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CFCF : The Early Years of Radio

By Melanie Fishbane


click to enlarge (188 Ko)


 Advertisement for Marconi receiver (188 K)

Canadian Wireless, June 1922



   Sound Clips


In the early 1920s broadcastes and educational authorities discussed the subject [of radio in the classroom] from time to time, but very few schools had radio receiving sets.  Some radio manufacturers loaned sets to schools and a few broadcasters arranged test programs in co-operation with local educational officials, but the costs of equipment were high, and there were problems involving curriculum.  In due course, however, the obstacles were surmounted.  School youngsters have not only profited by the lessons learned from radios in the class-rooms, but have won praise from parents and other listeners who have enjoyed children’s singing in the periods devoted to music. ( Coats n.d., 288)  


 An Advertisement for Santa Claus on CFCF

Canadian Wireless, 1922

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            This comment by Darby Coats, a long-time employee of the Canadian Marconi Company who was heavily involved in the early development of radio there, appears at first glance to be about bringing radio to children for purely educational reasons.  But if one takes another look at this anecdote in the context of the history of early radio in Canada, one realizes that school broadcasts were also a part of Marconi’s desire to sell as many radios as possible to Canadian households.  Earlier on in the autobiographical/historical account of his experiences in radio entitled Canada’s First Fifty Years of Broadcasting and Stories Stations Tell: Featuring the Pioneer Station XWA later given the call letters CFCF 1919-1969, Coats writes with pride about  school children visiting the station and accentuates the possibility that it was because of these trips that some later may have entered broadcasting as a career. (Coats n.d., 31) Marconi managers knew, however, that after visiting the station, many more children would probably run home to tell their parents how much they wanted them to buy a radio set.


            Indeed, Coats believed that it was part of Marconi’s role as a radio manufacturer and broadcaster to show the public the positive attributes of the medium.

Someone or some firm had to give public demonstrations of the new thing.  Thus, as has been indicated, it became Canadian Marconi Company’s privilege to show radio broadcasting and reception in action wherever opportunities occurred, from mid-1919, through 1920, 1921 and 1922 before others in this country became involved in similar activities. (Coats n.d., 40)


One can certainly see why Coats referred to these demonstrations as a “privilege”  It seems highly unlikely that the Marconi Company would have demonstrated or provided information to the public without anticipating some kind of financial compensation for its trouble.


            Up until the 1920s, the main source of revenue for Marconi had been in transatlantic and marine communication and the equipment needed for such communication. (Hopkins 1960, 5) Most of  their early experimental work was in  “point-to-point communication rather than for broadcasting entertainment to the general public.” ( Hopkins 1960, 21) But in early 1920 they began experimenting with broadcasting entertainment programs to anyone who would listen.  Why the change?  If the company was so concerned with the selling of radio equipment for point-to-point communication why did it create a radio station that required hefty expenditures for programming and staff?  How would the company generate revenue from the station? 


            The answer is that radio (and now television) communication has developed from the beginning in the private sector.  It is first and foremost a business. Although the Marconi Company promoted the idea that radio broadcasting was a service to the public, its main ambition during this decade was to sell radio products and technology.  CFCF radio broadcasting station was set up to provide radio-receiver purchasers with something to listen to.  Similarly, the company set up Scientific Experimental Ltd. to sell radio products to those who wished to construct their own sets (amateurs), and published its own radio magazine, Canadian Wireless, to stimulate interest in the field.  


Early Radio and XWA

To understand the growth of the Marconi Company of Canada, it is important to have some background on early government legislation.  Although wireless communication technology was in use in Canada as early as 1900, the federal government did not begin to regulate it until 1905. (Vipond 1992, 5) The Canadian Wireless Telegraph Act was largely based upon Britain’s Act of 1904. Britain legislated that, while radio wireless communication was in the hands of the private sector, all sets must be licenced by the Post Office. It was argued that such licensing was necessary on the grounds that

the authorities must be in position to prevent unauthorized information from leaving the country, to prevent interference with naval communications and to enforce any international wireless agreements Britain might make. (Vipond 1992, 7)


This act was then forwarded to the Canadian government with the recommendation that it follow the British example.  Thus, in 1905, the Canadian Wireless Telegraph Act was passed. It was virtually identical to that of Britain, except that the control was put in the hands of the Department of Marine and Fisheries.  This legislation was not only for private industry, but for private individuals as well. (Vipond 1992, 8)


            In 1913, the federal government passed an updated Radiotelegraph Act which declared in Article 2(b) that: “Radiotelegraph includes any wireless system for conveying electric signals or messages including radio-telephones.” (Vipond 1992, 9-10) The inclusion of radio-telephones in the act eventually gave the federal government authority over the development of all aspects of radio, including broadcasting into the 1920s. (Vipond 1992, 10)


            The Italian Guglielmo Marconi is usually credited with having invented wireless telephony or radio.  When he was unable to get funding from the Italian government to pursue his work, he moved to England in 1897 and set up the Wireless Telegraphy and Signal Company to develop the technology commercially.  He changed the name in 1900 to Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphy Company and began to establish subsidiary companies in other countries. (Vipond 1992, 6)


            Marconi registered the Marconi Wireless Company of Canada in Ontario on November 1, 1902 and with the federal government in August 1903. (Vipond 1992, 6).  As stated previously, the primary concern of the Marconi Company was the erection and operation of wireless- telegraph stations on ships and coastal shores for navigational and commercial purposes. (Vipond 1992, 6.) There are a number of versions as to how Marconi became firmly established in Canada.  One possible explanation is outlined by Mary Vipond in her book, Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting, 1922-1932, in which she explains that on a trip to North America for the purpose of setting up a permanent trans-Atlantic receiving station, Marconi met with Nova Scotia Liberal MP Alexander Johnston.  Johnston apparently convinced Marconi that it would be profitable for the company if Marconi set up his main North American station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Johnston, through his political connections, was able to raise $80,000 towards the venture. (Vipond 1992, 6.)  Vipond argues that by doing so, a precedent was established:

While the government was willing to finance the station in the interests of cheaper communication with Europe, it preferred to leave ownership and operation in the private hands of the Marconi firm. (Vipond 1992, 6)


            By 1908, the Glace Bay wireless station was fully operational. During this period the Canadian government also contracted with Marconi to build coastal wireless-telegraph stations for ship-to-shore communications.  While these stations (15 by 1907) were owned by the Canadian government, they were leased and operated by the Marconi company. (Vipond 1992, 7)


            In 1909, Marconi opened a manufacturing plant on Delormier Avenue in Montreal for the production of  wireless  apparatus in Canada. (Vipond1992, 7) Marconi, along with General Electric, AT&T and Bell Canada, was one of the main firms that continued to experiment with sound and radio technology during the “teens.” Unable for reasons of competing patents to develop communication systems, these companies focused on the commercial use of the various parts.


            Although a number of companies conducted early radio experiments in Canada, by the end of 1920 only Marconi’s test room XWA in Montreal was seriously continuing with the work.  The development of XWA into the station CFCF exemplifies the company’s challenge  to wear two hats, namely to create a radio station while also developing radio technology.  In March 1919, the executive committee of The Canadian Marconi Company decided that due to the successful experiments in Glace Bay,  more experimentation was warranted and therefore that an aerial should be erected in Montreal.  At the same time, Canadian Marconi employees began to demonstrate their findings to business firms and government offices in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.  In September 1920, Fred Barrow and Darby Coats showed the equipment at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.


            Vipond argues that there are several different versions of the creation of CFCF.  Here are some of the different stories she found in her research:

Donald Bankart in 1926 ascribed the original idea of broadcasting in order to sell radio apparatus to Max Smith (Smyth), a Canadian Marconi employee, in January 1920.  Sandy Stewart has written more recently that voice-transmission experiments began in December 1918 (which is unlikely) and credits A.J. (A.H.) Morse, the managing director, for gambling on producing receiving sets.  Donald Godfrey, in the fullest examination on the subject, has suggested that “all records agree that speech and music were programmed by 1919" but also

cautions that “the gradual expansion of CFCF’s initial service into a continuous pattern of programming intended for the public, took approximately two years.” (Vipond 1992, 17)


            There were, however, various broadcasts on CFCF before the federal government gave  official permission to extend its programming to 8-10 pm every night of the week (except Sunday) in January of 1922. (Vipond 1992, 17) In August 1921, with the help of the Montreal Standard, Marconi broadcast the results of a football game.  In the fall, the Layton Bros. music store in Montreal began advertising Marconi concerts that were “being demonstrated daily.” (Vipond 1992, 17)  Thus, Marconi’s journey into radio began with the experimentation and selling of radio-telephone equipment.  As we will demonstrate, even though later the company put more of its efforts into radio broadcasting, the development of electronic equipment remained its main focus.

Advertisement for the Marconi Company

Canadian Wireless, June 1922

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Economics of Radio

            From Coats’ manuscript, letters of correspondence from the Marconi Papers at the National Archives of Canada, the Marconi publication, Canadian Wireless, and its successor, Radio News of Canada, it is evident that even though Marconi created CFCF, it was still largely  interested in the economic rewards of developing and selling equipment.  Marconi’s publication, Canadian Wireless, not only discussed new innovations in radio technology, but also acted as a vehicle for advertising.  Marconi’s links with Scientific Experimenter Limited are also indicative of the company’s persistence in pursuing profits from equipment sales by attracting new amateurs to the hobby.  Looking at it from another angle, much of CFCF’s early programming was targeted to those with higher incomes and financial connections, those who could afford the relatively expensive sets of the early days.  Last but not least, the Marconi Company helped reduce the costs of CFCF by accepting advertising on the station - a practice that sometimes led to controversy.


            When CFCF began to broadcast in the early part of the decade, setting up a radio station was relatively inexpensive.  Mary Vipond points out that when radio communication began,  a little more than fifty dollars a year and some used equipment was all that was needed to open up a station.  By the late 1920s, however, “one well-informed observer estimated, a ‘total investment’ of $54,000 was needed to construct a 500 watt-station and $168,400 for one with 5000 watts of power.” (Vipond 1992, 54)  Thus, what was once for Marconi a cheap way to encourage radio production and sales, became quite dear.  (It should be noted, however, that most of the expensive transmitting equipment used by the growing number of stations across Canada was purchased from Marconi!)


            Along with the development of more costly radio technology, there were also the rising costs of programming.  Vipond states that:

Programming costs rose dramatically as the decade progressed....  While records and amateur talent sufficed in the first two or three years of radio, listeners became more sophisticated and demanding as time went on.  Government regulations required that most programs had to be live and audiences began to insist that they be “high quality.” ...  Most stations claimed, most of the time, that they lost money; despite the profitability of the larger stations, the average profit for all the stations analyzed in 1931 was a measly $415. (Vipond 1992, 55, 58)


It seems clear, therefore, that Marconi needed an extra source of revenue to keep the station afloat.  It could not be carried permanently as a “loss leader” for equipment sales. 


            Among the various methods the Marconi Company used to foster its station and its equipment sales was the founding of a little magazine called Canadian Wireless, primarily geared towards the ham radio operator.  Marconi used the magazine to promote its products under the umbrella of a seemingly friendly publication that encouraged progress.  One of the main features of this magazine was a series called “Diary of a Ham,” which among other things,  told the adventures of a young radio ham operator.  Other features included articles on new stations, new technologies and a list of the stations that were currently broadcasting.  As well, the magazine contained many ads for Marconi’s merchandise and products from the company it was affiliated with, Scientific Experimenter Ltd.


            Although the direct connection between the Marconi Company of Canada and Scientific Experimenter Ltd. is still debatable, it is clear that a financial relationship existed between these two organizations.  Darby Coats makes reference to the company’s retail affiliations with Scientific Experimenter Ltd during his early demonstrations at the CNE:

Another booth at the Exhibition displayed amateur radio transmitting and receiving equipment, crystal sets, etc., such as could be purchased from the Company’s retail store on McGill College Avenue, Montreal, known as, “Scientific Experimenter Ltd.” (Coats n.d., 30)


At any rate, the relationship culminated in the announcement, in the July 1925 issue of Radio News of Canada, that the newly renamed Canadian Marconi Company had officially taken over Scientific Experimenter Ltd. of Toronto, which had closed on April 30, 1924. (Radio News of Canada 1925, 15) It is clear that Marconi sold the radio equipment it produced for amateurs and listeners through Scientific Experimenter Ltd.  This was in addition to its continuing business of selling radio-telegraph communications equipment and its new business of selling broadcasting equipment to other newly opened stations.


            When CFCF ‘s new location was opened in 1922, Marconi saw this as an excellent opportunity to promote is products.  In the June 1922 issue of Canadian Wireless, the editor, who was none other than Darby Coats, put two articles on the same page that were about the station’s opening and the technology it was using.  The first article, “Broadcasting Station CFCF,” describes the move of the station to the roof of the Canada Cement Company on Phillips Square where “Radio stores catering to amateurs are springing up rapidly around it.”  The article went on: “Four or five wireless supply shops are already to be found within a stone’s throw of the station, and the indications are that this is to become Montreal’s amateur radio centre.” (Canadian Wireless 1922, 6) 


            This article also mentions the Marconi Portable Set which was “in temporary operation on a wavelength of 440 metres.”and says that some of the set’s particulars were described elsewhere in the issue. (Canadian Wireless 1922, 6)  These “particulars” were in fact placed right next to the aforementioned article with a subheading reading “In temporary use at the Montreal broadcasting station ‘CFCF.’ ” (Canadian Wireless 1922, 6) The emphasis on the new station and the new equipment was highlighted by an italicized statement: “We publish the following particulars regarding the YC-3 set as we believe they will be interesting to our readers, especially to those who are within range of ‘CFCF’ station.” (Canadian Wireless 1922, 6) Thus Coats made explicit the link between broadcasting technology and broadcasting stations from Marconi’s viewpoint.


            Another aspect of Marconi’s early marketing strategy was the emphasis on wealthier purchasers.  An examination of program listings suggests that CFCF’s programming was often directed to the financial community or the middle and upper classes.  For example, in the August 1922 edition of Canadian Wireless, the station announced that it had made arrangements with the Financial Times in Montreal to provide Bulletins from the Montreal Stock Exchange during the noon hour program. (Canadian Wireless 1922, 10)  In a programming list published by Radio News of Canada in August 1923, we see that between 1:00 and 1:40 pm daily except Sunday, along with the other news features, Financial and Livestock Market Reports were scheduled. (Radio News of Canada 1923)  This was, at the time, 50 per cent of CFCF’s programming. The other 50 per cent was devoted to the station’s 7:30-9:30 pm time slot on Monday and Wednesday evenings in which they played music, theatre and other entertainment-oriented programs.  This trend appears to have continued into the mid-1920s.  In the July 1925 issue of Radio News of Canada, the listings show that the programming between 12:45 and1:40 pm every day (except Sunday) was devoted to Weather and Stock reports. (Radio News of Canada 1925)  By the late 1920s, however, the programming changed and began to focus much more on entertainment interposed with news and commentary. (Radio Broadcasting Schedules 1928-29) While Stock Market Reports remained a daily feature, they became a much smaller proportion of the total scheduling mix as the station picked up more ordinary “listeners-in” and began to cater to their interests.


            Last but not least, like other radio stations in Canada, by the mid-1920s CFCF was actively seeking advertisers to help pay for programs in exchange for access to the ears of listeners.  Sometimes, however, the use of advertising for a particular program created problems between the company, its management, the public and the federal government.  One  example in the early history of CFCF is the “Sir Harry Lauder Broadcast” of 1929.  The problem was that CFCF wanted to broadcast the singer at the same time that CHYC, a station owned by the Bell Telephone Company, was broadcasting a church service.  During the 1920s, each station was licensed by the federal government to be “on-air”only at specific times during the week, because “dual broadcasting,” as it was called, could lead to unacceptable interference between neighbouring stations.  The Radio Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, to which CFCF turned for a special ruling, was not very sympathetic to the station’s plea, and in the end the program was not aired in Montreal.


            Here is how the story appears to have played out.  Apparently CHYC was first asked by the American broadcaster, NBC, and the Canadian network Trans-Canada Broadcasting, if it wanted to broadcast the Harry Lauder pick-up on the evening of Sunday, September 1, 1929, but due to the fact that it was committed to the church service, and would offend many by canceling it, CHYC management had to refuse the offer.  R.W. Ashcroft of Trans-Canada Broadcasting then turned to CFCF, which agreed to do it. (Ashcroft 1929)  However, in a letter dated July 23, 1929, C.P. Edwards, Director of the Radio Branch, told Ashcroft that “if CHYC is still on its church service broadcast in the hour scheduled for Sir Harry Lauder, we would not approve of the dual broadcasting.  You appreciate the Department has to be careful in all religious matters.” (Edwards 1929)


            Unfortunately for CFCF, there was indeed an overlap in times.  CHYC’s church service ran from 6 to 7:15; the Lauder program would be coming from NBC from 7 to 7:15.  (Wren 1929) Jarvis C. Wren of H.C. Goodwin Inc., the program sponsor’s advertising agency, sent a telegram to Marine and Fisheries Minister Alexander Johnson on July 26 asking for special consideration because of the immense popularity of Sir Harry Lauder, but was turned down on August. 2. (Wren, 1929a; Johnston, 1929) The Radio Branch’s ruling was that it could only allow Sunday dual broadcasting as a special exception when the program being added was a church service.  Even more importantly, the program being proposed in this case was a commercial one, and the Branch was very leery of allowing commercialism to taint the airwaves on Sunday, the day of rest.  Johnston wrote:

We have no objection to granting permission for simultaneous broadcasting on Sunday in the case of broadcasts of special interest to the listeners, such as that under discussion.  We do, however, feel that there might be objection from a certain number of listeners to having Sir Harry Lauder broadcast simultaneously with a church service, particularly, as this broadcast is for the purpose of advertising Enna Jettick Shoe Company of New York, and we think that a local listener who is in the habit of regularly listening to a religious service, and, has found that on this particular occasion he was compelled to either listen to an advertising programme or close down his receiving apparatus, would have reasonable cause for complaint against the Department. (Johnston 1929)


Despite a couple more pleas from Wren to Johnson, the Branch did not budge, and the program was not aired on CFCF.


            A letter from listener Frank Jammes to the Deputy Minister, dated September 24, 1929,  expressed his outrage over the government’s handling of the situation:


I am sorry to say that this incident forces me to conclude that your Department, as a matter of deliberate policy, is choosing to cater to the English speaking Protestant minority of Montreal without regard for feelings of the other groups which make up an overwhelming majority of the population of this city and vicinity.  I myself am a French-Canadian, and as such I deeply resent an attitude of this sort. ... I have no objection to the broadcasting of Protestant religious services as a matter of principle, but I certainly feel that I have a right to protest most vigorously against a policy which aims to please the few at the expense of many.  If such is the attitude of your Department, please state whether you are prepared to relieve all French-Canadians of the obligation of paying the annual license [fee] of One Dollar, and to charge the cost of administering your Radio Branch against those for whose exclusive benefit it apparently operates. (Jammes 1929)  


            One can find a number of elements in this story that indicate some of the problems with early radio programming. First, there were difficulties with government regulations that seemed arbitrary and peculiar.  Second, the letter just quoted demonstrates that different listeners had different responses to such broadcasting decisions, which sometimes broke down along linguistic lines.  Lastly, this is an example of how advertising could be a source of great difficulty and complication for the Canadian broadcaster.  CFCF simply wanted to pick up a popular light-entertainment program, with sponsorship, that would have appealed to many listeners.  Instead it found itself hamstrung by government regulations that seemed biased against advertising; the government seemed unable to understand that private broadcasters needed to attract large audiences and sponsors with entertaining programming - whatever the origin of the program and whatever the day of the week..



            From the evidence presented, it is clear that the Marconi Company’s  main interest during the early years of CFCF was the sale of radio equipment and that it used its station, CFCF, primarily to further that end. The company’s affiliation with Scientific Experimenter Limited and the publication of the magazine, Canadian Wireless, were both geared toward the financial success of the parent company, Canadian Marconi.  Most importantly, the types of programs broadcast on CFCF were oriented at first toward the middle and upper classes and then in the later 1920s toward popular entertainment that would attract the largest possible number of listeners.  Those listeners would in turn buy more radio sets, and they would also entice advertisers to help pay the cost of CFCF’s programs by sponsoring some of them.  CFCF is thus an excellent example of how early Canadian radio broadcasting developed in the private sector to enhance the profits of equipment manufacturers, and of some of the consequences of that road chosen.



Reference List:


Ashcroft, R.W., 1929.  Letter to W. D Simpson of CFCF,  July 18, 1929, National Archives of Canada, RG97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 2.


Canadian Wireless, 1921, October.  Vol. 1, no. 5.


Canadian Wireless, 1921, November.  Vol. 1, no. 6.


Canadian Wireless, 1921, December.  Vol. 1, no. 7.


Canadian Wireless, 1922, June.  Vol. 2, no. 1.


Coats, Darby, n.d.. Canada’s 50 Years of Broadcasting and Stories Stations Tell:

Featuring the Pioneer Station XWA later given the call letters CFCF 1919-1969. (Montreal: Canadian Marconi Co.)


Edwards, C.P., 1929.  Letter to R.W. Ashcroft, July 23, 1929, National Archives of Canada, RG97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 2.


Hopkins, W., 1960.  History of Canadian Marconi Co. 1901-1959. (Montreal: Canadian Marconi Co. Ltd.)


Jammes, Frank, 1929.  Letter to Alexander Johnston, September 24, 1929, National Archives of Canada, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 2.


Johnston, Alexander, 1929. Letter to Jarvis C. Wren, August 2, 1929, National Archives of Canada, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 2.


Radio Broadcasting Schedules, CFCF, 1928-9.  National Archives of Canada, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 1.


Radio News of Canada, 1923.  August.


Radio News of Canada, 1924.  August.


Radio News of Canada, 1925.  July.


Vipond, Mary, 1992. Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting 1922-1932. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press).


Wren, Jarvis C., 1929.  Telegram to Radio Marine, National Archives of Canada. RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 2.

Wren, Jarvis C, 1929a.  Telegram to Alexander Johnston, July 26, 1929, National Archives of Canada, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 2.



One advertisement for Santa Claus on CFCF radio

Canadian Wireless, 1922

click to enlarge (49 K)





By Melanie Fishbane and Mary Vipond



Cover page

Canadian Wireless, December 1921

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            As the oldest radio station in Canada, CFCF has the distinction in Canada and Quebec of being the station with the most “firsts.”  Darby Coats, one of the station’s founding employees in the days when it was still operating under the experimental licence XWA, wrote Canada’s Fifty Years of Broadcasting,  an “autobiographical” account late in life, in which he described his experiences in the early years of radio. The Marconi Company of Canada, which owned and operated CFCF, published a monthly magazine, Canadian Wireless, in which they not only advertised the new innovations in wireless communication, but their own station's programming and production. Coats also compiled the reminiscences of many pioneers in a collection called Marconi Men Remember.  From these two sources we are able to provide a flavour of early radio in Quebec and Canada. These anecdotes also demonstrate where people thought radio was going and how it would influence the lives of Canadians.


CFCF “Firsts”:

1920: Marconi at the CNE exhibition in Toronto: “This exhibit, set up in a couple-booth, comprised a facsimile of a ship’s wireless cabin equipped with a 1.7kw spark transmitter of the then latest type; the emergency spark set and the receiving apparatus, exactly as used at sea. . . At appropriate intervals one operator would cross the booth to the second exhibit, which was a radio telephone-telegraph transmitter and receiver similar to the one then in use at XWA, the Marconi Company’s broadcasting station in Montreal.  The radio announcer-operator would wind up the Edison Diamond-Disc gramophone and play records, announcing the titles and the location from time to time.  During the periods when the receiving set in the Horticultural Building was scheduled to be in operation, the announcer-operator in the Railway Building would make appropriate references to the listeners there.  Another booth at the Exhibition displayed amateur radio transmitting and receiving equipment, crystal sets, etc., such as could be purchased from the Company’s retail store on McGill College Avenue, Montreal, known as “Scientific Experimenter Limited.” (Coats 30)


The following excerpt from Canadian Wireless Magazine, in 1921 was re- published in  Marconi Men Remember:


Music by Radiophone at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto

            “At the ‘greatest annual event of its kind in the world,’ The Canadian National Exhibition held in Toronto, it is said that almost everything under the sun can be seen or heard and, in keeping with this spirit it is the yearly endeavor of those officials responsible for the amusement end of the program to provide the most up-to-date forms of diversion, at once entertaining and instructive.


            One such attempt this year which proved highly successful featured a daily program of radiophone music which was transmitted between the hours of Noon and 1 p.m. from the offices of the Marconi Company at 93 King Street East, Toronto.  Well-known artists were in attendance at that point and their enjoyable programs were transmitted by radiophone to the Exhibition grounds where a receiving station had been erected on the main band stand.


            Five standard loud-speakers had been grouped around the flag pole on the top of the band stand, and the volume of sound emanating from these instruments was such that the music, both instrumental and vocal, could be heard very plainly over the greater portion of the extensive grounds.


            It would be difficult to estimate the number of people who were thus given an opportunity of hearing a real radiophone concert for the first time, as the daily attendance is well up in the thousands, but from the interest shown in this feature each day it is safe to say that an army of heretofore unbelievers have been convinced that the radiophone is entitled to its own place in the list of present wonders.” (Marconi Men Remember, 2-3)


1921:            Football on air:  "Among those who appreciated the Standard’s enterprise was a crowd of nearly 200 attending the football game at Greenfield Park.  A wireless amateur there, Mr. Fred Dombeck, erected a temporary receiver in the field and was able to pick up and let the football fans hear the music and the fight result.  In Chateauguay, another group of sportsmen listened to the program, while somewhere on the St. Lawrence, between Montreal and Sorel, a party heard it in a motor-boat equipped with a receiver for the occasion.” (Coats 37)

            “Sports events were put on the air: hockey and later football, and it was suggested that this would reduce attendance at the games.  Doubters objected that broadcasting music festivals would keep people at home.  It didn’t.  The broadcasts did much to stimulate public interest in the festivals...” (Coats 271)


Anecdotes of Early Years:


Santa Claus on XWA, 1920


            “Santa’s first visit to a Canadian broadcasting station was to XWA, on Christmas Eve, 1920.  As we had arranged a program of recorded music appropriate for the season, it occurred to us as an almost last-minute idea that we might introduce Santa. 


            The notice was short and there were no sleigh bells, but Santa arrived at the William Street studio and with his familiar “Ho! Ho! Ho!” introduced his reindeer, spoke of dolls and toys for good girls and boys, and dashed off into the night.  The known audience on that occasion numbered a few dozen only, as the event occurred to us too late for advertising in the press.”  (Coats 32)  


Santa Claus on the Air in Montreal and Toronto, 1921


            Hundreds of eyes opened wide with childish wonder on Christmas eve [1921], as a corresponding number of little ears listened to the jingle of sleigh bells and heard Santa Claus himself speaking on the wireless telephone.  The genial Santa had promised the Canadian Marconi Company that he would speak, by radiophone, to every house equipped with suitable wireless receivers within two hundred miles of Montreal and Toronto.


            More than one amateur radio experimenter felt the weight of his responsibility that evening and prayed that nothing would go wrong with his set to mar the enjoyment of the unusually interested and critical audience which gathered round the magnavox.


            On the dot of seven-thirty, as the newspaper advertisements had promised, the “performance” began.  A voice came through the ether, calling “Mister Santa Claus,” and then, sure enough, the sleigh bells jingled louder and louder until the kindly old gentleman pulled up his reindeer with a “whoa!” and set the ether trembling with “A Merry Christmas to you all my dears!” How the little faces beamed as Santa told of the wonderful bag-full of presents he was carrying!  He even mentioned names, mind you, and two little girls in Longueuil, P.Q., hearing theirs, laid down their telephones and said “all right, daddy, we’ll go to sleep now, before he comes!” Then there were nursery rhymes and songs and a poem called “The Night Before Christmas”, and a Brer Rabbit story, after reading which Santa Claus showed what he could do with some of the toys in his bag.  He played a musical box, a tin trumpet and a mouth organ.  He even had an Edison Diamond Disc phonograph, for a “grown-up,” no doubt, and he played some pieces on that also.  Altogether, he was very obliging indeed.  But a busier time was ahead of him.  Punctually at half-past eight, he jumped into his sleigh, whipped up his reindeer, and with a shout of “Merry Christmas” drove off on his journey among the chimneys.  No one saw him, of course, but kiddies’ minds are bound by no legal demands for visual evidence.  They heard him most distinctly and believed their ears.


            So it happened that, in many a home within the 125,000 square mile area covered by the wireless transmitter, there toddled off to bed on Christmas Eve a youngster who years hence can claim to have heard Santa Claus speaking for the first time to Canadian children by radiophone.  Santa Claus was represented at the Marconi office in Toronto by Mr. G.F. Eaton and in Montreal by Mr. D.R.P. Coats." (Canadian Wireless, January 1922, reprinted in Marconi Men Remember, 2, 4)


Installation of CFCF in Montreal, 1922


Broadcasting station ‘CFCF’

            “The Marconi Company’s broadcasting station at Montreal is located on the roof of the Canada Cement Company’s new ten storey building on Phillip’s Square.  Radio stores catering to amateurs are springing up rapidly all around it.  Four or five wireless supply shops are already to be found within a stone’s throw of the station, and the indications are that this is to become Montreal’s amateur radio centre, just as Place d’Armes is its financial hub and St. Paul Street its wholesale fur district.  It might be suggested that a growth of such stores in the vicinity of a broadcasting station was the natural result of a desire to obtain good “signals” for demonstration purposes.  But such a suggestion would be unfair to the radio stores, whose receiving apparatus appears to be quite efficient, as well as to “CFCF’s” output, which is generally conceded to be excellent.  As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to say whether the station or the stores “got there” first.  They all arrived in May, the month which sees many lease-expired Montrealers changing offices and apartments in the great gloried game of musical chairs which marks the arrival of Spring.  Certainly, no more suitable site for such a station could be found in the city.  In the heart of the shopping and theatre district, it is easily accessible to the artists who sing, play or speak to their invisible hosts of listeners.  Being set back somewhat upon the roof, the two fifty-foot lattice steel masts do not obtrude themselves to spoil the imposing picture made by the splendid buildings which form three sides of the square and flank King Edward’s statue.  Although the masts appear clearly in our cover design, they are actually not visible from the street.  They are spaced seventy feet apart and carry a seven-strand flat top inverted “L” aerial.

            A 2 Kilowatt valve transmitter is shortly to be installed.  At present, a Marconi ½ K.W. “YC3" portable wireless telephone-telegraph set is in temporary operation, on a wavelength of 440 metres. . . The Marconi Company announces that “commencing on Monday June 3rd, concerts will be radiated every evening, except Saturdays and Sundays from 8 to 9 p.m.  This is in addition to their usual daily programme which runs from 1 to 1:30 p.m." (Canadian Wireless, June 1922, 6)


Programming: The Early Years:


“A pianist would open the show, to be followed by a familiar church concert or recitation of some popular verses, a saxophone solo, a string trio, another piano solo. . .and so on. . .all with unpaid talent.” (Coats 14)


“On humid summer evenings when the heat of the passing day added to the pungency of the atmosphere, squadrons of files [sic] flew in by the opened but unscreened windows.  Quite frequently an audience of young men and women in the street below cheered and jeered as program items pleased or displeased them.  Being on the second storey of the building, that didn’t bother us and, of course, we could monitor the phonograph music to some extenct [sic], but for the ‘live talent’ contributions.” (Coats 26)


Broadcasting in the Schools:  

“In the early 1920s broadcasters and educational authorities discussed the subject from time to time, but very few schools had radio receiving sets.  Some radio manufacturers loaned sets to schools and a few broadcasters arranged test programs in co-operation with local educational officials, but the costs of equipment were high, and there were problems involving curriculum.  In due course, however, the various obstacles were surmounted.  School youngsters have not only profited by the lessons learned from radios in the class-rooms, but have won praise from parents and other listeners who have enjoyed the children’s singing in the periods devoted to music.” (Coats 288)


Diary of a Ham” (excerpts from Canadian Wireless)


"Diary of a Ham"

Canadian Wireless, 1921

click to enlarge (79 K)


Canadian Wireless published a serial that told the story, in his own language and spelling, of a young lad who discovers the joys of being an amateur ham operator.  This serial not only shows how the Marconi Co. used different techniques to advertise its products but it also gives us a glance into the amateur radio culture of the early 1920s.


Advertisements for the Marconi's Company

click to enlarge (54 K)



October, 1921:

So I shushed, as Bill told me, and heard music.  It must have been miles and miles away and it was ever so good.  Presently it stopped and a man’s voice said “This concert is being played on an Eddison Dimand Disk fonograf at Montreal.”  Then the man said he was going to play a fox trot, and when it was in full swing I bust the fone cords wagging my head.  “Now,” said Bill after a while, “That’s all for tonite.  Don’t you wish you were a Ham?” “Beleeve me, “ I said, “I wish I hadn’t bought a baseball mitt last week.  I might have got a peach of a set with the money.” Bill grinned and handed me a catalog.  “Take that home and think it over,” he said, “Perhaps your old man will help you.”  “Fat chance of that, “ I replied, “when I’ve been keeping out of his way for persunal reasons lately.”  Bill said, “That’s too bad, because a generus father is absolutely essenshul to success in being a Ham.”  My domestick drawbacks looked like putting the tin hat on my becoming a Ham then but at the sykerloggical moment (as Aunt Sarah says) it struck me, why my birthday is nearly here! Oh boy; Pa can’t give me a cent less than a dollar! Bill said ‘have a good look at the catalog and pick out all the things you want and then buy yourself a V24 with the change.”  Sometimes I think Bill’s joking.  Never mind I got back at him before I left.  Bill said he’s writing a book on continuous waves and doesn’t know what to call it.  I said what about “Life on a Lightship.”  Bill got wild and asked me if I thought he was writing a blamed sea story.  “Well,” I said, “What is it, anyway?” “Its all about Undamped Wireless, you Nut,” he said.  “All right,” I said, “Call it ‘Wireless Without Tears’.”  Its funny how Bill flares up over nothing. I had to go home without my cap. (To be continued)


November, 1921:

            This morning at breakfast I said to Pa, “Say Pop, do you know what tomorrow is?” Pa said, “Sure; its Thursday.” Then I said “yes Pop, but what IS it?” Pa said “It’s the 3rd.” I said “Yes, but what important event in history happened on the 3rd? Pa stopped buttering a piece of toast and said “Bless us! How do I know?  Let me see-didn’t Ceaser cross the Delawhere, or something?” Ma broke in then- “Oh Pop, don’t teeze the boy,” she said, “You know what tomorrow is.”  Then Pa put down his knife and lent over and patted my shoulder, looking at me just as he did when I came through the Tifoid.  “There, little man,” he said- “I knew; you’re anxious for your birthday to come.  You’ll be glad enough to forget it when your my age- its like shaving-.”  Ma sniffed just then and Pa stopped short and looked at the clock.  “Bless us!” he siad, “I’ve only ten minutes to make it. -What shall I bring you home?” “A Wireless.” I said quickly. “Bless us!” he said, rolling his napkin while Ma went for his hat.  “That’s a large order, young man.  How can I buy a- well, all right- let’s talk it over tonite and you come to town with me tomorrow.”


            Gee, I was happy when he had gone.  I grabbed Ma round the waist and danced her down the room before she knew what was happening.  “I’ll be a Ham, Mom,” I shouted.  “You’ll be an orfan, child!” she gasped, flopping into her chair- “What IS the matter?” So I told her all about Bill and the ham Club and the funny little gadgets, and the queer noises he hears, and everything.  Ma said she feared I’d blow the house up, but I told her Bill had had a wireless for months and his house hadn’t blown up YET.  Then Ma said it would cost a lot of money.  I said “Think of the fun.”  Finally, anyway, Ma promised she would help me talk to Pa and said I might tell Bill I was going to be a Ham.  Bill was glad to hear the news, you bet.  He gave me a copy of a pome he wrote. Here’s the first verse:-


                                    “Its easy enough to be happy

                                    “With sigs coming in QSA;

                                    “But the Ham worth while

                                    “Is the ham who can smile

                                    “When his aerial’s carried away.”


NOTE.-The Editor has sensored the other thirteen verses. I don’t blame him. Its awful stuff.

                                                            (To Be Continued.)  


December, 1921:

            I met Pa at the door when he came home, and showed him a bunch of price lists Bill gave me.  Pa said it was a pity some of them weren’t written in English so’s a feller could understand them.  ‘For instance,” he said, “what’s a vacuum bulb when its boiled down? It looks like a lamp, sounds like word in a seed catalog, and costs like the dickens-what is it?” ‘It IS a sort of lamp,” I said, “But it don’t have so much air in it as ordinary bulbs; that’s why it costs more.” I had an awful job explaining this to Pa, but when I told him I didn’t need one yet, he gave in.  Then he saw a picture marked “Oscillation Transformer,” and of course he had to ask me what that was, too.”  “Its for receiving,” I said, “Bill has one and he works it like a trombone till he gets the kind of noise he wants, and then he shifts all his other gadgets and begins again.”  Pa said it sounded exciting.  Ma called us to supper then, but Pa carried one of the price lists with him and took a look at it once in a while.  Ma said she had been talking to a lady who had a son who had a wireless.  The lady was glad, because the son had dropped playing round the streets since he got the wireless fever.  All the neighbours were tickled to death, and the cop had got put on another disarmament, and Ma said the only trouble the lady had now was getting the son to bed at nights.  Ma said she hoped Pa WOULD get me a wireless because SHE’D see I went to bed early all right.  Pa said he’d buy me one in the morning, sure, and I had better go over to Bill’s place and ask him for a prescription.  “A PRESCRIPTION?” I said. “Yes,” said Pa, “ a list of the instruments you’ll need to start with.” So I ran over to Bill’s and got the list.  It came to thirty dollars, but Bill said it wasn’t a cent too much to pay for a receiver.  Bill gave me another pome, but I’m not showing it to Pa YET, because it might scare him off letting me be a Ham.


                                    “There, little Ham, don’t cry!

                                    “Your transformer is bust, I know.

                                    “You may well look blue, for your bank roll, too,

                                    “Went West quite a while ago.

                                    “So kiss your transmitter a fond good-bye-

                                    “There, little Ham, don’t cry!”



Announcing a Birthday, 1927: “On July 1st. of this year [1927] an historic event took place in which the Company’s beam station at Drummondville and station CFCF, Montreal, participated with distinction.  This was the great Jubilee broadcast from Parliament Hill, Ottawa, arranged to commemorate Canada’s Diamond Jubillee.  Through the co-operation of the telegraph and telephone companies and the broadcasting stations throughout the country, the broadcast was heard from sea to sea across Canada and the transmission from the beam station at Drummondville was received very clearly in many foreign lands.” (Coats 239-240)


            “July 1st., 1927 was (an) important day in Canadian history, for it marked the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation and was celebrated in a manner unthought of by the “Fathers” when they drew up the document which was to bind the parts of this country into a nation.  Even the telephone wasn’t invented in 1867, and if speaking by wire was an amazing achievement, how much more astonishing would the idea of broadcasting speech and music have seemed to them!


            Twenty-two radio broadcasting stations across Canada participated, with the addition of WWJ, Detroit, which covered a portion of Ontario then not adequately reached by a Canadian station.  Readying all the wire systems required for the event presented difficulties, as not all the telephone and telegraph systems were at that time equipped with circuits specially designed for such transmission.  By commendable co-operation, however, the hook-up was accomplished and the result was in every way a complete success.


            There were three programs, in the morning, afternoon and evening respectively.  Massed choirs and the inauguration of the Carillon at Ottawa, playing The Maple Leaf Forever, O Canada and God Save the King featured the morning broadcast.


            In the afternoon the Carillon was heard again, and a thousand-voiced Centenary Choir with the added voices of ten thousand children from schools in Hull, Que. and Ottawa who sang in French and English and were followed by appropriate addresses by eminent speakers.


            In the evening, the Governor-General, Lord Willingdon; Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King and other speakers were heard.  There were solos by Eva Gautier and Allan McQuhae; a poem composed especially for the occasion by Bliss Carman and read by Margaret Anglin; instrumental items by the Bytown Troubadours, conducted by Charles Marchand; and contributions by the Chateau Laurier orchestra, conducted by James McIntyre.


            The success of the Diamond Jubillee of Confederation broadcast is believed to have done much to speed up the completion of permanent network facilities across Canada.  Also, assistance given by the Canadian Marconi Company through the use of its Beam station at Drummondville in transmitting test programs overseas, and picking up re-broadcasts at Yamachiche, Que. demonstrated very effectively the value of the Beam stations on such occasions.” (Coats 272-273)


Expo 1967: Marconi’s radio and television stations had the opportunity to provide the public an account of the day to day events.


            “For CFCF Radio, CFQR-FM and CFCF-TV, involvement in the World’s Fair took many forms to ensure that the stations were, [sic] in the main stream of the EXPO news, instantly in touch with major programming events and continually and prominently in public view.


            The Broadcasting Division had a futuristic studio designed and installed in the Pavilion of Economic Progress.  Many programs originated from this location and many of the stations’ on-air personalities were seen by tens of thousands of visitors touring the building’s exhibit hall.  Many of the programs produced by the Company’s Broadcasting Division on the subject of EXPO were later scheduled on other radio and television stations across Canada and the United States.” (Coats 253)





Canadian Wireless Magazine. October, 1921, November, 1921, December, 1921, January, 1922; National Archives of Canada Documentation Centre.  


Coats, D.R.P.  Canada’s 50 Years of Broadcasting and Stories Stations Tell:

Featuring the Pioneer Station XWA later given the call letters CFCF 1919-1969.Unpublished manuscript, n.d., Canadian Marconi Company Library, Montreal.


Coats, D.R.P. Marconi Men Remember. Unpublished manuscript, n.d., Canadian Marconi Company Library, Montreal.


Projets réalisés
English Radio in  Quebec

CFCF: The Early Years of Radio (see also Anecdotes...)

CFCF before the Massey and Fowler Commissions of the 1950s

In the Name of the "Public Interest": CFCF and some Controversies...

A Brief History of CJAD

Relations among the English Stations in Montreal

Chronological Master List of Quebec's English-Language Radio Stations

Galerie d'images / Gallery Extraits sonores / Sound Clips  




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© 1997 Phonothèque québécoise / Musée du son.
Mise à jour le 29 juillet 2004

URL http://www.phonotheque.org/Hist-radio-anglo/CFCF-Early-Years.html