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Access Era

Two decades of education … and entertainment

ckua billboardIn 1970, the days of provincial governments, their agencies and educational institutions holding broadcasting licences were on the wane. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued a directive on June 4 that after 1972, licences would not be renewed to stations such as CKUA, which appeared to have a foot in all three varieties of institution. The ruling would be put forward two years, but before the new regulations were in place, a fundamental change for educational broadcasters was made to the 1970 ruling. Under the new ruling, an independent corporation responsible to a provincial educational authority - such as Alberta Education, in the case of CKUA - could hold a broadcasting licence, and this paved the way for the creation in 1973 of The Alberta Educational Communications Corporation (ACCESS).

In March 1974, the new corporation applied for a television licence and for the transfer of the radio licence from Alberta Government Telephones (AGT). Because of the educational focus of the CRTC's demands, educational programming on CKUA was increased. But many of the features that were part-and-parcel of CKUA's line-up were retained. Even still, it would not be until 1977 that a contentious ACCESS White Paper would establish a breakdown of educational and what it called "supplementary" programming, the latter being the commodity that had drawn much of CKUA's most solid listenership over the years. Under the new guidelines, educational programming would occupy 10 per cent of the schedule, with the remaining 90 per cent allocated to the supplementary.

Even here, though, it was possible to satisfy both needs with single shows or series. CKUA and Athabasca University collaborated on a popular music series called Ragtime to Rolling Stones, a series that was also a for-credit education course. The institutions would also pair up on such educational and entertainment productions such as Theatre of the Air, and other popular music series such as The Long Weekend, From Bop to Rock, and Rocky Road

The ACCESS years were also a period of technological and content growth for the station. In fact, CKUA outgrew its status as a radio station when 85 per cent of the province could listen to the programming. Until that point, the FM signal had been a hit-and-miss affair that was corrected with a network of 16 transmitters throughout the province.

Alberta School Broadcasts became the responsibility of ACCESS in 1980, and a production facility was established for this additional programming, which was also carried by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). That year, more than 200 programs were produced on the formal education side alone. And still there were enhancements on the traditional programming side with the creation of documentaries, magazine format shows, and music shows programmed by CKUA producer/hosts.

As ACCESS and CKUA advanced through the Eighties, programming and production demands changed, particularly on the educational front. Schools were now employing television and video instead of radio and audiotapes, reports Marylu Walters in her book CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For.

"Demand for CKUA's formal educational productions was drying up and with it, funding from Alberta Education. Alberta School Broadcast funding had dropped from a high of $325,000 in 1981-82 to nothing in 1985-86."

As well, Don Getty, the Conservative premier of the mid-80s, was under pressure to cut Alberta's growing deficit and this included trimming ACCESS's $15-million budget, of which $3 million went to CKUA for its annual operation.

It would be a theme that would follow CKUA throughout the Nineties and into the new millennium. A shift in its political fortunes, coupled with a tight-fisted fiscal provincial government under Ralph Klein would make the network's striving for independence beyond 1994 a most contentious issue to behold. 


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