Wally Crouter, Canada’s longest serving radio man, dies at 92

Wally Crouter (August 5, 1923 – March 28, 2016)

Wally Crouter (August 5, 1923 – March 28, 2016) Image: News Talk 1010

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors, Richard Langley and Bill Patalon, who note the passing of legendary Canadian radio man, Wally Crouter.

Richard Langley comments:

I fondly remember listening to him over the years, particularly when I was working (during a couple of my undergraduate degree co-op program work terms) for Philips Electronics in Toronto as a QC inspector at the end of an assembly line for car radios. Yes, these used to be made in North America in the good old days. 😉 Of course, he was on shortwave, too, via CFRX.

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/wally-crouter-canadas-longest-serving-radio-man-dies-143336247.html

http://www.newstalk1010.com/news/2016/03/28/in-memoriam-wally-crouter

Like Bill and Richard, I’ve certainly head Wally Crouter on CFRX in the past–I’m sure many Post readers/SWLs have as well.

Thoughts after the Canadian RCI/CBC Senate hearing

CBC-RCI-HearingLast night, I listened to a live stream of the Canadian senate hearings regarding last year’s Radio Canada International cuts to shortwave radio. CBC president Hubert LaCroix and RCI director Michelle Parent met remarkably little criticism or resistance in the hearing, and it appears the report to the senate will be nothing short of cheerleading for the CBC. Indeed, the hearing’s tone overall was one of self-congratulation.

The decision to cut RCI in this manner is a prime example of a few officials with all-too-limited knowledge making decisions in the absence of experts’ input.  The business decision seemed to them essentially sound, and yet the impact of the decision has far-reaching negative consequences–for Canadians and as well as the rest of the world–that these officials may never fully comprehend.

Notes from the hearing:

  • All but one senator patted CBC and RCI management on the back for becoming more innovative in the wake of devastating budget cuts; only one suggested that such innovation could have been achieved prior to them
  • No one asked if the CBC explored the possibility of scaling back shortwave services without closing the Sackville, NB transmitter site and eliminating shortwave broadcasts altogether, which would have been a much better use of funds as well as maintaining foreign relations and domestic security
  • Hubert LaCroix basically suggested that people living in oppressed regions could gain access to RCI via mobile platforms (sadly, this is not the case)
  • When asked how cuts to shortwave have effected their listenership and demographic, LaCroix basically shrugged his shoulders and pointed out how difficult it is to judge how many people listen on shortwave.  (My response: What areas of our world lack a power grid infrastructure? Fully 1/4 of our planet.  These are the underserved who rely heavily on shortwave)
  • No one inquired about the impact upon their Chinese audience, as RCI’s website is blocked in China; meanwhile, shortwave continues to be comparatively impermeable to firewalls and is untraceable in restrictive countries

Monsieur LaCroix made it clear that the primary CBC mandate is to be a creative, innovative media force within Canada. For him, and most of CBC management, Radio Canada International must have felt like a leech to their dwindling budget. Were I in his position, with limited information and a mandate to protect his main “client” set (Canadians living in Canada)–I might have made the same decision.   And yet…it was the wrong one.

What would have solved the problem in the first place?  Radio Canada International should have been its own entity, with its own budget to manage, however modest–and if anything, funded through the foreign office rather than the domestic public news/entertainment body. After all, what RCI accomplished on shortwave was far more humanitarian and diplomatic in nature.

I’ve written at length about the RCI cuts and will not go into them further on this post. But I do believe RCI Sackville could have been a more efficient and productive operation if it employed some sensible changes. Sackville had just finished installing a (paid-for) technology infrastructure to remotely operate the entire transmitter site. Moreover, Sackville management told me they had planned to cut their staff to a skeleton crew (of three people, if memory serves), only to be there if something mechanical on site needed service. These new adjustments were not even tried.

Additionally, using a market model, RCI/Sackville could have offered their relay services to more broadcasters at competitive (even market) rates. Their hourly rate to broadcast on shortwave was simply too high, thus potential customers sought more efficient cost-effective transmission sites. Sackville was never given the tools to become a self-funding operation like so many private broadcasters have become.

Sackville’s infrastructure was an incomparably valuable resource in which many millions in taxpayer money was already invested and paid in full; sadly, these cuts have destroyed this investment.  The Sackville site, moreover, had the potential of a sleeping army, both in foreign affairs…and in Canadian security.  But it’s gone.  Simply because a few politicians doing their near-best didn’t have all the relevant information.

RCIFor what it’s worth

RCI still has some great talent on board. Canadian expats living abroad, and those  who are connected to the web, can still enjoy RCI via the website or on mobile platforms. That is an audience that may actually expand through a social media presence–something they could have done more effectively prior to the budget cuts last year.

I was also encouraged to hear that there is a serious effort to distribute RCI’s online audio content–free of charge–to broadcasters in local radio stations around the world. This is very positive: FM, though not as accessible as shortwave in Africa, has a strong community following and stations are appearing everywhere. I hope RCI has a dedicated employee whose sole focus is to identify and build connections with these local outlets for their content.

Barring a takeover or drastic re-organization, it sounds like Radio Canada International over shortwave is now destined for the history books. To honor this history, I sincerely hope the new RCI innovates and penetrates new markets. And I hope RCI employees, many of whom have long memories, find challenge and renewed confidence going forward. We certainly appreciate all of the years during which they graced the shortwaves, and wish them all the best.

CBC News: RCI looking for Sackville transmitter site buyers

The vast, open Sackville site will most likely become a wind farm.

Just posted by CBC News:  a breaking news item which focuses on the closure of the Sackville RCI transmitter site and reveals the fact that site owners are now looking for buyers.

During my recent visit to the Sackville site, I spoke with their Transmission Operations Technologist, Marcel Cantin; we both agreed that the most likely future of the transmitter site is to become a wind farm, much like one visible from the site in neighboring Nova Scotia. Evidently, the province has been talking with farmers whose property borders the Sackville site in hopes to procure more land for wind farm development. The Sackville site’s 280+ acres would represent a great portion of the land they wish to procure. The only obstacle I see to this not becoming a reality would be local opposition–and they may have good cause. The two main arguments against wind farms are the noise they produce (not really a problem where RCI is/was located) and the fact that they can harm migrating bird populations. The site is very close to the Sackville Waterfowl Park, a local bird sanctuary which is home or host to innumerable varieties of water birds, and which I also had the good fortune to visit when in Sackville. Opposition in this regard may be substantiated.

(Source: CBC News)

After decades of service, the transmission towers outside of Sackville, N.B are no longer broadcasting Radio Canada International to the world.

The international broadcasting service ended its shortwave transmission Sunday night.

“I find myself, on behalf of all of us, saying goodbye to 67 years of radio,” said host Marc Montgomery, breaking down on air.

[…]”There’s no denying the importance of the internet. There’s also no denying that it can be and is regularly blocked by authoritarian regimes. Shortwave broadcasts on the other hand, almost always get through to people hungry for information,” said Montgomery.

Martin Marcotte, director of CBC Transmission, said he’s now looking to sell the New Brunswick towers and land.

He said he’s focussing (sic) on selling the site to other shortwave broadcasters or wind farm companies.

“It will be fairly costly to dismantle and as a last resort we would dismantle the facility, return it to bare land as it was when we first acquired that site,” said Marcotte.

As for broadcasters, the only one of which I am aware who has both the funds and ambitions to purchase such a transmissions site, is China Radio International.

Of course, I would hope that a broad-sighted private purchaser or even non-profit could keep the site running much as it has been, recognizing its vital relevance to Canadian international relations and to the developing world generally–especially in light of the recent addition to the site of a remote operation system.

Too bad, the Canadian government couldn’t recognize this in time.

WWII shortwave messages found on cardboard discs

Photographer: Nigel Mykura. (Creative Commons)

(Source: The Globe and Mail)

The voices of Canadian servicemen fade in and out, at times clear and booming, at others distant and muffled. But for their families, these scratchy, static-laden messages were the sound of hope.

The men were prisoners captured during the Second World War by the Japanese army, which broadcast their messages home over Radio Tokyo. Short-wave radio enthusiasts on the west coast of the United States listened in, making a hobby of recording the messages onto cardboard discs and sending them to the soldiers’ families.

Complete with audio from the original discs, this is an article you should view in full at The Globe and Mail.

 

Is radio a Canadian invention?

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada–and perhaps we should all thank this fine country for its contribution to radio as we know it today.

In this short audio documentary, Radio Canada International focuses on the innovative work of Canadian Reginald Aubrey Fessenden. As this piece points out, though Marconi receives recognition as the father of radio, Fessenden played a stronger role in making it possible to hear the human voice over the air.

Click hear to listen to LITTLE KNOWN CANADIAN FACTS: Radio, a Canadian invention at Radio Canada International.

For a full biography of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, check out the Hammond Museum of Radio‘s website.

Thanks to RCI’s The Link for the tip & Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

Canada’s shortwave time station, CHU, is moving

Press release from the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada:

CHU's QSL card used in the 1980s depicting Sir Sanford Fleming, father of uniform times zones.

1980s QSL card from radio station CHU depicting Sir Sanford Fleming, father of uniform time zones.

Time to change your shortwave radio dial

After seventy years of broadcasting Canada’s official time, NRC’s shortwave station CHU will move the transmission frequency for the 7335 KHz transmitter to 7850 KHz. The change goes into effect on 01 January 2009 at 00:00 UTC.

CHU is a part of NRC’s system for disseminating official time throughout Canada, broadcasting 24 hours a day from a location approximately 15 km south-west of downtown Ottawa. Listeners hear tones to mark the seconds, voice to announce the time in French and English, and digital data to set computers.

The atomic clocks at CHU are part of the ensemble of clocks in the time and frequency research laboratories in Ottawa, at the National Research Council Canada. The NRC clocks are used in conjunction with clocks in the time laboratories of other countries to construct the internationally accepted scale of time, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), which is now the reference for official time used by all countries. UTC is the modern implementation of Greenwich Mean Time.

“Coincidentally, this frequency change comes at a time when NRC is investing resources to refurbish the aging transmitters at CHU in order to provide clear, dependable shortwave services as part of NRC’s mandate to disseminate time to all Canadians.” said Raymond Pelletier, Technical Officer at the NRC-Institute for National Measurement Standards, who oversees the CHU facility. “The shortwave time service is especially beneficial for those in remote locations where there is limited access to internet and telephone communication. CHU also provides a back up against failure of other services.”

In April 2007, the International Telecommunications Union re-allocated the 7300-7350 KHz band from a fixed service to a broadcasting service. Since then, interference on the 7335 KHz frequency has come from many information broadcasters around the world.

CHU listeners in Canada and around the world who have for so long considered the 7335 KHz frequency exclusively for time signals, are very vocal about this interference. We have heard from amateur radio operators, watchmakers, astronomers, and navigators who use the tones and voice signals. As well, comments were received from those who use the carrier as a calibration source at a distance for their equipment.

To give notice to users, CHU will broadcast an announcement in both English and French. More information
about CHU can be found at:
http://inms-ienm.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/time_services/shortwave_broadcasts_e.html
Comments about the CHU change can be sent by e-mail to radio.chu@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.