Col. W.C. “Bill” Borrett (1894-1983)

Col. W.C. Bill Borrett
Col. W.C. “Bill” Borrett

Year Born: 1894

Year Died: 1983

Year of Induction: 1986

Pioneer – Member of CAB Hall of Fame

Borrett, Col. W.C. “Bill” (1894-1983)

Soldier, storyteller, pioneer broadcaster. Bill Borrett originally became interested in radio as a soldier and signal operator in World War I. After the war, he teamed up with Bill Johnson of the Northern Electric Company and others to form the Halifax Radio Listeners Club. The group launched a radio station, CHNS Halifax in 1926, with studios in the Carleton Hotel. After a year, the station was almost extinct as Bill Johnson sold the equipment to a station in Vancouver. But Senator Bill Bennett stepped in and provided another set of equipment for the radio station. From these humble beginnings, CHNS became a full-time station, which drew on the small communities of Nova Scotia for listeners and talent. Much of the radio station’s growth happened in an era where there were limitations on how advertisers could reach their audience.

Colonel Borrett took on anything, including hockey games, when the opportunity arose at an unexpected moment. One night, he had to improvise and fill 25-minutes as a hockey team left the arena halfway through a game.

CHNS were also pioneers in establishing a radio network. In 1932, Bill Borrett had the honour to speak on behalf of Canada, immediately after King George V instituted the first British Empire Broadcast. It was CHNS that staffed and fed to the network the running account known as the “Moose River Mine Disaster” in which CHNS’s J. Frank Willis became nationally known, and shortly after moved to Toronto to join the CBC.

Until the CBC established its own station in Halifax, CHNS played a major role in originating CBC programs to the network. Popular among these was “Atlantic Nocturne”, a 30-minute Sunday night program featuring readings to organ accompaniment by J. Frank Willis. Col. Borrett, himself, drawing upon Nova Scotia’s history, is best remembered for his own program “Tales Told Under the Old Town Clock”. The place that Citadel Hill came to occupy among the outstanding attractions of our country was greatly due to Colonel Borrett’s restoration efforts. CHNS pioneers associated with Bill Borrett included Arthur Grieg (Chief Engineer, who became Canada’s first consulting engineer), Lionel Shatford, Cecil Landry and Gerry Redmond. Colonel Borrett represented the area for several years as a director of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Bill Borrett retired from CHNS in 1951.

Posthumously, he was named to the CAB Broadcast Hall of Fame in 1986.

Written by J. Lyman Potts – February, 1996