This year, 2020, marks the 100th, yes that’s a century, of radio broadcasting in Canada. Let’s think back to the year 1920, the roaring 20’s if you will, a period of economic prosperity, social movements, and overall change. Unknown to popular belief the 20’s also birthed the first radio cone speaker. This speaker, also known as a loud speaker, was used in conjunction with a receiver which allowed it to play music! Believe it or not the first radio cone speaker was constructed with cardboard and a little bit of metal.
Not everyone was able to afford this fancy new thing called a radio cone speaker, but they still wanted to be able to listen to music. So, of course there is another option, later in the year 1920 the crystal radio was invented. This was a more accessible method to listen to music because you were able to plug headphones into it. Wow, so innovative! But that’s not even the best part. The best part is that these radios were extremely cheap and could be built at home.
Still in the year of 1920 a more popular and well-known invention was created, the Morse Code Recorder. It was used to record telegraph messages, which we know became very useful during the first world war. The first Morse Code Recorder was made from wood and brass.
There is now an abundance of equipment for radio but one of the most important things is missing: the radio waves. Rewind 34 years all the way back to 1886. Specifically, on November 13th German scientist Henrich Hertz created the first radio link between a transmitter and a receiver. This link led to the proof of the existence of electromagnetic waves! Very important!
Then fast forward a little bit, but not too far, to 1894. Still 26 years prior to the declared first radio broadcast in Canada a man named Marconi successfully completed the first wireless transmission in Bologna, Italy. The first wireless transmission basically means that he was able to send electromagnetic waves from one device to be received from another. Marconi was a funny guy. After his discovery of the electromagnetic waves and wireless transmission he wanted to do even bigger and better things. So, to allow his transmissions to go further he attached an antenna to the top of his kite and then would fly it to allow the furthest and best transmission possible. With this technique he was able to establish two-way telegraphic communication between Grace Bay, Newfoundland and England. Very cool!
Well since we are celebrating “100 years of broadcasting in Canada” lets focus on only events that occurred in this country even though there were incredible things happening in both America and Europe as well. The year 1903 saw the creation of Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of Canada which was established in Montreal at the exact location of 211 rue Saint-Sacrement, which is now a very lavish apartment building. Fast forward ten years, to 1913, and the Canadian Government began authorizing eighteen experimental wireless telegraph stations to be built across Quebec. Amazing moves forward were being made until the beginning of the first world war in 1914. Due to the war the Canadian Government prohibited the use of these towers and telegraphy in general by the civilians. However, the one exception was that only the Marconi telegraph Co. was allowed to continue research. Finally, the war ended in 1918 and the towers were reopened for civilian traffic.
It was May 20th, 1920 when the very first Canadian broadcast occurred. This was a broadcast between Montreal and Ottawa. The broadcast was a concert showcasing the voice of a woman and that is all we know. Two years following was the beginning of commercial radio meaning the Canadian Government issued the very first commercial broadcasting licenses, which we know are extremely important today. It was in the same year that Canadian radio began being mass produced. The mass production lead to the creation of “Radio Week” in Montreal to present this new medium of entertainment and communication to the public. It was a big deal! People could now go to the movie theatres to listen to the radio. WOW!
Why not upgrade the radio so people don’t have to go to the movie theatres to listen? Well, that’s just what the scientists did. All aboard! Radio on Board! Radio was introduced to all the first-class train cars, which could be listened to in the main cities along the railroad. By 1930, this grew to the point that the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) had 11 radio stations of its own to provide entertainment to its passengers onboard its trains, but for some unknown reason this feature was discontinued in 1935. Fear not this was not the end to the CPR radio stations. At this time the federal government created the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission which relied on these towers constructed by the railroad. The cool thing was with this new federal government initiative the content being broadcasted would alternate between French and English to accommodate everyone in the area since these towers were located in Quebec.
Now with the working radio towers and government backed programs civilians were able to begin creating. The first radio show that rose to fame was called “Fémina” produced by women’s rights activist Thérèse Casgrain. The show was played on CKAC which was a popular radio station located in Montreal, however, this program was so good it was snatched up by Radio-Canada to be played on air for the next 30 years. Next, just a few years later in 1935 came the first Quebec Radio drama, “Le curé du Village” by Robert Choquette on CKAC. Yes, exactly what you are thinking, it is the radio version of “The Young and The Restless”.
In 1936, the CBC was created. Within the CBC two separate networks were produced: one French and one English. Five years later, 1941, CBC opened its new service to be able to broadcast news stories over the radio. This was a huge leap in the world of radio.
December 8th, 1945 CJAD went on the air. Founded by Joseph Arthur Dupont CJAD is a popular news station today on the AM band. It is actually the oldest English-speaking radio in Montreal and it the fun part is that it is still in operation today. One year later the FM band of radio was established in Canada.
Let’s fast forward quite a few years, but over the years we are skipping CBC had its first TV broadcast, the transistor (pocket) radio was invented, Bluetooth was brought to the market, the first cell phone with SMS was built, and finally in 1992 software defined radio was invented by John Mitola. Software Defined Radio means that radio is now available on the internet! In 2012, Radio-Canada International actually stopped broadcasting via satellite and is now only distributed on the internet.
All that history of radio finally brings us to today, 2020, where we are celebrating an entire century of broadcasting in Canada! Currently, there are 111 active radio stations in the country that are regulated by various organizations, such as: the NCRA and the CRTC. This historic event is also being celebrated with postage stamps. Canada Post has dedicated a new range of stamps to illustrate various historic radios and inventions throughout the last century. Not only is the national event being recognized on stamps but also in a museum exhibit at Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner in Montreal. However, with the current situation the exhibition has been moved online and can be viewed virtually. Pretty cool!
Check it out here: