Always under close public and government scrutiny in his spending, Thornton allowed his radio department to create a cost-effective network that would consist of a limited number of CNR-owned stations and a much larger collection of existing private stations across the country. In 1924, the CNR received permission from the Department of Transport for licences for three 500 watt stations of its own and several “phantom licences” for use on the leased facilities and frequencies of selected private stations. The first of the CNR stations was CKCH Ottawa, which began a limited broadcasting schedule on February 27, 1924. The studio was located on the first floor of the Jackson Building and the 500-watt transmitter and towers were placed on the roof.
One small snag in the plan involved the proposed call letters. When the CNR asked for the use of its own initials, it was discovered that an international agreement had already assigned them to Morocco. With the assistance of the federal government, Morocco relinquished the call letters and CKCH became CNRO. Late in 1924, CNRA Moncton became the second railway-owned station on the air.