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Music and Memories – Wartime Radio

Radio was an important medium for entertainment and news during the Second World War. From Canada and the United States radio stations broadcast news and information about the war, and also educational, dramatic and comedy programs, government and commercially sponsored war propaganda, and music. Despite the high price of radios, most North American families owned one, and 79 percent of Alberta households had radios by 1943.

Most of the larger communities in Alberta had at least one radio station by the 1940s. Edmonton listeners had a choice of several stations, including CKUA, CFRN, and CJCA; CFCN, CFAC and CJCJ operated in Calgary. Lethbridge, a significantly smaller community in population, also had a radio station when Jock Palmer founded CJOC in 1926.

CKUA and the CFCN were educational radio stations set up by the University of Alberta and the provincial government as part of the province’s Education Network. CKUA was an important educational resource during the war, particularly for rural Albertans. The United Farmers of Alberta and the United Farm Women of Alberta lauded the station's efforts to provide agricultural education to farmers. CKUA also helped isolated rural schools by providing them with programs for in-class learning. The station hosted many lectures and panels focusing on the war, as well as educational programs delivered by various departments of the provincial government.

During his time as Premier of Alberta, William Aberhart's government was strongly interested in managing CKUA to use it as the voice of his party. Aberhart proposed that CKUA should only exist on a semi-commercial basis and that the government control what was being said on the airwaves. The federal government opposed all such actions and maintained its monopoly on the broadcast of government war propaganda by utilizing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as its main means of disseminating information. On June 15, 1944, CKUA, under the direction of its board of governors, turned over all of the station’s transmitter equipment to the provincial government.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had the largest network of radio stations in the country; at the outset of the war the CBC owned 34 public and private stations. The Corporation also fulfilled the role of regulator, therefore having a say in the establishment, sale and decommission of stations.

The CBC supported Canadian-made programming by broadcasting Canadian dramas and music, and Canadian public affairs, sports and news information, commercial-free. Popular shows included The Happy Gang, Brave Voyage, John and Judy, Share the Wealth, and Hockey Night in Canada.

CBC imported a number of commercially produced programs from the major American networks, CBS and NBC. The American programs, particularly dramas, were very popular in Canada and held down many of the prime time – evening – slots. One of the most popular programs was Monday night's Lux Radio Theatre, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, which adapted films and Broadway productions for radio. Mid-day soap operas like Ma Perkins, Pepper Young's Family, Big Sister and The Guiding Light were also broadcast in Canada.

The top radio stars of the day were Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Bing Crosby, and Fibber McGee and Molly. To counteract the feared Americanization of Canada and Canadian airwaves, local ads were substituted for the American ones during the commercial breaks.

The influence of American popular culture was hard to counteract. Canadian airwaves frequently featured American music much to the delight of listeners. The music of the 1940s was stylistically varied; swing, be-bop, country, and ballads were all popular. Bing Crosby and Jo Stafford received a lot of air time, as did the big bands of Glen Miller and Duke Ellington.

The big band sound, with its upbeat tone was particularly popular during the early stages of the war, especially with service personnel who looked to enjoy themselves before shipping out for overseas. G.I. Jive (1943), Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (1941), and Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (1943) were favorite big band pieces. By 1943, songs with themes of loneliness and parted love topped the charts. Solo artists popularized I'll Walk Alone (1944) and Sentimental Journey (1944). Bing Crosby's rendition of White Christmas (1939), a favorite with soldiers topped the charts in 1942 and again in 1945 and 1946. It's Been a Long, Long Time (1945) by Harry James became a big hit at the end of the war.

Music and Memories gallery

Canadian Communications Foundation. “CBC English Radio Networks.” (accessed October, 2007).

———. “CFRN-AM, Edmonton, Astral Media Inc.” (accessed October, 2007).

Encore Music Company. “I'll Be Seeing You—50 Songs of World War II.” (accessed October, 2007).

Walters, Marylu. CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2002.

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