There were about 60 radio stations in Canada in 1930, but none in Sudbury. Some residents experimented with crystal radio sets to pick up scratchy signals after sundown from Toronto and Montreal or northern American states.
Then on Aug. 19, 1935, Sudbury got its own radio station. CKSO AM signed on at 780 kHz (later 790 on the dial) with a power output of 1,000 watts. The call letters "SO" stood for Sudbury, Ontario.
Doug McCann, who worked for CKSO in the 1970s, has written an interesting book about Sudbury's radio and television history.
"The Story of the Birth of Broadcasting in Sudbury – Local Visionaries, Canadian Pioneers of Broadcasting" tells the what, where and when. But the most interesting part of the book for many will be the who: the stories of visionaries who invested in radio and television, and the memories of the creative men and women who worked behind the scenes and on the air.
McCann's first chapter deals with CKSO AM from 1935 to when 790 kHz signed off almost 75 years later.
W. E. Mason, the influential owner of The Sudbury Star, obtained the first private radio station licence in Northern Ontario. CKSO's first studios were located on Elgin Street where the newspaper offices were also housed.
In the days before television, “radio stations provided everything from news to comedy, drama and, of course, music. Much of the talent was local and, unlike today, it was often performed live. CKSO held regular auditions to find local artists to play and many musicians who visited often recorded their music at the studio," writes McCann.
Mason died at the age of 66 in 1948. A widower with no children, the bulk of his estate was left to a charitable foundation that supported Sudbury hospitals, the Canadian Red Cross Society, the Sudbury library and the building of the new Sudbury Community Arena.
His will stipulated profits from the radio station were to be distributed to charity, but at the time the Canadian government didn't allow radio licences to be held by charitable entities.
Mason's business associates, George Miller, James Cooper and W.B. Plaunt, purchased CKSO and, with James Meakes, the men bought the daily newspaper from the Mason Foundation. The Star was sold to the Thomson chain in 1955.
CKSO's owners were more interested in a new medium and received approval from the CBC board of governors to start a television station. CKSO TV, the first privately owned television station in Canada, signed on in October 1953.
CKSO radio and television moved into a building on Ash Street, which is now home to French radio station Le Loup 98.9 FM.
In 1955, "radio staff included newscaster Bob Evans and Cam Church as sportscaster … George Miller was president, W.J. Woodill was manager and commercial manager, and Ken Dobson was assistant manager. Bob Alexander was program and production manager. Bob Evans continued as news director," writes McCann.
CKSO FM (92.7 MHz) signed on the air in 1965. The new FM station carried about 25 hours of CBC content as well as a variety of music genres.
That same year, CKSO Radio and Television changed its name to Cambrian Broadcasting with Plaunt as president and Ralph Connor as manager.
"Connor came to Sudbury in 1950 to work as an overnight host on CKSO Radio. He wouldn’t be satisfied once he discovered that there were new challenges and opportunities within arm’s reach. He played an instrumental part in launching CKSO TV. He remained with Cambrian Broadcasting until 1975," writes McCann.
In 1977, CKSO AM increased its power to 50,000 watts 24 hours a day — a big leap from 10,000 watts a day and 5,000 watts at night.
Its slogan was, fittingly, "Fifty thousand watts and sounding like a million!"
CKSO AM and FM received permission to drop their CBC affiliations in 1978 when the national broadcaster opened a Sudbury station. CKSO FM was renamed to CIGM FM to honour former president George Miller.
Cambrian Broadcasting sold its television interests to Mid-Canada Communications in 1979. The station formerly known as MCTV is now owned by Bell Media.
Cambrian was renamed United Broadcasting, and in 1986 United sold CKSO AM and CIGM FM to Quebec-based Telemedia Communications.
This began a maze of ownership, call letters, frequency and format changes.
In 1990, CKSO AM switched frequencies with CIGM FM — the "new" CIGM AM at 790 kHz was a country and sports station, while the 92.7 FM frequency became CJRQ, more widely known as Q92.
In 2021, CJQR is known as 92.7 Rock and owned by Rogers Radio.
Rogers traded CIGM AM to Newcap Broadcasting for a radio station in Nova Scotia in 2008. Newcap then got CRTC approval to move CIGM to 93.5 FM. CIGM FM known as Hot 93.5 is owned by Stringray Group.
CIGM AM (formerly CKSO AM) signed off Aug. 24, 2009. Its 50,000-watt AM transmitter in the McFarlane Lake area on South Lake Road was shut down permanently marking the official end of W. E. Mason's dream.
Sudbury has 13 FM radio stations, but no AM stations.
(In 2001, a Christian music FM radio station in Sudbury began broadcasting at 101.1 FM. According to media reports at the time, the owner chose the call letters CKSO-FM because of their historical significance. The station closed in 2006.)
McCann says CKSO, in serving the community with its programming and personalities, helped to shape it.
"CKSO is steeped in the history of Sudbury and through its doors came many personalities who would go on to national and even international fame, whether in broadcast circles, business or even politics."
The book is "in recognition of all those who were connected to CKSO, its unprecedented accomplishments and in consideration that CKSO is woven into the fabric of the area’s history."
McCann got his start in radio working as an operator at CKSO FM in 1975. He went on to host radio programs in Sudbury, Orillia and Parry Sound.
He is still in love with the magic of radio and owns an internet radio station, Parry Sound Eastern Shores Online Radio. (ParrySoundRadio.com)
In 2004, McCann started a website, CKSO.com, and later a Facebook page to keep in touch with the people he worked with over the years at CKSO.
The material and memories he gathered became the inspiration for his book, which includes chapters on Félix Baxter Ricard, founder of CHNO and CFBR AM, and J. Conrad Lavigne, founder of CKNC Television.
"These gentlemen in their own right are recognized as Sudbury broadcast pioneers for their resourcefulness, foresight and unprecedented accomplishments," he says.
"The Story of the Birth of Broadcasting in Sudbury" is 264 pages with more than 100 photographs. It sells for $38.98 plus shipping. Purchase details are available at SudburyBroadcastPioneers.com. An e-Book version and PDF download version will be available shortly.
Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.