High-tech radio … in a low-tech world:
Developments on the broadcasting trail
CKUA may have been a broadcasting pioneer in Canada, but one technological development resulted in a worldwide patent for Edmonton radio engineer Edward Jordan. And he could blame it, in part, on one gap-toothed university professor.
Jordan, a workroom boy in the Department of Extension, became the station's first control room operator. While broadcasting a university lecture, he became aware yet again of a common problem. The professor's sibilance -whenever he used a word containing the letter "s", he would whistle through the gap between his two front - caused a modulation that forced the station off the air.
But the professor was not the only talent that inadvertently killed CKUA. The vocal tics of high-pitched speakers, sopranos and lisping announcers all conspired in the days before radio modulation control became cutting-edge technology.
Jordan had become so enamoured of radio technology that he enrolled in electrical engineering, and eventually developed a device that not only solved CKUA's dead air problem, but earned him his master's degree. His invention, the peak limiter, soon became a common tool in the North American broadcaster's arsenal.
Over the years, CKUA would find itself continually extending its reach. On Nov. 21, 1927, it signed on from its University of Alberta-owned facilities at 500 watts. By 1941, transmitter power would double, then jump again to 10,000 watts in 1960. Finally, it would peak at 100,000 watts in 1976.
But that would not be the final incursion into radio waves … and beyond.
In 1985, by then an AM/FM network, CKUA would use Canada's Anik C-3 satellite orbiting 22,000 miles above the earth to broadcast to the 14 FM transmitters located around the province.
And in a for-the-moment, semi-final technological development, on Feb. 29, 1996, CKUA became the first station in Canada to broadcast over the Internet via RealAudio. By April 2000, CKUA actually trumped itself by launching onto the World Wide Web with its website (www.ckua.com). When equipped with Windows Media Player software, listeners from more than 60 countries could listen to the Edmonton-born network via their computers.
Yet, these are merely the big steps taken along the way to enlarging the broadcast footprint of CKUA. In its early years, the station had become a forerunner in what by today's standards might seem to be minimal efforts, but in fact were major developments in radio's nascent days.
CKUA, for instance, had led the nation in location sports broadcasting in sports with a first play-by-play football game in 1928). Its musical recitals from the University of Alberta's Convocation Hall and various city churches were cultural entertainment for both Edmonton and rural communities in northern Alberta. Even a first foray into national broadcasting in the Thirties was a novel combination of radio and railroad when a choral recital from CKUA studios was piped into the transcontinental parlour cars of the Canadian National Railway.
The station's mandate as an educator grew from its early role with the University of Alberta Department of Extension - which saw radio as a means of extending the reach of its professors, who had traveled to rural communities - to becoming an originator of school broadcasts.
In 1959, CKUA became one of the first stations in the country and the first in Edmonton to broadcast in stereo, though the approach hardly resembled that used in radio today. Given that the station could broadcast on both the AM and FM bands, the decision was made to have CKUA-AM provide music for the right speaker, and CKUA-FM for the left. Listeners with two radios then had the opportunity to hear Tommy Banks with his orchestra in the inaugural live stereo broadcast.
And in 1975, CKUA-FM would be the network's stereo carrier, with the AM band devoted to monaural broadcasts.