TV – from cross-border U.S. Signals to 500 channels

In 1926, Scotland’s John Logie Baird was one of the first in the world to demonstrate Television.

The first experiments in Canada were in 1931 when CKAC and La Presse demonstrated Canada’s 1st television broadcast in Montreal. The picture was not clear and much work had to be done to make it acceptable. No further experiments were scheduled.

The first regularly scheduled telecasts were in England in 1936, using a 405 line system, while the United States were experimenting with 441 lines. The FCC in the U.S. established the standard of 525 lines in 1941, but further development was halted during the war.

Post war activity in the U.S. was spectacular and by 1949 there were about 100 stations on the air with more than one million homes having TV sets. By 1951, the number of homes with TV had grown to 10 million and along the U. S. border, 75,000 Canadian homes were watching U. S. stations.

CBC and the government had decided on an orderly development of television in Canada, with just one station for each centre due to the high cost of establishing and operating TV stations. The first CBC TV stations came on the air in Montreal (CBFT) and Toronto (CBLT) in September of 1952 and by the end of that year there were 225,000 Canadian homes with television.

Some of the early stations on the air were in 1953, CBOT Ottawa, CKSO-TV Sudbury, the first private station, followed by CFPL-TV London and CBUT Vancouver. All stations were affiliates of the CBC-TV Network.

The one station per city rule was changed when the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) came into existence in 1958, replacing the CBC as the body to regulate broadcasting. They called for hearings to be held in eight of Canada’s largest cities and in 1960 granted licences for stations in Vancouver (CHAN-TV), Calgary (CFCN-TV), Edmonton (CBXT-TV) Winnipeg (CKY-TV), Toronto (CFTO-TV), Ottawa (CJOH-TV), Montreal (CFCF-TV) and Halifax (CJOH-TV).

After ten years of spectacular growth, by the end of 1961, there were 68 stations and over 4 million homes with TV. Of the 68 originating stations, 9 were CBC owned and 59 were privately owned.

There were 4,026,000 homes with television, covering 88% of the households in the country.

The microwave connection, which started when the Toronto and Montreal stations came on the air in 1952 had slowly moved across the country to both coasts connecting stations from Halifax to Vancouver by 1960. Before the microwave arrived, programs were sent to outlying stations by Kinescopes (filmed from a TV screen.) In 1958, the CBC opened their Calgary Delay Centre, which allowed the network to delay programs so that they could be seen at their proper time, e.g. so that the 11:00 pm news could be seen in all Time Zones at 11:00 pm –not 3 hours early in B. C.

The CTV Network (briefly CTN) started in 1961 with 8 stations. The microwave could only carry one signal except for the Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal triangle, so the CTV stations were limited to unused hours outside the CBC contract, which posed great scheduling problems. The only resort was the Kinescope, by which means programs could be delayed. CTV opened its own Calgary Delay centre in 1963.

Colour Television arrived in Canada in 1966, some two years after the U. S. start. Networks and stations and the delay centres had to upgrade their equipment.

In 1968 the Government established the Canadian Radio & Television Commission (CRTC) and for the first time Cable Television became part of broadcasting – having previously been seen only as a distribution system.

The commission made some landmark decisions:

They allowed CTV stations to make arrangements with CBC affiliates in smaller markets to expand CTV coverage by establishing a re-broadcasting station in the area which would carry the CTV signal usually with the CTV transmitter on the same tower as the local station, allowing the local station to cover off advertising from the nearby “big city” station, thereby protecting local advertisers. This new arrangement, which was known as “twin-sticking”, brought the CTV signal to the Maritimes, Northern Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia.

1970 saw TV Ontario, the Ontario educational television station, start broadcasting on Channel 19 in the UHF band, but taking advantage of the new ruling by the CRTC that all cable companies must reserve one VHF channel for educational broadcasting. TVO selected channel 2 throughout the province.

Cable Substitution: When Canadian and American stations broadcast the same program at the same time, cable operators were required to substitute the Canadian program, together with all of its Canadian advertising, on the American channel. This rule ensured that cable operators helped protect Canadian broadcasters’ licensing exclusivity for Canada, and thereby their advertising revenues.

Under pressure from Canadians living in areas far from the U.S. border, the Commission also began to permit cable operators the use of microwave transmission to bring in more distant television signals and to move signals around within a licensed area. These applications improved both signal quality and quantity, and made U.S. channels available to all but the remotest areas of Canada.

CHUM bought its first TV stations, CJCH-TV Halifax and CJCB-TV Sydney, Nova Scotia and the following year, CKCW-TV Moncton, New Brunswick, and formed a regional network – ATV.

In 1972, Canada’s first UHF (ultra high frequency) CITY-TV station began broadcasting in Toronto on channel 79 (Cable 7), owned by a group headed by Phyllis Switzer and Moses Znaimer.

While not strictly a cable TV channel, City’s position as cable-dependent was an indication of the shape of channels to come. Even broadcasters in the VHF band benefited from cable’s ability to deliver clear signals into areas where over-the-air reception was impaired.

The year 1972 saw Telesat Canada launch Anik A1, the world’s first domestic communications satellite with the CBC as its first customer. Anik A2 was up the next year and was the precursor to satellite television distribution coast-to-coast and the transmission foundation of Canadian national specialty television services.

The scene was set for Specialty Channels and eventually Pay TV – the Cable Companies dream was coming true. The Commission invited proposals for the future development of pay TV.

But after many submissions the Commission appointed their own committee, chaired by Real Therrien, to give them some guidance.

A new network came on the air. Al Bruner’s Global Television began broadcasting on January 6th 1974, covering all of Southern Ontario with 6 transmitters. By March 31st, the station was losing a million dollars a month with little or no audience; investors wanted out , and Izzy Asper and Allan Slaight came to try to effect a rescue, each with a 45% buyout. However, with little change in the financial situation resulting from their efforts, the Asper group bought out Slaight in 1997 and by 1985 Asper’s Global Western Capital owned control of Global Television. 1985 also saw CKVU-TV Vancouver become totally controlled by Asper.

1975 brought a new TV station to Winnipeg. In a unique move a U.S. station was purchased and moved to Canada. KCND Pembina, North Dakota, which relied heavily on Winnipeg advertising, was purchased by a group headed by Izzy Asper and literally moved it to Winnipeg as CKND-TV.

In 1980, the Therrien Committee submitted its report entitled ‘The 1980s: A Decade of Diversity: Broadcasting, Satellites and Pay-TV’ recommending that the CRTC call for applications for a Canadian television satellite service.

Direct-to-home satellite television tests had already been conducted successfully by Telesat Canada. In 1981, Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. (Cancom) was licensed to deliver “a basic package of attractive television and radio services to the more remote and underserved communities throughout Canada,” the Commission’s prerequisite for approving pay TV.

The same year the Commission once again called for pay TV proposals. In 1982, it approved six competitive services; the movie network, First Choice, which was to program two national networks, one in French and one in English; three regional general interest networks, in Atlantic Canada, and in Alberta and Ontario, both of which were called SuperChannel; C-Channel, ostensibly a Canadian culture channel, and a regional multi-lingual pay service in B.C.

1984 saw five specialty channels approved for cable distribution in Canada along with U.S. signals. The five Canadian services were MuchMusic, Action Canada Sports Network (later TSN or The Sports Network), Chinavision, Cathay and Telelatino ethnic services. They also approved 17 American channels approved from which cable operators could select, they included CNN – Cable News Network, A&E – Arts & Entertainment, CMT – Country Music Television, FNN – Financial News Network, TLC – The Learning Channel and the Weather Channel, among others.

Operators could bundle these pay services and sell them on that basis.

All of these Canadian channels were required to meet specific CRTC Canadian Content requirements.

In 1987, two new Saskatchewan station came on the air – CFRE-TV Regina and CFST-TV Saskatoon, both owned by Global.

1988 saw CIHF-TV Halifax, with transmitters in Saint John and Moncton, New Brunswick, owned by the Irving Family, become the Maritimes first independent television station but after 6 years of losses, the Irvings sold off to Global in 1994.

In 1990, Rogers Cablesystems was one of the first to begin deploying hybrid fibre-optic/coaxial cable distribution networks, a technical sea-change in cable operations that laid the groundwork for revolutionary innovations across communications industries by beginning cable’s move into digital distribution.

In 1994, cable operators were given approval for 50 new specialty channels. The new channels included such diverse offerings as Bravo and Showcase, cultural arts channels, Discovery Channel, focused on science, the Life Network with family-oriented programming, the New Country Network, and WTN – Women’s Television Network, to name only a few.

Heritage Canada commissioned a Digital Television Task Force, comprised of a wide range of industry personnel, in October 1995. In 1997, two years after the start of the Digital Television task force, Shaw Cable launched the first digital cable service in Canada, in both Calgary and Toronto. In 1998, the two new direct-to-home (DTH) satellite television operators launched their all-digital television services offering literally hundreds of channels.

Although there were still over 2,000 cable systems in Canada at the turn of the century, through mergers, amalgamations and acquisitions, several major companies had emerged as the largest suppliers of cable services in Canada. Among the largest were Rogers, Videotron, Shaw and Cogeco.

1997 saw the swap of stations between Baton Broadcasting and CHUM. Baton took over ATV – the CHUM stations in Halifax, Sydney and Moncton, while CHUM gained the Baton stations in western Ontario – London, Wingham and Windsor. This move was the key to Baton finally obtaining control of the CTV network, which it did by the end of the year.

The same year Craig Broadcasting Systems opened stations in Alberta, CKAL-TV Calgary and CKEM-TV Edmonton – branded “A Channel.

During the 1990s, WIC International Communications Ltd. had acquired CICI-TV Calgary and CITV Edmonton and after years of negotiations, the sale of these stations along with those already owned by WIC were to be sold, the radio stations going to Shaw Cable (Corus Inc,) and the 6 TV stations to Global. This sale was approved in 2000. This caused the biggest shuffle of station affiliations in one province that Canada had ever seen:

At midnight on September 1, 2000, CHAN-TV and sister station CHEK-TV became the Global TV Network affiliates in Vancouver and Victoria respectively. This change also involved two other TV stations in the Vancouver market, CIVT-TV (to CTV) and CKVU-TV (to CHUM Independent). CHAN-TV moved to the new slogan of “Global B.C.” but also continued to identify its newscasts as “BCTV News on Global”.

By 2002, television was available to virtually every home in Canada, and surveys showed that some 12 million homes owned a TV set. It had taken just 50 years for TV to reach virtually all of Canada’s almost 13 million homes.

On June 12th 2002, after over a year seeking input from all interested parties, the CRTC announced a licensing policy to oversee the transition from analog to digital, over-the-air television broadcasting. At the time, the transition itself was proposed to be voluntary, not regulated, but on May 17th 2007, the CRTC announced that Television licensees would be authorized to broadcast only digital OTA signals after 31 August 2011, although exceptions might be made in northern and remote communities where analog transmissions would not cause interference.

Not only 500 channels, but also a digital Canadian broadcasting world, had become a reality.

written by Ross McCreath – July, 2011