Flashback: The comet that flamed out

In our latest newsletter: the cosmic letdown of a lifetime, prosperous times for a 1980s urban weekly and Harold Ballard's war with the Toronto Transit Commission.

There was hype for Halley's comet in 1985, but it turned out to be a 'pathetic blur'

CBC's Flashback newsletter takes a biweekly look inside the CBC archives with inspiration from news headlines and what's happening at CBC. Sign up here to get it delivered straight to your inbox. 

Look waaay up

Halley's comet: the letdown of a lifetime

38 years ago
Duration 1:43
Even though the much-hyped comet has been a disappointing celestial event, scientists are hoping to learn from it. Aired on CBC News in Ottawa on Dec. 2, 1985.

It's been 37 years since Halley's comet came around, and it'll be 39 more before the celestial visitor returns. Last week, CBC reporter Nicole Mortillaro told readers about another comet: C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which will be "placed well in the sky for Canadian stargazers" within the next couple of weeks.

However visible it gets, it could hardly be more disappointing than the"pathetic blur" that Halley's comet was, according to the CBC's David MacQuarrie in 1985.

He said there was a silver lining for scientists, though. "By prying away at Halley's, some of the mysteries of the universe may be revealed," he added.

NOW and then

Free magazine thrives by covering the Toronto scene

37 years ago
Duration 5:56
Toronto's NOW magazine struggled to pay the bills when it started in September 1981. Less than five years later, the weekly newspaper with a focus on entertainment is a success. Aired on CBC's Monitor on March 3, 1986.

Time was when city-dwellers could consult the local alt-weekly to find out about current music, film and theatre. In 1980s Toronto, the go-to was NOW magazine.

More recently, NOW was sold in 2019 to a new owner who filed for bankruptcy last year. CBC Radio's Q explored that move in September, and NOW relaunched with a new publisher last week. Former contributors say they're still owed money.

In 1986, the CBC program Monitor depicted NOW in its "architecturally designed" offices with a staff of 30. "This '80s collective still retains the spirit of the old days," said reporter Christina Pochmursky. "The difference is, they're being paid."

Another origin story

U.S. market adopts Canadian technology called the BlackBerry in 2000

23 years ago
Duration 2:25
The Canadian company that makes a new communication device succeeds south of the border. Aired March 22, 2000 on CBC's The National.

CBC reports that the TV shows coming to screens in 2023 include an adaptation of a book about the early days of the tech company that made the BlackBerry.

That company was Research in Motion, and back in 2000 it was profiled in the CBC News piece seen above. Reporter Saša Petricic noted that Canadian talent was satisfying the U.S. market's "almost insatiable" demand for quick communications.

"That drive has always been there," said Research in Motion's Mike Lazaridis. "It's just being noticed because the world has gone global due to a virtual mechanism called the internet." 

Totally bogus

Hand extending from sleeve of a varsity jacket on computer mouse
The internet was believed to present a novel opportunity for would-be cheaters in 1996. (The National/CBC Archives)

A new generation of university students could cheat and evade detection thanks to new tools that use artificial intelligence, reports CBC News.

"Bogus papers" from students were a problem in 1996, too, but the culprit back was the plain old internet.

Signs of the times

Vending machine for cigarettes displays available brands
Vending machines for packages of cigarettes began to be phased out in the 1980s. (1st Edition/CBC Archives)

Could distillers, breweries and wine-makers soon be compelled to add health warnings to alcohol bottles like those seen on cigarette packages? As CBC learned last week, tobacco giants fought labels in the '90s.

But cigarette machines were already a lost cause.

Cable story

Crackdown on pay TV theft

37 years ago
Duration 1:28
Companies that sell access to pay TV channels in Canada resolve to bring an end to the illegal devices that make theft possible by descrambling the signal. Aired Nov. 13, 1985 on CBC's Newshour.

Netflix is planning to crack down on password-sharing soon, the Reuters news agency said last week. But cheating to get premium TV services isn't new. In 1986, it was done by buying illicit cable boxes to descramble the signal from networks to avoid paying for pay-TV. 

Bargain Harold

Hockey Knights and Harold Ballard in the Toronto subway

39 years ago
Duration 1:58
A mural for the subway station at Maple Leaf Gardens has the team's owner seeing red.

Offside: The Harold Ballard Story, now screening on CBC Gem, is an in-depth profile of the notoriously cheap owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thumbs up for the vintage hockey visuals, but the doc left out Ballard's petty fight with the Toronto Transit Commission.

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