It’s always been about the people.
By Trevor Joice
Reproduced courtesy of Broadcast Dialogue
From the first meeting 60 years ago, the Central Canada Broadcasters’ Association Engineers (CCBAE)—then an adjunct of the Central Canada Broadcasters’ Association—has been about providing learning, communicating and socializing opportunities for engineering professionals within the Canadian broadcast industry. The first conference, with 27 delegates in attendance, was held in 1951 at Hamilton’s Royal Connaught Hotel. Three broadcast engineers – Ron Turnpenny of CFOS Owen Sound, Hugh Potter of CHML Hamilton and Glen Robitaille of CFPL London—are acknowledged as the founding members of the Central Canada Broadcasters’ Association, Engineering section
This is thought to be the 1956 CCBAE Meeting:
The locations for CCBAE meetings changed over the years. After Hamilton, the group met at the Seaway Hotel in West Toronto. Bit by bit, the membership became larger, so much so that for several years the Royal York Hotel hosted the annual conventions. The Royal York was, perhaps, the most accommodating of all locations during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In those years, there were trade shows though not in an open-floor format. Instead, hotel rooms and suites were converted into mini-expositions/hospitality suites where suppliers and manufacturers were your hosts. Imagine walking into a hotel room at the Royal York and seeing a tube transmitter operating at full power into an air-cooled dummy load. Then visit another room and behold a new video tape (two-inch) recorder with all its glowing tubes and associated heat.
The hotel even broke holes into adjacent walls to run high voltage power cables to rooms needing them. Many engineering personnel went to the conventions to see new equipment, to hear technical papers and to absorb the newer techniques on problem-solving. During these pre-Internet years, the annual CCBAE convention was the only opportunity to learn about new broadcast industry developments. At that time, there were few technical publications, long distance telephone calling was expensive, fax machines had yet to be developed and attending a trade show in the U.S. wasn’t financially workable for most engineers.
CCBAE Gets Bigger…
As attendance grew, so did the needs. The hotel room equipment displays evolved into hotel convention floor trade show booths. The hospitality suites remained and were an important part of the convention culture. There was always a strong mandate for technical papers. The CCBAE executive was challenged with bringing the most objective and timely papers to the industry, within the scope of time allotted and the maintaining of balance between TV and radio engineering. In addition, representatives from the Department of Communications (now Industry Canada),CRTC and other agencies were invited to address the delegates, often as part of the luncheons. The Sandy Day Report and, later, the Wayne Stacey Report were as popular as the presented technical papers. Both Day and Stacey were representatives of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and would update the many issues within the industry. It was recognized that many engineering people who were being promoted to managerial positions within their companies needed some formal exposure to management leadership skills. It was Ron Turnpenny of CHFI Toronto and George Jones of CHUM Toronto who encouraged CCBAE to sponsor two-day management courses for engineers. Both Turnpenny and Jones had taken similar courses. Richard (Dick) Cupke from Purdue University provided courses at annual conventions for three consecutive years, all well-attended. The courses were so popular that non-technical managers from broadcast operations attended, too.
…And The Pressure was on to Make Content Even Better
The needs to serve the growing membership became more demanding. CCBAE’s leadership, in the 1980s, expanded the format to provide an exhibit-style trade show. At the same time, recognizing the new fiscal responsibilities and risks associated with this new format, CCBE (Central Canada Broadcast Engineers, Technologists and Technicians) became an incorporate company. A new corporate logo was introduced.
There was a recognized need to leave the hotel exhibit floor for larger convention centres that would accommodate the increasing numbers of suppliers who wanted to display their products. Trade shows and papers sessions would be at a different location from the convention hotel. As the trade shows grew, so too did finding enough space to accommodate them. Considering that the majority of suppliers were based in Toronto—and Toronto had the floor space required—the economics of show management discouraged the traditional desire to move the event between Montreal, Ottawa, London and Hamilton. For several years, CCBE was based in Toronto and used a selection of facilities.
New interest in the CCBE emerged from non-broadcasters. They started to attend the conventions and visit the trade shows. The high quality displays of equipment and the trend-setting technical papers attracted new delegates from government agencies, educational institutions and post production facilities. Broadcasters from New York state went to Toronto to attend CCBE. Over a thousand people would visit the annual trade show.
There was, during the 1980s, a new urgency emerging for CCBE’s members: Safety in the Workplace. Following a serious electrical shock injury to a broadcast transmitter technician, the association, under the leadership of Warren Parker of CKTB St.Catharines, established the CCBE Safety Committee. This committee, with sponsorship support from the late Mel Crosby of Pineway Electronics, provided safety education to CCBE members and to their employers. Employers needed to be sensitized to the dangers of a single individual working on transmitters, climbing towers without safety equipment and to the dangers and concerns of RF radiation. This program remained active until mandatory health and safety rules were introduced, WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) programs and, eventually, SAFETY CODE 6 guidelines. (WHMIS was developed by a tripartite steering committee with representatives from government, industry and labour to ensure that the best interests of everyone in the workforce were considered.)
The changing economics of the mid 1990s had their effect on broadcasting. The large trade show format had become too expensive, particularly for the smaller companies whose services and contributions to the industry was just as critical as those of the larger companies. Delegate attendance was affected, too. At the same time, the National Association of Broadcasters ceased its rotating conventions and settled on a single location: Las Vegas. For many, the opportunity to attend the NAB became more affordable, helped in large part by discount air fares.
Proving yet again the old saw about “everything old is new again,” the CCBE moved to the Horseshoe Resort, just north of Barrie, Ont., in 1998. The convention program format focused on technical papers and seminars. With supplier and manufacturer support, registration fees were kept affordable. Suppliers’ and manufacturers’ hospitality suites provided the opportunity to socialize and still see some new equipment. BRF will match it!
As in all past conventions, there was good food and lots of it. And now there was a new attraction. Golf! The CCBE Engineer of the Year Award was re-established in 1983, recognizing the engineering and leadership excellence of one of its members. This award is now known as the Rohde & Schwartz Engineering Excellence Award. The George McCurdy Bursary established in 1983, recognizing the great Canadian broadcast manufacturer, is presented to a new engineering employee within the broadcast industry. The Ambassador Award, recognizing the articulate skill of communicating, was first presented in 1988. This award, now known as the Bob Norton Ambassador Award, carries the name of CCBE’s first ambassador. The most recent CCBE recognition, The Lifetime Achievement Award, was established in 2006.
For 60 years, CCBE has served the Canadian broadcast industry. This association has been managed by engineers and technicians from TV and radio stations, large and small, who have volunteered their time and their skills to conscientiously plan, organize and execute one of the more successful industry organizations. The list of Past Presidents is a cross-sectional look at time within our industry. Many names will be familiar, many won’t. After all, CCBE and its former identity began before most present-day broadcasters were born. One of the founders, Glen Robitaille, retired from CFPL London, is living in Kamloops, B.C. Most are retired and only a few have passed away. So much for the various arguments on the hazards of RF! Throughout the years, as formats changed and generations of attendees came and went, the popularity of the suppliers’ suites has not diminished. Other regional shows continue to enjoy the same successes. Perhaps this is a cultural experience unique to Canada.
The suites have also been the basis for legendary events. For example, during the early years at the Royal York Hotel, a Canadian transmitter tube supplier, Ed Sondeck from EEV (English Electric Valve), established a “panning for gold” activity in his suite. He built a large, long wooden crate lined with plastic sheeting and filled with water, sand and some very small flecks of gold. That activity, he figured, was more exciting than looking at a transmitter tube. In later years, the reps from Continental Electronics in Dallas left their transmitters at home and, instead, served “four alarm chili” and hot pepper candies to those who visited their suite. There was always a crowd. That warm Texas drawl seemed to be an attraction as much as the chili. Recently, the late Terry Ambrose from MSC Electronics (now Novanet) and Dodie McDonald from Applied Electronics introduced visitors to their suites to fine wine, martinis and yellow roses.
But there was one hospitality suite experience that stood out, if only for its informal name. Opening late at night and closing early in the morning, the “Prayer Meeting” hosts were the late Marvin Crouch of Tennaplex and the late Reg McCausland, the chief engineer from, first, CJSS Cornwall and later, VOCM St. John’s. Many stories were told. Some were even broadcast related!
From the very beginning, the technical paper has been the most important component to the association’s program. Technical advancements of the day are often announced at CCBE. New techniques in approaching problems are shared.The late Bob Norton, then with RCA, presented a paper at one of the first conventions on a new transmitter remote control system. This was a big step in technology that would eventually replace full-time technicians at transmitter sites. Austin Reeve of CJOH-TV Ottawa organized a tour of his big, new analog TV production mobile. Years later, Jim Mercer of CHCH-TV Hamilton would do the same, but his mobile was all digital.
When the Toronto broadcasters “turned on” their new CN Tower transmitter facilities in 1975, there was a tour for CCBE delegates during their fall convention. Mel Hind of Sony Canada introduced the audio CD at a Toronto CCBE in the early ’80s. He held up a tin fragile looking disc and announced that “records were dead” and that “the CD is the future”. The late Ed Buterbaugh of CKLW Windsor presented a paper at a Montreal convention, also in the early ‘80s on AM Stereo, the saviour of AM radio it was thought. Recently, technical papers on digital television updated broadcasters on the challenges of upgrading plants and the advancements of receiving transmissions on mobile devices.
The late Reg McCausland of VOCM St. Johns expressed his validation of CCBE with this clarity: “I need to go to these conventions. I need to visit suppliers face to face to talk about my needs. Technology is changing so quickly; I have to keep up to it, and attending the papers and talking to people is the best way.”
CCBE: It’s always been about the people.
Written by Trevor Joice