More wonderful photos submitted by Derek Redmond who included a number of these in the CFRC 90th anniversary exhibit on the Queen's Archives website (now updated to a 100th Anniversary Exhibit)!
A couple of snaps submitted by Jim Birch from the early 1980s and more recently.
Another fun photo spread submitted by Keith Schengili-Roberts from the late 1980s and early 90s!
Photos of equipment in Fleming and Carruthers Hall 1972-1974 submitted by David Steer.
WILLIAM COWLING RECALLS THE 1970S AT CFRC
SHARED BY WILLIAN COWLING
I grew up in England in the late fifties and early sixties, when the BBC was still enjoying the Golden Age of Radio. Their aim was to entertain, inform and educate, with a wide range of mixed content that moved unobtrusively from one category to another: drama, comedy, talks, features, news, current affairs, live concerts, studio sessions -- and very few records. With only two TV networks, no commercial radio yet and no local stations, there was little competition for national radio, so quality was high and audiences huge.
After our family moved to Canada in the mid-sixties, I probably listened to the radio more than most people my age. I quickly discovered the CBC’s Radio and FM Networks, which together provided a surprisingly similar range and pattern.
So when looking for a university in 1970, I chose Queen`s, not only for its strong academic reputation, but also its student radio station, CFRC. It was then one of just four educational stations in Canada which offered real radio, over the air. Other student stations were all closed-circuit then, only in residence rooms, lounges, cafeterias, etc.
CFRC was unique in having both AM and FM transmitters. Both were on the air year-round, but only on Thursday and Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, as well as Sunday mornings and afternoons (to avoid interfering with engineering experiments). The previous academic year, it had just started offering separate programming in term-time. AM content was aimed mainly at the university campus, while FM targeted the broader Kingston area with a high proportion of classical music and the arts. Afternoon content was shared, with popular music on Saturdays and Classics by Request on Sundays. Summer programming was all shared.
CFRC was then arranged for student broadcasters to sign up on Mondays for times when they would be available that week (rather than having a regular weekly slot).
Like most students, my first programmes were two-hour popular music sequences; but my first structured one was an edition of Spotlight, on then-famous comedians Flanders and Swann. I followed it with a range of classical programmes, so I worked closely with the Classical Music Director, Phil Brown. I succeeded him for a year when he became FM Director in 1971/72; then I held the FM position for two years. I also wrote and performed many recorded comedy spots for Open Season, which Phil produced with numerous student actors, singers and musicians.
As Classics Director, I began International Concert Hall which ran for two years, using lighter music to introduce the classics to a general audience. I also expanded the range of recorded concerts, talks and features we ordered free of charge from international stations such as Deutsche Welle, Radio Nederland, Radio Moscow and Belgian Radio.
As FM Director, I started Bandstand, which ran for a summer, each week featuring a big band, brass band, dance band or a light orchestra. I also launched Comedy Classics, which ran that summer, with records featuring a different comedian or comedy team each time. I later piloted the weekly music series which became Festival, presenting full-length light classical performances, alternating among operettas, grand ballets, Gilbert and Sullivan’s light operas and orchestra suites by a particular composer.
During that time I also worked closely with Steve Cutway (before and after he replaced Andrew Marshall as Station Manager); and later with Shelagh Rogers, who became one of the Classical Music Directors and is now famous at the CBC.
When I became FM Director, I was invited to join the Radio Advisory Sub-Committee. We were involved with the CRTC’s major policy changes for radio. They had recently introduced Canadian Content regulations: all AM stations had to provide 30% Canadian (based on the number of selections played, rather than length); and FM stations had to make their own commitments in a Promise of Performance, which was 10% for CFRC.
The CRTC then added a new FM requirement to include 25% Foreground features (of at least 15 min. each). This replaced the previous 20% specification for Arts, Letters and Sciences. Rolling (DJ-style) formats and Mosaic mixes (DJ-style, but including shorter Foreground items) were allowed, but not the so-called Gramophone content (without any music announcements). This was difficult for the commercial stations but easy for us at CFRC, as our classical and jazz programming met these requirements.
Many of us believed in what had become known as Foreground content. This enriched material was intended for people to tune in specifically, rather than to have on in the background. It needed to be planned well ahead, being more complex to produce and requiring additional publicity in print and on the air. This was hard to match with CFRC’s weekly sign-up system. Many of the new series we added over the years closely fitted the Foreground definition, long before the new rules had been introduced.
I stayed at Queen’s for a two-year MBA right after my B.Sc. (which was possible to do then). I was invited to be Popular Music Director for 1974/75. In that role, I asked the announcers to include one 15-minute Foreground segment each hour, covering a particular performer, songwriter or genre of popular music.
In 1975/76, my final year, I began Music Hall Matinee, which included short comedy tracks, with two featured singers and a different orchestra each week.
I also started With Murder in Mind that year, where my sister Anne Cowling and I read half-hour mystery stories (together or alternating week by week), mainly using some early short stories by Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. Steve Cutway introduced the programmes and took care of technical production. The following year Anne was joined by Graham Sellers, as they continued the format under the broader title Skeletons in the Closet, with Steve still assisting. In Anne’s final year, 1977/78, she read an assortment of stories with lighter themes, as part of a longer Sunday afternoon series entitled Book Ends, still alternating with Graham, but with Shelagh Rogers announcing and providing technical production.
CFRC has changed a lot over the past half-century. In my six years I worked with many announcers, operators, producers and directors. It was hard to pick a few to mention by name here. I wish I had room for the others, who were all essential to CFRC’s success.
MEMENTOS FROM 1974
SHARED BY IAN DE. BAINES, P.ENG. SCIENCE '74
I was an undergraduate and graduate student in Queens Electrical Engineering, which was based in Fleming Hall. At that time the CFRC transmitters were located on the third floor of Fleming Hall. They were maintained by the radio shop in the basement of Carruthers Hall, however as student Chief Engineer I had considerable input as well. In addition to being a graduate electrical engineer (Sc. 74) I had also worked as a radio engineer in CHFI and CFTR Toronto as well as the CBC Network building on Jarvis Street in Toronto. So I was familiar with repair of broadcasting equipment, including studio, transmitters and antenna. This took some of the load from the Queens radio shop and allowed me to indulge in my passion for antique radio equipment.
During my time with CFRC, 1970 to 76 there were two on-air stations. One on 1490 AM with a power output of 100 watts and a Marconi or T type antenna between Ontario and Fleming Halls. One on 91.9 FM with 1,000 watts and dual dipole antennas on a tower on Fleming Hall. I conducted signal tests on both stations as part of my undergraduate and graduate studies. The range of AM was about 20 km and could be heard throughout Kingston and the Islands. It started to fade out west of Kingston on the 401 out of town. It could be heard in Gananoque, but faintly. FM had much greater range, and a better audio quality. It was a mono signal and could be heard from Napanee to Gananoque and as far north as Sharbot Lake.
The AM transmitter was an old (1948 vintage) RCA BTA-250L which had been donated by a Kingston radio station, where it had served most of its career. This model could last forever as it was so robustly constructed. In fact, amateur radio operators still use them, and I saw one for sale this year. While capable of 250 watts, our license only allowed 100. The station was on air only after 6 pm on Thursdays and Fridays, until midnight. This was so as not to interfere with electrical engineering experiments. It ran all day Saturday and Sunday, shutting down at 2 am. The most popular shows were on Friday and Saturday nights, from 8 pm onward. That is when the students were partying or studying (who are we kidding?) and wanted to listen to commercial free rock. Thursday and Sunday evenings were for more serious shows. During the day the FM station carried mainly classical music. AM was for rock and talk.
The FM transmitter had been donated by Westinghouse and was an experimental model. It was not terribly stable and needed constant watching. The AM transmitter was a rock and almost never failed. I think that the FM transmitter dated to the late forties as well, a time when Westinghouse was developing commercial FM units. That was before stereo, so the transmitter was monaural. With another graduate student we tested it using an experiments stereo modulator of our own design. The results were not impressive. At least it had the ability to produce high quality sound, which the AM transmitter lacked. AM frequencies rolled off around 10 KHz, while FM could produce 15 KHz. The improvement in treble and bass was considerable, and students had the latest Sony and Pioneer stereos in their rooms. They tended to turn it up loud. CFRC obliged by giving them lots of good rock music to heat their speakers. On a Saturday night you could hear the sound of my Nocturne show coming from most residence buildings. Quite loud in fact. On Saturday night we went simulcast and broadcast the rock programs on both AM and FM. Most of the day however, they were separate programs.
The photos attached were taken in 1974 with my 35 mm slide film camera.
A GHOST STORY
SHARED BY IAN DE. BAINES, P.ENG. SCIENCE '74
With photos courtesy of CFRC Alumnus, Cameron Willis, CFRC Music Manager and longtime volunteer, 2011-2020
This is a ghost story. I don’t really believe in ghosts or goblins or spooky things. But this story is true, and it happened to me. If you have a better explanation, I am open to ideas.
Fifty years ago, while a post-graduate engineering student I was student Chief Engineer at the campus radio station CFRC; with both AM and FM on air stations. Founded in 1923 by other graduate students, CFRC had been going strong for almost fifty years at that point. Two of those students became our instructors and in 1974 I went to a retirement dinner for one of them. Professor Jemmett had been a part of the electrical engineering department for a very long time and is remembered as a fine teacher, a radio pioneer and founder of one of Canada’s earliest broadcast stations.
I have long been fascinated by radio and have held an amateur radio license for 55 years now. In addition to my electrical engineering training at Queens, I worked as a radio engineer while still a student for two Toronto radio stations and for the CBC. My jobs involved fixing everything that was inside a studio, including the transmitters.
In 1974 CFRC-AM was a 100-watt station that ran a 1946 vintage RCA transmitter donated by one of our Kingston, Ontario radio stations. I pored over the manual and learned all its workings. Built like a tank, it was reliable and trouble free. At least until that November night when it failed and brought down the station.
I well remember that night, as it as a classic dark and stormy fall night with leaves blowing and a cold rain blowing in my face as I cycled home from the campus library. Studying in the library until late was how I managed to pass my courses, and I often stayed until almost midnight. It was cold and wet as I pedaled home across campus, the central park, and down deserted downtown rainy streets. No sooner had I got in the door of my Princess Street house than the phone rang advising me that the AM station was off-air. Mary Lou Keating was operator that night and she told me that she had tried unsuccessfully to restart the transmitter. I knew that she was a well-qualified announcer / operator and if she could not get us back on air, something was very wrong. It was sometime after midnight, and I did not relish pedaling back to campus to fix things. But I did, as it was my job.
CFRC in those days had studios in the basement of Caruthers Halll and transmitters in the adjacent Fleming Hall. On the third floor there was a transmitter room packed with equipment. I had keys to the building and, as Chief Engineer, to the transmitter room as well.
Feeling very much like a drowned rat I let myself in to the dark transmitter room. The old RCA transmitter was fully illuminated, casting a warm glow on the walls but the high voltage had tripped. I reset it repeatedly, but it would not stay on. After an hour of troubleshooting, I gave up and headed home. No sense working alone on high voltage late at night. I would look at it the next day after classes and before the station was due on-air at 6 pm.
Arriving in Fleming Hall the next morning I found notices that classes were cancelled. No reason given. So naturally I took advantage of the free time to really dig into the problem. Three hours later I had finally found the issue.
It was a hidden, obtuse, and very unlikely fault. A high voltage wire on the power amplifier had shorted against a 120-volt line breaker. The problem was buried deep in the circuits behind other wires. Both components were well insulated, and it almost looked like they had been pushed hard against each other and the insulation rubbed away. This was impossible of course, as nobody could enter the cabinet to do this without tripping the safety breaker. Those old transmitters had three switches on the back door, and if you opened the door the high voltage went off instantly. It was as if some hidden hand inside the cabinet had forced the two together and welded the high voltage to ground. Weird.
Then I found out why classes were cancelled. Professor Jemmett, founder of CFRC back in 1923 had passed away that Thursday night. He died in Kingston General Hospital, just across a field from Fleming Hall where he had worked for so many years.
I ran the logger tape back to see when the AM transmitter had failed. A tape recorder constantly monitors a radio receiver and records what is sent out. It does not keep track of the time, but Mary Lou was very precise in her time checks, and she announced the time five minutes before the station went dead. It was not hard to measure the time between her announcement and loss of signal. Midnight. I kid you not
Ghost story? Maybe, maybe not. Who is to say? But it was a weird and surprising fault at midnight the day that one of the stations founders had died. Did I figure all of this out right away? Truthfully, I am not that aware. It was only a few days later that I put it all together, checked the logger tape and started to wonder.
It was as if the old graduate student, professor, and radio buff had signaled his passing to us.
I hope that by telling this story I am not disrespecting the memory of Professor Jemmett, or the many things that he accomplished. He was a fine teacher and the communications laboratory in Fleming Hall was named for him. I am fortunate that I started my engineering career under the direction of him and Professor Steward, another graduate student and founder of campus radio. We owe them a vote of thanks.