From the Memoirs of Mr. Gordon Cummings
By Dorthea H. Calverley
Republished: Monday December the 29th, 2014
None of us who turned our radio sets to Dial 1350 that night in December 1947 had the slightest idea of the struggle that had made it possible. We had become blase’ about strangers arriving in town, after the hectic years of the great “Boom”, although the promoter of the promised new experience was not a figure one could easily overlook. She was what was called a “character”. On the other hand, Mr. Gordon Cummings was unobtrusive, impeccable, urbane and efficient. His restrained memoirs are probably the first ever written covering what was, at the time, an outstanding event in broadcasting.
Those were the days when most radio sets were fading into obsolescence, due to the priorities of the war years. To get a clear signal on one was a thrill. Since many homes had no machines, the mother in one which did have radio always had cookies and lemonade ready a few minutes after four. “Superman“, ” Tarzan” and ” the Lone Ranger” singing out ” Heigh-ho-Silver” were irresistible magnets for the young fry who sprawled on the floors and furniture until shooed out for the evening meal at their respective homes. On Saturdays one swept the living room before it was criss-crossed with squirming arms and legs or, more effectively after the crumbs had been dropped on the Congoleum rug. Wall-to-wall listeners preceded wall-to-wall carpeting, thank goodness!
Sunday afternoons, for one solid hour, the machine had no lure. It was so out of keeping with Mr. Cumming’s knowledgeable choice of entertainment that almost everybody simply took an after-dinner siesta or tuned in Grand Prairie. For it was the grim determination of the lady Manager to read Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress and in a droning monotone, read it she did. Mr. Cummings story of the beginnings of local radio follows.
Probably one of the more important events in the growth of Dawson Creek was the birth of the Radio Station CJDC. For ten years people in Dawson Creek and Fort St John areas had enjoyed slightly erratic reception, due to distance, from the only radio station in the country — Grande Prairie’s CFGP. For eight years I had been privileged to be associated with that station.
The birth of C J D C was, like the majority of births, long, hard and painful.
A woman was its promoter. She was short, but the smallness stopped there. She was monolithic, she was sixty-ish and she was a spinster.
In a manner never quite revealed she had obtained, through the influence of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, a license to build and operate a radio station. For a couple of years she had looked around for ways and means to do this. Since a license had to be acted upon within 12 months of issuance, she had twice to get this one renewed, again by special influence of McKenzie King.
It was shortly after the second and last renewal of this license that I was first approached by this lady, via correspondence, with the offer of the Station Manager’s position, if I would go to Dawson Creek and get the station going. After we had the station on the air and operating, she intended to return to Saskatchewan. This was in June 1947.
The result was that on August 7th, 1947 I arrived on the scene to see where to start. I found that shares had been sold, and a company formed, with a Board of Directors made up of Dawson Creek businessmen. Also, a building previously known as the Old Timers Cabin had been purchased on the main street. This was built of logs, and on first acquaintance did not exactly fit preconceived ideas of what that most recent innovation in the Peace Country, – a radio station, should look like. However, it was sturdily built and reasonably spacious inside, and in a good location.
But, there were other things to do without delay. People to see, meetings to be held and a public relation job to arouse local support for Dawson Creek’s newest business venture. For this, after all, was potentially the biggest thing yet to happen to this fast growing community – the provision of their own modern acquisition in the field of communications – the building of their own radio station.
By the end of August I had seen a lot of people, and in general the enthusiasm was good. The business fraternity was perhaps a little more cautious, and invariably ended up with the question, ” will it make money”.
I explained (at some length) that basically the money in Radio is made from national advertising and no one gets that until the Radio Station has a provable basis of support from local advertisers within the community and the broadcasting area. A provable listening audience is also needed and it takes time to build this — it is not something that happens overnight. A few could understand this — far more accepted my word with reservations. I think a good many had the impression that a Radio Station automatically led to instant fortune for those who had bought shares in it! Nevertheless, things went ahead and with the arrival of September I thought it time to get on with actual construction. In this I was lucky enough to know the very man for the job. During my years at C F G P in Grande Prairie, he had supervised the building of new studios, which I had designed. So he had the experience.
With the permission of our lady promoter, who had by now appointed herself General Manager, I contacted this man, Jim Leadebetter, in Grande Prairie. He agreed to come to Dawson Creek and carry out what was required. This included building offices and studios, properly soundproofed, within the Old Timer’s Cabin, and constructing the Transmitter Building and engineer’s quarters two miles north on 8th street on Grandview. I had plans drawn by the time Jim arrived and he went to work almost immediately with the help of local labor. We had set our sights on a December opening, so October and November were pretty hectic months. The transmitting and studio equipment had been ordered. Shipment was promised for early November. Since finances were of paramount importance at this stage, we had perforce to get along with a minimum of staff, so had decided to make do with one engineer for the Transmitter, one secretary and continuity writer, and two announcers. Again we were fortunate in obtaining all experienced people and our announcers Omar Blondahl from Edmonton and Doug Haskins from Vancouver were as good as there are anywhere.
During this time I had been busy getting programmed sponsors, and selling airtime for commercials. The results were proving both encouraging and financially promising, and as the thing progressed, so apparently did my lady’s ideas of what a Radio Station should be like. She was a lady of prodigious ideas – all of them bad, but new ones every morning! She simply didn’t know what radio was all about – but she was fast making up her mind she was going to have a lot to do with it! Which was not in the contract so to speak, and she had less radio sense than anyone I had ever met. Anyway, we battled away against what at times seemed like indescribable odds, but all the time making progress towards the eventual culmination of our united efforts.
The Transmitter and Studio equipment arrived in November, as promised and the manager of CFRN Edmonton loaned us his Chief Engineer to make the installation and do the wiring and testing. He was with us almost three weeks. The installation took two weeks. The rest of the time was spent in testing – mainly after everyone else was in bed – from midnight on until too tired to continue – sometimes until five in the morning.
While all this was going on I was trying to look after all the other things that go toward the actual production of programs for presentation on the air. Perhaps the most important ingredient in Radio broadcasting is an adequate music Library. To fill this need I had long since ordered the World Transcribed Library Service from New York and as early as late September had been assured that the complete basic library would be shipped in plenty of time to be available in Dawson Creek by September 1st. As time gradually expired, telegrams began passing back and forth — angry and demanding for my part, soothing and annoyingly vague on theirs. This continued throughout November until the day when I received a wire saying it would be impossible to make delivery of the Transcribed Service until the early part of the New Year, January 1st or later — Very Sorry! And about a week to go to the day set for going on the Air! How do you go on the Air without music? You can’t. No one can.
So, I flew out to Edmonton to start canvassing Radio Stations for help in loaning us transcribed or recorded music to get us over the first month or so. I got a small quantity of records in Edmonton and was recommended to try the Radio Station in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, which was supposed to have a tremendous library of transcribed music. So on to Moose Jaw and there I received the best co-operation one could ever hope for. They threw their library open to me, to choose whatever I wanted without exception. I spent two whole days picking and choosing what appealed to me and another whole day packing and getting them shipped. Then, back to Dawson Creek, with one large box of records to take care of the eventuality that the shipment didn’t arrive in time. I arrived during the afternoon of the day on which we were to commence broadcasting at 7 o’clock that evening, and sure enough the shipment of records hadn’t arrived. Thank goodness for the package I had brought with me.
I met Omar Blondahl and Doug Haskins, our two announcers, and Edna Hillman, our secretary and continuity writer, who had arrived during my absence. The Engineer was busy at the Transmitter getting everything ready for going on the air.
There was a hurried opening of the records I had brought back with me, and by the time we had chosen sufficient music to carry us over about four or five hours, there was just time for a coffee and sandwich. Then we opened the microphone to announce,
” Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is CJDC Dawson Creek ——–
And so we made it! CJDC was on air. At that time we were the farthest north radio station in the British Empire. Dawson Creek had come of age – it had its own radio station. At that time Dawson Creek was only a village of approximately 3,300 people. No wonder everyone was proud of it.
As I mentioned earlier it had been a long, hard, painful birth, but it had taken place. The youngster was born live and healthy and was well received, too. And, although there were setbacks of one kind or another in the first few months, these were strictly internal, and were eventually resolved. The station went on to success.
As one who reconstructs the era in memory, one could say that ” Canadian content ” seemed to be no crises at that time. A Radio Drama Group was formed and read ” productions” with varying success, but great enthusiasm. Public Forums discussed the issues of the day. Local people commented on local topics and pursuits, local artists performed. Somehow the announcers seemed to read more fluently. In a day when hitherto unheard of foreign names popped into every newscast, somehow the broadcasters seemed to be able to cope with them. There were the occasional hilarious
” fluffs ” but they were simply slips of the tongue.
Two local boys are memorable for their announcing, – Roy Darling or Dar Ling, whose pronunciation and enunciation were a joy to listen to and Gary Robinson whose never-unkind gulps and comments were both spontaneous and hilarious.
In the days when telephones were uncommon in town, and almost absent in rural areas, Radio Station CJDC was often called upon for public service announcements.
In time other interests bought out the shares of the original company, but that is another story entirely.
CJDC is now owned by Bell Media
Helen Billingsley and Wilna Moore received a licence for a 1,000 watt station on a frequency of 1350 kHz at Dawson Creek. Read More HERE
About Dorthea H. Calverley