In 1948, CBC Edmonton went live with explosive story even before station officially opened
Blowout of oil well Atlantic No. 3 turned a ‘genteel soiree’ into mad scramble 70 years ago
As origin tales go, CBC Edmonton's is a good one. A spectacular oil well blowout turns a swanky party in the heady days of broadcast into a daring dash with the station's spanking new vehicle screeching toward an inferno.
But the real story starts before the 50,000-watt service sparked to the airwaves, before even the test period was complete.
The oily black column of smoke 40 kilometres southwest of Edmonton was clearly visible from the house of then station manager Dan Cameron, where a handful of CBC staffers were hanging out.
"The genteel soiree at the Cameron residence was turned into a mad scramble," according to an account of the evening written by broadcaster Bob Graham in the internal CBC magazine Grapevine.
"Forgotten were the canapés, the hors d'oeuvres and the pleasant warm feeling of hospitality."
The crew sprung into action.
Recording gear was tossed into the station's new truck and five journalists "screamed down the highway, horned tied down, throttle opening, weaving and ducking through the heavy traffic to the scene of the fire," Graham wrote.
A few kilometres from the well, the story chase came to a screeching halt when they were stopped at a RCMP road block.
"That's when the sergeant on point duty received a radio call from his colleagues in Edmonton advising him to let the CBC crew through," according to the account.
They were allowed in and given a half an hour to do their work.
"There, 500 feet from the screaming inferno, they set up the equipment. There they obtained an eyewitness, on-the-spot recording of the wildest oil well fire in the west's history," according to Grapevine.
The CBC ran with the scoop, going to air in the wee hours of Sept. 7, more than a day before the station was to officially open.