CKUA-AM, Educational, Edmonton
CKUA Radio Foundation
|CKUA-AM||1995||580||50,000||CKUA Radio Foundation|
|CKUA-AM||1974||580||10,000||Alberta Educational Communications Authority|
|CKUA-AM||1960||580||10,000||University of Alberta|
|CKUA-AM||1945||580||1,000||Alberta Government Telephones / University of Alberta|
|CKUA-AM||1941||580||1,000||University of Alberta|
|CFCK-AM||1925||580 k||500||Radio Supply Co. Ltd.|
|CFCK-AM||1922||410 m||250||Radio Supply Co. Ltd. (Taylor & Pearson)|
Jim Taylor and Hugh Pearson (who, over the next 50 years, went on to play a dominant role in the development of Canadian radio broadcasting), then the operators of Radio Supply Company, put Edmonton’s second radio station on the air. CFCK, utilizing a 50-watt transmitter built by Alan Matz and Ted Sacker, broadcast from a studio on the top floor of the Royal George Hotel at 10229 – 101 Street. On 580 kHz, CFCK shared airtime with the Journal’s CJCA.
University of Alberta (U of A) Department of Extension began broadcasting weekly lectures aimed at a rural audience, using free air time on CJCA.
U of A Extension Department bought CFCK and changed the call letters to CKUA (“UA” for the University of Alberta). In a letter to the Department of Marine and Fisheries requesting a transfer of CFCK’s private commercial licence, university president Henry Marshall Tory wrote that “the work carried on by us will be of a purely educational character.”
November 21 — CKUA signed on, powered by a 500-watt transmitter built by W.W. Grant (then operating CFCN in Calgary). The transmitter consisted of two 80-foot-tall farm windmill towers topped by 20-foot masts. Because of a glitch on opening night, CKUA couldn’t be heard on its own frequency, so Grant took CFCN off the air and let CKUA broadcast on the Calgary station’s frequency.
CKUA shared 580 kHz with three other stations and broadcast only during the academic year, September through June.
CKUA’s programming during its first decade tended toward classical music, lectures and historical dramas, but also included formal courses and live broadcasts of sporting events.
Sid Lancaster joined CKUA, starting his radio career.
A.M. “Bert” Cairns started in broadcasting at CKUA.
To extend its reach, CKUA made a deal with 1,000-watt CKLC Red Deer whereby CKLC carried simultaneous broadcasts of CKUA’s lecture program.
CKUA became affiliated with the CNR national network.
CKUA was granted exclusive use of the 580 frequency.
CKUA collaborated with CFAC Calgary and CJOC Lethbridge to form the Foothills Network, which disseminated the U of A’s agricultural lectures. CKUA also used the network to set up a “Citizen’s Forum” between Edmonton and Calgary.
Sid Lancaster left CKUA for CFRN.
Sid Lancaster started in radio with the University Players on CKUA.
Foothills Network ended. CKUA formed Alberta Educational Network with CFCN Calgary and, later, CJCJ Calgary. This network lasted until 1940.
CKUA entered an agreement with the CBC to carry some CBC programs not carried by the national broadcaster’s official Edmonton outlet, CJCA.
Government of Alberta began a formal school broadcast program using CKUA facilities.
The Alberta Government announced plans to spend $30,000 on the expansion of CKUA from 100 to 1,000 watts. The non-commercial station aired CBC sustaining network programs. It was charged in Edmonton political circles that the expansion would enable the Social Credit provincial government to better use the expanded station as a means of disseminating political propaganda.
Under the Havana Treaty CKUA was one of the few stations allowed to hold on to its existing frequency. On March 29, hundreds of stations across North America had to change dial position. CKUA remained on 580 kHz (Class III-B) with 500 watts.
CKUA increased later in the year power to 1,000 watts from a new transmitter site outside Edmonton city limits, with an Alberta government-backed loan and expectations of CBC approval to operate commercially under the “private commercial” licence it already had. Instead, the CBC limited the station to operating on a non-commercial basis.
Over the next 25 years the station regularly appealed for a commercial licence and was refused by the federal regulator.
Jim McRae joined CKUA (as assistant manager) from Winnipeg’s CKRC.
CKUA operated year-round for the first time.
CKUA began sending news and weather reports by telephone line to CFWH Whitehorse at the request of the American army, which was in the North building the Alaska Highway.
Strapped for funds, the University of Alberta decided to sell CKUA’s assets to the Government of Alberta, which expected to take over the licence and operate the station commercially. The federal Department of Transport turned down The University of Alberta’s application for a commercial licence for CKUA. The university had a licence to carry purely educational programs.
May 1 — Alberta Government Telephones assumed operation of CKUA while the university still held the licence. The university continued to program the station for three hours a day, Monday through Friday.
CKUA’s studios were re-located to the downtown Provincial Building.
F. Walter Blake became CKUA’s manager. He had been assistant manager at CJCA.
Efforts were again being made to obtain a commercial licence for CKUA, the station formerly operated by the University of Alberta and now in the charge of Alberta Government Telephones. The application for commercial status was again turned down.
The federal government announced a decision that broadcasting licences would not be issued to other governments or corporations owned by other governments, leaving the Alberta government in the awkward position of owning and operating a radio station with a licence held by the University of Alberta. Although this was illegal, the federal government turned a blind eye to the situation for more than 25 years.
On May 4, the CBC (broadcast regulator) refused to grant a public commercial licence to CKUA. It also turned down the station’s application to build a 50,000 watt transmitter at Red Deer. Alberta Telephones Minister W.A. Fallow said the federal government was determined “to make a closed corporation of the national broadcasting facilities of Canada.”
Over the next decade the station took on a more commercial sound, presenting pop music, news, sports and ethnic programs in addition to university programming, school broadcasts and classical music.
Walker Blake was manager.
CKUA applied for an FM licence. It was recommended for approval by the CBC Board in December.
CKUA-FM was licenced on 98.1 MHz. with 250 watts to simulcast CKUA-AM’s programming; signed on June 28.
Jim McRae left CKUA for Toronto where he became a freelancer.
Hon. D.B. MacMillan, provincial minister of public works, announced equipment for the province’s CKUA radio would be offered for public sale. Formerly run by the University of Alberta, CKUA had been operated by the province as a non-commercial outlet since April of 1945. Manager Walker Blake had no comment on the possible sale of CKUA. A story in the Edmonton Journal said, “it is understood that a stipulation of the prospective sale will be the new owner’s ability to obtain a commercial licence.”
With CKUA reportedly ready to close down, CJCA and CFRN applied to use CKUA’s 580 kHz frequency. The CBC Board of Governors told the applicants that 580 kHz was being used by CKUA so the frequency was not available.
Walker Blake resigned as manager. He left radio. He was succeeded by John Langdon, drama producer and music commentator at the station.
CKUA moved to the Alberta Block on downtown Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, CKUA pulled back from popular music and concentrated on music not generally found on other stations, experimenting with an eclectic program style combining jazz, classical, folk and other genres. It also introduced talk programs featuring discussion of arts, ideas and current events.
CKUA 580 had a power of 1,000 watts (non-directional). One listing had it being owned by the University of Alberta (owned by the Government of Alberta) while another had the owner as Alberta Government Telephones. CKUA had no network affiliation. John Hagerman was manager and program director.
In December, CKUA completed three decades of non-commercial public service broadcasting. The station’s first broadcast was on November 21, 1927, originating from studios on the second floor of the old University of Alberta engineering building. CKUA was the result of some of the university’s lecturers who saw in radio, the opportunity to ease and extend their campaign to take the university to the people. In 1926 the university originated programs over Edmonton’s commercial radio stations. W.W. Grant of CFCN Calgary offered to build a transmitter for Alberta’s seat of learning, as a public service. It cost $7,500 for the transmitter and twin antenna towers.
Patrick F. McDougall was program director.
Power incrased from 1,000 to 10,000 watts on March 9. This increase pushed CKUA’s signal to almost all parts of Alberta.
CKUA planned to re-apply for permission to operate as a commercial broadcaster. In 1959 the cost of operating the station was $116,500 and the only revenue was $8,245 from cutting records, according to the Government of Alberta.
CKUA marked its 40th anniversary on November 21.
Slogan: Canada’s unique station.
Roger Steinhauer was program director.
June 9 – Federal government directive to CRTC stating that broadcast licences could not be granted to provincial governments, their agents or educational institutions put CKUA’s licence, still held by the university, in jeopardy.
July 13 – Federal government issued a directive allowing a broadcast licence to be held by an independent corporation not directly controlled by a provincial government — programming must meet a strict definition of “educational programming.”
Alberta government created a crown corporation, the Alberta Educational Communications Corporation (later known as ACCESS), to assume control of CKUA and the province’s educational television operations.
On March 31, the broadcast licences of CKUA-AM and CKUA-FM were transferred from the University of Alberta to the Alberta Educational Communications Corporation. The station was now called ACCESS Radio CKUA.
ACCESS began expanding CKUA-FM transmitter coverage throughout Alberta. The CKUA Radio Network would eventually include 580 AM, plus 16 FM transmitters.
The licence for CKUA AM-FM and the FM network of the Alberta Educational Communications Corp. was renewed for only two years. The CRTC was concerned about the provincial Act establishing AECC contained a potential for lessening the independence of the Corporation and wished to assess, on a continuing basis, its eligibility to hold licences. The programming of the stations must also be educational and distinctly different from other broadcasting services.
CKUA began regular broadcasts of Question Period from the Alberta Legislature.
CKUA created a unit to dramatically increase production of instructional programs and documentaries to meet “educational broadcasting” licence requirements.
CKUA began a partnership with Athabasca University, Alberta’s distance learning university. Over the next decade, CKUA and Athabasca University collaborated to develop programs to supplement the university’s courses.
Peter L. Senchuk was named president of Access Alberta, succeeding Larry Shorter. He had been vice president and general manager of CKSA-AM-TV Lloydminster. At this time he was president of the Broadcast Association of Alberta and a director of CAB.
Jack Hagerman retired after 33 years with CKUA.
Don Thomas was general manager of Access Alberta Radio.
Alberta government discontinued school broadcasts, creating a funding shortfall for CKUA.
Alberta government considered selling CKUA, but backed down after a massive letter-writing campaign by listeners.
CKUA held its first semi-annual on-air fund drive to supplement its government support.
Access appointed Don Thomas as president and chief executive officer. His 44 years in broadcasting included 21 years at CFCN in Calgary. At Access, he was general manager of CKUA Radio for seven years, and interim president for the past 14 months.
ACCESS entered an agreement to sell the CKUA radio network to the not-for-profit CKUA Radio Foundation. The Alberta government would provide transitional funding for the move: $2.6 million in year one, $1.3 million in year two and $650,000 in year three. Public support would be required to continued the operation of the Edmonton AM and province-wide FM service.
CKUA Radio Foundation purchased CKUA-AM-FM and its 15 FM rebroadcast transmitters from Alberta Educational Communications. The nominal purchase price was ten dollars. CKUA Radio Foundation would receive grants from the provincial government for a three year transition period. Licensed to August 31, 2000, CKUA would be allowed to sell up to 504 minutes of restricted advertising per week. The station would continue with its alternative format, and offer at least 6.5 hours per week of formal educational programming.
Chairman Gail Hinchliffe announced CKUA could now be heard around the world thanks to the internet.
Just weeks after celebrating its 70th anniversary, CKUA went silent at midnight, March 20. A new board of directors was hoping to return the station to the air. The CKUA network had operated on an annual budget of $2.8 million, and had been struggling to attract commercial sponsors and public donations since the cancellation of provincial funding.
The CKUA Radio Foundation board stepped down on April 14 and turned over control to a new board. Controversial chairman of the CKUA foundation, Gail Hinchliffe, was asked to resign. Three weeks after the station closed, the foundation was replaced by the Save Alberta Public Radio Society, led by musician Tommy Banks. Edmonton lawyer Bud Steen was the new chairman. Tommy Banks headed up the fundraising committee. Other directors included Orv Kope (former GM of CHAT Medicine Hat) and Terry Wickham (producer of folk festivals in the province).
After five weeks of silence, CKUA returned to the air on April 25 with staff volunteering for one month without pay. Jack Hagerman came out of retirement to act as operations manager. He joined CKUA in 1949 and retired in the 1980s.
In May, listeners supported CKUA to the tune of $1.1 million during a two week fundraising drive. That was double the goal. Some 16 staffers were hired back, taking pay cuts of ten to 15%.
On August 7, the Alberta government released a forensic accounting review finding that the former directors of the CKUA Radio Foundation had breached their fiduciary duty by receiving remuneration from CKUA without prior court approval.
16 months after a volunteer board rescued CKUA from the brink of collapse, the stations appeared to be in a mess again. CKUA was over budget, burdened with a $200,000 deficit. General manager Ken Davis resigned and six staff members were laid off. Ken Regan became CKUA’s new general manager. He had been involved with the stations for 12 years.
The CRTC approved the purchase of the radio division of ACCESS (CKUA-AM, CKUA-FM and its 15 rebroadcasters) for Ten Dollars by CKUA Radio Foundation. The Foundation received provincial grants for three years and was allowed to sell up to 504 minutes per week of restricted advertising. CKUA-FM thus became part of an independent foundation. The TV division of ACCESS was sold to CHUM Limited of Toronto.
CKUA Radio Foundation’s Group 3 Specialty (AM & FM simulcast) licence was renewed through August 2007.
CKUA celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Following a successful spring fundraiser, listener support reached 60% of the network’s revenue. The remainder of CKUA’s budget came from advertising and a fee-for-service contract to operate Alberta’s Emergency Public Warning System.
CKUA-AM and FM began broadcasting 24 hours a day.
At least nine people at CKUA were to lose their jobs after the station lost a key contract with the provincial government. CKUA had been managing Alberta’s Emergency Public Warning System for 17 years, a contract worth $700,000 a year to the station (15% of its operating budget). General manager Ken Regan said five people were already laid off and another four would lose their jobs in March.
Adam Fox became the new content director at CKUA. For the last eight years, he was station manager at CJAM Windsor.
CKUA was expecting to move from 105th Street and Jasper Avenue to 98th Street and Jasper Avenue, where it had been since 1955.
CKUA Radio moved into a new home. It purchased the restored historic Alberta Hotel for $12.5 million. The Alberta government put $5 million towards CKUA and the city matched the amount. The station began broadcasting from its new home October 15. The final cost, with the interior finishings, was expected to be about $17.2 million. CKUA would lease out two floors of commercial office space as well as a main floor bar and restaurant.
CKUA eliminated its news department, citing financial challenges. News Director Ian Gray and broadcast journalist Matt Nodge were let go. CKUA used BBC World News instead. CKUA was funded by the Alberta government until 1994. Then, with privatization, came commercials, corporate sponsorships and listener donations. Last October, the station moved into the refurbished Alberta Hotel which it purchased for $12.5 million. The provincial government and city of Edmonton, each put $5-million toward CKUA’s expenses. The final cost, with interior finishings, was expected to be about $17.2 million. Two floors of commercial space were to have been leased out plus a main floor bar and restaurant.
In February it was announced that the CKUA-AM (580 kHz) signal would be shut down. The transmitter site required expensive upgrades to make the station compliant with Industry Canada regulations. CKUA was given a deadline of 2014 to complete the work. The station said the land for the AM site was leased on a year-to-year basis and if the landowner decided to sell it, CKUA would need to relocate the AM site, which would not be easy. The cost to purchase the land, if it were to become available, would be in the millions of dollars. The total investment needed to rebuild the AM site on secured land could run up to $5 million. CKUA said it would be filing an application with the CRTC to have the licence revoked because it could not afford to make the investment necessary to operate it.
Neil Lutes died at age 68. He had been chief engineer at the CKUARadio Network up until his retirement in 2009. Lutes was the initiator and architect of Alberta’s Emergency Public Warning System.
Francis (Frank) Joseph Dolphin died at age 84. He worked in radio at CHED, CKUA and at CBC-TV Edmonton where he was the legislative reporter.
On September 13, the CRTC approved an application to amend the licence for CKUA-FM by deleting its AM transmitter CKUA Edmonton.
November 21 marked the 86th anniversary of CKUA and it was also the final day for CKUA 580 to broadcast. CKUA-AM held (still does) the record for longest use of a frequency by a station in Canada. CKUA programming continued on the 16-transmitter FM network.
The story continues elsewhere…
Effective September 1st 2019, we will only be adding new material to these station histories in exceptional circumstances. Our intent to chronicle the early days of these radio and television stations has been achieved, and many new sources and technologies, from the CRTC website to Wikipedia, and others, are now regularly providing new information in these areas.