One Hundred Years of Radio in Manitoba, Canada: Early Mediumwave Radio

Because of the declining state of international events in Europe more than one hundred years ago, the British government ordered the closure of all amateur and non essential wireless stations on Saturday August 1, 1914.  Next day (Sunday August 2, 1914), the Canadian government enacted a similar regulation, calling for the closure of all amateur and non essential wireless stations throughout the dominion. At the time, there were only 79 licensed amateur wireless stations in Canada, though it is suggested that ten times that number were active, though unlicensed.

NAA Arlington “three sisters” wireless towers (1913). By US NAVY – US Navy Observatory, Public Domain, Link

It is interesting that although the governments of Britain and Canada enacted similar restrictive  regulations, the United States of course from 1914 – 1917 remained neutral regarding the open hostilities in continental Europe, and thus American amateur stations were permitted to remain active, though under the aegis of the United States Navy, and with the implementation of specified restrictions.

On Tuesday August 4 (1914) two days after the closure of amateur stations in Canada, war was declared between England and Germany, and later that same day, Canada also enacted a similar declaration of war against Germany.

Many Canadian amateur wireless operators subsequently continued to practice their Morse Code capability by tuning in to the daily signals from the well known American naval wireless station NAA, at Arlington in Virginia.  Then too, many Canadian amateur wireless operators enlisted for active wartime service in wireless communication in continental Europe.

Nearly five years later, after the Great War, World War I was over, and the world had begun to settle down somewhat, Canadian amateur radio operators were again permitted to resume their regular normal experimental activities, beginning from April 15 (1919) onwards.

However one month to the day later, on May 15 (1919), landline telephone operators and postal employees went on strike in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Some 30,000 workers were on strike in Canada’s third largest city, and they urged better working conditions and wages, with perhaps a touch of communist ideology, as was evident in several European countries at the time.  This massive strike, the largest in Canadian history, effectively brought economic activity in Winnipeg to a standstill, and it also isolated the city newswise from the rest of Canada for some 6 weeks.

Almost a week later, in the evening of Wednesday May 21 (1919), three licensed amateur wireless operators installed one of their wireless stations on the roof top of the quite recently erected six storied Free Press Building at 300 Carlton Street in Winnipeg.  The simple antenna system was attached to the flag pole.

Over a period of about two weeks, that informal wireless station in Winnipeg with its ¼ inch spark was able to communicate with a similar station at the University of North Dakota, though amateur wireless activity in the United States had not yet been relicensed again after the end of the war.  In this way, Winnipeg was to a certain extent brought back out of its unintended isolation.

That informal wireless station also obtained regular news via the daily Morse Code bulletins from the same American naval station NAA, as well as from another Morse Code wireless station located in Mexico.  With this rather limited inflow of news and information, the Free Press in Winnipeg was able to print and issue a flat sheet for public distribution.

Would you know it, just half a year later, the three daily newspapers in Winnipeg used up all of their huge rolls of rationed news print paper.  One amateur wireless operator provided news from NAA and other Morse Code wireless stations, and thus at least one newspaper was able to print a few sheets of news for the public, again on flat plate sheets.

During the autumn of the year 1921, the Kelvin Radio Club in the rather new Kelvin Technical High School at the southern edge of the city went on the air with the broadcast of music from its own informal amateur station.  That station was on the air with the legal callsign XEY, which was the style for amateur radio callsigns in Canada back then.  Several years later, the callsign XEY was applied to a mediumwave station in Mexico. 

Postcard view of Kelvin Technical High School (circa 1912). Image: Manitoba Historical Society

That high school radio station was on the air with a portable war surplus transmitter, an English made Marconi Mark 2 unit with 20 watts input.  The transmitter was located in the school basement, and the antenna was installed on the northeast corner of the school roof.

The station was operated by three licensed young men, and the only music record they possessed featured an old well-scratched 78 rpm version of the March of the Toreadors, the same melody that you heard at the beginning of our program today.  They would open the broadcast of each program with that record as their identification melody, though on Saturdays they also made an amateur QSO with station 9YAF at the Pembina High School in Pembina ND.

A few months later, a new regularly licensed mediumwave broadcasting station in Winnipeg made its first broadcast one hundred years ago, in February 1922, a little ahead of receiving its formal license from Ottawa.  The station was owned and operated by Lynn Salton, who was the government License Inspector for the Western Provinces of Canada and it was installed in his home at 1164 Grosvenor Avenue in Winnipeg.  (If you are the government licensed inspector, you can bend the rules just a little!)

Headline from the May 8, 1922, Manitoba Free Press. Image: This Was Manitoba blog

That new station was supported also by the Winnipeg Free Press, and they wished to launch their regularly licensed station ahead of the their rival newspaper, the Winnipeg Evening Tribune.  Salton was granted the callsign CJCG, the original operating channel was 420 m (715 kHz), and the output power of the transmitter was just 10 watts.  The regular sign on routine each day for station CJCG each day began with the El Capitan March, which you will hear at the end of this program today.

The official opening program for the their inauguration was hurriedly assembled in order to be ahead of their rival, and the station was launched initially under Salton’s own amateur callsign 4AH.  That first official broadcast included recorded and live music, local information, and a talk by Salton’s pastoral father, Dr. George F. Salton.  But anyway, they achieved their purpose, and station 4AH-CJCG was on the air, as the first regularly licensed mediumwave radio broadcasting station in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. 

During the year 1922, there were two mediumwave radio broadcasting stations on the air in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and both were vying for the attention of the most listeners over the widest possible areas of Manitoba and neighboring Canadian and American territories.  These stations were CJCG operated by the Free Press, and CJNC operated by the Tribune, and both were losing money.

Thus both stations were quietly closed, after just less than a year of on air operation, with the final broadcast from the Tribune CJNC on Friday afternoon March 9, 1923, and the final broadcast from Free Press CJCG next day, Saturday March 10, (1923) at noon.  However, their death gave rise to the birth of of one of Canada’s most notable callsigns, and also to the highest FM power ever permitted in North America.

Replacing the CJNC and CJCG callsigns was a new mediumwave station with the unusual though now well known historical callsign, the three letter CKY, the first usage of this new call.  The station was installed in the Government Telephone Building on Sherbrooke Street, a little south of Portage Avenue, with a flat top antenna on the roof.  Their 500 watt transmitter was manufactured by Northern Electric and their inaugural broadcast was a local staff presentation at 8:30 pm on Tuesday March 13, 1923, just a few days after the close of the two earlier stations.

CKY radio studio with 16-year-old announcer Brian G. Hodgkinson at the microphone (circa 1930)
Source: Archives of Manitoba, MTS Collection 60, N17015.

 Interestingly during the following year 1924, came the appearance of Canada’s first phantom radio broadcasting station, an additional callsign superimposed upon an already existing station.  The new additional call was CNRW operated by the Canadian National Railways System and it was noted over the new CKY in Winnipeg.  The income from the phantom broadcasts over the new CNRW-CKY enabled the Winnipeg station to survive financially. 

In 1948, the original CKY was purchased by CRBC-CBC Radio in Canada, and it was rebranded as CBW.  Earlier this year, the original CKY-CBW, with 50 kW on 990 kHz was honored with a special historic display in the City Library, and with a series of programs and interviews over the modern and nowadays widely heard CBW.

New Zealand DXer David Ricquish received this QSL card from CBW in 1971.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

The second usage of the famous historic callsign CKY was implemented on December 31, 1949, when Lloyd Moffatt reintroduced the callsign in Winnipeg for an AM station with 5 kW on 580 kHz.

Then in 1963, an FM outlet was appended to the CKY mediumwave station and this new transmitter was on the air with a fantastic one third of a million watts, 360,000 watts, on 92.1 FM.  That overload of FM power is by far the highest power ever permitted on the FM band in North America,  though FM transmitters with 200 to 400 kW are still quite common in western Europe. 

During the year 2004, CKY-FM moved to 102.3 FM, and the power level was reduced to 70,000 watts, still quite high. Two years ago, the callsign CKY was dropped and the station became KISS-FM.  Their studios are in Osbourne Village South in Winnipeg, and their transmitter is at Duff Roblin Provincial Park.

And that then is the story of one hundred years of historic radio broadcasting in Winnipeg Manitoba, an event that was honored appropriately throughout their city earlier this year.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX programs of June 5 & July 3, 2022

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