Abstract: The Private Business of Public Broadcasting: Canadian Radio during the 1930s

Anne MacLennan


During the 1930s Canadian broadcasting faced new programming, financing, and regulatory challenges presented by a mixture of both private and public broadcasters. The Radio Broadcasting Act in 1932 established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), followed by the creation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 1936, irrevocably altering established broadcasting patterns. Prime Minister Bennett ushered in the CRBC with the hope that it would be representative of the Dominion of Canada. Despite these lofty goals, licence fees were insufficient to finance a truly national network. Thus independent stations and local programming persisted out of necessity. The national network required commercial programming to make it viable. The resulting combination of local and Canadian network stations offered an unintentional alternative to the increasingly standard and homogenized fare broadcast by major North American networks. This research, based on a content analysis of a systematic random sample of radio schedules in five Canadian cities, demonstrates that the inauguration of a "public" or national broadcasting was not as purely Canadian as early lobbyists hoped. The realities of financing early broadcasting during an economic depression meant that the CBC in a mixed system of its own broadcasts and imported American programs was a double-edged sword.