From Typewriters to Computers, from rip-and-read to on-site
The story of news broadcasting from the 1950s to the new millennium as written by newsman Sidney Margles, based on 25-plus interviews by Ryerson Journalism students with news directors, anchors, and reporters.
Radio news service in both public (CBC) and private broadcasting was jolted out of the rip and read or the rewrite service mode by the arrival of television in 1952.
The purveyors of doom and gloom predicted that radio would be destroyed by the arrival of television.
In fact, if the ’40s were the Golden Age of Radio for variety and drama, radio news in Canada came of age in the ’50s. Between the mid 1950s and the 1980s, radio news flourished, propelled forward by the challenge posed by television news.
In both, reporters started to move out into the field, primarily to cover local events. For radio, it was much easier, as a telephone and radio-based mobile units were used to tell the story to the listener. For television, it was far more cumbersome, with technical crews carrying pounds of equipment in order to record the event or reportage.
As the radio airwaves saw the introduction of VHF transmitters and lighter tape recording equipment in the sixties, television crews saw changes from film to videotape to direct broadcast and from black and white to colour starting in the seventies.
Talk to any reporter of the ’50s, and ’60s and the word computer was not in the vocabulary. The mighty pen and the trusty typewriter were the adjuncts to the tape recorder in order to take notes and prepare the reportage.
It was not until the late ’70s that the first word processors became tools of the trade, with computers following shortly thereafter. And by the year 2000, some were not only using a portable laptop computer to write their material, but they could also use it to record and edit interviews, prepare broadcasts from remote locations and even use it as a distant base station connected through the Internet.1
The technological advances were coupled with an increased emphasis by Canadian broadcasters on coverage of the Canadian scene. News became a most important ingredient in the extensive competition for the listening audience, particularly for the leading metropolitan stations of the country.
The vast majority of Canadian radio stations adopted the news-on-the-hour format, and this still applies to most stations. Many of the news-on-the-hour stations have also added news-on-the-half-half-hour as well. Others, in an effort to gain audiences, began their news at 5 minutes to the hour, while those with rock and roll musical formats even adopted the 20-20 format, where news headlines were presented every 20 minutes.
With all-news radio, presentations were based on a 60-minute or 30-minute wheel or variations of them.
As private television stations hit the airwaves following the introduction of television by the CBC in 1952, there was a perception that local stations could and would do a better job in news coverage than local CBC-owned stations. Whether it was true or not did not really matter. In just about every market the private station evolved to be the ratings leader for local news. And when the CBC moved its 11 pm newscast to 10 pm in 1982, ending the head to head competition with CTV and TVA, and eventually Global, the ratings had no real meaning in the state versus private television contest.
In television, news initially was strictly an evening program, but as the listeners’ appetites grew, stations added newscasts in both the breakfast and lunch-time periods, and some stations provided headline news during prime evening viewing hours.
The quality of news changed too over the decades. From fires and major traffic accidents and service club speeches, from natural disasters to coverage of parliament and provincial legislatures, from political conventions to election night broadcasts to Federal-provincial conferences, broadcasting began writing its own history with a new breed of newsmen and women, some of whom had abandoned the written press to toil in the newer segment of the fourth estate.
Early television had very few reporters and foreign correspondents. The bulk of the newscasts were written by editors and read by announcers. This situation progressed within a decade or so, as stations opened across the country. Today, much of the material is supplied by reporters both at home and abroad, and by news services. The announcer is really the anchor of the broadcast, bridging the various stories with material either written by himself/herself or a newsroom editor.
Among the reporters, anchormen and managers of news programmes in the 1950s and ’60s could be found journalists and broadcasters such as Gil Christie, Frank Stalley, Knowlton Nash, A.G. Bert Cannings, Phed Vosniacos, Bill Hutton, Don Johnston, Sam G. Ross, Lloyd Robertson, Earl Cameron, Harvey Kirck, Larry Henderson, Ab Douglas, Gordon Sinclair, Jan Tennant, Rex Loring, Stanley Burke, Pierre Nadeau, Norman DePoe, Tom Earle, Peter Desbarats, Peter Reilly, Bruce Phillips, Peter Kent and Jean-Marc Poliquin.
While a number of radio and television reporters in the first part of the ’50s came with experience in newspapers, there was also the new breed, developed within broadcasting, such as Tayler Parnaby in Toronto, Sidney Margles in Montreal, Mike Duffy in Halifax, Paul Taylor in Toronto, Terry Spence in British Columbia, Bernard Derome in Montreal and Elmer Harris in Newfoundland.
In 1974, Jan Tennant became the first permanent female newsreader at CBC Television. In private broadcasting, female news announcers were relatively rare until the mid 1970s when journalism schools and colleges began turning out some very talented and capable women and a bias that women could not sound authoritative enough soon went by the wayside.
1 Tom Young compares the primitive equipment of the past with today’s technology
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How Technology changed the presentation of news:
The development of News Services
- from Government hand-outs
- to the Press Gallery
- to live from the Floor of the House