The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) History
P.O. Box 3220, Station C
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 1E4
Telephone: (613) 724-1200
Fax: (613) 724-5725
Sales: US$348 million (2000)
NAIC: 51312 Television Broadcasting; 51311 Radio Broadcasting
As Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC provides services in English and in French, and is accountable to all Canadians. The CBC: tells Canadian stories reflecting the reality and the diversity of our country; informs Canadians about news and issues of relevance and interest; supports Canadian arts and culture; builds bridges among Canadians, between regions and the two linguistic communities. Key Dates:
- The Canadian Broadcasting Act creates the CBC.
- The company establishes a news service.
- The Canadian TV network CBC begins operations.
- Color TV is introduced in Canada.
- Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) is established as the regulatory and licensing authority.
- CBC installs broadcast facilities in the House of Commons.
- CBC introduces closed captioning on Canadian TV programs.
- CBC stereo networks start 24-hour broadcasting and supplementary cable distribution.
- CBC's 50th anniversary is acknowledged by a commemorative postage stamp.
- CBC is granted a license to operate a new digital audio music service.
- The Minister of Canadian Heritage announces five years of stable funding for CBC.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada's public broadcaster. Created by an Act of Parliament in 1936, the government-owned company provides services in both of Canada's official languages, English and French. All told, the CBC operates two television networks, four radio networks, a cable television service, an international shortwave radio service and a commercial-free audio service. CBC operates approximately 100 radio and television stations across Canada.
To understand the role that CBC plays in Canada, it is important to first understand the three uniquely Canadian issues that have played a major role in its creation and growth. First, Canada is a country with a large landmass and relatively low population, distributed unevenly, with the majority living in the South, within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Canada's remote northern communities are separated from the southern population by mountains, tundra, rough terrain, and by hostile weather conditions throughout several months of the year. Consequently, Canada has always striven to develop communication structures to connect these widely separated communities. Throughout its history, CBC has responded to the challenge of providing services and programming to all Canadians, regardless of location. Second, since Canada has two official languages, French and English, the CBC provides services in two languages. In addition, since many of Canada's northern Aboriginal peoples speak neither English nor French, CBC has made programming available in Aboriginal languages. Finally, the need to present programming with Canadian content has played a major role in CBC's development. Canada has always struggled to maintain its own identify separate from that of its larger neighbor to the south. From the earliest days of the CBC's history, Canadians have demanded that the broadcaster provide Canadian news, sports, cultural broadcasts and other national content.
CBC's Early Years: 1919--36
CBC's roots stem back to 1919, when Canada's first licensed radio station, the Marconi station XWA, began experimental broadcasts. Throughout the 1920s, many radio stations sprung up across the country. However, stations tended to be situated in larger cities while smaller, isolated communities received no service. National programming and content was limited. Distribution from east to west was costly. Only a few frequencies were uniquely Canadian, and there was ongoing interference with large Mexican and U.S. stations. Public discontent increased steadily.
Consequently, in 1928, the government-commissioned Aird Report recommended establishing a publicly owned and funded network that would provide coast to coast service and would provide Canadian content. Implementation was delayed until 1932, when the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act was passed establishing the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC).
Within four years, the CRBC acquired radio stations, broadcast Canadian content in two languages, and solved many of the previous problems. However, the Commission was handicapped by limited funding, limited authority, and by organizational challenges. In 1936, a new Broadcasting Act was passed, creating the CBC to replace the CRBC. The CBC was to be publicly owned but modeled along the lines of a private corporation.
Prewar and War Years: 1936--45
In 1936, the CBC took over the CRBC's staff and facilities. Initially, only 49 percent of the population were being served, and areas around Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton were experiencing interference from outside of Canada. By 1939, the CBC had addressed the problems by building four high-powered regional transmitters situated in strategic spots across Canada.
In 1937, an international conference involving Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Cuba resulted in an agreement for the redistribution of North American frequencies. Canada gained 11 clear channels and the shared use of 43 lower-power channels--thereby eliminating most of the former problems created by outside interference.
As the decade ended, national coverage was close to 90 percent. The national network had grown to 34 stations with optional programming on another 26. Studies were underway to examine service provision in difficult reception areas in remote regions of British Columbia. Regional farm broadcasts were available in both official languages, and school broadcasts were underway in several regions.
In 1939, the CBC performed its biggest broadcasting task to date--daily coverage, in two languages, of the Royal Tour of Canada. During this time, the CBC observed the experimental television that was underway in several countries, including Canada. When World War II broke out in 1939, worldwide development of television slowed to accommodate wartime priorities. However, wartime requirements were the impetus for the expansion of radio broadcasting.
In 1939, CBC implemented a small overseas unit of one technician and one reporter. In cooperation with England's BBC network, this unit began two-way broadcasting to Canadian troops in Britain as well as broadcasting wartime programming to Canadian listeners at home. During the war years, this small unit increased in size and was first among the wartime broadcasters to use mobile equipment to make on the spot recordings. The CBC's recordings were often used by the BBC and by movie newsreel companies.
Meanwhile, at home, the CBC News Service was established in 1941 to bring regional programming to the country. Many of these initial programs were war related, but others were of more lasting nature. CBC won its first international programming awards at this time, in competition at Ohio State University.
Despite the short supply of technical equipment during wartime, the CBC managed to extend or improve coverage in communities in Northern British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick. In 1944, the Toronto transmitter was linked with 34 private stations to form a second English network called the Dominion. The original English network was renamed the Trans-Canada.
Wartime also brought CBC into international shortwave broadcasting. The CBC International Service, operated by the CBC but financed separately, was officially opened in 1945. Services were in seven languages and were beamed to Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Postwar Era: 1945--75
With the end of World War II, the CBC obtained a loan from the Federal government and pursued a number of urgent capital projects intended to improve radio service across the country. Over the course of the next two decades, CBC radio service expanded to include programming for the two millions square miles in Canada's north. Programming was made available in French, English, Inuit dialects, and a selection of Indian languages.
In the early 1950s, the CBC International Service began broadcasting to Canadian forces in England and Korea, and later to Canadian service men and women situated in France and Germany. In 1968, all International Service operations were an important part of CBC, and a system was implemented for emergency broadcasting in case of a national emergency.
During the same period, television broadcasting was underway. In 1949, a Canadian television service was authorized. By 1962, the role of television was such that in 1962, the Dominion and Trans-Canada networks consolidated into one network with 160 outlets--both CBC and private. In 1969, color television was introduced in Canada, and CBC was given authorization for a C$15 million first stage conversion. By the early 1970s, much of CBC's television programming was in color.
In Canada's centennial year, 1967, the CBC broadcast 1,500 hours of Centennial programming, in addition to building and operating a C$10 million broadcasting center at Expo '67 in Montreal. Also in 1967, the CBC became the official broadcaster for the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg. By the end of the decade, CBC was providing television coverage to 96.6 percent of Canadians, and satellite coverage was in the planning stages. Moreover, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) had been established to regulate and license the broadcasting industry.
A Period of Challenge and Growth: 1975--2000
As CBC personality Knowlton Nash observed in his book The Microphone Wars, the 1960s heralded in a period of turmoil for CBC--turmoil that would reoccur for decades and reach national proportions. As Canada struggled with a shaky economy, budgetary cutbacks were commonplace among all government-funded entities. The CBC was no exception. Like many companies during this time, the CBC was faced with the need to do more with less. Meanwhile, periodic labor disputes disrupted service provision, and internal conflicts took their toll on morale and productivity. A group of CBC radio and television personalities, known as 'The Seven Day Rebels' battled so bitterly with CBC management that John Diefenbaker, Leader of the Opposition, called for an emergency debate in the House of Commons. In his official request, Diefenbaker wrote, 'I do not think that there has ever been a matter that in such a short time has brought about so much antagonism in all parts of Canada.' The call for debate was rejected, but the Prime Minister called for an investigation.
Meanwhile at the CBC, life went on, and the public broadcaster continued to provide services. In 1972, the Report of the Special Senate Committee, chaired by Senator Keith Davey, offered a voice of confidence in CBC radio. Davey noted that 'CBC radio was a national medium in a country unable to support a national press.' In that same year, the CRTC issued network licenses to CBC for the first time.
Also in the early 1970s, the CRTC introduced Canadian content regulations, stipulating that 60 percent of private and public television programming on the network had to be Canadian. Two years later, the CRTC invited proposals for the future development of pay television. In 1972, CBC contracted for three channels with the newly launched Anik-1 satellite, developed by the Telesat Corporation (now Telesat Canada). This brought new or improved broadcasting services to 99 percent of Canadians, including many of the remote communities above the 60th parallel.
Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, CBC activities included the opening of La Maison de Radio-Canada in Montreal; the introduction of a new CBC logo or symbol based on 'C' for Canada; the opening of French and English FM stereo networks; and the opening of a Global Network. CBC was the host broadcaster for the Summer Olympics held in Montreal in 1976. Later in the decade, CBC designed and installed broadcast facilities in the House of Commons. Live TV coverage commenced from the House of Commons in 1979. Also during this time, CBC began operating its first production facilities in the North in the Northwest Territories town of Yellowknife.
The 1980s brought about other significant events in the CBC's history. In 1980, the BC Knowledge Network was established, and in 1981 the CBC introduced closed captioning for the hearing impaired on Canadian television programs. The network was also asked to manage the installation of a telecommunications system called OASIS in Parliamentary offices.
During this time, the CBC received a highly critical report from a government commission known as the Cultural Policy Review Committee. According to Microphone Wars, the Applebaum-Hébert report recommended diverse changes with grave implications for the future of CBC. The Canadian government did not implement the recommendations but it did announce a broadcast strategy for Canada, emphasizing the need for a stronger CBC.
However, in 1984, a national election brought about a change in government. The newly elected Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced massive budget cuts to CBC, cuts that, according to Knowlton Nash, far exceeded cuts made to other government-funded bodies. These cuts forced staff layoffs, the discontinuing of programming, and the introduction of commercials to content that had previously been commercial-free. Despite what appeared to be a lack of support from the Mulroney government, public support for the CBC remained high. In 1986, a commemorative postage stamp was issued to mark CBC's 50th anniversary.
Also in 1986, the Federal Task Force on Broadcasting Policy (Caplan/Sauvageau) published recommendations supporting CBC's role as public broadcaster and recommending increased financing to pay for enhanced services and programming. Most of these recommendations were not acted upon.
Despite a much smaller operating budget, CBC operations continued. Ten new specialty channels were licensed by CRTC; The Cabinet approved the development of the CBC Broadcast Centre Development in Toronto and also approved the CBC license application to operate an English all-news channel (Newsworld.)
In 1990 the CBC published a corporate vision entitled Mission, Values, Goals and Objectives, and CBC Engineering began working on the development of Digital Audio Broadcasting. In 1991, a new Broadcasting Act was passed, removing wording that defined the CBC's role in fostering national unity. Fearing that the provision was a constraint on freedom of expression and that the former wording might pave the way for propaganda distribution, legislators replaced the wording with, 'contribute to shared national consciousness and identity.'
In 1994, the CBC and Power Broadcasting Inc. partnered to launch two new specialty channels to the United States (Trio and Newsworld International), and in 1995, CBC was licensed to operate a new digital audio music service known as Galaxie.
1997 was a year of good news and new growth for the CBC. The Minister of Canadian Heritage announced stable funding for the CBC for a five-year period. CBC Radio received an additional $10 million dollars per year, and Radio Canada International received stable funding of $15.5 million annually. During this time, English Information Radio Service was renamed 'Radio One,' and the Stereo Service 'Radio Two.' CBC's French radio services were renamed Première Chaîne and Chaîne culturelle. Galaxie, a pay audio service was launched, and the CBC enriched content to bring its English Television prime-time content almost 100 percent Canadian. The year 1997 also brought a significant change to CBC management processes. The board of directors approved Project Evolution, an integrated management system called SAP (Systems/Applications/Products). Under the SAP program, administrative functions were streamlined and made more efficient.
In 1998, the CBC provided 700 hours of programming at the Nagano Olympics. Partnered with Sympatico Internet Provider and the Stentor group of phone companies, the CBC offered instant access to Olympic results via the Internet. The International Olympic Committee awarded CBC, in partnership with NetStar, the broadcast rights to the next five Olympic Games. In April 1998, the CBC was awarded an honorary Golden Rose from the Montreaux Festival, recognizing the quality of its programs.
Not all news was good, however. Canada's Heritage Minister announced that CBC would no longer be guaranteed access to the Canadian Television Fund after the year 2000. Most alarmingly for CBC, the CRTC announced intentions to hold a serious of public consultations prior to renewing CBC's license in 1999. Since the licenses for CBC's Radio and Television networks, its 24 TV stations, RDI, and Newsworld, were up for renewal at the same time, the outcome was critical.
In response, the CBC invited feedback from the Canadian public. When the CRTC held the planned public consultation sessions, most of the 600 participants expressed strong support for the CBC. The CBC itself received 54,500 letters and emails offering support, suggestions, and feedback. As the year neared its end, CBC won an Emmy in the technical category from the National Academy of Television Arts and Science in the United States.
New Year's Day, 2000, found CBC services uninterrupted with no Y2K problems in evidence. In early January, the CBC received word that the CRTC had renewed all its licenses for a seven- year term. However, the CRTC imposed certain conditions on television programming that would create additional expenditures of $50 million. CBC management opted not to appeal the decision. At the beginning of the new century, the CBC appeared to be fairy stabilized following the traumatic years that went before. CEO and President, Robert Rabinovitch announced plans to create a Reengineering Task Force, a body that would examine all aspects of CBC's operations with an eye on refocusing resources on programming.
Principal Divisions: CBC Radio One; CBC Radio Two; La Radio de Radio-Canada; La Chaîne culturelle FM; CBC Newsworld; Le Réseau de l'information (RDI); Radio Canada International; Galaxie.
Principal Competitors: CanWest Global Communications Corp.; Rogers Communications Inc.; Shaw Communications Inc.
- CBC: A Brief History of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Ottawa: CBC Public Relations, 1976.
- Manera, Anthony, A Dream Betrayed: The Battle for CBC, Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1996.
- Nash, Knowlton, Cue the Elephant!: Backstage Tales at the CBC, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 1997.
- ------, The Microphone Wars: A History of Triumph and Betrayal at the CBC, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
Our Commitment to Canadians: The CBC's Strategic Plan, Ottawa: CBC, 1999.
- Skene, Wayne, Fade to Black: A Requiem of the CBC, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1994.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 37. St. James Press, 2001.