Saturday, August 31, 2013

80 Year Ago Since Final CFCA Broadcast: Toronto Star Lost its Radio Voice

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Founded in 1892 as The Evening Star, the newspaper Torontonians today recognize as the Toronto Star has a long history of presenting Canada’s largest city with important news. With a black-on-white display, information conveying details of local, Canadian and worldwide stories has referenced everything from the election of prime ministers, world wars, accomplishments in sports or more recently when Justin Bieber is coming to town. Until their entrance onto the Internet in 1996, the Toronto Star was known merely through their printed words. Little is currently acknowledged for their more than decade-long impact with the use of voice. Toronto’s first radio station CFCA officially launched in 1922 with buzz that would silenced on August 31st of 1933.

One of the first commercial radio broadcasters awarded a license by the Canadian government, CFCA was Toronto’s first station. Hard to believe today where Toronto radio space on the AM and FM dial is tight, the Toronto Star’s CFCA would transmit the only voices across the city. In the June 23rd, 1922 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, the newspaper publication proudly posted a picture of twin 80-foot antennas on top of their King Street West building. A reported broadcast radius of the CFCA’s radio waves was 500 miles giving it a wide coverage reach. The major quarrel during that time was finding the citizens of Toronto who are early adopters to the radio technology.

First beaming radio waves across the city in March 1922, CFCA’s regular operations starting in late June consisted news and entertainment. To the few radios in Toronto as well as through speakers mounted to the radio station’s specially outfitted Ford Model T truck, CFCA’s first broadcasts provided some of the earliest structured programs. During the first moments of broadcast for CFCA, an interview with Canadian National Railways president D.B. Hanna transpired. Interesting enough, Canadian National Railways would become the country’s first large-scale radio operator a little more than a year later. Sports and financial bulletins as well as live musical numbers were piped across Toronto during a 7pm radio broadcast.

Most historically significant for CFCA is the first broadcaster of a National Hockey League game. Held in 1923 on Valentine’s day, CFCA radio coverage of the Toronto St Patricks versus the Ottawa Senators at Arena Gardens would provide the professionals playing Canada’s favourite pass time to any receiving radio. This NHL game was actually the second hockey game aired by CFCA. The first was a North Toronto versus Midland hockey match also played at Arena Gardens. In a short time into CFCA’s hockey broadcasting experiments, a large Canadian audience heard hockey broadcast legend Foster Hewitt’s voice for the first time. The CFCA radio broadcasts would serve as the foundation for all future NHL broadcasting.

In 1924, CFCA also allowed children across Toronto a chance to hear from Santa Claus. In addition to advertisements from the Timothy Eaton Company (the founder of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade), the CFCA airwaves were fill of detailed information from the jolly old man himself through a variety of 15-minute radio segments.

By the time the 1930s arrived, CFCA faced competition from other radio stations in Toronto. One of those was CFRB founded by Edward Rogers Sr. in 1927. Rogers was also the principal behind Rogers Vacuum Tube Company who likely provided Toronto citizens with the radio receivers they were using to listen to CFCA. The formation of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) in 1932 demonstrated that a strong public broadcasting future fuelling what remains in the 21st century a contentious debate on the public/private media. A precursor to the current Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the CRBC began leasing another Toronto based station that has evolved to CBC Radio One. Radio programming had also grown more elaborate resulting in expanded coverage and entertainment throughout the evening.

The downfall of CFCA could be described as a situation where the government killed the radio star. As public broadcasting grew in popularity, private radio operators were treated less than favourably. According to the Toronto Daily Star, CFCA would have to abide by a new rule requiring commercial radio stations to transmit with no more than 100 watts. Significantly less than the 5,000-watt capacity of public radio broadcasting in Toronto, CFCA would have been deeply restricted in transmitting future programs. CFCA was also one of the only major radio operations in Toronto at the time not leasing time to a public entity. Program competition as well as the limited reach for future broadcasts led to the demise of CFCA. The decision was that August 31st, 1933 would be the final day of broadcasting for Toronto’s first major radio station.

Following the 11:30pm broadcast of the news program “At the end of the day”, CFCA went silent ending the Toronto Star‘s 11-year venture in radio broadcasting. Torstar Corporation (the Toronto Star’s current parent company) briefly returned to radio media in 2005 when they purchased a 20 percent stare in CTVGlobeMedia that controlled stations such as CHUM-FM. Torstar Corporation’s partial ownership of CTVGlobeMedia ended in 2011 when they sold their stake to Bell Canada Enterprises.

Though CFCA ended on this day 80 years ago, Toronto’s earliest radio station sent a message that continues to radiate to this day.

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