As It Happens

As it Happened: The Archive Edition - The evolution of As it Happens

In November, 1968, CBC Radio debuted a new supper-hour current affairs show called As it Happens. It was broadcast live across Canada, from east to west over six hours — picking up listeners in the country's different time zones.

The AIH that launched more than 50 years ago was a very different show than the one you hear today

Over the last five decades, As It Happens has been there, bringing you the voices at the heart of the stories that have shaped history — and having a few laughs along the way. (Ben Shannon/CBC Radio )

When it debuted on Nov. 18, 1968, As it Happens was a very different show from most other radio programs at the time. But it was also very different from the As it Happens you hear now.

First, it was much longer than today's 90 minutes, because it was broadcast live across Canada, picking up listeners in the country's different time zones as it moved from the east to the west coast. 

"The program was one night a week — Mondays — for two hours, from 8 to 10 [p.m.] in every time zone," said Harry Brown — one-half of the original host team with Philip Forsyth — during a reunion of AIH hosts for the show's 30th anniversary in 1998. 

"So we'd start at 7 Toronto time and finish at one o'clock in the morning." 

Radio revolution

"Nobody had ever done a live current affairs program before," Brown told a panel of his successors at the 30th-anniversary reunion.

"Well, unless you count Cross Country Checkup — which began in '65," clarified Elizabeth Gray, who hosted in the '80s.

Former As It Happens co-hosts Harry Brown, left, and Phillip Forsyth, right. (CBC Archives)

Still, rolling out a two-hour live show across six time zones was an anything-can-happen affair. 

"I think we got out of it ... almost safely," Brown said of the early format — part of a larger effort by the CBC to transform its broadcasting, known as the Radio Revolution.

Almost, maybe. But not always — as the situation below, which occurred just months after AIH launched, demonstrates.

In July 1969, reporter Penny Williams had to change course during a live interview on As it Happens with a man in Edmonton when his wife objected to his speaking on air.

Williams was covering the story of a home for unwed mothers in Edmonton. The man, John Warden, who lived right next door to the home, had agreed to speak with Williams on the phone about why he disapproved of it operating in the neighbourhood. 

Barbara Frum and Al Maitland celebrate the 10th anniversary of As It Happens on Nov. 17, 1978. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Then his wife got on the line.

"He didn't know it was on the air," she said. "We would rather not take part."

Cellist brothers cover the As It Happens theme song

4 years ago
Duration 2:14
Classically trained duo Maximilian and Theodor Aoki created this heist-style music video for their rendition of Moe Koffman's Curried Soul.

The arrival of Barbara Frum

The As it Happens of today is actually the offspring of two radio shows — the original AIH, and one called Radio Free Friday.

"We were doing As it Happens. And then Radio Free Friday came along about three, four, maybe six months later," Brown said. "Identical format, on Fridays obviously."

Peter Gzowksi and Maggie Morris together hosted Radio Free Friday.

"And then Peter did a pilot for a show called This Country in the Morning," Brown said. "And Barbara Frum took over Peter's job on Friday nights.

"And then when the programs merged, we had Bill Ronald, and Barbara, and Cy Strange and myself who would do the show every night. And so you'd leave home not knowing who you were going to work with — Bill or Barbara — and let me tell you, they were somewhat different."

Frum was co-host of As It Happens from 1971 until 1981. (CBC)

But for Brown, Frum was more than just different. She was exceptional.

"Barbara came in and she was, above all, the consummate journalist. She was meticulous and hardworking and amazing," he said.

"I mean, she had a beguiling kind of a tone on the air that would lead the most unsuspecting victim to say the most outrageous things on the radio."

Turning the lens on As It Happens as it goes to air

46 years ago
Duration 2:30
Behind the scenes at CBC Radio's As It Happens.

Frum's well-kept secret

Not long after they began hosting together, Frum shared some news with Brown. 

"Barbara took me into one of the studios and said, 'Look, I've got something I want you to know about — I'd prefer you didn't mention it to anybody else. But I've just come from the doctor's office, and I've got leukemia,'" Brown said. 

"What do you say? I was absolutely flabbergasted."

Frum, for her part, appeared to be less shaken, said Brown.

"From there on, she seemed to be prepared to forget it," he said. "I don't think she ever mentioned it again."

Frum hosted As it Happens for the last time on May 20, 1981. She had accepted a job as the anchor of a new CBC TV news magazine show called The Journal

Frum died on March 26, 1992. She was 54 years old.

Variations on a theme

In the ears of many listeners, As it Happens wouldn't be As it Happens without its iconic theme, Moe Koffman's Curried Soul.

Brown insisted it kicked off the very first episode of AIH back in 1968. It's doubtful, however, since Koffman's record wasn't officially released until 1970.

But we may never know for sure, because if the show's opening was ever preserved on tape, it has since been lost.

In any case, the program has toyed with different versions of that theme over the years — some more earnest than others.

But after much curried soul-searching throughout the '80s and early '90s, As it Happens reverted to Koffman's original 1969 recording. For 20 years, at least, until 2013 — when, with some trepidation, the show debuted a remixed Curried Soul 2.0, by Montreal-based musician Socalled. 

And if As it Happens were to switch it up again, we'd probably go with the re-imagined version that won our AIH 50th Anniversary Theme Song Challenge.

Brothers Maximilian and Theodor Aoki of Hamilton, Ontario — a.k.a. Versacello — adapted it as a duet for cellos

As it Happened, the Archive Edition. Radio teeming with personalities.


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