RCI-2 French / Multilingual
Later programming delivery structure (2004-2006)
- RCI-1 English
- RCI-2 French
- RCI-3 Multilingual
These audio streams were available from RCI's website as well as across Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa, utilizing the Hotbird-6 satellite. In late 2006 the online streams were eliminated in favour of a single online multilingual stream.
On December 1, 2005, Radio Canada International began broadcasting its program across North America as RCIplus, utilizing the Sirius satellite radio system. This was part of a CBC/Radio-Canada selection of satellite channels which included national versions of domestic radio stations from CBC Radio and Première Chaîne.
RCI Viva, the Internet Era (2006-2012)
Following an internal review in the summer of 2006, Radio Canada International announced a restructuring of its programming output. Its homepage press release read: "Radio Canada International is proud to announce that it will launch its new English programming on Monday, October 30th. In the interim, our current shows will be replaced by two programs, from October the 2nd to the 29th." On 30 October 2006 Radio Canada International relaunched its English and French programming with a new focus on information for new immigrants to Canada as well as continuing to broadcast to the world, moving away from news and current affairs. It also increased its broadcast hours to 12 hours a week, which can be heard via satellite and online, although its shortwave hours are restricted and remain unchanged.
A new Internet service called RCI Viva acted as an online portal for new Canadian immigrants. RCI Viva is an on-demand listening portal as well as an online stream as RCI Viva, whereas listeners in North America can listen via satellite subscription radio from Sirius Canada entitled RCI plus. Both RCI Viva and RCI plus used a similar multilingual schedule.
Listeners in Europe were still able to listen to RCI's three channels in English, French and multilingual. An interim program, on the English-language service during October called Canada Today in Transition was broadcast as a single program across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, replacing the two regular editions for Europe and Africa. It was hosted by ex-Canada Today for Africa presenter Carmel Kilkenny. The new two-hour English-language flagship program is called The Link and is hosted by Marc Montgomery, replacing RCI's previous weekday programs Canada Today, Media Zone, Sci-Tech File, and Business Sense. Its French-language counterpart is called Tam-Tam Canada and is presented by Raymond Desmarteau, which replaced Le Canada en direct, Le sens des affaires and its previous current-affairs based shows. Programs in Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Ukrainian were relatively unchanged. The Link was also repeated on CBC Radio One, as part of the CBC Radio Overnight lineup.
In November 2006, Radio Sweden's medium-wave broadcast from Solsberg ceased regular transmissions as a result of a modification in its shortwave time-share agreement which had Radio Sweden to broadcast to North America via RCI's transmitters in Sackville and RCI to Europe via Radio Sweden until Sackville's closure in 2012.
Budget cuts and the end of shortwave broadcasting (2012)
On April 4, 2012 an approximate 80% budget cut to the International service from $12.3 million a year to $2.3 million a year was announced by RCI Director Hélène Parent. In the 2012 federal budget, a 10% funding reduction was announced for the domestic broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada. The Crown corporation subsequently translated this to an 80% reduction to the International service under its financial and managerial control.
These changes effectively ended broadcasting by RCI via shortwave and satellite. RCI News service (as a separate news service from the CBC/Radio-Canada derived news) ended, and the Brazilian and Russian sections closed.
- All contractual and temporary staff, along with fully two-thirds of permanent staff, lost their jobs.
- China Radio International and other international broadcasters which leased transmitter time from RCI had their contracts terminated
- The Sackville Relay Station's transmitter complex in Sackville, New Brunswick was dismantled in winter/spring 2014 and CBC/Radio-Canada plans are to sell the property once decommissioning and remediation is completed.
- As of 2014, RCI consists of a skeleton staff based in Toronto and Montreal for producing podcasts and limited webpage content in 5 languages (Spanish, Arabic, French, English, and Mandarin).
History of RCI's foreign-language services
History of RCI Language Broadcasting Services
|Language||Start Date||Stop Date||Restart Date|
|Czech||1946 (see Slovak)||25 March 1991||-|
|Danish||1946||4 March 1961||-|
|Dutch||1946||4 March 1961||-|
|English||25 December 1944||-||-|
|Finnish||December 1950||29 January 1955||-|
|French||25 December 1944||-||-|
|German||December 1944||25 March 1991||-|
|Hungarian||January 1951||25 March 1991||-|
|Japanese||1988||25 March 1991||-|
|Italian||January 1949||4 March 1961||-|
|Norwegian||1947||4 March 1961||-|
|Polish||January 1951||25 March 1991||-|
|Portuguese-Brazil||6 July 1947||25 March 1991||2004, Ended 10 May 2012|
|Russian||January 1951||10 May 2012||-|
|Slovak||January 1951||25 March 1991||-|
|Spanish||6 July 1947||-||-|
|Swedish||1946||4 March 1961||-|
|Ukrainian||1 July 1952||-2009||-|
- Prior to the late 1980s, there were two interval signals used. One was the aforementioned piano signal and the other was the same four notes of O Canada played on an auto harp.
- This second (now decommissioned) tuning signal was also known as a "slewing signal". This slewing signal was used whenever RCI's transmitter beams had to be reversed (say from broadcasting to Europe to the western United States) quickly.
- The slewing signal was dropped when computer control was added to RCI's transmitter plant in the mid-to-late 1980s.
- From the late 1970s to the early 2000s a jazz version of the French-Canadian folk song "Vive la Canadienne" (arranged by Lee Gagnon and published on LP in 1976) was used as an additional signature tune.
RCI as a corporate entity (separate from its broadcasting operations) has also been based in Montreal since its inception in the 1940s.
Figures are Canadian dollars (CAD).
- 2003: 14.2 million / year
- 2004: 14.4 million
- 2011: 12.3 million
- 2013: 2.3 million
RCI's Gross Cost per Canadian resident (per year) was: CAD 0.38 (2003, 2004).
Hours of programming produced (per week)
Note: there are 168 hours in a week (24 hours × 7 days).
RCI's Programming Production (historical)
- 1950s: 85 (WWII recovery phase for broadcaster)
- 1960s: 80 (Language services to Western Europe cut, Russian & Ukrainian launched)
- 1970s: 98 (Cold War détentes)
- 1980s: 134 (late Cold War)
In the 1990s RCI's programming output peaked
- 1990: 195
- 1996: 175
Satellite signal delivery
RCI's current satellite schedule can be found at
As of 15 May 2012 space segment delivery of RCI programming ceased.
Sackville relay station
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, RCI's parent, owned and operated the Sackville transmitter site (CKCX). The site was on the Tantramar Marshes, several kilometres east of Sackville, New Brunswick.  RCI leased or bartered its spare transmission capacity with other international broadcasters. Sackville was used by Radio Japan, China Radio International, the Voice of Vietnam, the BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle and Radio Korea as part of a transmitter-time exchange agreement. Canada's only high-power shortwave relay station, Sackville also broadcast CBC North to northern Quebec and Nunavut.
The CBC-SRC network runs three 1 kW relays of domestic radio, one of which originated from Sackville. Sackville's northern-hemisphere transmission-targeting capabilities were similar to those of the Wertachtal relay station in Bavaria. Its site layout was similar to Wertachtal's, with a few differences. Wertachtal has three arms of HRS type antennas spaced at about 120 degrees, allowing for near-360-degree global coverage.
The Sackville site was built in 1938 for local CBC broadcasting over CBA. Five years later, two RCA shortwave transmitters were installed. In 1970, all CBC operations moved to Moncton, New Brunswick for the installation of new Collins transmitters. During the mid-1980s, the RCA transmitters were replaced by three Harris transmitters.
With the end of Radio Canada International's shortwave service in June 2012, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation tried to sell the Sackville transmitter complex to another international broadcaster or a wind-farm company. According to CBC transmission director Martin Marcotte, "[The Sackville complex] will be fairly costly to dismantle and as a last resort we would dismantle the facility, return it to bare land as it was when we first acquired that site." On October 30, the CRTC granted a CBC request to revoke CKCX's broadcast license effective November 1. When no purchase offers were received for the complex, its antennas were dismantled and the transmission towers demolished in 2014. In 2017, the property was sold to a non-profit consortium of New Brunswick Mi'kmaq bands known as Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn. The intend use of the property was not disclosed.
The Sackville facility was computerized in a main control room. Frequencies, antennas and input feeds are switched in accordance with internationally agreed-on schedules which were renegotiated twice per year. In 2012, there were nine transmitters in operation: three 100 kW, three 250 kW and three 300 kW. Although the site was capable of using 500 kW transmitters, the end of the Cold War and improved shortwave-frequency coordination made an upgrade to 500 kW unnecessary.
New Brown Boveri digital transmitters used phase-shift keying (PSK) and had 250 kW output. Newer Thales 300 kW transmitters could use amplitude and phase-shift keying (APSK), the design successor partially based on PSK modulation).
All modern Sackville shortwave transmitters employed dynamic carrier control (DCC), automatically reducing the carrier wave in the presence of low-level (or no) audio. With no audio (silence) the carrier power was reduced by 50 percent; a 250 kW transmitter put out a carrier of 125 kW during audio pauses, saving power.
- "Radio Canada International goes off-air, moving online-only after 67 years of shortwave service". J-Source. June 25, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- "Ballet marks up another surplus". Toronto Star. 21 October 1988. p. E27. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- Solyon, Catherine (April 15, 2012). "CBC cuts gut cherished Radio Canada International". The Gazette. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
- Test transmissions started in 1944, formal broadcasting started on 25 February 1945.
- The RCI Russian Service experienced jamming until 1967.
- RCI ACTION COMMITTEE
- Site of the Week 7/6/2012: Radio Canada International, Sackville, NB, 1998, Scott Fybush, July 6, 2012
- "RCI ends shortwave broadcast - Sackville, N.B. transmitters will be sold", CBC News, June 26, 2012
- "Sackville, N.B. residents to lose landmark radio transmission towers". CTV News. February 27, 2014. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
- "Sold! Mi'kmaq group confirms purchase of CBC land". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. February 3, 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
- CBC-SRC's archived stories on RCI
- History of CBA Sackville
- Canadian Shortwave Timeline
- RCI Languages: Historical Start / Stop / Restart dates
- Lobby Groups
- RCI Action Committee The committee is an inter-union group created to protect RCI's international broadcasting mandate and funding.
Site of the Week 7/6/2012: Radio Canada International, Sackville, NB, 1998