Walter Dales – One Man’s Fight Against Nationalization

If you’ve read our story of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Network (1932 -1936), you will have heard of Graham Spry and Alan Plaunt (later the Canadian Radio League) and their lobbying efforts for a Canadian National Radio policy – non commercial with only government owned stations. Opposing that view of Canadian radio, and speaking on behalf of the already established private radio stations (unofficially) were two proponents of mixed private and public system. One of those men was Walter Dales.

Walter Dales should be remembered as one of the most dedicated opponents of the nationalization of Canadian broadcasting. Private broadcasters should be thankful that Walter Dales did not sit in the bleachers and watch the Canadian Radio League wipe out their future.

Walter Dales started his radio career in 1933 at CKBI Prince Albert, Saskatchewan as a jack-of-all-trades, announcer, operator-salesman. In 1942, he moved to CJCA Edmonton as announcer-writer.

During his time with CKBI Walter had developed a fear of stations being closed down or taken over by the CRBC/CBC which had been given a mandate by Parliament to regulate all radio broadcasting. It was emphasized by the regulator that the licences they were given to own and operate a station were provisional, and could be withdrawn without any compensation.

At CJCA Walter moved to sales promotion and initiated a radio column which was mailed to the publishers of Northern Alberta weeklies. Starting with 15 papers and following personal visits adding as many more, Walter developed a good rapport with the weeklies. Unlike the big dailies, he found the weeklies did not like the idea of radio becoming a government monopoly.

Walter met and struck a pact with Jim Allard who was CJCA’s continuity (advertising copy) chief. Allard, who would shortly leave and go to Ottawa to set up the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Report from Parliament Hill, also deplored the regulatory powers given the CBC and was keen to do something about them. They shared the same nightmares.

In 1940, Walter was appointed Assistant Manager of CJCA and continued to handle promotion. When Taylor Pearson & Carson, operators of CJCA, assumed the management of CJAT, Trail in 1942, Walter was appointed Manager.

In 1945, Walter decided to go in business for himself. He moved to Montreal and launched a script syndication service, Walter A. Dales Radioscripts. Within 6 months, he had radio features running on radio stations in all provinces. He continued writing his radio column under the pen name of ”Ambrose Hills” and to type editorials and papers decrying the regulations imposed by the CBC on private broadcasters that curbed their opportunities and abilities to serve their communities and Canadians generally.

Meanwhile, Allard, now a resident of Ottawa, became the top official at the CAB’s head office. The relocations brought Dales and Allard closer together geographically and in their shared determination to correct the imbalance between government radio and private stations. With Allan Plaunt dead (he died Sept 12, 1941) and Graham Spry engaged in tilting at other windmills, Allard’s and Dales’ campaign against the CBC was re-focused on A. Davidson Dunton, who had been appointed in 1945 by Prime Minister King as a full-time chairman of the CBC Board of Governors.

Walter’s newspaper column, “Of Many Things”, written under the pseudonym of “Ambrose Hills”, was now appearing in more than a hundred weekly papers and a few dailies. As Walter wrote later, he “was amazed at the number of channels open to me for the expression of opinion”, and his personal opinions on broadcasting received plenty of ink.

Following an interview Dales had with Dunton shortly after his appointment, Walter wrote in his unpublished book, “Not a Horse Moved” : “1 was much impressed with his ability and his determination to make the system predominantly government operated while relegating the private stations to a small local role. He seemed to have every confidence that he could get all the money needed from the public treasury, and I suspect that if private broadcasters had fought less resolutely he would eventually put them out of business entirely. Dunton always seemed to me to be the real danger to the future of private broad­casting … he had immense power and he knew how to use it with tremendous skill. If Plaunt and Spry with their Radio League had had A. Davidson Dunton in the CBC much earlier in the game, private radio would never have survived.”

The “war” between the proponents of public broadcasting and private industry ranged over several years and a couple of Royal Commissions and task forces. The directors of the CAB who had implemented, without success, a “honeyed” approach to getting a separate regulatory body, became more aggressive. As veteran broadcasters like Harry Sedgwick and Ken Soble fostered a “gloves-off” attack, Walter’s typewriter channeled the private industry’s concerns to the readers of newspapers.

So effective was a comment in Ambrose Hills’ newspaper articles that, on one occasion, the CBC was goaded into buying a full page in the weekly newspaper’s house organ to justify the low advertising rates they charged some soap company sponsors, and to attack Walter, claiming he was a paid public relations agent of the CAB. Walter bought space in the same publication to state that the CBC was wrong on both counts.

The controversy came to a head in December 1955 when the government created the Fowler Commission on Broadcasting. The Report of the Commission dated March 15, 1957 was followed by Bill C-55 which, with some minor amendments, was passed by Parliament in September 1958. Bill C-55, The Broadcasting Act, removed the control of the CBC over private stations and set-up what the broadcasters had long been fighting for – a separate body that would regulate both the CBC and the private stations – The Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG).

Twelve citizens representing every region in Canada were appointed to the BBG by the government, three of whom — Dr. Andrew Stewart (Chairman), Bernard Goulet (Vice­Chairman) and Carlyle Allison — were full-time members. In his articles in the weekly press, Walter stopped fighting with the CBC and began to promote the position that “freedom of the press rights” be extended to broadcasters. In his business, he turned to preparing briefs for people applying for TV stations, new radio stations and requests for power increases, all the while studying the BBG’s approach to its task of regulating all broadcasting. He was pleased with what he saw and heard:

“As I studied the decisions of the Board and listened to their pronouncements, my respect for Dr. Stewart increased month by month. Carlyle Allison, too, gave excellent leadership in the improvement of broadcast coverage of news. Bernard Goulet, of course, understood the practical difficulties of broadcasting, and helped to modify some regulations. All in all, it seemed to me under the direction of such a Board, private broadcasters might develop to the point where the country would be willing to give them the same “freedom of the press”

In 1954, Walter Dales returned to his native province and set up his office in Winnipeg.

He retired from business in 1966 and moved to a farm in Cloverdale, B.C.. He kept his hand in writing and broadcasting through a daily feature on radio station CJJC in Langley, titled “The Greenhorn farmer”.

Walter Dales died in 1981 at the age of 72.

Lest anyone reading of Walter Dales mission to remove the CBC’s regulatory control of private broadcasters might conclude that he did not respect CBC staff and programs, should they be privy to his “book” they would learn of his many friendships at the operations level, and his enjoyment of and admiration for the programs they produced. His feelings were typical of his praise for the CBC’s wartime service overseas.

“and the CBC crew (which) did such a magnificent job of coverage, and uniting the nation back of the total effort ., the working broadcasters under the guidance of Gladstone Murray, Ernie Bushnell, Neil Morrison and others, did a magnificent job. Lorne Greene’s voice gave the news its authentic ring. Men like Mathew Halton, Peter Stursburg, Gerry Wilmot, Morrison, Herbert and Ouimet gave the CBC’s overseas unit a reputation equal to that of any big American network.”

These kinds of feelings were shared by private station employees who wanted the opportunity to develop and prove their own skills but were prevented from doing so by the CBC’s refusal to allow the establishment of similar radio networks. It was not until after the BBG took over the CBC’s former regulatory powers and television had arrived that a competing network of private (TV) stations was permitted. By then, it was too late for radio.

Really, it was situations like this that the shouting was all about.

J. Lyman Potts – October, 2002