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CKUA , Sign-on

CKUA radio debuted on Nov. 21, 1927 following the purchase for $600 of local station CFCK and the final approval of its broadcast licence. The celebration could hardly have been more momentous, and came complete with a fireball, courtesy of H.P. Brown's camera and its magnesium flash. The flash powder set the studio's sound-muffling burlap drapes on fire, and the problems did not end with the extinguishing of the flames.

On this, its first full day of broadcasting, CKUA's equipment would not allow it to reach its own frequency on the AM band. One of the station's financial backers, W.W. Grant, a radio engineer and the owner of Calgary station CFCN, took his own station off the air and allowed CKUA to take his nearby frequency. Since then, CKUA has broadcast at 580 kilocycles on the AM band.

While the programs on CKUA for its eight-hours-per week schedule contained the adult educational content that had moved H.P. Brown to conceive the format of the station from the beginning, there was an entertainment component as well. Organ recitals from Convocation Hall were offered every second Monday from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. As well, CKUA also carried monthly broadcasts of Edmonton's first resident radio orchestra, the amateur 20-piece University of Alberta Radio Orchestra (which later became the CKUA Radio Orchestra), conducted by Beatrice Carmichael, an American who as Beatrice van Loon, had previously had a career as a vocal soloist and violinist in Chicago. She remained in Edmonton after the 1919 Macdonald Hotel engagement with her five-piece all-woman orchestra was extended, and the next year married local dentist Dr. James Carmichael.

The CKUA's orchestra gradually grew to 35 members and its broadcasts lasted until the early 1930s. Beatrice Carmichael stayed active in music throughout her life in Edmonton with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (she played first violin, and also appeared as a guest vocalist and guest conductor), the University of Alberta Orchestra (with which she produced one light opera per year), and the Edmonton Civic Opera Society (which, until her retirement as musical director in 1962, was the only opera society in Canada to post a 28-year record of continual performance).

A year after sign-on, CKUA became a leader in sports broadcasting with the first play-by-play broadcast of football in Canada. On Oct. 13, 1928, the U of A Golden Bears played the Edmonton Eskimos - the Esks beat the Bears 18-6 - and CKUA listeners heard it all. A brother from St. Joseph's College provided the commentary by telephone to CKUA.

But educational broadcasts remained CKUA's bread and butter in the early days, and it graduated from offering only U of A radio talks and lectures with the first school broadcast in Canada on May 23, 1929. Radio sets remained scarce at first, and radio dealers would lend equipment to schools for the broadcast. But that would change by the mid-Thirties. The issuance of "radio receiving set licences" was used by The Edmonton Journal as a yardstick to judge city and provincial growth. By the end of 1936, 80 per cent of Edmonton homes were equipped with radios. In April 1937, Edmonton was declared "the province's biggest city," in part due to the number of licences issued by the federal radio division. With one radio set for every 52 people in Alberta, the increase of licences over the previous year was the greatest in all of Canada, and the province was now in 4th place.

The staffing of the station was minimal in its early days, and CKUA had only one full-time employee, Sheila Marryat, who functioned as a radio technician, program director and on-air host. When the station offered radio dramas, Marryat was there, too, as dramatist, script writer and play adapter.

H.P. Brown was another multi-tasker, putting in 18-hour stints as a radio lecturer, disc jockey, mechanic, and the station's first announcer. All of this to sustain an eight-hour weekly broadcasting schedule. His U of A electrical engineering colleagues continued their volunteer connection with the station, as well, and included Dr. H.J. McLeod, the head of the Electrical Engineering Department who was responsible for the station operation, and his assistants, Professors J.W. Porteus and W.E. Cornish.

On the horizon, however, loomed the Stock Market Crash of 1929 on Oct. 29, the Depression and the Dirty Thirties. Soon, CKUA would come to offer far more than educational programming; it would be needed to boost the confidence and dreams of Albertans, and ironically, citizens would be most intrigued at the history of their province, and their country.

CKUA Studio

CKUA Studio

H.P. Brown

H.P. Brown