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Canadian TV: not ready for prime time

On a summer's day in 1927, Canadians coast to coast sat enthralled before their radio sets as Prime Minister Mackenzie King spoke to them from Parliament Hill. Through the 1930s radio kept them entertained, and in wartime radio kept them informed. Then, Canadians were captivated all over again by television. In 1952 a bald puppet named Uncle Chichimus ushered them into the TV age, and in 1966 an animated butterfly made Canadian TV a more colourful pace.

The postwar years are shaping up as the golden age of radio in Canada, but broadcasters are already setting their sights on a new medium: television. So far, manufacturers and broadcasters in the United States have spent $50 million developing TV. When will television come to Canada? In this address to a group of Canadian radio engineers, the CBC's chief technician says TV broadcast licenses have not yet been issued in Canada, but plans for TV are underway. 
. The speaker in this clip, Alphonse Ouimet, was the CBC's chief engineer as TV was being developed. In 1932, while employed by a company called Canadian Television Ltd., he worked with a team of engineers building TV transmitters and receivers. The company went bust and Ouimet went to work for the CRBC in 1934.
. In 1936 Ouimet tried to convince the CBC to start a TV service, but he was turned down.

. A patent for a primitive, soundless, TV-like device was obtained by German scientist Paul Nipkow in 1884, and the word "television" was used as early as 1907 in the magazine Scientific American.
. Most of the credit for the first working television goes to England's John Logie Baird, who gave public demonstrations of his device in 1925 and 1926. Inventors all over Europe and the United States patented improvements and devices in the 1920s.

. In 1935 the German post office introduced TV service in Berlin, but the picture quality was poor and no one ever bought a receiver. In 1936, after almost a year off the air, Germany tried again by broadcasting that year's Olympic Games to theatres in Berlin and in the Olympic Village. The image quality had not improved.

. On Nov. 2, 1936, the BBC introduced a regular television service. Programming included game shows, drama and sporting matches. By the next year there were fewer than 3,000 TV sets in London homes.
. BBC produced the world's first live TV news broadcast in 1938 when British prime minister Neville Chamberlain returned from his Munich meeting with "Herr Hitler."
. When the Second World War began a year later, BBC quickly shut down its TV station.

. TV made a splash in the United States when it was a star attraction at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.
. Two years later NBC in the United States offered commercial TV programming, as did the CBS and DuMont networks to a lesser extent.
. When the United States entered the war in December 1941, TV came to a halt until it was over.

. BBC-TV returned to the air on June 7, 1946, and in the United States 15 stations were back shortly after the war.
. A dispute over TV development quickly developed in the United States. Some broadcasters wanted the VHF (very high frequency) band licensed to permit immediate broadcasting of black-and-white television. But another powerful network said the wider UHF (ultra high frequency) band, which could accommodate colour TV, should be allocated for TV.

. The ongoing UHF/VHF dispute hindered public adoption of TV in the United States, and by the end of 1946 just 8,000 sets had been sold. With a decision ratifying UHF in April 1947, sales took off; by the end of that year 60,000 TV sets had been sold, 47,000 of them in New York City. Of those in New York, 3,000 were in bars.

. By 1948 three applications from private broadcasters for TV licenses had been heard by the CBC board. The board rejected one and deferred the other two but said "Canada should not lag behind" in the development of TV.
. Listen to a CBC Archives clip from 1948 in which CBC chairman A. Davidson Dunton talks to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters about TV in Canada.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 14, 1946
Guest(s):
Speaker: J. Alphonse Ouimet
Duration: 10:53

Last updated: October 29, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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