Radio Canada International (CKCX)

Radio Canada International (CKCX), Montréal

Radio Canada International (CKCX)1970VariousVariousCanadian Broadcasting Corp.
CBC International Service (CKCX)1945VariousVariousCanadian Broadcasting Corp.


After a series of Parliamentary Broadcasting Committees, it was decided that there was a need for a Canadian international broadcast voice. Such a service had first been proposed in the 1930’s. In 1942, Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King announced Canada would start a shortwave service to keep members of the Canadian Armed Forces in touch with home. On September 18, 1942, an Order-in-Council was signed, making the CBC International Service a reality.


It was announced the service would operate from studios in the Radio-Canada building in downtown Montreal.

Two 50,000 watt transmitters and a network of antennas were built on the Tantramar marshes, just east of Sackville, New Brunswick. This site had previously been used by the CBC station CBA, which had moved to Moncton. 


The production facilities and transmitting plant were ready. On December 25, a series of test broadcasts began in English and French to Canadian troops in Europe.


The CBC International Service (the Voice of Canada) began broadcasting on February 25. Programming was offered in English, French and German.


By this time, Czech and Dutch programming had been added to the schedule. In July, special once a week programs were broadcast to Scandinavia in Swedish and Danish (and later, Norwegian).

Daily broadcasts in English to the Caribbean were added in November. Sunday night programs were now being broadcast to Cuba, Columbia, Peru and Ecuador in Spanish and to Brazil in Portuguese.


Daily Spanish and Portuguese broadcasts began on July 6. English service to Australia and New Zealand began.

Around this time, the CBC International Service was providing transmission facilities for the United Nations.


 In January, an Italian service was added.


A once a week broadcast in Finnish was started in December.


A Russian service was started in January.


In September, programming in Ukrainian was first broadcast.

On November 29, United Nations broadcasts moved from the CBC International Service to the Voice of America.


Polish broadcasts were now offered.


The CBC set up its Armed Forces Service. The Sackville transmitter site would be used to transmit some programming from the new service.

The CBC International Service was now offering over 16 hours of daily programming.


The Finnish service was terminated on January 29 due to budget cuts. English and French services were reduced.


The CBC launched its Northern Service to the high Arctic, using the shortwave facilities at Sackville.


On March 4, following budget cuts, the Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish broadcasts were eliminated. New English and French programs were now being directed to Africa.


On September 2, a third 50 kW transmitter was inaugurated at Sackville. This improved coverage to Europe and Africa and allowed for additional broadcast hours that had been used by the CBC Armed Forces and CBC Northern Services.


In September, the station introduced simultaneous broadcasts to Europe and the U.S.A. This meant that programming could be broadcast to two different target areas at the same time.


In the late fifties and early sixties, CBC I. S. experimented with having the Sackville signal picked up by a receiving station in Britain, recorded to tape, and rebroadcast to Eastern Europe via BBC transmitters. On May 1 of this year, the first operational relay transmission was broadcast to Africa using BBC transmitters at Daventry in the U.K. Unlike the earlier tests, these programs were carried live as received from Sackville.


The BBC’s Daventry transmitters were now relaying Canadian programming to Eastern Europe.

The International Service played a big role in telling the world about Canada’s Centennial and Expo ’67.


In April, the International Service was fully integrated into the CBC’s funding structure. Its (no apostrophe) financing would now be included in the CBC’s budget. From its inception, the International Service was run and managed by the CBC but not owned by the CBC. The International Service had been defined as a separate entity, controlled by Parliament through the Department of External Affairs. It had a separate budget.


The CBC had 22 different owned and rented buildings throughout the city of Montreal. All of these facilities would come under one roof when Place de Radio-Canada was completed and in use by 1972. The building would be a 23 floor office tower, covering an area of 900 by 510 feet on a 25 acre plot of land in east-central downtown. The building would open officially in 1973.


The CBC International Service became Radio Canada International in July.


Radio Canada International began using two new 250,000 watt transmitters on November 7. In time, three more would be added. The increased power gave RCI almost complete global coverage.

In November, the CBC Montreal stations and RCI began broadcasting from the new Maison de Radio-Canada at 1400 Dorchester Boulevard (now 1400 Rene Levesque Blvd.). The facility officially opened December 5, 1973.


RCI began using Deutsche Welle (West Germany) transmitters at Sines, Portugal to relay programming. In exchange, Deutsche Welle was able to relay its programming via Sackville.


Radio Canada International began airing some CBC domestic programs on a regular basis – programs such as The World at Six and As It Happens.


RCI was now broadcasting 7 hours of daily programming to North America, 4.5 to South America, 4 to Africa, 1 to the Middle East, 5.5 to Western Europe, and 4.5 to Eastern Europe. It was operating in eleven languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian.


On May 6, Radio Canada International began regular broadcasts in Japanese through an arrangement with Radio Tanpa of Chiba, Japan.


In the fall, RCI’s three 50 kW transmitters were replaced by new 100 kW units.


RCI began a Chinese language service. Before this, the station had produced a 40-week series called Everyday English which was broadcast on local stations in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 1988 and 1989. The Sackville transmitter site was not suitable for broadcasting to China, so RCI made an arrangement with Radio Japan to use their transmitter site at Yamata. In addition to China, RCI could now improve its signal to Japan and to East Asia and India. The Chinese broadcasts began on October 1.


RCI began offering an Arabic service to the Middle East.

Radio Canada International had faced budget cutbacks since the 1950’s with some of the worst threats taking place in the 1980’s. The station was always able to deal with the cuts. The station even moved out of La Maison de Radio-Canada and into a smaller building, one block away. With the start of the 1990’s, there were many who believed Canada did not need an international broadcasting service.  Should it be reduced or disbanded altogether? A listener letter campaign was started and it may have helped influence the government to keep the station on the air (1990).

Further budget cuts came in early 1991. The CBC decided it could no longer pay for RCI without extra funding from the feds. As a result, RCI was placed under the umbrella of the Foreign Affairs ministry to fund the station. RCI would continue to be administered by the CBC.

RCI underwent a major restructuring on March 25, 1991. Six of the station’s 13 languages were discontinued – Czech, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, and Portuguese. All station produced programming was dropped except for newscasts. Programming was replaced by CBC domestic content. In August, RCI was able to reinstate two of its own programs.


RCI was able to return another two of its former programs to the airwaves.

Radio Canada International assumed responsibility for producing programs for the Canadian Forces Network after the CFN studios in Lahr, Germany were closed.

RCI’s British relay was moved from Daventry to Skelton.


On March 28, a full schedule of RCI produced English and French programs returned to the air. CBC domestic programs (like As It Happens) were also still on the RCI schedule.

By this time, RCI had transmitter exchange agreements with Radio Austria International (Moosbrunn), Deutsche Welle (Wertachtal), Radio Beijing (Xian), Radio Korea (Kimjae) and Radio Monte Carlo (Cape Greco, Cyprus).


Radio Canada International celebrated 50 years of broadcasting.

In December, the CBC announced it did not have the money to keep RCI on the air. If new funding could not be found, RCI would leave the air on March 31, 1996.


Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps announced that funds would be found to keep RCI on the air this year while a permanent solution was found.


The federal government announced that RCI would receive $15.5 million a year beginning in 1998-99.


On December 1, CBC/SRC began offering some of its program services via Sirius Satellite radio. RCIplus was offered as one of those channels.


The 2012 federal budget gave the CBC a 10% funding reduction. In turn, the CBC forced an 80% reduction to RCI which was under its financial and managerial control. RCI’s budget was slashed from $12.3 million a year to $2.3 million a year. There was no way RCI could survive.

Radio Canada International went silent on June 24 on shortwave and via satellite. With the shut down, contracts with other international broadcasters that were using the Sackville transmitter facilities were terminated. The CBC Northern Quebec Service also went silent as its broadcasts came from Sackville.

On October 30, the CRTC revoked the RCI (CKCX) licence effective November 1. This was at the CBC’s request.

On October 31 Radio Canada International’s transmission site in Sackville, New Brunswick officially closed down after 67 years of operation.


In March, the first of 13 towers at the former RCI site came down. The CBC had hoped to sell the towers and land together because of the high cost to dismantle the facility. No bids came in for the facility.

RCI now had a tiny staff in Toronto and Montreal. They produced podcasts and internet webpage content in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. created productions and features for people who knew little or nothing about Canada, no matter where they were in the world.

The RCI Action Committee, formed in 1991 to try to have full funding restored to the station (it was then called the Coalition to Restore Full RCI Funding). The committee, with listeners and other supporters, fought attempts to close RCI in 1991, 1995 and 1996. Their efforts to restore RCI continued.

Through its history, some of the biggest names in Canadian journalism and culture worked at RCI: René Lévesque (journalist and later premier of Quebec), Peter Gzowski journalist/writer and host of CBC Radio’s Morningside), Judith Jasmin (distinguished journalist), Patrick Brown (CBC Radio host), Jacques Languirand (broadcaster, playwright, writer, actor, journalist, producer, director and teacher), Charles Tisseyre (host of RCI’s Découverte), Georges Skvor (poet), George Fiala (classical music composer), Anna Anders Nowakowski (received several war-time decorations), Michèle Boisvert (former director at La Presse’s business section), Alexander Lieven (journalist in RCI’s Russian section), Ian McFarland hosted many programs over the years, including the Radio Canada Shortwave Club and Shortwave Listener’s Digest.


Even though it was no longer operating over the airwaves, Radio Canada International celebrated its 75th birthday this year.


The former property (222 acres) occupied by RCI for a transmitter site was bought in February by Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated, a group of Mi’kmaq First Nations. At the end of the year, that group was trying to sell a 1940 RCA 50 kW shortwave transmitter, located at the decommissioned RCI site in Sackville. The group was asking $5,000 for the piece of Canadian radio history, which was no longer in working order.


In December, CBC announced a major transformation of RCI that included expansion into Punjabi and Tagalog-language content, producing new weekly podcasts in each of the seven RCI languages, and increasing the service’s visibility. Starting in April of 2021, the RCI team would be restructured from 20 to nine people, including the loss of 16 positions in Montreal and the creation of five new jobs. CBC said the changes would not only boost RCI’s audience and relevance, but also help the service better engage with newcomers to Canada.

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