From Signal Hill to the Canadian Television Network

For the published journal article -- see Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 44:3 (Summer 2000) pp. 437-455.


Donald G. Godfrey, Ph.D.
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ


David R. Spencer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Faculty of Information and Media Studies
The University of Western Ontario
London, ON

Donald G. Godfrey (Ph.D., University of Washington, 1975) is a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunications, Arizona State University. His research interests are history, people, politics, and the law.

David Spencer (Ph.D., University of Toronto, 1990) is an associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. His research interests are in media history with emphasis on the evolution of radio and television in Canada and the alternate media of the Victorian period.


Canadian Marconi's CFCF was a focal point in Canadian broadcasting history. American students have a sense of RCA's historical role in U.S. telecommunications, but know little of the Canadian Marconi legacy. The Canadian Marconi Corporation was like RCA in the United States. It grew with technological advances, developed around established legal limitations, and was shaped by its community. It was influential in the Canadian system, the CTV private Canadian network, and RTNDA-Canada. CFCF truly stands out in Canadian broadcast history.

Canadian Marconi: CFCF-Television

Broadcast historians writing about Canada have written largely about the rise and decline in the fortunes of Canada's public broadcasting—the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The historic dominance of this public sphere has succeeded in providing the foundation for a host of scholarly Canadian books and articles. As important as these histories may be, the unusual emphasis it places on Canada's national broadcast history minimizes the contributions of one of the most intriguing private broadcasting corporations in Canada—the Canadian Marconi Corporation (CMC) and its pioneering station, CFCF-TV. The Canadian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters have noted the contributions of CFCF and other such private stations before the Royal Commission on Broadcasting (1956). T. J. Allard chronicled the history of private broadcasting in Canada between the years 1918–1958 and noted CFCF's importance (1979). However, little else has been written about Canada's private broadcasters—their innovation, entrepreneurialism, or their contributions to the history of broadcasting in Canada. Not only did the private broadcasting services give impetus to the founding and stabilization of the Canadian public broadcast service, it also created the infrastructure in which the contemporary private television sector was born, one that now dominates the video screens of Canada.

At the focal point of Canada's private endeavors was the CMC's CFCF-AM-FM-TV, English- speaking stations in the heart of Montreal. Canadian historians have headlined CFCF-AM, Canadian Marconi with the same preeminence of KDKA, Westinghouse. Frank Peers noted that both radio stations began at about the same time (1969). CFCF is self-proclaimed as Canada's "first" and has been credited as the first radio broadcasting station in North America (Godfrey, 1982). E. Austin Weir went a step further in a footnote comparison of KDKA, WWJ, and CFCF, declaring CFCF as the "oldest regularly operated broadcasting station in the world" (1965, p. 2).

In the United States, there is nothing written of Marconi's work in Canada, except at Signal Hill, Newfoundland (Sterling & Kitross, 1990). It was Thursday, December 12, 1901 when the letter "S" was sent from Cornwall, England, 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to Newfoundland (Barnouw, 1966). Unfortunately, the Signal Hill achievement has remained the focus of U.S. accounts of Marconi activities in Canada. Although U.S. publications always cite Marconi's transatlantic achievement, they also routinely end with it. Discussion of Marconi's operations in Canada are virtually nonexistent. American students and scholars have a sense of RCA's historic role in U.S. telecommunications, but know little of the Canadian Marconi legacy.

The story of broadcasting in Canada cannot be discussed without multiple references to the fortunes of Canadian Marconi, the closest Canadian equivalent to the U.S. RCA. The purpose of this writing is to examine the history of CFCF television, its struggles for existence within the context of the Canadian regulatory environment and its contributions to the history of private broadcasting in Canada. In focusing on CFCF-TV, the historical roots of broadcasting in Canada are examined from the perspective of this individual private broadcaster and its contributions to the Canadian system as we know it today.

Roots of the Canadian Marconi Company

As much as Guglielmo Marconi enjoyed individual success, and U.S. Canadian notoriety from the publicity surrounding the Signal Hill experiments, it was within the larger, context of business that he exploited his fame.

In Canada, Marconi found a government interested and willing to finance his work. His first contact with the Canadian government was through Alex Johnson, a member of the Canadian House of Commons (an approximate equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives). Johnson represented a constituency in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia. He was the conduit for Marconi's request for financial assistance to the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier; and then to the Honorable W.S. Fielding, Minister of Finance. Seeing the value of Marconi's ship-to-shore wireless to the national economy, not to mention the prestige of being a leader in telecommunications, the Government of Canada agreed to put up $80,000. Canadian broadcaster Warner Troyer noted, sarcastically, that while the Canadian government denied Reginald A. Fessenden, a Canadian citizen, financial assistance for his radio experiments, it was "busily funding and supporting an Italian inventor" (1980, p. 17). The Canadian government officials were aware that Marconi's Newfoundland transatlantic transmission was only geographically Canadian—he'd come to Newfoundland to avoid the storms of the eastern seaboard—but Marconi was a man with a rapidly growing business empire. He already had companies in Britain, Italy, and the United States. It was natural that Marconi acquired Canadian government support and moved his corporate influence into Canada.

Following the success in Newfoundland and the underwriting of the Canadian government, Marconi transferred his attention from experimentation to building a permanent receiving and transmitting ship-to-shore station at Table Head, Nova Scotia. More than avoiding the storms of the eastern seaboard, Marconi was taking advantage of an entrepreneurial opportunity.

The Canadian Marconi company became incorporated in the center of Canada's emerging industrial heartland, the province of Ontario, under the name the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada Ltd. It was owned entirely by Marconi's London, England enterprises. In 1903, the Canadian Marconi operation was incorporated as a Dominion [national] corporation and at that time the Canadian government was granted rights to the Marconi patents.1 In 1905, the government amended its Wireless Telegraphy Act to include possible broadcasting activities (Vipond, 1992). By this time, little was heard from Reginald Fessenden as he had moved to the United States (Sterling & Kitross, 1990). It remained for Marconi—the man with the organization, expertise and, above all, capital—to enter Canadian broadcasting.

With Canadian government support and the station in Nova Scotia, the CMC first concentrated on experimentation and point-to-point communication. The ship-to-shore stations and manufacturing were Marconi's source of income at the first of the new century. However, when it became apparent that product demand in North America could no longer be met by the Marconi manufacturing plant in Chelmsford, England, he opened the first Canadian production subsidiary in Montreal in 1909 (Vipond, 1992).

The Marconi Wireless Company of Canada was located at 173 William Street, Montreal. It was from this location the company launched the first radio private broadcasting station in Canada—an experimental station, XWA (eXperimental Wireless Apparatus). From the CMC the company developed the radio technology of the time. The plant manufactured and marketed receivers, tubes, and all kinds of radio components, and XWA was the station where the new technology was tested. It wasn't long, however, before the management was engaged in more than testing at XWA. In 1915, XWA became Canada's first commercial radio operation.2 These early experiments in Canada were cut short by World War I. From November 1918 until May 1919 the Canadian government felt that the climate was not conducive to a resumption of experimental broadcasting. The government issued an order-in-council on May 5, 1919 in which permission was granted to resume broadcasting. A year later the government recorded 281 amateur broadcasters on its books (Vipond, 1992).

While plans in late 1919 were being made to put XWA back on the air as a private commercial station, Canadian Marconi was also making plans to link North America with the Orient through point-to- point wireless. A report in the Montreal Gazette on December 1, 1919, datelined New York, reported:

The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada will build in the vicinity of Vancouver, B.C., a powerful radio depot. The station, which will cost $2,000,000 will handle commercial business between Canada and the Orient, and a station of like power and cost, will of course, be built in Japan. Negotiations are being carried on with the governments of Canada and Japan for licenses to construct and operate the stations necessary to establish direct communication across the Pacific. (Montreal, 1919)

In April 1922, when the Canadian federal government decided to register all existing broadcasting stations, Canadian Marconi had established commercial radio stations in Canada's major metropolitan centers, Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax (Canadian Communications Foundation, 1998; Multiple Access Ld., nd).

The Canadian Marconi company was also a part of Canadian television's prehistory. While John Logie Baird was experimenting with mechanical television in England; and Philo T. Farnsworth and Vladimir K. Zworykin worked in the United States; the Marconi Company was active in Canada. Canadian Marconi experimented with television transmission briefly in 1923. Unfortunately, these operations were ordered closed by the Canadian government, since the government had no television policy. But the order did not deter CMC's overall interest in television (Allard, 1979). Throughout the 1920s and the Depression years CFCF-AM grew, providing the foundation and a platform for planning for television.

Just prior to World War II, the Marconi company was ready to put its plans for television into action. It approached the Canadian federal government asking for a license to begin an experimental television station (Stewart & Hull, 1994). The company was the first to make such a request in Canada, but before a license could be approved by the government the war intervened. The advent of War changed the CMC direction. It became Canada's first vertically integrated manufacturer—with the broadcasting and a production empire coming in the postwar era.

CFCF Radio Sets the Foundation for Television

The potential in radio broadcasting was being realized on both sides of the Atlantic and specifically in the boardrooms of Marconi. Although Marconi started with ship-to-shore, by 1919 the company had conducted numerous tests on speech transmissions from XWA, its transmitters in Clifden, Ireland and at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The results were so encouraging that the board of directors of the Canadian affiliate allocated funds for a new and improved transmitting antenna at the Montreal factory for experimental station XWA. CFCF Radio was about to be launched (Vipond, 1992).

The early history of the XWA experiments are cloudy. According to Vipond, the general manager of CFCF Radio wrote in 1928 to the Radio Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries asking "with the knowledge that we are the pioneer broadcasting station in the world, we would consider it a very great favor if you would kindly let us know the date of our first broadcast" (Vipond, 1992, p. 17). The government agency had not tracked the work being done by XWA, noting only that "we have not the exact details of this on our files, but find that test programs were carried out by your company in Montreal during the winter evenings of 1919, and regular organized programs were commenced in December, 1920 by your experimental station XWA on a wavelength of 1200 metres" (Vipond, 1992, p. 17). The station's history claims the early experimental broadcasts consisted of winding up a small Swiss music box and broadcasting its chimes over the airwaves (CIQC, 1998a).

We do know that the Canadian broadcast, which focused attention on CFCF, occurred on May 20, 1920. It was prearranged and organized specifically to illustrate the impact of wireless voice and music communication. An audience composed of members of the Royal Society of Canada, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, William Lyon MacKenzie King, leader of the Queen's official opposition, the Duke of Devonshire, and the Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson all assembled in the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa to hear an address on war inventions and the songs of Dorothy Lutton. The program was carried by telegraph wires back to Montreal where it was transmitted through the facilities of XWA. Although it was ignored by the Montreal press, the results of this broadcast were immediate as "people were lining up at the counters of electrical shops to buy home receivers" (Multiple Access Ltd., nd, p. 3; for a discussion of CFCF radio's claim to being "first" see Godfrey, 1982, 56–71). In the movie theatres where receiving equipment was on display "these events drew larger billings than the motion picture"(Multiple Access Ltd., nd, p. 3).

From that point of public origination, Canadian Marconi and CFCF Radio began a long record of domination on the Canadian private broadcasting scene. While RCA and CBS were experimenting with multi-station hook-ups and networking in the United Sates, the CMC was doing the same thing for private broadcasting in Canada. CFCF radio was the key private station promoting the growth of private broadcasting in Canada. It participated in the 1927 Canadian Confederation Jubilee as the eastern anchor on a 23-station nationwide hookup. The broadcast was carried on newly constituted radio station VE9DR, which later became CFCX (the shortwave service of Canadian Marconi) (CIQC, 1998b). It made its first transatlantic broadcast in 1928, carrying the Thanksgiving service from Westminster Abbey; and it acted as the key station for the celebration of Marconi Day in January 1930. That broadcast marked the 30th anniversary of Marconi's transatlantic experiment. The broadcast joined five continents and fifteen countries. In 1929, CFCF became an NBC affiliate; following World War II, it switched to ABC. It was closely aligned and in tune with developments in the United States and England, an association that, as we shall see, presented both opportunity and challenge.

Canadian Government Policy Slows the Evolution of Private Television

Television was in the experimental stages in Great Britain and the United States in the late 1920s. The U.S. had settled the questions of media regulation with the passage Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934. However, in Canada the regulatory and media development debates were elongated due to issues of "Canadian culture." The preservation of Canadian culture was a prominent debate topic in media-policy discussions in Canada. It was the first concern of the soon-to-be appointed Aird Commission and today remains as an unresolved issue.

During the 1920s, Canadian radio operators and regulators discovered that they were competing against two large and seemingly intractable obstacles, Canadian geography and American radio. Ironically, the two seemingly unrelated factors were closely integrated. Most Canadians lived then, as they still do today, within ninety miles of the U.S. border. This meant that radio signals, although not always stable, freely crossed the 49th parallel carrying forms of uniquely American popular culture. Canadian radio stations were anxious for the contemporary programing and obtained affiliations with both U.S.-based networks—NBC and CBS. As a result, by the late 1920s many Canadian stations were virtually indistinguishable from U.S. outlets. This was a trend not well-liked in Canadian parliamentary circles.

Canadians, always wanting the best in U.S. culture while not surrendering their own, were no different in the late 1920s than today. As the battle lines formed, the Canadian private broadcasters—with U.S. network affiliations—were soon on the defensive. On one side were the broadcasters who in the 1920s were forced to deal with fragile bottom lines and, on the other, the nationalists who wanted a purely Canadian broadcasting system without U.S. interference.3 Government was forced to respond (Spencer, 1992).

The first broadcasting study commissioned by the Canadian government was conducted by Sir John Aird in 1928. Aird and his colleagues—a Montreal engineer and an Ottawa journalist—reported the following year. The Aird Commission toured Canada, England and the United Stated visiting with dignitaries and media leaders. In New York, while visiting with RCA, Aird was told that he shouldn't worry because "NBC was planning to expand their system to cover the whole of North America, adding the confident assurances that they would give Canada the same quality of service they were providing in the United States" (Peers, 1969, p. 38). RCA pledged that it would bring the Canadian system right along with the U.S. system. However, being abandoned was not Aird's concern. He wanted the yet-to-be established Canadian system to reflect Canadian priorities. With this in mind, the Aird Commission recommended a public, not a private, system for Canada with programs reflecting Canadian identity and only limited commercial content. Aird felt that the continued dominance of private stations would lead to an American monopoly on programs, production, and ownership (1929). He did not want the private commercial system of the United States superimposed on Canada. Three years after the Aird Report and much debate, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act of 1932 was passed. The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), created by the Act, had two main functions: to regulate and originate programs. It could both operate its own stations and affiliate with private operators. This solution neither satisfied the nationalists—who wanted to eliminate the private sector—nor the private broadcasters—who resented the intrusion of government into their affairs.

The early years of CRBC programming were such a struggle that it shared some facilities with CFCF radio and contracted with it to originate remote broadcasts. Between 1936 and 1938 "four out of the six national network programs covering Canada originated at CFCF" (Canadian Marconi, 1960, July 7, pp. 2–3). The partnership was one of convenience. As Canadian media scholar Marc Raboy has noted, it was the network affiliation of CFCF and CKAC (another Montreal station) to U.S. networks NBC and CBS respectively that forced the government to take action and found a national network (1990). The CRBC never achieved the goals set for it. It was a disappointment to Prime Minister R. B. Bennett who saw it as a protection against U.S. influence in Canadian public life. By 1936, the CRBC was gone, dying in a sea of scandal perpetrated by Bennett's own political party.5 The failure of the CRBC to articulate and execute an effective broadcast policy, based on national concerns and interests, gave both nationalists and public broadcasting advocates a shot in the arm with the founding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 1936.

The CBC was not just a network in competition with private stations, it was the regulator for the private stations as well as the only Canadian network. Competitive networks were forbidden. Unlike the unfettered free enterprise climate in the United States, which handily defeated public broadcasting advocates such as the Chicago Federation of Labor (McChesney, 1992), public broadcasting in Canada grew at the expense of private interests in the years between 1936 and 1957. Private broadcasters were at the beck and call of the CBC Board of Governors, which possessed and practiced a-priori rights on programming, network formation, and channel allocation. For example, when the CBC decided to found its second network during World War II, it did not have a clear channel for its flagship station CJBC (it was on a regional channel 1010). However, there was a private station, CFRB, operating on clear channel 860. By regulatory directive, the CBC ordered the two stations to switch channels, which they did.

This was the climate in which Canadian Marconi was forced to work and survive. Private broadcasters were the nation's poor sisters. Canadian broadcast policy functioned in an atmosphere of near paralysis as politicians sought to establish a firm foundation for CBC operations. This created challenges for the private investors including Canadian Marconi. Despite the reluctance of the government to act on behalf of private broadcasters, CMC knew it would have to keep pace with technology, its own organization, and experimentation lest it lose out later when the government decided to develop policy for the private sector.

Canadian Marconi first applied for a formal commercial television license in 1938 (Canadian Marconi, 1949). This first CMC application paralleled the era in the U.S. when RCA was organizing its public demonstrations of television and the Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation was reorganizing to promote its television system more efficiently (Sterling & Kitross, 1990). CMC's initial interest in acquiring the television license was to "determine and develop a basis for future policy in what was recognized to be a coming field of endeavor" (Canadian Marconi, 1952, January 29, p. 1). Not surprisingly, the first request for a license was denied. The Canadian regulators balked for two reasons. First, the government had no permanent policy regarding television; second, World War II broke out creating a hiatus in television everywhere. During the War, the Canadian Marconi company pressed forward in television development and manufacturing. However, its primary emphasis had shifted—as with other manufacturers of the nation and the world—from experimental development to wartime manufacturing. An interest in television was not lost during the war, it was merely set aside while radio took a major part in the war effort and while the radio and television manufacturing divisions supplied and profited from the sale of military communications equipment. During the War, the Canadian Marconi company's "output was increased to approximately twenty times the prewar level" selling radio apparatus and "secret devices" to the army, navy and merchant ships (Hopkins, nd, p. 41).6

By the end of World War II, the Canadian Marconi company had grown to include five divisions: Marine, Commercial Products (mobile communications broadcast equipment, nuclear instruments), Broadcast and Television Receivers (manufacturing receiver products), Radiotron and Radio Parts, and Broadcast. CFCF radio and television development came under control of the Broadcast division (Canadian Marconi, 1951).

Three years following the War, with technology in hand, CMC began more aggressively to seek a commercial television license. Unfortunately, all applications submitted in the fall of 1948 were again denied pending further government study. Canadian policy was still wrapped in controversy as study continued. Yet one more Royal Commission and revisions to the Broadcasting Act failed to provide much needed stability. The key questions of how to preserve Canadian culture and allow the operation of private stations at the same time were prominent and unresolved. To the Canadian Marconi company this meant it was once again denied until a government policy with respect to private stations could be formulated. As media historian Paul Rutherford has observed:
What exasperated the Canadian Marconi company was the needless delay occasioned by the government's unwillingness to set private radio free to bring Canadians the benefits of television. It seemed a sin against nature: the delay had caused `serious loss to Canada' and `threatened to kill initiative—we cannot make our contribution to the country's welfare.' (1990, p. 22)

In contrast, the government did grant the CBC $4.5 million to establish stations and production centers, but at the same time it denied private station licenses "except upon an associated basis" (Canadian Marconi, 1952, January 29, p. 3). The "associated basis" proposal proved unworkable as it necessitated private applicants get together to form a single application and then, if that application was approved, the "applicants" were to operate jointly with the CBC until a permanent policy was established.

The Royal Commission on National Development in Arts, Letters and Sciences reinforced the subservient position of the private broadcasters when, in 1949, it concluded that
the inclusion of private stations in the national system although not contemplated when the organized principles for broadcasting were established, has proven to be in the national interest...the most important function of private stations...(being) outlets for national programmes. (Bestwick, 1962, p. 20)

In effect, the word "national" meant programs produced and distributed by the CBC. Absurd situations resulted from this policy. For example, in the Southern Ontario corridor from Windsor to Toronto (a distance of 240 miles) there were no less than six VHF television stations which were forced to be CBC affiliates.

In contrast to the rapid growth of private postwar television in the United States, the Canadian government was slow in adopting television policy. As a result, the Marconi Company in Canada simply bided its time planning. In 1951, it was manufacturing equipment and television home receivers, not to mention operating CFCF-AM-FM and CFCX Short Wave.7 Despite the fact that it was yet unable to secure a television license to broadcast as CFCF-TV, Marconi supplied receivers and "much of the studio and transmitting equipment used by stations across Canada, the United States, and Great Britain" (O'Brian, 1956, np). The status of private Canadian television remained unchanged (Canadian Marconi, 1950). Clearly, the CBC was working to foster its own interests in order to preserve its definition of Canadian identity while private broadcast interests sought a place on the political decision makers' agenda.

Canadian Marconi's difficulties can be traced to the 1951 Massey Royal Commission, headed by Vincent Massey, soon to be Canada's first native-born Governor-General and brother of actor Raymond Massey who made his fame and fortune playing Abraham Lincoln in the United States. In this case, the ironic relationship of the two brothers must be noted. While his brother made his fame and fortune in U.S. cultural industries, Vincent Massey, fervent nationalist and imperialist, recommended continued CBC control of broadcasting in Canada. His commission concluded that "applications from private groups could not again be considered until the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has available national television programmes" (Canadian Marconi, 1952, January 29, p. 2; see also Report from the Royal, 1951). In other words, he wanted a completely developed coast-to-coast public network, in both large and small markets, before granting the private broadcaster the opportunity for development. The Marconi Company reported to its stockholders that Canadian "government policy continues to reserve larger market [license] areas for stations of the CBC" (Canadian Marconi, 1953, np).

Even with the blessings of the Canadian government, the CBC struggled. In 1952, the CBC put one of its Montreal television stations on the air, CBFT-TV. The costs of operating the bilingual CBFT-TV exceeded forecasts, and the station floundered. The president of CMC stepped forward with a solution. In an attempt to resolve the question of CBC government-financing issue, the president of Canadian Marconi, Stuart M. Finlayson, suggested a simple government subsidy instead of a license fee (1949). This meant Parliament would allocate funds for CBC operations. He reasoned that if the CBC could stabilize itself, then the question of private television stations could finally be addressed.

The process was frustrating, but CMC continued to plan for television. In 1952, estimates were circulated for a building to operate as a "television program origination center incorporating two live program studios; as well as pick up from 16mm films, slides, and opaque material" (Canadian Marconi, circa 1952, np).

A license application was filed by the Canadian Marconi company every year following World War II up to 1960; each application was rejected. A 1954 series of letters among Canadian Marconi, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, and the Department of Transport illustrated the frustration. Marconi had been under the impression that the continued denial of its license applications was merely a deferment "pending a change in policy of the government with respect to granting of licenses to private interests." However, in 1954 CMC was advised that its application was invalid. Marconi would have to submit another application (Finlayson, 1954; Hopkins, 1954).

The Broadcasting Act of 1958 finally separated policy and operation responsibilities from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It established the first Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) to regulate, while it left the CBC to operate a national public system (Peers, 1979). Canadian media scholar Marc Raboy has argued that creation of the BBG was intended to ameliorate the grievances of the private sector, which had long felt thwarted by the regulatory power of the CBC (Raboy, 1990). The CMC broadcast history supports Raboy's argument. The BBG essentially reshaped the Canadian broadcasting system as a partnership between public and private operators, at least in its vision of the world (Raboy, 1990). The CBC would now operate on a subsidy, as suggested earlier by Finlayson, and this was hoped to provide stability. Now Finlayson felt the private broadcasters were making progress. The granting of a new CFCF-TV license was on the horizon.

Dr. Andrew Stewart, founding chair of the BBG, recalls in his memoirs that the first television application he received upon his appointment came from Canadian Marconi (Stewart & Hull, 1994). The application was heard before the Board of Broadcast Governors in Montreal, from the seventh to the tenth of March, 1960. Finlayson presented the application brief. He was accompanied by Victor George, General Manager of CFCF; A. G. McCaughey, Secretary-Treasurer; Richard Misener, Manager of CFCF; and Vin Dittmer, Commercial Manager. Finlayson noted that Canadian Marconi was a public company with 22,000 shareholders. Although it did not meet Canadian ownership requirements outlined in Section 14 of the Broadcasting Act of 1958, it had been given an exemption by federal order PC 1959–1051 to carry on business in Canada as a broadcaster. Finlayson attributed the exemption to the company's exemplary role as a good corporate citizen in the Canadian broadcasting community. Private television was finally approved by the Canadian government, and CMC was ready. The CFCF-TV license was approved and CMC authorized its Broadcast Division to construct a studio—the approved cost was $1.4 million (Canadian Marconi, 1960, June 28).

The approval of the CFCF-TV application did not go unchallenged. Newfoundland broadcaster Geoffrey Stirling, owner of Montreal radio station CKGM, had assembled a gold-plated list of investors for his license application including Nobel Prize winner Wilder Penfield, the noted Montreal neurosurgeon; the Vice-President of McGill University, David Thompson; and Donald Jamieson, soon to become Canada's Minister of Communications in the federal government of Lester B. Pearson, another Nobel Prize winner (Stewart & Hull, 1994). Cultural critics challenged the license complaining about Marconi's ties to other foreign entities, notably British Marconi, and explained "Marconi [stations are]...leaks in the cultural dike" (Gray, 1961, p. 6). CMC countered noting that CFCF-AM-FM were active Montreal community participants. In fact, the private broadcasters [which the BBG and critics felt were primarily relay stations for U.S. networks] attracted a larger Canadian audience for Canadian programming, as well as for programs "of foreign origin" (Finlayson, nd, pp. 3–8; see also Application for a TV License, 1957–1960). The Montreal Star reported the eventual approval of the license with a story headlined, "TV Applicants Stress Regional Programming." The article continued, "noting at the start, CFCF Television promised to show substantial Canadian content" (Creery, 1960).

Late in 1960, in spite of formidable opposition, the Canadian Marconi company's television application was finally granted. It had taken the company more than two decades to successfully acquire an English-language television license for the city of Montreal (CFCF-TV). By this time, the BBG seemed to "prefer well established and experienced applicants even though they already have an AM [radio] license" (Peers, 1979, p. 231). The CMC Directors Report called the license for an English-language television operation (CFCF) "perhaps the most important single development in this company and it climaxed twenty- two years of effort on our part to get such a license" (Canadian Marconi, 1960, np).

CFCF Television, Montreal, Quebec

Almost a year passed before CFCF television premiered. It signed on the air Friday, January 20, 1961 (Canadian Marconi, 1960, April 19). There were a few technical glitches, and the station went to black for a few minutes. One "technical difficulty" occurred immediately after Finlayson had spoken and was about to be questioned by reporters. The station lost both audio and video (Dude, 1961). But opening night on Channel 12 was a success, featuring primarily local origination. Pat Pearce of The Montreal Starobserved:
CFCF-TV slipped almost quietly into the Montreal TV scene on Friday (January 20, 1961), marking the occasion only with a few appropriate words, and then getting down to the immediate business of producing a program. A good little program it was too, "Carte Blanche." (Pearce, 1961, p. 18)

Five months after the program debut CFCF-TV was second—in a market of several stations—only to the CBC French station (Canadian Marconi, 1961, May 19). With both local programming and high- profile U.S. imports—such as Naked City, Maverick, and Route 66—CFCF-TV had two out of three French-speaking viewers who accessed English-language television for a 23 percent share in 1961 (Rutherford, 1990). Despite its initial success, television was a costly investment. CFCF lost money during the first three years of operations. But these losses were underwritten by the corporation (Canadian Marconi, 1964; 1964, April 7). By 1965, the financial picture had changed and Finlayson reported that income had reached a net of more than $2-million and that "television station, CFCF-TV has increased its audience by 70 percent since 1961 and anticipated losses realized during the first few years of operation were being recovered" (Canadian Marconi, 1965, February 15).

CFCF: Making a National Difference

CFCF-TV made a difference in the Canadian national scene in several ways—the CBC, the Canadian Television Network (CTV), and the Radio-Television News Directors Association-Canada (RTNDA-Canada).

CMC CFCF-TV was a significant private player and governmental lobby. It was at the insistence of private broadcasting in Canada that the government was forced into a private and national systems debate. It was CMC's Finlayson's suggestion that the CBC be supported by a parliamentary subsidy as a means of financial stabilization.8 While he was not alone in that idea, it is significant that through the encouragement of a major international private enterprise the Canadian government found a different means of supporting its national system initially and thus permitting private growth at the same time.

The CTV also has its roots in CFCF-TV. Following its successful application, CFCF-TV was joined by seven other private station operations. These were the first Canadian television stations to be established without being forced to join the CBC national network. CFCF-TV shared this distinction with private independents licensed in Halifax (CJCH), Ottawa (CJOH), Toronto (CFTO), Winnipeg (CJAY now CKY), Edmonton (CFRN), Calgary (CHCT now CFCN), and Vancouver (CHAN).

The challenge of CFCF-TV and these stations was in their promise to provide Canadian content programming, a promise made in connection with their licenses. Meeting this challenge led to the creation of the CTV. CFCF-TV again was the leader. The CMC plan for meeting Canadian content requirement was the exchange of Canadian programs among private stations. CFCF-TV management organized the stations to produce, purchase, and distribute Canadian programs. At first, video tapes produced by individual stations were physically shipped between stations. Eventually, these programs were sent by microwave. The station group eventually formed the Independent Television Organization (ITO), with CFCF-TV's Richard Misener as the first President of ITO, to collectively purchase programming and formalize distribution. The original stations were joined by CFTM-TV, Montreal, a new private French language station. Each station appointed a director to the board of ITO and each station, regardless of market, held an equal share in the new company. Although Misener and his colleagues of ITO repeatedly declared it was not intending to form a second Canadian television network, BBG Chair Andrew Stewart was not fooled (Stewart & Hull, 1994). These were indeed the beginning stages for the private Canadian CTV network.

Competition also played an important part in the creation of the CTV—again CFCF-TV was a major player. Initially, there were general feelings in the broadcasting community that the fledgling private stations could not compete with the government-supported CBC network in terms of original programming or advertising revenues. However in 1961, independent stations—working through CFTO John Bassett—outbid the CBC and obtained the broadcast rights for the Canadian Football League's eastern teams located in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Montreal. However, Bassett could not broadcast the home games of his own Toronto Argonauts or the nearby Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the country's largest market, because the CFL had a strict blackout policy—it did not allow the televising of home games by local television stations. It remained for CFCF-TV to act as the anchor station (Stewart & Hull, 1994).

CFCF-TV's Canadian programming and its CTV contributions in the late 1960s and early 1970s were significant. The CFCF-TV schedule at the time was eighteen hours per day, approximately 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. (with some variance on the weekends) for a total of 126 hours weekly. In 1970, fifty-seven hours and fifteen minutes per week were devoted to Canadian content programs, a little more than 50 percent. While that figure itself may not be overwhelming, it is interesting to note that of those 57+ hours twenty-six hours and forty-five minutes were programs locally originated by CFCF-TV specifically for Montreal telecasts; six hours and thirty minutes were produced for the private CTV network; and, during hockey season (lasting 20 weeks of the year at that time), CFCF-TV added another two and one-half hours per week to its origination CTV efforts (Canadian Marconi, 1970a). What started out as a studio facility for local television turned out to be a production center for CTV. By 1970, CMC held a 16.36 percent interest in the CTV network and was one of the key stations (Canadian Marconi, 1963, 1970b; Second TV network, 1960; Peers, 1979). It recognized the importance of Canadian content programming to the government policy makers, to its audience and to the CTV network. In its first ten years it contributed time, talent, facilities, and financial resources to "over 45 experimental and pilot productions for national and local" broadcast (Canadian Marconi, 1970c, p. 110).

What began as a program cooperative rapidly became a new independent network—CTV. In 1962, the CTV again stunned the CBC in a successful bid for the Canadian Football League's final championship Grey Cup game. CTV had the rights to the Canadian Football League's most prestigious affair, yet the new CTV network reached only sixty percent of all potential Canadian viewers. In contrast, the CBC had the network to reach nearly every Canadian, and a frustrated CBC was ordered by the BBG to carry the CTV feed of the game, complete with all CTV commercials (Raboy, 1990). The order led to a sharing agreement on Grey Cup broadcasts that exists to this day.

News was the hallmark of CFCF's programming history and as a result of this commitment it became a catalyst on the national scene in the organization of RTNDA-Canada. CFCF news operations began with the granting of the license. In 1960, a news department of eight people (3 newspeople, 3 camera people, an editor, and librarian) launched the service. They produced the daily two half-hours of news plus public service materials. Until the advent of the private network and the CTV National News in 1962, the CFCF team covered all of Canada not just Montreal. By 1970, the news staff had grown to include twenty- eight (15 newspeople, 8 camera people, 3 editors, and two librarians). In addition, the station had correspondents and a support crew in Quebec City, the provincial capital, and Ottawa, the national capital (Canadian Marconi, 1970d).

CFCF's leadership in news and sports programming eventually contributed to the creation of RTNDA-Canada, an extension of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of America founded in 1944 in the United States. This happened largely as a result of CFCF workers involved in RTNDA. CFCF radio had been a member of the international RTNDA since the late 1950s with CFCF personnel serving on its board of directors. According to the Marconi records, CFCF's vice president of news was encouraged by the corporation to begin the formation of RTNDA-Canada. With CFCF underwriting the initial expenses, RTNDA-Canada began operations in the mid-1960s (Canadian Marconi, 1970e).


In many ways, the Canadian Marconi Corporation was like RCA in the United States. It grew with the technological advances, developed around established legal limitations and was shaped by its community. CFCF-TV stands out in Canadian broadcast history, because its ownership was the Canadian Marconi company, a worldwide technological leader. This gave it unprecedented influence and vast resources. CFCF was a small part of this multinational company. The initial CMC focus on experimentation and manufacturing helped CFCF-AM-TV maintain developmental pace with competitors and stations of the United States, despite the self-interest resistance of the Canadian government which continually delayed the development of private television in behalf of the government-sponsored system. The CMC was continually lobbying before the Canadian government officials and, in time, influenced the formation of today's independent Commission (CRTC) control of both the Canadian Broadcast Corporation stations and private stations across the country. The strength of the CMC gave its personnel an edge over other private broadcast developers in Canada, and thus it was instrumental in the formation of Canada's only private network, the CTV. Its personnel were involved in the establishment of RTNDA- Canada. From a programming point of view, it was instrumental in producing programs of Canadian content that aired not only in Montreal but throughout Canada on the CTV network.

A most meaningful tribute to the Canadian Marconi company and CFCF came in 1965 from CFCF's chief competitor, the CBC's former programming executive Austin Weir:
A belated…tribute must be paid to the unselfish cooperation of the Canadian Marconi Company.… No one in this country knows better than I how whole-heartedly Canadian Marconi cooperated in those numerous inter-empire and international broadcasts. (1965, p. 43)

CFCF was truly a pioneering station. In fact, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture observed in 1987–88 that when the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications and Television Commission (successor to the BBG) granted CFCF a license to found Quebec's second French-language private television network Quatre Saisons, it recognized finally that the dominance of public broadcasting was in its demise—a factor which can be laid at the feet of this Montreal-based enterprise (Raboy, 1990).


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1. See Canadian Marconi (1956, p. 2). In reference to the governmental and private enterprise relationships, although somewhat unusual in many capitalist circles, such practices have a long tradition in Canada. Public and private enterprise were no strangers to each other in the Canadian economic context nor are they today. They had joined forces before to build canals in the 1830s and 1840s, railways in the 1850s to 1900s, and hydroelectric developments at the turn of the century. To the politician, an alliance with Marconi was no different than any of the deals government had struck with any number of previous entrepreneurs. This is one of the many differences that separate Canadians from their American counterparts. Canadians, even in this day an age, are far less reluctant to use the power of the state than their counterpart in the United States.
2. See Godfrey, (1982, pp. 56–77). The only evidence existing on the experimental license given to Canadian Marconi is recorded in the Sessional Papers of the Canadian House of Commons for 1915. The entry is significant. It notes that Canadian Marconi was the only party interested in obtaining a license for broadcasting purposes. By the time that the first experimental broadcasts left the small transmitter at 173 William Street in Montreal to a handful of amateurs and ships in the St. Lawrence River, Canada was involved in war. See also CIQC (1999).
3. See Beswick (1962, pp. 3–4). Beswick specifically refers to observations about previous inquiries made by Robert Fowler in the mid-1950s.
4. For discussions relative to Canadian culture and policy making see Weir (1965); Peers (1969, 1979); Hudley (1983); Collins (1990); and Pendakur. (1990).
5. In the 1935 election, the Conservative Party hired an advertising agency to design a series of political broadcasts espousing the party's platform. They were dramatic presentations focusing on a porch prophet named Mr. Sage, whose agenda was to convert Liberals to the Conservative cause. However, the fact that the Conservative Party designed and paid for the broadcasts was never mentioned. After a particularly devastating attack on Liberal leader MacKenzie King, the connection was revealed. It appeared that the CRBC knew that the Sage programs were political and failed to act on the affair. King promised to disband the CRBC if elected. He was, and kept his promise.
6. See Hopkins (nd, p. 41). Hopkins was the secretary to CMC and after his retirement was hired as historian. The report itself carries no date, but it appears to be written December 20, 1960.
7. In the meantime, the CBC had been given permission to develop public television in Canada. But the CBC dithered, refusing to take the new medium all that seriously. In fact when the CBC launched its first national newscast, complete with film, it was greeted with derision by the radio journalists who argued that it just pandered to action film clips and was, thus, no better than showbiz. It wasn't until September 6, 1952 that CBFT-TV signed on in Montreal, right in Canadian Marconi's back yard. Two days later, CBLT-TV signed on in Toronto. See Rutherford (1990, p. 46).
8. Finlayson's motivations were twofold—provide a way for CFCF and private broadcaster television licensing and it's not likely he wanted a tax on the manufactured goods CMC was producing.

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