News Services and Station Groups – Radio

Broadcast News established an audio service in 1956 to exchange by wire selected reports originating from participating stations across the country. This exchange of tape-recorded news was called Tapex. In 1961, audio news reporting on a larger scale was undertaken under the name of BN Voice. Broadcast News is the broadcast arm of The Canadian Press.

Sam Ross
Sam Ross
Presentation to Sam G. Ross, first private broadcaster admitted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the first broadcaster to become Gallery President, March 23, 1966
Presentation to Sam G. Ross, first private broadcaster admitted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the first broadcaster to become Gallery President, March 23, 1966

The first news bureau for private Canadian radio stations was started in 1958 by the ACMO (All-Canada Mutually Operated) group of stations, which served Western Canada. Harold Carson, President of ACMO, sent Sam Ross, a former newspaperman who was serving as News Director of CKWX Vancouver, to Ottawa where he filed stories of particular interest to the Alberta and B.C. stations owned by Selkirk. He was one of the first radio correspondents accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery. While Ross did report occasionally to some Eastern stations, the objective was to serve his company only, with a Western viewpoint. When Sam Ross retired in 1968, Bill Hutton replaced him, continuing to represent Selkirk (formerly ACMO) stations in Ottawa. Following Bill, a number of news people kept the bureau operating until it closed in the mid 1980s.

Charlie Edwards was the man primarily responsible for the start of competitive private radio news services in the country. A veteran Canadian Press employee, he was the guiding hand in the 1950s and ’60s behind Broadcast News (BN), the news wire for broadcasters. Up until that time, radio relied primarily on the Canadian Press (CP) news agency, a cooperative for Canada’s newspapers, and British United Press, a service also originally dedicated to newspaper clients.

In 1965, the idea was developed to use the technical facilities of the CP Wirephoto to transmit audio reports to radio stations across the country. The first transmissions were coordinated at CFRB Toronto by News Director Bill Hutton but under the control of Charlie Edwards at BN, who can be considered the pioneers of the first national service of voiced news reports.

Audio reports would be received at CFRB from reporters at different locations across Canada, and after the selection process was completed, transmissions would be made to all subscribers: initially twice a day.

After a trial period, the management of CFRB (Standard Broadcasting), which also owned CJAD in Montreal, disagreed with the BN policy of non-exclusivity. After all, they said, why should a CFRB competitor in Toronto receive the reports from our own staff both in Toronto and at CJAD in Montreal?

At the same time, CN-CP Telecommunications was pioneering a new type of electronic transmission called “Broadband”. It provided a higher quality of line facility compared to the telephone. As well, Standard had acquired the rights to use NBC Radio material in Canada. Standard’s Lyman Potts, working with CN-CP and the newsrooms of CFRB and CJAD, and adding a man on Parliament Hill, developed a parallel news service. Numerous radio stations across the country felt much the same as Standard did with regard to having the reports of their staffs being heard on local competitive stations, and so the concept of a news service to compete with BN, to become Standard Radio News, evolved.

SRN obtained reports from its subscriber stations and from its own bureau on Parliament Hill. This service also incorporated reports from the United States and abroad through the facilities of the American network, NBC and the primarily-American newswire, United Press International’s audio service. And it started sending groupings of reports on an hourly basis, a style that BN subsequently followed.

Standard’s radio rep house (which booked advertising for radio stations across the country) was able to capitalize on the Standard Radio News facility and in most major markets, SRN could be heard on stations represented by Standard.

BN used reporters from subscriber stations as well as from Canadian Press bureaus across Canada, and its own bureau established in Ottawa. It signed up with Associated Press (AP) Radio and ABC for worldwide reports.

Not to be outdone, Stephens and Towndrow, another rep company, but owned by CBS, in their search for advertising used CBS Radio in Canada and worked with CKEY Toronto, to establish a similar operation, Newsradio. And the owners of CHUM Toronto also got into the act by establishing the Canadian Contemporary News Service.

With changes pending in the Broadcasting Act where the CRTC was to replace the Board of Broadcast Governors, Maclean Hunter and RadioMutuel in Quebec became the owners of Newsradio. For better than a decade, the competition between Standard, Newsradio and Broadcast News was quite fierce.

Newsradio and Standard were bitter rivals as they sought to enlist subscriptions from unaffiliated radio stations. And they used not only the strength of their reporters as selling points, but their technological innovation as well. For example, they were neck and neck in competition to develop in slightly different ways the transmission of both audio reports and printed stories, consecutively down the same transmission line, something even American networks were incapable of doing. If it violated certain tariffs, the authorities might have turned a blind eye as it did contribute to the advancement of broadcasting in the country.

Interestingly enough, the regulations that governed broadcasting were such that while the CBC had two networks in English and one in French, they could broadcast the same item and/or program simultaneously. However for private broadcasters, every time two or more stations wished to simulcast or even create a temporary network, it required permission from the governing authority (the CBC until 1958: the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) from then until 1968 and the Canadian Radio and Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) after that. Following representations, primarily by Standard’s Lyman Potts, the regulations were modified and live, private network broadcasts of breaking news and/or special events such as the tabling of Federal budgets, Federal political conventions and the like became a reality.

To add spice to the competition, an all-news radio network (CKO) was born. So in the heyday of the ’70s and early ’80s, on a national basis, there were four competing private audio services, CKO and of course, the CBC networks.

In 1981, Newsradio was joined to CKO because of the possibility that Maclean Hunter would take over CKO, which was in trouble. Newsradio still maintained some subscribing stations other than those of the CKO undertaking.

During the same period as national services evolved, regional needs gave birth to regional networks, such as the VOCM Network in Newfoundland, the Western network in British Columbia, and the two French broadcast networks, Telemedia and Radiomutuel.

The regional English-language networks acquired much of their material from one of the national services and augmented those reports with material from within their region, highlighted by provincial legislative material. The French networks were centred in Quebec.

Private French-language radio news in Canada did not really come of age until the 1960s when the Quebec Quiet Revolution was underway. Until that time, the stations were mostly folksy local service enterprises, with news being read in the same general way as English Canada of the ’50s, a person with a good voice, using wire service material, to create newscasts.

As a matter of fact, several French language radio stations closed, as television became a reality.

Yet in 1954, an upstart, CJMS, came on the Montreal scene to pioneer in the field of French radio, with editorial comment by News Director Paul Cooke and open line radio, with Lucien “Frenchie” Jarraud who started his broadcast career by translating into French, short-wave broadcasts dealing with the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

In the ’60s, the initial flare-up of disturbances related to the separatist movement, and subsequently Expo 67 in Montreal, gave birth to strong competition. During the first part of that decade, Raymond Crepeault, the owner of CJMS in Montreal, brought in Rock Demers from northern Ontario, and they began a buying spree, acquiring a number of stations in the province, which led to the formation of the Radiomutuel group of Quebec in 1968.

Following Expo 67, Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien acquired the flagship station of French Canada, CKAC in Montreal, and by 1973, he had created the Telemedia group of stations.

Both groups were dissatisfied with the French side of the Broadcast News division of the Canadian Press news agency. They said the service did not meet their needs.

Initially, Radiomutuel had translators to formulate newscasts from English sources, including British United Press, and even Standard Broadcast News, which they monitored as the transmissions went to English language CJAD. Then, Radiomutuel became a partner in the ownership of Newsradio and began receiving that service, in English. At the same time, development of home-grown reporters got underway.

A form of star system started to evolve. The names of Frenchie Jarraud, Claude Poirier and Danny McInnis became known to the vast majority of French-speaking Quebeckers who would hear them daily covering the news events of the times. As with their English-speaking colleagues, radio reporters attempted to put listeners on the scene through their aural descriptions of what they saw, but as television technology improved into the ’80s, the importance of radio news in the French-speaking market seemed to decline.

In the late ’60s, the Radiomutuel group dominated, but with the October crisis of 1970, CKAC and Telemedia (because the kidnappers of British Trade Commissioner James Cross used CKAC to deliver their messages) gained a great deal of credibility and eventually overtook Radiomutuel which suffered a serious blow to its operations in the late ’70s when plagued by strikes of its personnel.

Both groups carried on with a news format that was similar: a group newscast originating in Montreal each hour and a local newscast at the owned or affiliated stations outside Montreal.

While the emphasis of the French stations was to accentuate activities in Quebec and those of French-speaking people throughout the world, they had relatively few resources outside of Quebec. They eventually posted reporters on Parliament Hill and at the Quebec legislature, and over the years both used freelance French-speaking reporters in places such as Washington and Paris.

In Quebec City, the seat of the provincial government, Gisèle Galichant became the first female broadcast reporter at the legislature, assigned by the private station CJLR, which became CJRP when acquired by Radiomutuel in 1967. There was one condition to her employment: she had to be able to carry the heavy tape recorders herself as the station was not prepared to hire a technician similar to what Radio Canada provided for its reporters.

In 1994, there was a merger that resulted in the discontinuance of the two news groups. A new but single service evolved and was called RadioMedia.

There were, of course, French language private stations in New Brunswick and Ontario, and if they did not have an affiliation with one of the two French groups, they basically relied on wire services and some local reporters for their news coverage.

The standout exception was CKVL in Montreal, created originally as a bilingual station in 1948. While it used the French service of Broadcast News for national and international events, it placed a heavy emphasis on local coverage.

Local coverage, not unlike that in any other community, meant covering police, fire and municipal affairs as the bread and butter issues. And it came to pass that people in distress and even criminals sometimes came to rely on the radio news personalities to come to their aid.

For example, Frenchie Jarraud, who moved from open line broadcasting to news coverage, climbed the superstructure of the Jacques Cartier Bridge that crosses the St. Lawrence River a dozen times to talk down would-be suicides. Jarraud explains that he was a former acrobat, and as such, had no fear of heights. When the police learned of this, they enlisted his help. Jarraud gave up this aspect of his work when, on the 13th occasion, the would-be suicide did jump.

Claude Poirier was called in to act as an intermediary on numerous occasions when police had cornered a criminal who would be afraid to give himself up with Poirier being there as a “public protector”.

Danny McInnis was singled out by the FLQ terrorists to receive their communiqués during the October crisis, so when the newscaster introduced him, people knew something important was up.

As we look back, one might be surprised that the French section of Radio Canada, while in operation during the same period, did not make any significant impact on the listenership of French-speaking Canadians until the 1990s. It seemed that the private stations shifted gears in the field of news and information in the ’90s and the Radio Canada stations gained listener loyalty. Some say that it was really the advent of television in 1952 that took much of the resources of the French service of Radio Canada, to the detriment of the radio service, a move that was not recognized and corrected for nearly 40 years.

In the 1970s, dozens of all-news radio stations had blossomed in the United States, fed with material from the existing radio networks and augmented by local staffs. In Canada, while many stations began adopting heavier talk formats, with news commentaries and analysis along with public affairs programmes, it was not until 1977 that CKO came on the scene as an all-news radio network.

The concept was promoted by entrepreneurs who had no direct broadcasting experience, yet they managed to convince the government licensing body to grant them licences on the FM radio band, with the exception of Montreal, where an AM station was purchased and converted to the all-news format.

From 1977 to 1985 when the last of CKO’s ten stations went on the air, the network was bleeding financially. Notwithstanding all the valiant efforts of dedicated journalists, the audiences never grew large enough for financial success.

In 1989, when the parent company of CKO was sold, one of the conditions of the buyer was that the radio network had to be closed down. So on November 10, 1989, after losing some $55 million dollars since going on the air, the CKO All-News Network signed off. With the death of CKO came the end of Newsradio as well.

In the late ’70s, Standard Radio News had altered its name to Standard Broadcast News with an eye towards serving some television stations. That project did not develop, but the name change remained.

In early 1990, NBC Radio News, Standard’s prime international source, was closed. As CBS no longer had a working arrangement in Canada, Standard acquired the rights to CBS Radio News.

With the demise of the CKO network, one might have thought that news services could expand to fill a gap, and they did, but only temporarily. In the ’80s, the founding organizations began turning inward. The CHUM service became a once-a-day network newscast among its owned and operated stations. This left Standard Broadcast News and CP’s Broadcast News to compete for subscribers.

As the years went by, Standard found that it was carrying an ever-increasing cost of operating a service which benefited more than a hundred radio stations, many of whom either would not or could not pay higher fees to sustain the ever-growing operation. Unlike BN, which had a much larger base of subscribers and backing from the Canadian Press, Standard relied on its mother Company and its subscribers to cover costs.

In 1994, the management of Standard felt the time had come, with annual subsidies to the news service in excess of one million dollars, to terminate service to other than its owned and operated stations. It maintained an Ottawa bureau, exchanged reports from its O and O’s, and eventually, rejoined the Broadcast News service, which remained the sole private news service for broadcasters in Canada as of 2004. CFRB, Standard‘s flagship Toronto station, continued its affiliation with CBS News.

Yet over the years, radio’s primary role as the place to turn to for daily necessities in terms of information and as the “town hall” of the air has been sustained, with the heritage stations turning more to news and talk, offering full informational programming including shows where opinions are exchanged between listeners and moderators and guests. 

As the 20th century was drawing to a close, all-news radio stations began developing again, first in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal operating in both English and French. They were stand-alone properties, with rotating headline news, traffic, weather, entertainment and business news aiming to compete for listeners with the heritage stations.

Local radio news however continued to flourish, and remains a testament as to what is right about Canadian broadcasting, service to the community in which the stations are licensed.

Sidney Margles – February, 2005

Audio Clips:

1 Tayler Parnaby talks about the ongoing role of radio