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Microwave network improves telephone and TV reception

The Story

It's literally the wave of the future. Canada's new microwave relay network will spell the end for fuzzy, static-ridden long-distance telephone conversations. Microwaves, another form of wireless radio communication, mean improved telephone connections and instant TV transmission. As the final microwave relay tower connecting Winnipeg and Toronto is erected, a CBC reporter asks Winnipeggers what the microwave network will mean for them. "After all we've heard and read lately, this microwave must be a pretty wonderful thing," says one.

Medium: Radio
Program: Canadian Scene
Broadcast Date: Sept. 23, 1956
Guest(s): A.J. Grullow, Mrs. Jack Hodgekinson, Hugh Sunder
Reporter: Ron Hunka, Alex Smith
Duration: 14:53
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Did You know?

• The world's first long-distance call took place on Aug. 10, 1876, between Brantford, Ont. and the neighbouring town of Paris - a distance of about 12 kilometres. Alexander Graham Bell used existing telegraph cables to demonstrate the capabilities of his still-new invention.
• The call, between Bell and his father, was not a two-way conversation. The transmitter was in Brantford and the receiver was in Paris, so Bell, on the receiving end, had to send messages the other way by telegraph.

• A typical long-distance call between Ottawa and Vancouver in 1920 had to be routed through six U.S. cities. This took four hours to set up and cost $16 ($174 in 2015 dollars) for a three-minute conversation.
• A cross-Canada radio experiment in 1927 used telephone and telegraph wires to broadcast Dominion Day festivities from Parliament Hill. Its success led to the formation of the Trans-Canada Telephone System (TCTS), an initiative of seven telephone companies to establish an all-Canadian toll line.

• The TCTS line was completed in 1932 and declared open by Canada's governor-general, the Earl of Bessborough. This meant a caller in Halifax could reach Vancouver on all-Canadian telephone lines.
• When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939, TCTS provided telephone service on their train. Calls could be made among the rail cars, but calls off the train were possible only when it stopped at one of 31 designated places.

• Microwave technology was developed during the Second World War as an offshoot of radar. After the war, telecommunications experts determined that microwaves - very short radio waves - could be used to carry television, radio and telephone signals over long distances.
• An early microwave radio relay system was installed in the Maritimes in 1948. It replaced cables under the Northumberland Strait, which needed constant repair due to damage caused by tides and currents.

• Between 1945 and 1956 the volume of long-distance calls in Canada doubled, putting a strain on the capacity of long-distance telephone lines.
• The microwave network was an expensive solution for TCTS and was held up by bureaucracy and infighting among its members. It got a much-needed boost when, in 1954, the CBC put out a call for tenders on a nationwide microwave system for television transmission.

• Because microwaves travel in a straight line and do not follow the curvature of the Earth, TCTS built towers at 48-kilometre intervals. The towers ranged from nine metres high in the prairies to over 100 metres high in the northern Ontario bush.
• The network comprised 139 towers over 6275 kilometres and cost $50 million ($438 million in 2015 dollars).
• The completion of the link from Sydney, N.S. to Victoria was heralded with a CBC Television broadcast called Memo to Champlain on July 1, 1958.

• Newfoundland was added to the network in 1959.
• By 1966, after various improvements to the system, one microwave channel could carry 1,200 simultaneous telephone conversations.
• It takes just one-fiftieth of a second for a microwave signal to travel from one coast to the other.
• In the early years users called the microwave system "jump jump" because of the way the signal jumped from one tower to the next.


Canada Says Hello: The First Century of the Telephone more