Calgary

Harry Sanders: How the CBC came to Calgary

CBC Calgary began broadcasting 50 years ago this week, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s history in the city goes much further back.

CBC Calgary began broadcasting 50 years ago this week

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      CBC Calgary began broadcasting 50 years ago this week, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s history in the city goes much further back.

      Then prime minister R.B. Bennett — the member of parliament for Calgary-West — headed the government that established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission in 1932.

      When the commission was reorganized as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1936, Calgary’s longtime city solicitor Leonard W. Brockington became its first chairman.

      Instead of creating its own stations in Alberta, the CBC initially recruited private affiliates — CFAC in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton.

      Coast-to-coast coverage

      By the late 1940s, Alberta (along with other provinces) had made licence applications for provincially-owned radio stations and Manitoba already had two government-owned stations.

      But Ottawa rejected provincial applications and instead expanded the CBC.

      In Alberta, the CBC established radio station CBX in 1948 in Edmonton, and ended its relationship with CFAC and CFRN. A new transmitter at Lacombe broadcast provincially on the 1010 AM frequency. 

      According to the Calgary Herald archives, when CBX started broadcasting on Sept. 8, 1948, it completed the CBC's "coast-to-coast coverage of the Dominion."

      In December 1951, CBC board chairman A.D. Dunton told the Commons radio committee that the network hoped to build an extra transmitter for southern Alberta if funds allowed.

      The CBC built a relay station at the present studio site in 1960 at 1724 Westmount Boulevard. Still, the network received complaints of poor reception in Calgary, which the CBC later blamed on the city’s industrial growth and increased electrical use.

      Push for studio in Calgary

      Former Calgary South MP Art Smith championed CBC improvement in southern Alberta in the House of Commons and with the minister.

      In February 1960, CBC president Alphonse Ouimet promised improved CBC radio in Calgary “as quickly as finances permit.” Early in 1961, the network announced unspecified plans for improved reception in southern Alberta.

      In February, the CBC announced that it would build a $570,000 transmitter and a $350,000 studio that would open in mid-1963.

      And in September, the CBC board of directors held its meeting in Calgary, where Ouimet said the network proposed moving its Lacombe transmitter to Calgary with a 50,000-watt broadcast capacity — the most powerful allowed on the continent at that time — pending approval by the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG).

      The BBG approved the application in June 1962, but Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announced spending cutbacks following his victory in that month’s federal election and the plans were shelved. CFAC temporarily resumed its status as Calgary’s CBC affiliate on Oct. 1, 1962.

      Studio built in 1964

      Finally in February 1963, the CBC announced that it would built its studio on Westmount Boulevard and its 50,000 watt antenna at Shepard, then a hamlet southeast of the city.

      Construction on the studio began in March 1964 and it was completed in September. CBR Calgary, as the station was named, assumed CBX’s 1010 AM frequency.

      CBR’s 24-hour-a-day broadcasting began Sept. 30, 1964, at 11:59:40 p.m. Twenty seconds later, on Oct. 1, it began its first full day of regular broadcasting.

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