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The Canadian Radio League

The Story

The late 1920s are a crucial time for radio in Canada. Church preachers, newspaper editorialists, radio station owners and the listening public all have their opinions about what direction radio should take. In 1928 the Liberal government appoints the Aird Commission to recommend a radio system for Canada. In this CBC Television clip, public-radio champion Graham Spry remembers forming the Canadian Radio League to push the government to introduce public radio in Canada. 

Medium: Television
Program: 701
Broadcast Date: Oct. 25, 1961
Guest(s): Graham Spry
Interviewer: Charles Taylor
Duration: 9:46

Did You know?

• Graham Spry (1900-1983) was a young radio enthusiast, newspaper reporter and Rhodes scholar who was instrumental in orchestrating the Diamond Jubilee broadcast of 1927. In a new job as national secretary of the Association of Canadian Clubs, he proposed the radio link-up as a way to promote national unity.

• The appointment of the Aird Commission was prompted by a public furor over religious broadcasting in 1928. Many churches and religious groups had seized on radio as a means of spreading their message, and the Jehovah's Witnesses in particular were drawing complaints for their verbal attacks on the Catholic Church.

• The federal minister responsible for broadcasting revoked the Witnesses' broadcast license. Critics charged the government with religious censorship, and Prime Minister King's response was to appoint the commission.

• Three members sat on the commission:
- Sir John Aird, president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce
- Augustin Frigon, an electrical engineer
- Charles Bowman, editor of the Ottawa Citizen and the only radio listener of the three.

• Aird's 1929 Report of the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting was a short nine pages. It said Canadian broadcasting should be for the benefit of the country and recommended a publicly owned system funded in part by a $3 annual license fee.

• Six weeks after the report was published, the stock market crashed. Suddenly public funding of radio seemed like a bad idea. Prime Minister Mackenzie King withdrew his support of the report until after an impending election.

• King lost that election in July 1930. R.B. Bennett's Progressive Conservatives, who formed the next government, were not interested in reviving the Aird Report.

• By then radio was a fixture in the majority of Canadian homes, but less than 40 per cent of listeners outside Toronto and Montreal could hear a Canadian station.

• Graham Spry strongly believed the type of advertising heard on American stations didn't belong on Canadian radio. He felt that radio "should make the home not merely a billboard, but a theatre, a concert hall, a club, a public meeting, a school, a university."

• In December 1930 Spry and fellow public-radio advocate Alan Plaunt formed the Canadian Radio League.

• The league focused on lobbying the government and Prime Minister R.B. Bennett to adopt the Aird Report. While it garnered support across the country from individuals and organizations, the league also had an opponent in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Concerned that public broadcasting would put them out of business, the CAB launched a counter-campaign.

• In 1932 Bennett asked a parliamentary committee to "recommend a complete technical scheme of radio broadcasting for Canada."

• In May 1932 the committee issued a report recommending public broadcasting. It said radio fostered "Canadian ideals and culture, entertainment, news service and publicity of this country and its products."

• Within a week Bennett introduced a bill setting up the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC). The bill passed with just one dissenting vote.

• The CRBC would have several functions:
- to regulate and control Canadian broadcasting
- to set up its own system of public radio stations
- to oversee broadcasting by the private stations.

• Several months later the CRBC bought out the assets of CNR radio for $50,000.



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