As Canadian as Possible: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1936-1939

Title: As Canadian as Possible: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1936-1939
Authors: Graham, Sean
Date: 2014
Abstract: Since its inception in November 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been a constant presence in Canada’s cultural landscape. In its earliest days, however, that longevity was far from guaranteed as there were plenty of issues threatening the survival of the national broadcaster. Following the demise of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, Canada’s first public broadcaster, the CBC was given the responsibility of establishing and expanding Canada’s national radio network while also serving as the regulatory body for privately owned stations. In order to fulfill this mandate, the CBC’s first three years centred on building stations, expanding its programs, controlling its finances, and maintaining positive and productive relationships. This dissertation examines the CBC’s first three years and the corporation’s efforts to survive its tumultuous infancy while also establishing itself as an essential Canadian cultural institution. The CBC’s efforts during the Second World War have received plenty of scholarly attention, but a study of its formative period between 1936 and 1939 is essential to understanding the broadcaster’s role in Canadian life. The corporation’s handling of linguistic tensions, regional divides, and urban and rural separation were all critical to its early growth and played a significant role in providing the CBC the time to build its national network. Central to that plan was the corporation’s tacit policy of continental integration. Prior to the wide distribution of television in the 1950s, radio, which served as the primary source of mass entertainment in the home, was dominated in Canada by American stations and programs. Understanding the power and popularity of American radio, the CBC aired American programs and developed productive relationships with American radio networks in order to promote its place as Canada’s national broadcaster. Through these relationships, the CBC was able to reduce network interference while also using American content to reorient listeners towards Canadian stations. The CBC also sent Canadian programs to American networks, which it then used as proof that it was producing world-class programming. This study argues that the internal structure established between 1936 and 1939 allowed the corporation to position itself as a vibrant national broadcaster, an essential component of which was its successful integration into North America’s wider broadcasting system.
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