North

CBC Yukon turns 60: Take a look back at its roots

Sixty years ago, radio was the thread that connected people in a vast, sparsely populated land.

CBC's Northern Service launched in 1958, but Yukon communities went on air years earlier

CFWH was owned by the Canadian Armed Forces, which took over the station from U.S. Army volunteers. On Nov. 10, 1958, CBC officially took over the airwaves of the community radio station. (CBC)

Sixty years ago, radio was the thread that connected people in a vast, sparsely populated land.  

At 7 a.m. on Nov. 10, 1958, broadcaster Terry Delaney sat down in front of a microphone in a small station in Whitehorse.

"Good morning, we're on the air for the CBC's Northern service," he said.

CBC Yukon was born at that moment, but the history of radio in the North started decades earlier. 

Radio in this part of the country was set up in many instances by the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals.  

Bob Johnson, interviewed by CBC Yukon in 1983, said the signal corps set up a radio transmitter in a little log house in Dawson City in 1923. A signalman sent a telegraph message to a station 160 kilometres away at another little station in Mayo Landing. 

"Modern communication had come to northern Canada," he said.

From radio operator to search party member

The signal corps played in important role in the North.

"The young men who joined the army for careers in radio soon discovered that in the North, thousands of miles away from the settled part of the country, they were expected to me more than just technicians," said Johnson.

They also served as medical workers, hunters, even took part in search parties. 

"At first they were called on to set up communications links when people are lost or overdue, and it was a short step from that to going out and looking for them," said Johnson.

'Don't tell anybody' 

After the Second World War, people were hungry for more communications.

"They wanted to hear words and music just like everybody else," said Johnson. 

The military and community groups had already set up radio stations in places across the North. CFWH Whitehorse had been set up by American military during the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942, then taken over by the Canadian military.

On Nov. 10, 1958, stations across the North came together under the umbrella of the CBC's Northern Service. Dawson City joined the service shortly after. 

The moose are running down by the creek, meet me at noon. Bring extra ammunition. And don't tell anybody.- Bob Johnson

For many years, radio served a purpose that has been largely replaced today by cell phones and social media. 

Johnson said it wasn't unusual for radio notifications to say who was arriving on the noon plane or had missed it, who was in hospital or headed home.

Some messages were just plain entertaining.

Johnson recalled a hunter sending a message to his buddy. "He said, 'The moose are running down by the creek, meet me at noon. Bring extra ammunition. And don't tell anybody.'" 

Today, CBC Yukon offers integrated radio, television and digital media on its website and social media platforms.

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