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The Evolution of French language radio broadcasting in Alberta

After 15 years of arduous lobbying, it was only in March of 1948 that the governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation agreed to grant Radio-Edmonton Limitée permission to develop a radio station in Edmonton which would serve the northern part of the province. The licence was granted in May for radio station CHFA (680 AM). The first broadcast was on November 20,1949 at the Garneau Theatre in Edmonton with considerable hoopla. It had been a hard won fight. The station had been funded by donors from across the province and from organisations such as the Société St.-Jean-Baptiste in Québec, and others elsewhere in Canada.

The antenna, which was located in an empty field north of Beaumont (present-day Millwoods) was beamed northwards from Edmonton, and the station was received as far east as Saskatoon. However, it was to be 1969 before a transmittor was added to enable it to adequately reach the Peace River region. Many other communities were completely out of range, particularly to the south of Edmonton, such as Red Deer, Castor, Trochu and, of course, Calgary. It was to be many years before French language broadcasting became available in those regions, and some have only come in with the very recent advent Sirius satellite radio.

Initially the station had a very slim crew, and produced its own radio shows from its small studio. Advertising was a must, and private donations continued to be sought through the organisation “le Club de la radio”. Donors’ names were published regularly in La Survivance.

There was a great deal of hope that French language radio would be an effective tool against the widespread assimilation which had been occurring all along in the communities in Alberta and western Canada. There was little which could be done to compete against the popularity of American culture, which was heard on other radio station, many of them American, broadcast at powerful frequencies, from such distant places as Oklahoma City and Odessa, Texas. American cinema, country western music, jazz were formidable opponents.  The little French-language radio station mustered on, but by 1952, it was linked to Radio-Canada, which made it possible to broadcast highly popular shows such as Un homme et son péché.

In 1961, a new studio was built for the station when a second floor was added to the building used for the newspaper La Survivance.Both the newspaper and the building were owned by the Oblate missionaries of Mary who were ardent supporters of the French cause in western Canada.  By the end of 1971, Radio-Canada began negotiations to purchase CHFA, and the contract was finalized in April 1974.

In the meantime, television broadcasting had been making inroads. In March 1970, a French language television station (CBXT) was established by Radio-Canada in Edmonton, broadcasting a few hours a day, with some programming provided from the Montreal studios, and the rest provided locally. Transmitters were gradually added to provide service to other regions of Alberta. Local programming has always been included in both radio and television, although cutbacks in 1996 to SRC/CBC reduced services in some ways, but improved others.

Cable and satellite service has greatly modified consumer accessibility to radio and television in recent years, adding commercial French language television channels to the menu, including TV5, a television channel from France available around the world. In Edmonton, both the AM and FM programming from Radio-Canada is now available, the FM Espace Musique (90.1 FM band) having been set up two years ago now. No local programming is available on the FM station, other than very brief identification messages as this station is directed from Montréal. However, its total musical format has found many new listeners in Alberta including an Anglophone audience who enjoy the variety of musical genres and the absence of commercials.  As for AM broadcasting, radio CHFA continues to serve Franco-Albertans across the province.

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