Canadian conquest

By Malcolm Smith

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Television broadcasting in the United Kingdom started in the mid-1930s. It had a distinctive style and has evolved into a highly successful, well thought of medium, known and respected worldwide.

Most people take television for granted and assume that the evolution process was the same across the globe.

Television was an unknown and untried product. I know that it is hard to believe now, but some people thought that this new entity would fall flat on its face. It became rapidly evident that this was not the case. Governments saw the introduction of television as a matter of prestige, but initially each had their own system, and although some integration has occurred over the decades, there is still no single global format.

Access to analogue transmissions for everyone in the United Kingdom took many decades, and there is still the odd gap in coverage for all five channels, in a country of just over a quarter of a million square kilometres in size.

Imagine if you will that we were in a country introducing television, not in the 1930s but in the 1950s: a country that will introduce colour transmissions just over 14 years later.

Indulge me further, and imagine a country so vast in comparison to the UK that it is over nine million square kilometres and from east to west encompasses six time zones. To transmit to a scattered population and to transmit over a vast undulating landscape is a broadcasting nightmare.

A beautiful country, and, of course, we are talking about Canada. Canada began television broadcasting to the nation in a different way.

Shall we go back to 1952, to see how it evolved and how the issues of broadcasting to such a big country were overcome so successfully?

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation launched television in September 1952, in Montreal (station CBFT), but was joined two days later by CBLT, Toronto and began its first national broadcasts, which reached 30% of Canadian homes. Both stations initially provided 18 hours of viewing per week. Early in 1953, viewing choice was widened by broadcasts across the border from the USA.

As in the UK, the medium was successful and the challenge became finding a way of broadcasting to the rest of the population and serving the more remote communities.

The solution to this problem was the widespread introduction of cable television. Although cable was not a new idea, a man called Ed Jarmaine highlighted the practicality of cable by placing a tower on a nearby hill and ran a cable to himself and his neighbours, which resolved their previous inability to receive television and they all shared the costs.

This led to the creation of licensed cable operators, who progressively created a cross-country network of microwave technology relay stations, which fed local cable networks. By the start of the 1960s, these stations had the ability to record and re-transmit to the network at a different time. By September 1966, the first colour transmissions were being broadcast. Throughout the 60s and 70s, further low powered transmitters were introduced to maximise the coverage.

Network coverage was further enhanced in 1972 with the introduction of Anik 1, a geo-stationary satellite, which provided cable subscribers across the country with the opportunity to view House of Commons proceedings and the joys of home shopping.

Cable was initially introduced to enhance traditional rooftop reception, but by the end of the century, well over 90% of the population were receiving television by cable. Over 800 cable providers are in service, and a large proportion of viewers subscribe to the many additional channels and community television.

The task that faced Canada in the 1950s was almost Herculean, which was achieved by embracing the latest technology – and improvements are still being sought and implemented.

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Article ©2001 Malcolm Smith

Compilation ©2001 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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