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Souvenir of first national radio broadcast, December 27, 1928. Courtesy of University of Calgary.

Interior of a CN Radio Car, 1924. Image by Leonard Frank. Courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library.

CN Radio announcer Mr. Ernest Jackson, Toronto, December 10, 1924. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Building, Toronto, June 25, 2022, Image By Brandon Corazza.

  • Canadian Broadcasting Centre

    Radio technology on the rails

    Before CN was officially broadcasting over the radio, the company’s telegraph department took part in many early radio tests, including with the Canadian Marconi Company. CN used what they learnt from these tests to create their radio broadcasts. Creating a national radio broadcast required specialised radio equipment to be placed in CN trains. Radio receivers allowed passengers to listen to the radio broadcasts almost completely uninterrupted from coast to coast.

    CN also outfitted its trains with a special radio car, in which an attendant would play radio transmissions. Passengers usually listened to the broadcast through headphones, although some radio cars used speakers. The attendant would also maintain the equipment, which they powered using large batteries. As the trains passed through different areas, the attendants would have to properly tune the reception of the new transmissions.

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  • Canadian Broadcasting Centre

    Early radio content

    CN radio played a variety of radio shows and music, which CN sponsored. For example, CNRT in Toronto often featured the Hart House String Quartet in the 1920s. Some of Canada’s most famous programming also started on the CN radio airwaves. In 1931, CN Radio first broadcasted Hockey Night in Canada in Toronto and Montreal. Over 100,000 people listened to the broadcast.

    News broadcasts also became an important part of radio programming. In 1927, CN Radio broadcasted the 60th anniversary of Confederation from Parliament Hill, which reached five million Canadians. As the popularity of radio increased, many radio personalities, like CNRT’s radio announcer Ernest Jackson, became household names.

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  • Canadian Broadcasting Centre

    A public broadcasting corporation

    As the popularity of radio increased, the Canadian government realized the benefits of having a national public radio company. In 1932, they established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (CRBC). A year later, CN Radio merged with the newly formed company. In 1936, the government enacted new legislation to better fund and manage the CRBC. As a result, the government reorganised the company and formed the CBC.

    Over the years, the CBC expanded their services to include news broadcasting, television, and digital media. Although the CBC’s ties to early railway radio are largely forgotten, many Torontonians might be surprised to learn that CBC Radio 1 still uses the same radio frequency in Toronto once operated by CN Radio.

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  • Canadian Broadcasting Centre

    Additional resources

    Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “Through the years”, 2019.

    Canadian Communications Foundation, “CRCT (CKGW)-AM”, 2022.

    Greg Gormic, “Canada’s first network: CNR radio”, Canadian Communications Foundation, 1998.


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