Turning Points in Public Broadcasting: The CBC at 50

The immediate occasion for this series was the CBC's 50th anniversary in 1986.   Public broadcasting in Canada had actually begun four years before the date we were celebrating, with the creation of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) by the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett in 1932.  But this first attempt was criticized by the the Liberal opposition — for political bias— and by the Radio League, the popular organization that had lobbied for its creation — for poor programming.  When Mackenzie King's Liberals replaced the Conservatives in 1936, they reorganized the public broadcaster as a crown corporation with a supposedly "arms length" relationship to the government of the day.  They called their new creation the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation — the "corpse," as it was sometimes later jokingly known — and it made its first broadcast, from a transmitter in Watrous, Saskatchewan, on Nov. 2, 1936.  The 50th anniversary gave me a welcome chance to review some of its history and to interview many of the pioneers who had built, first, the radio service, and then, after 1952, the country's first television network.   The series began with an exploration of the origins of public broadcasting in Canada.  Luckily, while living in Ottawa in 1978, I had recorded an interview with Graham Spry, one of the leaders of the campaign to establish a public broadcaster in the late 1920's and early 1930's.  Graham died in 1983, and, having this interview was invaluable to me in constructing this first episode.  The second show dealt with the so-called golden age of radio, when the CBC became Canada's first truly national cultural institution.  The third was about the beginnings of television , the epochal Radio Canada strike of 1959, and the battle over Preview Commentary, a radio commentary which was cancelled, in 1959, as a result of political pressure from by the Diefenbaker government, and then reinstated under strong counter-pressure from its producers and the public.   The fourth was entirely devoted to the story of This Hour Has Seven Days, the wildly popular current affairs programme that the CBC cancelled in 1966.   The final episode concerned the regulation of public broadcasting in Canada, initially the task of the CBC itself, but, after the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker reformed the CBC and allowed private television broadcasting in 1958, the job of the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG), and then, from 1968 to the present, Canadian Television and Radio Commission (CRTC).  This last programme was twice partially reconstructed to create a more up-to-day conclusion when the series was re-broadcast in 1996, for the 60th anniversary, and again in 2006, for the 70th, but here I have included the original 1986 ending.

Some of the material was drawn from the archives, where Ken Puley, as always, was an invaluable help, but happily, in 1986, a lot of the people who built the CBC were still alive and willing to reminisce with me.  Here is a list of those I was able to interview:

#1 - Harry Boyle, Graham Spry, Frank Peers, Michael Nolan, Orville Shugg, and James Finlay

#2 - Neil Morrison, Lister Sinclair, Harry Boyle, Davidson Dunton, Orville Shugg, Marjorie McEnaney, Helen Carscallen, Alan Thomas, Frank Peers, Bernard Trotter, and Robert Fulford

#3 - Fernand Quirion, Jean Louis Roux, Alphonse Ouimet, Robert Fulford, Lister Sinclair, Barbara Fairbairn, Frank Peers, and Gordon Cullingham

#4 - Hugh Gauntlett, Patrick Watson, Alphonse Ouimet, Laurier Lapierre, Douglas Leiterman, Reeves Haggan, Warner Troyer, Helen Carscallen, Eric Koch, Roy Faibish, and Peter Campbell

#5 Harry Boyle, Graham Spry, Frank Peers, Davidson Dunton, Alphonse Ouimet, Robert Fulford, Eugene Forsey, Herschel Hardin, Laurent Picard, Hugh Gauntlett, and Al Johnson