How Sprott Shaw College Pioneered Canadian Radio History

Sprott Shaw College turns 119 years old in 2022 and we’ve seen a lot of history pass through our campus doors. Canadian radio history was, maybe surprisingly today, a major part of the college’s origin story.

Today we enjoy live video feeds broadcast directly to our pocket-size smartphones (check out our new TikTok page, by the way). When Sprott Shaw opened its doors in 1903 the world was a very different place, however.

In a time when radio was just starting to boom, Sprott Shaw College was already paving the way and pioneering the airwaves in British Columbia. Let’s look back at this pivotal period in BC history, and the role Sprott Shaw College played in the history of Canadian radio. 

Sprott Shaw’s Development on Radio

The history of radio starts with Guglielmo Marconi, a Nobel Prize winner, most known for his work in long-distance radio transmission, Marconi’s law, and radiotelegraphy systems. 

In 1901, Guglielmo invented the first radio by using radio waves to transmit signals over several kilometres in distance. Over the next few years, he developed and advanced the technology to achieve a greater range of reach.  

Approximately two decades after Guglielmo’s developments, in April of 1922, Robert James (RJ) Sprott and Bruce Arundel established British Columbia’s first-ever radio station under Sprott-Shaw Schools of Commerce & Wireless Telegraphy and Radio Specialties Ltd.  

At the time, RJ Sprott was the President of Sprott Shaw College and Bruce Arundel was a teacher in Sprott Shaw’s Commerce, Radio, and Telegraphy School. 

This radio station was called CJCE and aired news, communication, and music on AM 750 with 5 watts of power. A modest achievement today, but an important milestone in Canadian Radio History, nonetheless. 

The beginning of the CJCE radio station helped mark the way for the exponential growth of radio as the first popular medium for entertainment and information in British Columbia.  

From this point on, the radio receiver became a focal point of everyday family life and over 862,000 devices were owned by families across the country. This was the beginning of the mass media revolution that we are still a part of today. 

BC History: The CKMO Radio Station

In 1924, Sprott Shaw closed CJCE, but took over another radio station, CFCQ, this time using an impressive40 watts of power! 

This new radio station served the purpose of communicating with the public and at the same time, provided quality education to Sprott Shaw students at the Commerce, Radio, and Telegraphy School. 

Four years later, in 1928, CFCQ was renamed CKMO, and increased its power from 100 to 1000 watts! 

The station’s motto was “life happens – we talk about it,” which RJ Sprott began toying around with in the 1920s.  

He spawned this motto when he saw the potential for mass communication to allow people to talk and share their experiences, perspectives, and opinions about their lives and the world around them. 

CKMO was broadcasted by Jack Cullen and Ernie Rose, who were both graduates of Sprott Shaw College.  

Jack Cullen enrolled at Sprott Shaw’s School of Commerce and Radio in Vancouver after serving as a radio operator in the Canadian Navy.  

Ernie Rose graduated from Sprott Shaw, and from the beginning, had always dreamed of working as a radio operator. The two were renowned announcers for the station. 

After the passing of RJ Sprott in 1955, Anna Sprott, his wife, sold CKMO to Radio C-FUN Ltd. CFUN aired music and news in a Top 40 format up until 1967, when it switched to broadcast easy listening music. 

This broadcast station now had such a strong signal that it could be picked up all the way to Hawaii. In 1996, CFUN moved to an all-talk format and remained that way until 2009, when it became a sports news radio station and changed its call letters to CFTE. 

Fast forward a few years, CFTE changed to a business format as BNN Bloomberg Radio in April of 2018. 

The station survived several years and became the oldest radio station in not only Vancouver but Western Canada, too. It went on to continue broadcasting into the 21st century, cementing a proud spot in the history of Canadian radio and broadcasting. 

To learn more about Sprott Shaw’s BC history, please visit our page here

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