FTLComm, Regina, June 30, 1998
By Timothy W. Shire, Pictures by Matthew Shire
(CBC Portraits borrowed from CBC Web sites.)
The best kept secret in information and understanding ourselves. It is almost like a club or a secret society the closet listeners who keep themselves up to date by turning their radios on and listen to five-forty. Old timers all refer to the station as “Watrous” and no one uses the call sign “CBK”. But, to the many of us, no day is complete without our fix from the radio station that has defined and refined what we consider our reality.
Though commercial radio stations have a solid following of listeners, there is a breed apart who have learned to love commercial free broadcasting. The CBC’s “Radio 1” has long been the first choice for a large number of people ever since the days of the second world war. With a mix of programming from national and local sources the spectrum of material is wide and varied.
The station did originate in Watrous where its massive antenna situated over salt beds and the very low number on the dial, made it the most powerful and widely received signal on the continent. In the fifties, the station shifted into Regina into a pretty crowded studio, but that did not prevent it from filling the province with music, news, sports and weather and much much more. As a child of the baby boom era in that pre-television time, it was CBC radio that brought us Alan Mills and Just Mary. Though those two were my favourites this writer savoured the confusing but learned messages from James M. Minniffe and Chris Higgenbotham.
The strength of the signal is astonishing in its coverage, little wonder that aviators for half a century have found navigating the prairies a pretty simple task, if their ADF (automatic direction finder) is working and tuned to 540. Knowing what direction it is to and from Watrous will take you confidently from Winnipeg to Edmonton.
But pilots are not the only people to rely upon the CBC. With the development of tractor cabs and the compounded ownership of land, farmers in the solitude of their workplace, for what seems like endless hours learned to appreciate and savour the heady stuff on the CBC. A large number have discovered that the programming on 540 can make time go much faster and expand one’s thinking at the same time. From sampling the many listeners who phone in to report things on air, a significant number, are also solo workers, who direct their massive trucks across Saskatchewan’s highways every day.
If you are not a CBC fanatic you must wonder what are these people listening to? The CBC is centred here in Saskatchewan from 6:00 AM until 9:00 each morning with a story filled and routine morning show, hosted bySheila Coles. The noon hour show has a strong agricultural content and is hosted by Lindy Thorsen. Rosalie Waloski from Saskatoon is a major contributor each weekday with agricultural content. From 1:00 PM until 2:00 Monday to Friday its a phone in talk show. The afternoon rolling home show is hosted by Colin Grewer who keeps a close eye on the Saskatchewan arts scene. Saturday and Sunday have less local content, but the morning shows from 6:00 AM until 9:00 are outstanding programmes hosted by Barry Burgess. If there is a news story or a social issue anywhere in the province, you will hear about it in depth with insightful interviews and thorough research on the CBC.
The national programming has a range of cultural and intellectual levels that can accommodate everyone. If you want to sample some try out Saturday. It seems the CBC has put the some of its most interesting folks on air on Saturday. At 9:00AM the quick and curious Jason Moscovitz delves into national politics with a program called “the House.”
At 10:00 the often off the wall Author Black takes his listeners on a light but rueful search for the different. 12:00 Saturday is the time for Quirks and Quarks and superior science show then the afternoon is spent with Definitely Not the Opera, a wistful look at entertainment. After the news at 6:30 its time for an original radio play, a detective series is keeping our attention right now. Saturday night is filled with the golden era of rock and roll as Winnipeg’s Danny Finklemann waxes eloquently about his pet peeves and spins “Finklemann’s 45s”.
But I have saved the best tile last. There are two radio events that almost bracket what the CBC is, has been and we hope always will be. At 8:55 AM every week day morning Sheila talks to CBC’s man in LaRonge Tom Roberts. Tom is a Cree survivor of the residential school era and besides being humorous and wise he provides Saskatchewan listeners with a snip of what is going on in the Northern half of the province. The second gem is 9:00 PM every week day night. The program is called Ideas but in truth it is a finely crafted radio lecture series on topics that span the whole range of human experience. Hosted by Lister Sinclair and supported by a group of researchers and real experts this program offers the listener more then frills and froth, it has substance and a chance for anyone with a radio to expand their knowledge and understanding, painless blissful education.
CBC Regina makes its home now in this really superior Saskatchewan broadcast centre on Broad Street compete with radio, television and French language broadcast facilities.