The Radio Bureau – “Report from Parliament Hill” (1945-1980s)

In late May 1945, the “Radio Bureau” came into existence in Ottawa, producing its Report From Parliament Hill series for distribution to participating stations. This unique experiment was born under curious circumstances. In mid-1938, T.J. Allard, then of CJCA Edmonton, submitted a memorandum to President H. R. Carson of the Taylor, Pearson, Carson organization (TPC) proposing a radio public service to Canadian radio listeners and Members of Parliament, The private stations in Canada would offer MPs the opportunity to report in their own words by radio to their constituents on the happenings on Parliament Hill. Nothing came of the proposal until 1944, when Mr. Carson, while attending a CAB Annual Meeting, discovered that Kenneth D. Soble of CHML Hamilton had just begun a Report From Parliament Hill (RPH) service for MPs from Hamilton and surrounding area.

Thus encouraged, Harold joined forces with Kenneth Soble and Horace Stovin (head of Stovin & Wright, a Toronto rep firm), to create what they called The Radio Bureau. These three gentlemen provided the original financing and planning for the Bureau. It was designed as a co-operative public service venture, to help Members of Parliament maintain closer contact with their electors, by enabling them to deliver personally spoken reports to their constituents through local radio stations.

Initially, The Radio Bureau elected its own board of directors and provided service only to stations owned by the TPC Group, or represented by Stovin & Wright, except that CHML was grandfathered into the group. Other stations indicated a desire for this service and it was provided to them for a small fee. By 1946 sixty-six stations were subscribing to this service, and T. J. (Jim) Allard was sent from CJCA to manage the Ottawa operation. While Parliament was not in session, Allard provided a 15-minute news report from Ottawa to all Bureau subscribers. Edmund Morris, then Parliamentary Correspondent for the St. Catharines Standard, later took over Allard’s news reports in 1948.

In 1946, at the request of the three principals, the Radio Bureau was taken over by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. The operation became a department of CAB, and Allard was appointed public relations director for the Association. Allard later became General Manager of CAB when the Association was moved from Toronto to Ottawa.

While Parliament was in session in Ottawa, elected MPs from across Canada were invited on a rotational basis to visit the Radio Bureau to record fifteen-minute reports to their constituents. Subscribing stations scheduled these reports at a regular time, usually on the weekends. Reports were recorded initially on 16-inch lacquer transcriptions, using a record cutting lathe. If the reader made an error, the recording would be stopped and started over again. There were no editing facilities available for disc recording, except re-recording. As new technology evolved, the transcription size was reduced to 12-inch records and shortly thereafter audiotape became the standard recording mechanism, making. During the forties and fifties, reports were shipped on a daily basis by CN or CP express for broadcast later in the week.

A good number of MPs, and cabinet ministers, regularly made use of Report From Parliament Hill, including the Honourable Lester B. Pearson, John G. Diefenbaker, Roland Michener and Hon. J. W. Pickersgill, to name only a few. If for any reason an MP was unable to record as scheduled, a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery would provide a summary of the weekly happenings in Parliament as a substitute.

By the early sixties, some private station groups began sending their own observer/ reporters to Ottawa to provide exclusive ‘cut-ins’ for station newscasts. Also, the changing format of radio necessitated a change for Report From Parliament Hill, with MPs’ reports being shortened to five minutes or less. However, many independent stations still relied on the service until it was discontinued in the mid-eighties.

The Radio Bureau name was relinquished in the 1970s to the Radio Sales Bureau, which later became the Radio Bureau of Canada, the radio industry’s sales and marketing arm. The service however continued to operate as a Report From Parliament service of the CAB, until it was discontinued in February 1986.

Written by Gerry Acton – 2004