W.W.W. “Bill” Grant (1892-1968)

W.W.W. Bill Grant

Year Born: 1892

Year Died: 1968


Grant, W.W.W. “Bill” (1892-1968)

William Walter Westover Grant was acknowledged by his contemporaries as a genius. Yet, like so many technically-gifted pioneers in Canadian broadcasting, Bill Grant failed to reap the monetary rewards that could have been his.

Early entrepreneurs who hired Grant to build radio transmitters and put their stations on the air ultimately became wealthy. Lacking their business acumen, Bill failed to capitalize on his intensive and creative work in radio technology. Nor did he receive due recognition for his unique contribution to the birth of radio.

At the outbreak of WW I, Bill, then in his early 20s, joined the Canadian Army Signal Corps and went overseas with the first Canadian contingent. In England, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, specializing in aerial photography, radio communications and the development of electrically-heated clothing, in addition to serving as an observer.

After the war ended, with the experience so gained in radio and communications, Bill was attached to the Canadian Air Board. One of his assignments was the operation of stations in High River and Morely, Alberta to serve the Forestry Patrol aircraft with two-way communication into and over the mountains. The originating station was CYAA. In 1922, Bill began to provide an hour of music in the evening, the reception of which was acknowledged from as far away as Honolulu.

Coincidentally, he built a transmitter for himself at High River and left the government service to devote his attention to programming it as a fully-licensed radio station, operating with a power of 50 watts. In a few months, he took his transmitter to Calgary and the “Voice of the Prairies” – CFCN – was established.

In the ensuing years, Bill Grant was a one-man radio operation, keeping the station on the air seven days a week, managing it, programming it, searching for talent and finding time to build and install transmitters for others in Lethbridge (CJOC), Calgary – CHCQ – later to become CFAC for the Calgary Herald and CJCJ (for the Calgary Albertan), Edmonton (CKUA), Saskatoon (CFQC), and in Red Deer (the short lived CKLC).

There was also a shortage of radio receivers. To help service the need, he established W.W. Grant Radio Limited and began manufacturing receivers as early as 1923. A legal dispute concerning the use of patents erupted, and while Grant won the first round in the Exchequer Court of Canada in 1926, the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1927. A lack of funds prevented an appeal to the Privy Council in England.

Meanwhile, CFCN carried on, firmly establishing itself with the farmers and the ranchers of Alberta in giving them contact with the rest of the world. The station’s power was increased to 500 watts, and plans were made to increase it to 10,000 watts in expectation of being allowed to affiliate with a U. S. Network. In the interim, to supply first-class radio entertainment, Grant established a “receiving station” above the U. S. border to pick up and relay to CFCN programs broadcast by KSL Salt Lake City (CBS), KFI Los Angeles (NBC) and KNX (Don Lee Network). Thusly, the listeners served by CFCN could hear the top American shows – Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Myrt & Marge, Amos ‘n Andy and a host of others. Grant deleted the U.S. Commercials and substituted paid advertising for Alberta businesses.

However, despite the encouragement he received from Prime-Minister-to-be R.B. Bennett (who represented a Calgary riding) that U.S. affiliations would be ratified, Grant’s hopes were dashed when a regulation was invoked prohibiting stations from picking-up and re-broadcasting other stations. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), when it succeeded the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) in 1936, took unto itself the role of importing U.S. Network shows and feeding them coast-to-coast over networks of affiliated PRIVATE stations.

The costs of the patent litigation and of building new studios in downtown Calgary and a 10 kw transmitter at Strathmore, had drained Grant’s finances. CFCN was saved by a $10,000. mortgage provided by Aberhart’s Prophetic Bible Institute.

H. Gordon Love, who later became sole owner of CFCN, provided Grant with additional financing, and came into the operation to handle business affairs. leaving Grant to attend to technical, programming and political matters. Over a five year period which began with the operation of the 10 kw transmitter in 1932, the station gradually recovered stability. In 1937, Grant sold his interests to Love.

Bill Grant then joined the CBC and took over the handling of the CBC’s 50 kw transmitter (CBK) at Watrous, Saskatchewan. He was also similarly involved in the establishment of the CBC’s short wave complex and CBA (also 50 kw) at Sackville, New Brunswick. Later, he took on the installation of a new transmitting station (CBX) at Lacombe, Alberta, and remained its Chief Engineer until he left the CBC in 1958.

Bill’s stint with the CBC was interrupted in 1940 when he obtained a leave of absence to join the RCAF with the rank of Pilot Officer to instruct in radio operations. He retired after WW II as a Squadron Leader and returned to the CBC.

When he retired from the CBC in 1958, Bill settled in Kingston, Ontario, where son Robert was President of a company that had secured a licence for a new radio station (CKLC). The veteran engineer helped to set up the facilities and kept a hand in for several years thereafter. This was his final undertaking.

Bill Grant died in 1968.

Source: Robert Grant – Son

Written by J. Lyman Potts – March, 1997