Queen’s University has one of the longest continuous histories in radio of any association in the world, besides the Marconi Companies. The first demonstration of wireless telegraphy at Queen’s was given by the first Professor of General Engineering in the Kingston School of Mining, James Lester Willis Gill (B.A.Sc. 1896; M.Sc. 1904, McGill), at a spring convocation lecture in 1902. Formal teaching of wireless telegraphy in the Department of Electrical Engineering began in 1912-13 session. Later, Professor Gill conducted experimental wireless distance test around Kingston, carrying the receiver in the back seat of his automobile.  The Queen’s wireless telegraphs were licensed and used in training WWI army signallers at the Barriefield War Camp in 1915-17. After returning from the war in the fall of 1919, Prof. Gill founded the Wireless Club at Queen’s and provided them with some code equipment.

In the late spring of 1922, a new generation of young professors, Douglas M. Jemmett (M.A. ’11; B.Sc. ’13) and Robert L. Davis (M.A. ’21, MIT), designed and built experimental wireless telephone (AM radio) station 9BT in Fleming Hall, so that the Wireless Club could join the boom in public broadcasting of sports and live concerts. The only documented broadcast of 9BT was a post-game summary of a Queen’s Tricolour-Hamilton Rowing Club exhibition football game on October 7, 1922. With the donation of $500 by Dr. W.R. Jaffrey (Meds ’13), Professor Jemmett purchased a motor generator set to upgrade the signal to listenability and CFRC- Canada’s Famous Rugby Champions – made its debut with the play-by-play of a Queen’s-McGill football game on October 27, 1923. For the next decade, CFRC was on the air for a few hours a week during the school year, broadcasting football, hockey (including women’s hockey) and basketball games, the occasional extension lecture, studio concerts, and convocations.

Young Lecturer Harold H Stewart (Elec. ’26) built a new and modern crystal-controlled AM transmitter for CFRC in 1930-31, but it was destroyed in the fire that gutted Fleming Hall in the early hours of June 6, 1933. The transmitter was rebuilt and formal connections were made with the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission in 1934. CFRC became a full CRBC network member in a commercial partnership with the Kingston Whig-Standard, with the inaugural broadcast taking place on June 29, 1936. CFRC took feeds from the CRBC, soon to become the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but also produced a great deal of its own programming with local talent. The station helped bind the community to Queen’s University in a new way and was Kingston’s first listening post on the rest of Canada. One of CFRC’s triumphs took place on a summer day in 1938 when we supplied a feed of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s convocation address from old Richardson Stadium to every radio network on the continent.

Since CFRC was limited to 100 Watts of power at its campus location and since Queen’s would not allow patent medicine advertising on the station, the commercial partnership became strained. The venture was dissolved in August 1942, with the birth of The Whig’s CKWS, and radio at Queen’s again subsided to an experimental project of the Electrical Engineering Department.

CFRC was revived in 1945 under Dr. William Angus for the Summer Radio Institute, a joint venture with the CBC for training broadcasters. That fall, the Radio Workshop, a branch of the Queen’s Drama Guild, began to do weekly broadcasting on CFRC and soon the Electrical Engineers joined in to put the station on the air two and then three nights a week during the school year. Westinghouse donated an FM transmitter (FM 1) to Queen’s in 1952, and it went on the air in 1954 on 91.9MHz. An AM transmitter, model  RCA BTA-250M, was donated by CKLC in 1961 and broadcast at 1490KHz.

In 1957, concerned that CFRC was not producing programming worthy of a university, Dr. Arthur Lower and an informal committee of faculty and staff advised the Principal that CFRC should emulate Minnesota Public Radio’s educational service and that Margaret Angus, who had extensive experience with the CBC, be appointed Director of Radio at Queen’s. From this point, the students were formed into the CFRC Student Radio Club.  By 1958, under the supervision of Margaret Angus, the staff grew from less than forty student broadcasters to over a hundred; hours on the air grew from 33 hours to 36.5 hours a week for twenty weeks of the year, along with special Sunday reports during the Christmas break.

On October 24, 1957, CFRC celebrated its 35th anniversary on the air with a special documentary that showcased the local, national and global highlights since its humble beginnings in 1922. Having been on the air for thirty-five years, CFRC was the second-oldest radio station within the area of Eastern Canada, surpassed only by the Marconi’s CFCF, which began broadcasting in 1919. At this time, radio programming on CFRC’s channel was transmitted solely on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and was completely commercial-free.

The station was brought up to state-of-the-art from 1958-60, as the old studio in Fleming Hall was closed and new broadcasting facilities were opened in the basement of Carruthers Hall. On January 10, 1968, Andrew Marshall, a new graduate of Queen’s University and alumnus of the Student Radio Club, was approved by the Radio Advisory Committee to be the successor to Mrs. Angus as Station Manager of CFRC. Under Mr. Marshall’s direction, “Nocturne,” a late-evening program began; hours on the air increased to 37.5 hours a week. Queen’s Football, the pride of the University, continued to be broadcasted at away games, including from the Canadian championships in Winnipeg in both 1968 and 1970. In 1969, membership of the Student Radio Club had increased to more than 150 members. That year designated the first time that AM and FM broadcasting were to be programmed separately, providing separate services. CFRC-AM composed of quality student-operated programming; CFRC-FM was supplied Eastern Ontario with programs geared towards the Fine Arts, which were run by student and faculty broadcasters. The division of the two frequencies resulted in the addition of 25 hours of programming to the station’s schedule.

In July, 1974, Steve Cutway became the new Station Manager of Queen’s Radio Station.  By this time, the dream of broadcasting in stereo every day had coalesced. It almost happened in 1972, but was finally sparked around 1977, when Mrs. Kathleen Ryan (Arts ’26) made a substantial donation in memory of her husband, a CFRC pioneer, to begin the “GO STEREO” fund.  Shortly after, Queen’s students approved a five-year “Go Stereo” student fee.

In recognition of the fact that a purely student club could not handle seven day a week broadcasting year round, faculty, staff, alumni and community members were welcomed. Most of the rest of the $107,000 necessary to complete the “GO STEREO” project was soon raised by the CFRC Radio Club and, after clearing many hurdles, CFRC-FM stereo at 101.9MHz went on the air on February 3, 1990.

In 1997, CFRC celebrated 75 years of broadcasting at Queen’s.  By 2001, the station was broadcasting 24/7; and in 2004, CFRC.CA launched its on-line audio stream, entering a new era of broadcasting history.


This information is taken from “In the Shadow of the Shield”, a fully documented history of radio at Queen’s University and in Kingston, Ontario, 1902-1957, written by Dr. Arthur E. Zimmerman; “CFRC 101.9fm:  1957-1974,” by Chammy Ha; and “CFRC 1974-1990,” by Michael Morreale, along with contributions from CFRC staff.

You can purchase copies of Zimmerman’s book at CFRC for $30.  For more information on payment and shipping by mail, please contact Arthur Zimmerman by phone at 416-923-2001 or e-mail ops@cfrc.ca.

For more information about CFRC’s history, please visit Queen’s University Archives’ on-line exhibit covering CFRC’s 100 years of radio at https://archives.queensu.ca/exhibits/cfrc/cfrc-100-years-queens-radiohttp://archives.queensu.ca/Exhibits/cfrc.html