Notes on the Bill Beaton Collection

of Radio Licences


John Gilbert

 (Originally written by John Gilbert in a Word document. The format has been slightly modified to fit a HTML document)

(Underlined Blue Text indicates a link is available by clicking on the text)

The Summer 2015 issue of the OVRC Newsletter contained an article by Paul Guibord about the 1930 Ottawa Radio Association Radio Show.  The radio exhibition was held in Ottawa from November 29 – December 1, 1930 under the auspices of the Ottawa Amateur Radio Association. The article describes a number of booths at the exhibition including a Federal Government booth where they issued licenses to broadcast listeners.


The late Bill Wilson, who held the position of Director General, Radio Regulations with the Department of Communications prior to his retirement, wrote an article which may be viewed by clicking on the following link: “ Historical Highlights in the Early Regulation of Radio in Canada


The article refers to private receiving station licences as follows:


 “In May 1923 a recommendation was made that broadcasting licences be amended to permit the Minister to give written authorization for broadcasting stations to collect fees for their services. Private receiving station licences were required until April 1, 1953”.


Last year, 2014, Doug Beaton kindly gave Ralph Cameron a small collection of licences dating from 1926 to 1953 which had belonged to his father, the late Bill Beaton.  They provide an interesting lens through which to track of the evolution of the regulation of broadcast radio reception over the years.


Broadcast radio receivers were part of a period of rapid growth in radio broadcasting in Canada.[1] NRC tested “the sensitivity, selectivity, and fidelity” of thirty-two different models during the fiscal year 1934-35. The following year, ninety-four models were tested with new methods being introduced in 1936. The NRC Annual Report notes that “acoustic output of 21 broadcast-band receivers was measured for the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which subsidized the work, during the month of May, 1936”.  To carry out the work NRC employed F. Gordon Nixon at $40 a month and two technicians at $30 a month.

Frederick Gordon Nixon was born in Summerland, B.C. and graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1933 with a B. Sc. in electrical engineering[2].  Following three years with NRC he spent several months “engaged in radio investigations for the NRC” [3] before joining the Radio Division of the Department of Transport in 1937. There he first worked on inductive interference investigation and later on aviation radio. In the 30`s, like most people working in radio communications at the time, he was a radio amateur and held the call VE3ABH. He provided technical advice to the Ottawa Amateur Radio Club.


Details of his assignments during WWII are not known, but his family recalls that at some point during the war he spent six months at Rivers, Manitoba, in connection with the development of radar to be used by pilots. Most likely his work was associated with aviation radio. In 1944 he attended the International Civil Aviation Conference in Chicago as a communications advisor and took an active part in the succeeding meetings leading to the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  He attended the 1945 Commonwealth and Empire Conference on Radio for Civil Aviation and was communications advisor for DOT at numerous national and international meetings and conferences dealing with satellites and undersea cable systems.  In 1951 he was appointed Assistant Controller of Telecommunications filling the post held for many years by G.C.W. Browne [4], and became Director of the Telecommunications and Electronics Branch in 1957, which reflecting the growth of telecommunications, became the Government Telecommunication and Administration Bureau under his leadership in 1967.  When the Department of Communications was established in 1969 he lead, under the title of The Administrator, regulatory and telecommunications policy functions of the Department and thus can be regarded as one of the builders of the Canadian communications environment today. In his retirement he moved to Victoria, BC where he passed away, age 87, in June, 1999.


A review of Bill Beaton`s collection of private receiving station licenses shows an evolution of the government`s policy on radio receivers. The license dated 6 December 1926 (Fig. 1.) was issued by the Radiotelegraph Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries under the 1913 Radiotelegraph Act and is signed by A Johnston, Deputy Minister of the Department.  It cost $1.00. The reverse of the licenses in this period (Fig.2.) spells out in no uncertain terms the dire penalty for  violating the “secrecy of messages” and the obligation of license holders (“…summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding fifty dollars and costs or three months` imprisonment”).  Further, the obligation of owners of radio receiving sets is spelled out in the Notice covering the renewal of sets for April 1st 1929-March 31st, 1929 (Fig. 3). Radio Dealers had the responsibility to issue license renewals and to countersign the licence.  These provisions appear unchanged under the new Radiotelegraph Act, 1927, except that the license is now issued by the Radio Service of the Department (Fig. 4.)  This license appears to have been transferred, most likely to a new owner of the radio set.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

By 1936-37, still under the 1927 Act, (Fig. 5) the licence (now spelled with a “c” rather than an “s”) is issued by the Radio Branch of the Department of Marine and the fee has increased to $2.00. However, the licensee is now permitted to “…work one radio receiving set in a passenger automobile owned by the licensee”.  While the provisions now identified as “conditions” (Fig. 6) remain basically unchanged it is noted that the licence is “not transferable”.


The 1939-40 licence (Fig. 7) was issued by the Radio Division of the Department of Transport under the provisions of The Radio Act of 1938. The fee had now increased to $2.50 and a separate licence was now required for a set in an automobile. The DOT Inspectors were obliged to produce their cards of identity on request, as had been the case with the Department of Marine inspectors earlier.

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

The first of the post-war licences, dated 1947-48, (Fig. 8) is a “Special Private Receiving Station Licence”.  Still under the provisions of 1938 it cost $2.00 and was “…to establish a private receiving station and/or to operate one or more battery operated radio receiving sets installed in the said station”. This licence was subject to the condition (Fig 9) that it was “….not valid for radio receiving sets located in areas served by an electric distribution system or installed in automobiles”.  This is the first licence in the Beaton collection to be in both English and French.

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

A notice on the reverse of the licences from the 20`s reads “When using a receiver of the regenerative type for the reception of radiotelephone programmes, please avoid increasing regeneration to the point at which the receiver begins to oscillate, otherwise you will cause interference with neighbouring receiving equipments”.  The intent of this condition was still reflected in the April 1952 licence (Fig. 10) [5], the last of its type, in the words “The radio receiver shall not be operated so as to emit any radiation which interferes with reception by other receiving sets” (Fig. 11).

Fig. 10

Fig. 11


Bill Beaton no doubt found many of the licences in his collection attached to the vintage sets he restored so well. No doubt he had intended to mount a display of them – now made so much easier with the technology available to us today. And we do not need to worry any more about our receivers oscillating  and interfering with the neighbours.

[1] This section draws from “Physics at the National Research Council of Canada: 1929-1952”, by W E K Middleton.

[2] This section draws from the site, August 2015.

[3] Ottawa Citizen January 14, 1937

[4] G.C.W. Browne, had been a wireless ship operator during World War I, was appointed radio inspector in 1922 and was one of the original builders of the DOT Radio Branch.

[5] Still $2.50


Links   -   Liens


Remember When We Had Private Receiving Station Licences ?


CBC Requesting an Increase to $5 per year for the Radio Receiving License Fee

And a Separate $10 Annual Fee Proposed for TV Reception


Private Radio Receiving License Issued to Alfred Crevier in 1932


1951 Special Private Receiving Station Licence


1953 The Radio Licence Is Gone


More on Private Radio Receiving Licences


Peter Sorenson's Private Radio Receiving Licences from 1928 to 1953


RG97 File 1024-4