The UA in CKUA - 1922 to Sign-on
1922, having heard broadcasts through his homemade radio receiver Harry P.
Brown, the newly appointed head of the University of Alberta's visual-aids
department, discussed the possibility of using radio as a medium for
"taking the university to the people."
Members of the Faculty of Extension had traveled to audiences within and outside Edmonton delivering lectures and courses. "It'd be a smart idea if our own university got in on the deal," he suggested to his colleague Professor Albert Edward Ottewell, the first director of the Department of Extension, "like the U of A operating a station of its own."
As far as conceiving a station of their own was concerned, H.P. and his Extension colleagues would be rebuffed for another five years, due to a lack of funding available from the university, and the ongoing development of broadcasting equipment. However, with the advent of CJCA and the involvement of The Edmonton Journal, there was another option. Lectures and talks by faculty could be carried via the airwaves if these two early media were brought in as partners.
In the beginning, faculty would travel to the Journal Building on 101st Street, where CJCA's studios were located in the newsroom. Later, a level of convenience was added in the form of a microphone and an amplifier in the corner of Ottewell's office at the Department of Extension, linked by telephone to CJCA. This, then, was the first coming of CKUA radio.
A rough, cost-effective studio was constructed in 1926 by hanging burlap drapes from overhead crossbeams, and this allowed live music to be fed to CJCA.
By 1927, however, radio was advancing beyond its infancy. Equipment had become more reliable - though hardly less expensive - and Brown was still promoting the idea of an independent radio station based on the U of A campus.
Again, depending upon the source, another piece of Edmonton radio mythology has been created surrounding the initial funding of the station. In CKUA's published histories saluting its 40th and 60th anniversaries, Brown is deemed to have used fiscal sleight-of-hand in the use of either a $700 or $7,000 university grant from the Alberta legislature originally intended for a new lecturer in the Department of Extension. However, in Marylu Walters's 2002 history,
CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For, that story is discounted by former radio manager Jack Hagerman, who said Brown would not have been able to "tinker" with the department's financial books.
Whatever the story, the new lecturer never did appear on campus, but his absence was not noticed. In his place, several electrical engineering students instead built a transmitter and antenna in their spare time. Assisted by Calgary radio station CFCN owner W.W. Grant and the cadre of students, Brown erected CKUA's first antennas outside Pembina Hall: 25-foot-long poles sitting on top of two 75-foot-high windmill towers. Technologically rudimentary as they might appear, these antennas nonetheless stood on campus until 1966.
A small shack behind Athabasca Hall was lined with burlap purchased for $25 from a brewery, and that became CKUA's first studio and control room. Eventually, from here would emerge music performed by the city's first resident radio orchestra, the University of Alberta Radio Orchestra, the province's first radio dramas, and in 1928, the first broadcasts of French lessons in Canada.
Still, securing a broadcasting licence proved to be a slight stumbling block. When the Department of Extension applied to the federal authorities, it was told that three stations in Edmonton - CJCA, CHCY and CFCK - were quite enough. Published sources prove to be contradictory on this issue. At this point, according to some sources, CHCY's licence had already been revoked due to its interference in 1926 with CJCA's broadcast of the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney heavyweight title fight, which would have left room for another broadcaster to set up shop. Yet other sources have the neophyte broadcasters raising $600 to buy CFCK and renaming the new entity CKUA. The most daring explanation for the awarding of a licence to CKUA has the university broadcaster appealing the government's refusal of application with the argument that the studio, antennas and transmitter were in place, along with a faculty of instructors ready, willing and able to broadcast.
Despite the conflict, the licence was awarded. The novelty was ended; a network was on the way.