Monday, March 18, 2019

Railway Radio in Canada: The Phantom Radio Era

The Early Years of Canadian Pacific Railway (Wikipedia)
On a previous occasion here in Wavescan, we presented Part 1 in the story of Railway Radio in Canada.  Specifically, it was the story of the radio scene at CNR Canadian National Railway and its network of Phantom Radio Stations.  The well known CN Tower in Toronto was built on CNR railway land near the waterfront with Lake Ontario, and it was for many years the tallest freestanding tower in the world.

In our program today, we take a look at the radio scene at the other major railway system in Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway.  Let’s go back to the very beginning.

On July 1, 1867, several of the north American geographic entities above the United States were officially federated into the Dominion of Canada.  Four of the colonial territories known previously as Canada East, Canada West, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were thus amalgamated into one large nation. 

Additional territories subsequently joined the Dominion of Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador which opted into the federation some 82 years later.  Thus the entire land mass from the Atlantic to the Pacific became one united country, the second largest in area in the world.

Around the time of federation, many different names were suggested for this new northern nation, and perhaps a dozen or more were given serious consideration.  Some of these names were for example: Albertsland, Albionora, Borealia, Cabotia, Colonia, Efisga, Hochelaga, Transatlantia, Tuponia, Victorialand. 

Finally the name Canada was presented, and accepted, a name that is derived from a local tribal name, Kanata, meaning land.  Originally the name Canada was applied to the early French colonies in what is now eastern Canada.

In 1871, just four years after federation, British Columbia opted to join the Dominion of Canada as a province, on the one stipulation, that a railway line be constructed across Canada, joining this new province into the other provinces of the nation.  In fulfillment of this promise, 10 years later (1881) the federal government in Ottawa granted a charter for the formation of Canadian Pacific Railway, CPR.  Four years later again, on November 7, 1885, the last ceremonial railway spike was driven in at Craigellachie in British Columbia, thus joining the west to the east.

In 1929, Canadian Pacific Railway CPR belatedly observed that the competitive railway system, Canadian National Railway CNR, was using their own newly developing radio network very effectively in promoting and advertising their widespread railway services.  Canadian Pacific therefore formed a radio department and announced that they also would establish a network of mediumwave radio broadcasting stations across Canada.  In addition, Canadian Pacific also began negotiations with the NBC and CBS radio networks in the United States for the relay of some of their American programming likewise across Canada. 

On January 17 of the following year (1930), Canadian Pacific applied for licenses to establish their radio network in 11 cities across Canada, coast to coast.  They planned on 7 mediumwave stations with a 50 kW transmitter at each of these locations: Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and then either Halifax or St. John (New Brunswick).  Additional 15 kW transmitters were planned at 4 locations: Fort William, now known as Thunder Bay in Ontario; Sudbury, also in Ontario; Quebec City, in Province Quebec; and Prince Albert in Saskatchewan.

Perhaps their list of 11 mediumwave radio broadcasting stations was a little grandiose, yet just three months later, on April 2 (1930), Canadian Pacific withdrew their list of applications for 8 of these stations, though they retained their applications for three of the 50 kW stations: Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg.  However at that same time, CPR was also granted a license for a phantom radio station CHRY that would broadcast its programming over two of Toronto’s top mediumwave stations, CFRB and CKGW. 

The callsign for the new Canadian Pacific phantom radio station CHRY, had a very obvious meaning: C stood for Canada, and HRY stood for Hotel Royal York, just opposite Union Station at 65 Front Street.  However shortly afterwards, the callsign CHRY was amended to CPRY, with the initial C standing for Canada, and the combined four letters standing for Canadian Pacific Royal York. 

You see In 1925, Canadian Pacific procured the prestigious Queen’s Hotel in Toronto.  They demolished the older smaller building and constructed a huge new hotel on the same site.  The huge new Hotel Royal York with its main entrance at 100 Front Street was officially opened on June 11, 1929, with an invited attendance of 2,300.   

The Hotel Royal York was a fabulous building, not only in its size, but also in its contents.  There were more than a thousand guest rooms on its 28 floors, the massive building stood 407 feet high, and at the time, it was not only the tallest building in Toronto and in Canada, but also in the British Empire.

The entire telephone switchboard was 66 feet long and it was operated by 35 telephone operators.  The building contained its own bank, a small hospital, a library with 12,000 books, the largest hotel kitchen in Canada that could bake 15,000 French Bread Rolls daily, and a glass enclosed Roof Garden.   

There were 6 beehives in the garden with a third of a million bees that produced a fifth of a ton of honey each year.  The largest pipe organ in Canada was installed, with 300 miles of copper wire, and the total weight of this famous musical instrument was 50 tons.

The studios for the phantom radio station CHRY-CPRY were installed in the Imperial Room, a large convention style hall on the lobby level that could cater for 500 people.  Landlines carried the radio programs from the Hotel Royal York to the studios of two of Toronto’s major mediumwave broadcasting stations, CFRB and CKGW. 

At the time, the studios for mediumwave station CKGW were located in another fabulous hotel, the King Edward Hotel, which occupied a full city block nearby to the Royal York.  Station CKGW was  also on the air on shortwave, with 200 watts on 6095 kHz.

At the height of its phantom radio broadcasting activity during the first half of the 1930s, the programming from station CPRY was heard nationwide over a network of 21 stations in Canada, though none of these stations were owned by Canadian Pacific.  There were occasions when this programming was also carried by mediumwave WJZ in New York and on its own network of stations in the eastern American states.

In 1935, Canadian National radio was taken over by the Canadian government and ultimately developed into CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  At that stage, Canadian Pacific radio was no longer needed, and so the entire CPRY phantom system was closed down.

Interestingly, many years later, a new radio station was installed in the Royal York Hotel.  On February 1, 1957 FM station CHFI was inaugurated with 282 watts on 98.1 MHz.  Good Music station CHFI was installed in the top floor of the Hotel Royal York.
(AWR-Wavescan 524)