W.J. Wilson


The invention of radio broadcasting by Canadian Reginald Fessenden in 1906 gave rise to what was an unexpected and entirely new use for radio at that time. It showed that radio could be used to transmit speech, music and other sounds and information to an unlimited audience without the need to worry about its receipt being quickly acknowledged by an addressee in any way, radio or otherwise.


In Canada the Canadian National Railways saw it as a means for entertaining first-class travellers on its railways, thus making passenger travel by CN rail much more interesting and relaxing. The CNR began to establish broadcast stations across Canada in 1923. They soon realized that they could interconnect their broadcasting stations to provide continuous coverage along their main rail lines by adding special broadcast program circuits to their usual wire and pole-line communication facilities. These ran along side every rail line and were initially installed and used for telegraph communications . In this way CN created the first Trans-Canada broadcast network.


To ensure the success of this program, CN equipped their first-class chair cars with radio receivers and sufficient Brandes headphones for use by their first-class passengers . As well such cars always had radio technicians on board to make any radio adjustments needed to ensure that passengers always got good radio reception, according to a CN friend of mine Joe Pickard who had such a job . And so the first Canadian radio broadcasting network was established.


It was customary in those early days for radio stations to acknowledge reception reports from their listeners as it helped the broadcasters determine the geographical coverage of their stations . Shown below is the photo of a typical CNR card acknowledging, in this case, the reception of CNRO Ottawa. Too, it publicized all the stations that comprised the CNR's trans-Canada broadcast network and the cities across Canada where they could receive those CNR radio stations.



By 1930 the CNR was leasing additional stations across the country. Of course the popularity of broadcasting increased rapidly. When the Americans became interested in stations in Montreal and Toronto , a movement gradually developed in Canada to keep our stations Canadian. Our government began to realize the U.S. might soon have them all and accordingly decided to create the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission to regulate and nationalize broadcasting in Canada. Eventually the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was created in 1936 to be the national broadcaster . It took over the CNR broadcasting system with the exception of the land­ line station network interconnection facilities which remained with the CNR who served the CBC until after the second world war was over when other Canadian communication carriers took over.


Bill Wilson

March 3, 2008.


Author's Note

I discovered an old card that Canadian National Railway broadcasting used to acknowledge the receipt of its broadcasting stations on the floor in the attic of the CNR's Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa. The studios for CNRO were in its attic and were later rebuilt there by the CBC. Iwas working there in the summer of 1942 for the CBC as a summer relief broadcast operator and was asked to get something there by one of the CBC staff. Having been a listener of CNRO as a youngster the card attracted me so I picked it up as a bit of waste. I only discovered it a month or so ago in some old papers I was discarding! I just had to write an article about it for our web site.


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