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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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THIRTY years ago, Canadians were attracted and impressed by a new device "of singular potency for entertainment, information and public persuasion".1 For the problems of isolation which then beset many Canadians, broadcasting seemed to provide the answer. The settlers of the vast areas of the north and the west, many of whose difficulties had been resolved by the railway and the aeroplane, now saw a new means to certain non-material advantages of civilization which their predecessors could not have imagined.

2. We suppose that few Canadians were troubled by any misgivings about these advantages. A much more practical question engrossed them: how could they provide the country rapidly with radio services? Quite apart from the existence of the two main language groups, Canada's great spaces, her scattered and inaccessible settlements, could not be reached without enormous expense, and Canada was a relatively poor country, already paying heavily for other facilities essential to our national existence.

3. The easy and obvious answer soon appeared. In the United States the new industry of radio was growing phenomenally. Men of enterprise quickly mastered the early techniques and enlisted and adapted an astonishing amount and variety of talent for the new medium. Commercial returns justified their investment. Here, it seemed, was the solution to Canada's problem. With easy access to the south, American programmes could be channelled in to Canada inexpensively through stations along the border. Canadians could again feast heartily and cheaply on American bounty, this time without even an obligation to return thanks. It was then that some Canadians began to think that history was about to repeat itself in a new and alarming form.

4. The historically-minded remembered that half a century earlier, Canadians had resisted the temptation to take the cheap way from Montreal


to Winnipeg via Chicago, and had insisted on an all-Canadian railway. This apparently impossible feat was carried through by a remarkable combination of private enterprise and of public support and control. The policy was sharply criticized both then and later, but it has since been generally accepted that Canada's complex and costly railway system is the essential material basis of national existence. Many Canadians in the 1920's, recalling these facts, began to fear that cultural annexation would follow our absorption into the American radio system just as surely as economic and even political annexation would have followed absorption into the American railway system fifty years earlier. Thoughtful people were deeply perturbed and some were aware even of a new national crisis.

5. As a result, in 1928, a Royal Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir John Aird was appointed "to examine into the broadcasting situation in the Dominion of Canada and to make recommendations to the Government as to the future administration, management, control and financing thereof".2 The investigations of the Commission confirmed both the hopes and the fears which we have mentioned. The first radio broadcasting licence had been issued to the Marconi Company in 1919. By 1929, when the Aird Commission made its Report, there were sixty-two stations broadcasting to 296,926 licensed listeners. The Commission commended private enterprise for its efforts to provide entertainment to the public at no immediate cost, but deplored some of the results of this practice. Advertising was becoming increasingly strident, most of the programmes came from sources outside Canada, and broadcasting stations were concentrated in urban centres leaving other large areas unserved.

6. Not content with this partial and unsatisfactory service which drew so largely on alien sources, the Commission saw in radio a great potential instrument of general education and of national unity. "In a country of the vast geographical dimensions of Canada, broadcasting will undoubtedly become a great force in fostering a national spirit and interpreting national citizenship."3 In order to achieve these objectives the Commission recommended that a national company be founded to own and operate all radio stations situated in Canada, that private commercial stations be taken over by this company or closed down, and that eventually high power stations be established, with connecting landlines, to give adequate coverage to the whole country.

7. Following a decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which held in 1932 that the Parliament of Canada had exclusive jurisdiction over radio communication in Canada, legislation in 1932, 1936 and 1938 implemented the principal recommendations of the Aird Report. It provided for national ownership and control of stations, including control


of programmes. The Canadian Broadcasting Act of 1936 is the legislative basis of the present national system. This Act established the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to carry on a national broadcasting service within the country. The Corporation still operates with substantially unchanged composition and powers. It consists of a Board of Governors of nine members including a full-time chairman, a general manager who is the chief executive of the administrative body, and an assistant general manager. All these are appointed by the Governor in Council.

8. The duties of the Board of Governors as defined by the first Chairman of the Board in 1936 were to make it possible for every Canadian to hear the Corporation's programmes, and to provide the best programmes possible.4 An engineering survey conducted at this time showed an assured coverage of only about fifty per cent of the population, mostly in urban centres, and found considerable outside interference in many areas. A programme survey showed that there existed in Canada a rich variety and quantity of talent needing development and encouragement, and that there was a wealth of good programmes available from Great Britain, France, the United States and elsewhere as soon as Canada should be in a position to use them and to make return with her own programmes.

9. As a result of these surveys the Board was able to initiate long range policies which have in general been maintained. To secure national coverage Canada had to be assured of sufficient channels free from interference by stations operating outside the country. At that time there was no international agreement allocating adequate air channels to Canada. At the request of the Board of Governors the Minister of Transport took action which led ultimately to a conference at Havana late in 1937 when formal treaty arrangements were concluded between the principal North American nations. By these agreements Canada secured enough channels reasonably free from interference for the requirements of the national system. The national radio service depends on this physical basis. The C.B.C. now owns eight stations of 50 kilowatts, and a number of less powerful stations and repeater stations.5

10. The quality of the programmes which the Canadian listener receives must however be the test for the justification of a national system of radio. The Board of Governors of the C.B.C. decided as a matter of policy to concentrate Canadian resources on the development of programmes essentially Canadian in nature, but to seek for variety and to complement our own with the best available programmes abroad. This policy, which has in principle been maintained, is substantially what the Aird Commission recommended, except that the quantity of advertising now carried on the national networks goes much beyond what that Commission considered desirable.


11. In another important respect the recommendations of the Aird Report have not been followed. Private commercial stations continue to operate and have increased in number and in power notwithstanding the authority granted to the Board of Governors to take them over in the national interest. For some time after 1932, owners of private stations assumed that their stations would be expropriated. Experience proved, however, that these stations could perform important services as part of the national system of broadcasting. Their local advertising business, profitable to themselves, is useful to the business community; their services to the public are indisputable; and they are a possible outlet for local talent which should be developed but which may not be suitable for network broadcasting.

12. The most important function of private stations, however, is that they serve as regular or occasional outlets for national programmes, thus giving to the national system a coverage which could not otherwise be achieved except at great public expense. The relations of private stations with the C.B.C. are varied and complicated. Certain private stations, in areas where the C.B.C. has little or no other coverage, are Basic Stations with a right to all programmes, both sustaining and commercial; and these stations are required to reserve certain broadcasting periods for sustaining programmes. Supplementary A stations are entitled to broadcast all sustaining programmes of the national service, but are not required to carry so many sustaining programmes as the Basic Stations; these stations may be used for C.B.C. commercial network programmes at the request of the sponsors. Supplementary B Stations do not automatically receive any programmes, but may carry C.B.C. commercial network programmes at the request of the sponsors, and may also be added (as may independent stations) to a national network to broadcast an event of national importance.

13. This complicated intermeshing of activities has enabled the C.B.C. to achieve a coverage of over ninety per cent of our population with its main networks, French and English, and to give also a second English-language network service during the evening hours. The C.B.C. Trans-Canada Network uses 24 Basic stations, (11 C.B.C. and 13 private), 15 Supplementary A and 3 Supplementary B stations; the second English network (the Dominion) uses 31 Basic (1 C.B.C. and 30 private), 6 Supplementary A, and 11 Supplementary B stations. The French-language network has 3 Basic stations of the C.B.C. and 12 Supplementary A stations.5 The arrangements are advantageous to the public in that they ensure wide coverage at minimum cost; and they are advantageous to the private stations in that they provide commercial revenue and free sustaining programmes. The private stations are paid (on a basis determined by the C.B.C.) for the commercial programmes carried.


As a rule the private stations pay nothing for network services although some stations do, by agreement, pay some wire line charges.

14. The inclusion of private stations in the national system, although not contemplated when the original principles for broadcasting were established, has in practice proved to be in the national interest. The Board of Governors retains its control over air channels and programmes. This it does in two ways: first, through its power to recommend to the Minister of Transport the grant, renewal or cancellation of licences, and second, through its power to regulate the nature and amount of advertising, political broadcasts, and in general, the character of all programmes broadcast in Canada by any station, whether privately or publicly owned.

15. The Canadian national broadcasting system is the result of ingenious improvisation to provide speedily an extensive service in a country where adequate coverage is perhaps the most expensive and the most difficult in the world. As we have said, Canada's scanty population is scattered and many of our settled areas are isolated from one another; even the wide-ranging power of radio reaches them with difficulty. The two networks offering a daily 16 hour service, the Trans-Canada and the French, use the services of fifty-six stations. One station in New York City can reach a population equal to that of Canada. Britain reaches a population of 50 millions with 975 miles of landline; Canada requires 15,000 miles of telegraph or telephone line to provide a national broadcasting service to her 14 millions.

16. The problem of proper coverage, however, is not merely one of distance and inaccessibility. Canada has six time zones which impose difficult and expensive re-broadcasts of national programmes. Moreover, her different regions, sharply distinguished from one another in many respects, require special regional services; her two main languages require completely separate networks; and her nearness to the United States, a country able to spend millions on lavish commercial programmes, has encouraged in Canadians somewhat expensive programme tastes.

17. All these facts must be borne in mind in considering the function and the performance of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At present that organization is faced with a double problem. First, the need to extend and develop services on an income constantly reduced in real value has brought upon it a serious financial crisis. Second, although its complex relations with its affiliates have been on the whole harmonious and friendly, the private stations in recent years have grown dissatisfied with their status. They have made many representations to committees of the House of Commons, and they have appeared before this Commission, collectively and individually, to argue for a revision of Canadian broadcasting legislation and regulations.

18. These problems we shall review in Part II of this Report, before making recommendations on the principles and policies which should


govern broadcasting in Canada. Our immediate purpose is to consider how well Canadian radio has served the nation, and whether, to paraphrase the Aird Report, it has in fact provided Canadian radio listeners with Canadian broadcasting in such a way as to foster a national spirit, to interpret national citizenship and to give Canadian listeners the best programmes available from sources at home and abroad.

19. In order to discover what Canadians think about these programmes, we carefully examined and analyzed the views expressed in the many briefs and public hearings on the subject of broadcasting. We heard little of administrative or technical problems. Most Canadians, it seems, neither know nor care much about the operation of their own national system. This is not surprising. Their concern is naturally with what radio does and should do for them, and on this matter they express themselves with clarity and conviction.

20. Although there was little reference to the Aird Report, we were given the impression that the present national system has succeeded to a remarkable degree in doing exactly what the writers of that Report wanted it to do. Three statements were made repeatedly. First, national programmes have been received with appreciation throughout the country, especially in the numerous small communities and isolated homes where other means of entertainment and improvement are largely wanting. Some of our witnesses said frankly that many Canadians wanted advantages for their children that they themselves had not enjoyed and that they looked to radio as one means of providing them. Second, the existence of the nationally-controlled system of broadcasting was acknowledged as the only means whereby Canadian radio could have maintained a Canadian character. Without public radio in Canada we would have "a carbon copy of the American system and a carbon copy made in the United States at that", said the Canadian Congress of Labour6; and this view was supported by many other groups and individuals including national organizations such as the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Third, the national system with extensive coverage, co-operation of national and local stations, and programmes in both languages emanating from every part of the country, has contributed powerfully, we were told, to a sense of Canadian unity. It does much to promote a knowledge and understanding of Canada as a whole, and of every Canadian region, and therefore aids in the development of a truly Canadian cultural life.

21. In brief, of the more than 170 voluntary organizations which discussed radio broadcasting in our public sessions the great majority expressed approval of the national system. A number of them hailed it with enthusiasm, as an important and distinctive national achievement, "our greatest asset culturally" and "the most outstanding broadcasting agency in North America".7 We observed indeed a certain alarm


at any suggestion of change in the existing system on the ground that it has so far met with tolerable success in combating commercialization and excessive Americanization of Canadian programmes. Comments, although generally laudatory, were not uncritical. They showed much appreciation of what had been done, accompanied by an insistence on the importance of continued improvement of programmes and development of public taste and understanding.

22. Many organizations, including those making no specific proposals, selected certain C.B.C. programmes for praise, adding that they would like more of the same kind. The special programmes mentioned include most of the musical, dramatic, and informational programmes such as Wednesday Night, Farm and Citizens' Forums, Cross Section, In Search of Ourselves, Le Réveil Rural, Le Choc des Idées, Les Idées en Marche, La Chronique Littéraire, L'Ecole des Parents, Radio Collège, School Broadcasts, the Stage series, Sunday Symphonies, Operas, Capital Report, Weekend Review, and so on. There was a widespread view that, if necessary, more money should be available for more such programmes.

23. A number of witnesses offered special comments and suggestions on programmes in which they had a particular interest. School broadcasts elicited enthusiastic praise, as well as helpful criticisms and suggestions. 8 These broadcasts are prepared either by local authorities or in close collaboration with them. Various groups spoke of school broadcasts as helpful to all schools, but particularly to schools in sparsely settled rural areas where the shortage of teachers often requires inadequately trained persons to carry a heavy burden. More than one brief urged an expansion of school programmes in order to help to equalize educational opportunities for the rural and the urban child. There were a number of references to voluntary bodies which had helped schools to purchase radios so that they might benefit from the programmes. It was mentioned that the programmes are also of value to mothers who listen and learn what the schools are trying to do. Briefs from French-speaking Canada spoke favourably of Radio Collège, requesting more programmes of this kind at a more convenient hour. Evening programmes for adults were particularly requested.

24. Certain special representations on school broadcasts came to us from the National Advisory Council on School Broadcasting, and from individuals and local organizations in many parts of the country. Teachers' organizations were very outspoken in their criticisms and suggestions. The Ontario Teachers' Federation thought that the experience of competent teachers should be more fully used, remarking: "Where advice from teachers has been ignored, or scripts written by teachers altered fundamentally, the broadcast has been rendered less valuable for educational purposes".9 We suspect here a studied understatement. The use of reproductions of paintings in the National Gallery to illustrate talks on the Gallery is appreciated. Teachers suggested that other talks


could be suitably illustrated. An adequate transcription service to overcome time-table problems and to preserve valuable programmes was insistently demanded. In general, it was thought that much more money and effort should be devoted to this valuable national service. For 1,000 school broadcasts Canada employs eighteen people and issues nine publications; for a comparable number the British Broadcasting Corporation would employ eighty people and issue fifty-six publications, according to the National Advisory Council on School Broadcasting.

25. The C.B.C.'s major programmes in the field of adult education (National Farm Radio Forum, Le Choc des Idées, Citizens' Forum and Les Idées en Marche) are directed particularly to listening groups who are expected to have informed themselves on the subject beforehand and to be prepared to take part in an organized discussion of questions raised later. These groups, especially the English-speaking groups, are well organized and have received much praise. A contemporary American authority on radio speaks warmly of the National Farm Radio Forum: "It [the C.B.C.] has rendered a signal service to Canada's large rural population; its National Farm Radio Forum has brought into being one of the largest listening group projects in the world".10 These listeners' groups are regarded by their promoters as an important justification for national radio. The joint listening and discussion has led in many rural areas to a high development of community spirit and to useful local projects. There is a general demand for more groups like this, especially in French-speaking Canada. An Alberta group suggests special radio instructional programmes for community centres in order to solve, in part, the difficult problem of travel for instructors in rural areas. The Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour urges that an information programme be organized, on both the English and French networks, designed specifically for workers, similar to the farm programme Le Réveil Rural.

26. We found a widespread appreciation of news broadcasts and reviews but heard also many requests for more information on public and international affairs, more emphasis on the celebration and the meaning of national holidays, more emphasis on Canadian history, including the history of both cultures. A number of organizations stressed the importance of using radio to preserve the arts and crafts of our ethnic groups, thus enriching the lives of all Canadian citizens.

27. Three groups representing the largest religious bodies in Canada submitted briefs to this Commission reflecting the essential place of religion in all aspects of life and making suggestions on the important matter of religious broadcasts. The Canadian Catholic Conference, after expressing warm appreciation of the religious broadcasts from the C.B.C. and from private stations which "have generously permitted the Church to use the radio for its spiritual purposes",11 suggested that greater attention be paid to the broadcasting of religious programmes at more suitable hours.


The Conference urged also that the C.B.C. co-operate "in choosing for Sundays programmes not unworthy of the Lord's Day". The United Church of Canada said:

"We wish to commend the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the good quality of some of its religious broadcasts. In addition to the constant task of endeavouring to improve these broadcasts, we suggest that a place should be found in radio programmes for the reading of the Bible in such a manner as has been done by well-known persons in the field of drama. We also urge that a national network Sunday evening service be broadcast." 12

The Church of England in Canada commended the high standard of some of the religious broadcasts and added:

"We feel, however, that so far not sufficient attention has been paid to the specific techniques of religious broadcasting, and that too often it is assumed that the ordinary media of religious worship and instruction will be satisfactory for radio audiences." 13

28. We also heard with interest of the importance of using the radio for language lessons. It was suggested to us from one source that, for example, regular French lessons might be supplemented by talks in French specially designed through simplicity of style and unhurried delivery for the many who can read French, but cannot follow the spoken word. With a corresponding series in English over the French network much could be done to promote better citizenship and to raise our general cultural level.

29. In the realm of culture as distinguished from citizenship, if such a distinction is possible, there was a general demand for more talks on science, in which French-speaking Canada expressed a special interest, on literature, especially Canadian literature, on history and on other serious topics. We have mentioned requests for Radio Collège in evening hours. Demands came from various parts of the country for greater participation by universities in radio, and even for a radio university. The possibility of improving the public taste and at the same time of developing a genuine Canadian spirit through music, paintings and drama was urged. One group suggests a series of talks by artists on Canadian, French or British art, or perhaps on a certain period of the history of art. The question of language, on which radio has so powerful an influence, was not forgotten. A number of briefs, both French and English, urged more attention to diction, taste and style. The Société des Ecrivains Canadiens was particularly emphatic on this matter. Officials of the C.B.C., however, inform us that they are aware of this problem and are giving special attention to it.

30. Both to improve the quality and to increase the popular appeal of C.B.C. programmes, a number of groups suggested the creation of more or less informal advisory bodies, national or regional or both. Many groups


supported the idea in principle without having worked out details. One brief suggested a somewhat elaborate organization of functional groups, on the ground that ". . . such a method would give people a much more direct and personal interest in the C.B.C. . . ." It would afford a better measure of public opinion than " the dubious method of listening ratings". It would serve the double purpose of guiding the C.B.C. and of making the public more conscious of what the C.B.C. is trying to do. "The function of these councils will result in an improvement of popular taste because you are bringing people closer to those purposes, the very excellent purposes which the [Canadian] Broadcasting Corporation has in mind".14

31. The importance of national radio programmes is not limited, however, to the enjoyment of the audience, but includes the influence of the radio programme on those who take part in it. We find a general sense of the value of the work done by the C.B.C. in encouraging the efforts of Canadian writers, composers and performers in literature, music and drama. The individual is enabled to do the work for which he is suited, and to do it in his own community where he can probably make his most effective contribution. Much creative talent is thus developed which otherwise would be lost. The benefit to the community appears in various ways. As explained to us in some detail by a Vancouver group, few radio artists can depend entirely on their radio earnings; these earnings only supplement what they may gain from other activities in their communities, but thus enable them to remain in their home areas which might otherwise be deprived entirely of their services. The contribution, direct and indirect, of the C.B.C. to the maintenance of a number of symphony orchestras has been warmly acknowledged, as we shall be noticing later. 15

32. By contrast, the lack of assistance to artists by private stations (with one distinguished exception) has provoked sharp criticism. Toronto and Winnipeg radio performers produced figures comparing the amounts spent on live talent by the C.B.C. and by the private stations. In Winnipeg, for sustaining programmes the Winnipeg Musicians' Association in 1947 received $94,357 from the C.B.C. and $1,950 from private stations; in 1948 from the C.B.C. $80,609 and from the private stations nothing. In Toronto, the figures from the American Federation of Musicians for a recent year are $382,000 from the C.B.C. and approximately $30,000 from the private stations. 16 It is fair to add that the C.B.C. produces in Toronto very expensive broadcasts which go to the whole of Canada.

33. There is not, however, complete satisfaction with the C.B.C. as a patron of the arts. From Toronto have come sharp criticisms of inadequate fees paid to writers for broadcasting purposes:

"It is evident that the C.B.C. supplies livings to executives, technicians, actors, announcers and producers--none of whom are primary creators of art--and pays very poorly the writers whose

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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