Happy Belated Birthday, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


I’m not quite 100 percent sure that this was the very first thing ever aired on CBC radio, but if not, it’s close. It’s Chairman Leonard Brockington’s welcome message to listeners from November 4th, 1936, two days after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation replaced what had been known as the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which had existed since 1932.

To mark the occasion, the CBC Archives has put together a collection of photos, audio and info about some of the early programming. The royals and the dance lessons are neat little pieces of history, but I was most interested in the bit about the war and the news service. Not because I’m a war buff, but because I’ll never not be impressed by the ability of journalists and engineers to send timely reports from war zones using 1930s and 40s technology.

September 1939 brought the start of the Second World War, and with that, the news programming of the CBC expanded considerably.

An overseas program unit accompanied the first troops overseas in December 1939, and on Jan. 1, 1941, the CBC News Service was established. 
An article in the program schedule for January 1942 justified the dedication of 20 per cent of broadcasting hours to news, due to “the most tremendous drama in the world’s history” unfolding “in the daily chronicling of the news.”

Matthew Halton was one of the overseas correspondents who brought the news of the war to Canadians at home.

His description of the Allied battle for Carpiquet, in July 1944 is characteristic of his style, with vivid descriptions of his surroundings as well as of the attack.  
“This is the morning we waited for,” Halton told Canadian listeners back home. “A morning in France, a morning in which the fair fields in Normandy are torn and ripped and split apart.”

It is also an illustration of the many recording feats of the engineers who were part of the overseas unit. 
The 1944 edition of the CBC staff magazine called Radio has a description by recording engineer Alex McDonald of the recording he made with Halton.

In the magazine, McDonald — shown in the photo above — recounts choosing a stone hen coop as an observation post, and the sound of chickens and ducks that squawked at their intrusion. He ran wires out to the battery of the jeep, his source of power. He recorded the barrage of Canadian guns, and that recording was quickly short-waved to Canada and played over CBC News Roundup.

So happy birthday, CBC. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Whether you use it daily or curse it every time you think about your tax dollars going to pay for stupid gardening shows and special interest propaganda, every one of us is better off in some way because of it. No other outlet in Canada has done more to keep us in touch with our country and our world than the CBC has, and at a time when so many things around us are changing faster than ever, a healthy CBC is as important now as it may have ever been.

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