CHFA the French Radio Station from 1949 to 1974
Officially inaugurated on November 20th 1949, CHFA, the French radio station of Alberta is a private station which was created after many years of struggle. But once established the work continued to grow since the station had to survive and develop all the while meeting the needs of the community who had worked so hard to create it. Over the first 25 years of its life, CHFA will find its financial survival to be somewhat of a daunting task. The sale of advertisements will be the station’s main source of income. CHFA will deal with large companies like The Bay who was an excellent client for many years. It was important that the companies that bought advertisements from CHFA know that their clients had heard the ads on the French radio station and that their decision to buy advertising time from CHFA was indeed a wise one. According to Bernardin Gagnon, one of CHFA’s former general manager and salesman, the station could always count on the community to support it in this way. We would tell them, “CHFA is your station and you need to go and shop at the stores advertised on CHFA and you need to tell the owners that you have heard their ad on the French radio station”. And people would do just that. They would visit these stores and tell the owners “I am shopping here because I have heard about you on CHFA”.
On leur disait… continuellement… C’est votre poste, c’est à vous, supportez-le. Puis vous allez le supporter en autant que lorsque vous allez chez un commerçant, vous leur dites : “Je viens ici parce que j’ai entendu votre annonce à CHFA”. (F. Levasseur-Ouimet, 1996, p 117)
According to Gagnon, the merchants couldn’t get over it. They had never had such results because advertising on CHFA always meant that you would make a sale to members of the franco-albertan community.
The station also sold broadcasting time to the merchants in the various francophone regions of Alberta. And so CHFA had the Saint-Paul hour, the Bonnyville hour, the Falher hour etc.. And during this time, CHFA would talk about the town merchants and about the latest news happening in that particular region.
The Federal Government also advertised on CHFA. And CBC was also one of CHFA’s clients since the network paid the French station to air is better know French broadcasts such as “Je vous ai tant aimé” and “Un homme et son péché” better known to the listeners as “Séraphin”.
After a few years of operation, all of the private francophone stations in Western Canada negotiated a more permanent financial arrangement with CBC/Radio-Canada. The arguments used to ensure the network’s cooperation were simple. Radio-Canada is the French network funded by the state to provide service in French to Canada’s Francophone population. All of Canada’s Francophones have a right to radio broadcasts in French and since the private French radio stations are the ones providing this service it is logical that Radio-Canada pay the private stations for the services rendered. The negotiations between the private French stations and Radio-Canada will be successful but the amounts involved are rather modest and will only make up a very small portion of the private stations’ budgets. For example in 1961 CHFA will receive a monthly sum of 2 000 $ from Radio-Canada.
For the francophone community CHFA is best known for its local programming, some of which became very popular. To this day, one need only mention the name of a particular program to elicit positive reactions from the people who used to listen to them faithfully. The young Franco-Albertans were particularly well served with programs such as “Moi j’m’en fous” with Roger Drolet or “Salut les copains” with the popular DJ André Roy. These programs entertained a whole generation of teens and the hosts of these shows gained wide spread popularity. But more importantly many of the programs reserved for the teen listeners were also prepared by them. These included such shows as “Nos écoles au micro” and “Le monde des jeunes”. And for the very young children there was “Un quart d’heure du p’tit monde avec l’oncle Jean” and “Radio p’tits bouts d’choux”.
A good number of the local broadcasts were created in the station’s own studios. Once a week, CHFA aired “Chez Ti-Pit”, a program which was financed by Gateway Building Supplies, The show was created by Léo Rémillard, the station’s general manager at the time. The concept was simple. “Tit Pit” would receive guests “in his home” and they would tell stories and dance and sing and generally have a great time. Former announcers and Rémillard himself tell us that visitors would come in to the station asking to be invited at Tit Pit’s house. They were usually quite surprised and a bit disappointed when they were ushered in CHFA’s large studio where they would see two announcers sitting side by side in front of a microphone and a turntable.
“La Chasse à l’inconnu” will be one of the community’s favorite programs for many years. The 20 question game show had been “created” by Father Breton and members of the francophone community took great pleasure in sending in suggestions as to what unknown had to be discovered that particular week. The studio participants were usually members of the Edmonton community, people like Me Louis Desrochers, Father Patoine and Me André Déchène who would volunteer some of their time and talent to the on-going success of the program.
But of all the shows aired on CHFA, the most popular was probably “Le Ranch 680” which played western music every afternoon. A large part of the program’s appeal came from the fact that the people of the community could come in and say a few words, on the air to the people back home.
Morning shows were well listened to as well. “Radio Pyjama” and “Radio Bigoudis” would start off the day and include daily broadcasts of the “Le réveil rural” and “Le journal agricole”, short programs prepared by the Conseil albertain de la coopération (CAC) and designed to keep the farmers informed of the current prices and so on.
CHFA will also acquire quite a reputation for its music. Many Anglophone listeners described CHFA as the station with the beautiful music, a well earned compliment since the station aired classical music every evening. Saturday broadcasts were devoted to opera and the early evening hours featured what was then called dining music and which often featured such groups as the Mantovani or the Michel Legrand Orchestras. Request shows were also popular and the volume of mail these programs received was always quite impressive.
But the largest amounts of mail was reserved for CHFA’s many contests. According to Gagnon, the station would receive three or four hundred letters every time it launched a contest. And when he needed to meet and impress the Eastern clients, Gagnon would show them these letters.
…On avait des concours….puis on recevait des lettres. C’était incroyable! Des trois, quatre cents lettres pour un concours. Quand j’allais dans l’Est faire de la vente nationale, j’apporrtais ces lettres puis je disais oui on a eu un concours d’un mois et puis regardez ce qu’on a reçu. (F. Levasseur-Ouimet, 1996, 118)
CHFA organized theatre shows prepared by local people. The station people would also organize broadcast in the various regions of the province. Often the launching of a new season would be done in one of the province’s small francophone towns. And the station would broadcast baseball tournaments and important religious celebrations. Every Sunday the mass celebrated at Edmonton’s Saint-Joachim Parish was aired on CHFA. And for many years CHFA will also broadcast programs prepared by other communities particularly by the German, the Ukrainian and the Jewish communities who all had a weekly program.
For the franco-albertan listeners, many of CHFA’s announcers were members of the family. For example Tharcis Forestier was particularly well known as a newsman and as the DJ for the popular “Le Ranch 680”. Gabrielle Paradis who was responsible for the station’s musical library enjoyed an enviable reputation everywhere in the province.
But a radio station employs a variety of personnel. The CHFA DJ’s were supported in their work by an administrative team, a production team and a commercial sector which provided the link between the listener and the advertising client. A good number of employees were needed to greet the visitors and there were engineers who looked after the technical side of the operation. From 1949 to 1974 CHFA will have the good fortune of having excellent general managers, people like Romain Leclerc, Télesphore Gareau, Lionel Rémillard and Bernardin Gagnon.
Throughout the years, CHFA will have a large number of interesting guests. According to the May 28 1958 edition of La Survivance, CHFA’s list of important guests included people like Marcel Dubé, a young Montréal playwright, Gilles Lefebvre from Canada’s Jeunesse musicale movement, John Diefenbaker, the prime minister of Canada, Marcel Lambert a member of Parliament, etc..
CHFA as long been known in broadcasting circles as an excellent school for young announcers. A great many aspiring DJ’s would come to the station in order to learn their trade. The station was an ideal place for beginners since it allowed them to do a little bit of everything. This may well have been a boon to future radio announcers but it had a real impact on the stability of the station.
And after 25 years of struggling to make ends meet, CHFA will decide that the station needs to make a change of status. In spite of its popularity and the important role that it played in the community’s life and on-going development, rising costs and the need to up-grade and to keep up with a growing technology will put an end to CHFA’s life as a privately owned station. CHFA is sold to Radio-Canada in 1974. For many, it was a great relief since the constant struggle to make ends meet had finally ended. For others, it was a sad piece of news since they feared that things would never be the same.
On January 24 1974, CHFA will give a final accounting of its 24 years of broadcasting as a private station. Over the last years the station has aired a total of 148,929 hours of French Broadcasting. The station’s executive bureau has held 241 regular meetings. CHFA has employed 14 regular employees who have put in 708,000 hours of work. The station has sold 2,182,200 $ worth of advertisements and this figure does not include the monthly sums paid by Radio-Canada over the years. CHFA has aired some 144,0000 public announcements 500 of which were broadcasted free of charge… and the lists goes on… For its first 24 years of life, CHFA was truly a station that had been created by the community and for the community.