Thursday, March 13, 2014

Canadian Radio Panorama: The Intervening Years

In this our next episode in the series, Canadian Radio Panorama, we cover the intervening years from the wireless era into the beginning of medium wave radio broadcasting, a period of around twenty years.
            The earliest wireless experiments attributable to Canada took place in the year 1898.  The experimenter was the noted 32 year old Canadian born Reginald Aubrey Fessenden.  However, his earliest wireless experiments did not take place in Canada, but rather in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in the neighboring United States where he was employed by the University of Pittsburgh.
            The 1898 Fessenden experiments involved the usage of the simple telephone equipment that was available back then, and his experimentation was an attempt to devise workable procedures for the transmission of the human voice.  During the following year, 1899, he succeeded in making voice transmissions, though quite garbled, between Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, which is now a northern suburb of Pittsburgh itself. 
            Two years later, there was a remarkable development in the long distance reception of a wireless signal and this took place on December 11 & 12, 1901.  The notable experimenter was Guglielmo Marconi, and the location was Signal Hill, near St John’s in Newfoundland; but this event took place before Newfoundland was federated into the Dominion of Canada (1949).  This first wireless signal across the Atlantic, the letter S in Morse Code, was transmitted from Poldhu in England.
            Wireless history in Canada really began a couple of weeks later, on the day after Christmas actually, when Marconi arrived at Sydney, Nova Scotia, on the steamer “Bruce” with the intent of searching for a suitable location to establish a large wireless station.  This large new facility at coastal Table Head was four times larger than the Marconi station at Poldhu in England, and it made its first test transmission on November 19, 1902 with 75 kW on 82 kHz longwave.
            Two years later, the Table Head station was dismantled and rebuilt at a new location 3½ miles distant where it was opened with an official ceremony five years later on October 17, 1907.  The receiver station was located at Louisbourg, 25 miles distant from Glace Bay.
            In the meantime, the Marconi company in Canada established a multitude of regional maritime wireless stations along the eastern and western seaboards, the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, as well as nearby to many waterways, including the Great Lakes.  It is understood that the first of these lower powered regional maritime stations was installed at Heath Point on Anticosti Island, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1904.  This station was on the air under the callsign VCI.  At one stage in its history, Anticosti Island was the world’s largest privately owned island, 135 miles long.
            Amateur wireless stations were first licensed in Canada in 1911, and callsigns consisted of three letters beginning with XA.  However, after the end of World War 1, when amateur radio stations were again permitted in Canada, the callsign structure was modified, still with three digits, but with a number, 1 through 9, followed by two letters. 
            At this stage, experimental radio broadcasting stations were allocated callsigns with four digits, the number 10 followed by two letters.  However, quite soon afterwards, radio broadcasting callsigns were regularized into four letters beginning with the letter C.    
            The first radio broadcasting station in Canada, or in the world as some people would suggest, was established by the Canadian Marconi company in Montreal in 1919.  The callsign XWA was taken into usage for this new experimental broadcasting station, though in reality this callsign was already in use with the Marconi Company at least four years earlier. 
            An official report from the Naval Service dated March 31, 1915, lists a Marconi station under the callsign XWA, and it states also that this was the only radio telephone station on the air in Canada at the time.  The three call letters XWA stood for Experimental Wireless Apparatus. 
            Four years later, a series of test broadcasts was made, in the early part of the year 1919, to determine the viability of establishing an experimental radio broadcasting station in the Montreal area.
            During the Spring of the year 1919, the Marconi company installed a 500 watt transmitter on a truck with the antenna attached to the roof.  This transmitter model was known as the “Captain Round” transmitter, it was designed and constructed at the Marconi factory in Chelmsford, England, and it was housed in a self contained wooden cabinet.  A series of telephony tests around Montreal indicated a modest coverage area of just three or four miles.
            However, the transmitter was then installed on Tarte Pier in Montreal Harbour for a series of subsequent test transmissions that produced a much wider coverage area.  The wireless operator on board the icebreaker “Lady Grey” reported good reception at a distance of 30 miles.
            This same 500 watt transmitter was then installed on the top floor in the Marconi Building in William Street Montreal during the summer of the same year 1919.  This transmitter was licensed in November with the callsign XWA, and it made its first program broadcast from a temporary studio at the same location on December 1 (1919). 
            At the time, programming was made up quite spontaneously with station announcements, news bulletins read from the local newspapers, and music from locally available 78 disc records.  Station XWA was also in use at other hours for communication traffic and experimental transmissions.
            Regular program broadcasting from station XWA began on May 20 of the following year, 1920, and the first program was a remote broadcast from the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa.  The occasion was a special meeting of the Royal Society of Canada, and the evening program was a musical concert with orchestra and soloist Dorothy Lutton.  At this stage, the 500 watt transmitter was radiating on the longwave channel 1200 m, 250 kHz.
            As the radio historians tell us, the callsign for the Marconi experimental station in Montreal was regularized a year later, and XWA became CFCF, on May 15, 1922.  The allocation of callsigns at the time required four letter calls beginning with CF, and it is suggested that the Marconi company chose the double callsign CFCF, thus providing the slogan, “Canada’s First, Canada’s Finest”.
            A multitude of radio broadcasting stations proliferated throughout Canada quite quickly soon.
(AWR/Wavescan NWS 263)