Radio Canada Link Program Refugee Voices

Voices of Refugees Installation at the Parliament of Canada reviewed by Radio Canada International of Montreal.

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The Voices of Refugees Installation, shown at the Parliament of Canada, was reviewed by Marc Montgomery and Robert Jaros December 2009 on the The Link Program of Radio Canada International in Montreal Quebec.  Radio Canada International (RCI) is the international broadcasting service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Until 1970, it was known as the CBC International Service and, in its early years, it was also referred to as the “Voice of Canada”.

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In June 2012, shortwave services were terminated and RCI became accessible via the internet only and was reduced to service in five languages in contrast with the 14 languages it used in 1990. CBC also ended production of RCI news.

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The idea for creating an international radio voice for Canada was first proposed as far back as the 1930s. The CBC Archives website, however, has no archived news stories showing the historical documents where this early shortwave service is discussed. Several studies commissioned by the CBC Board of Governors in the late 1930s had come to the conclusion that Canada needed a radio service to broadcast a Canadian point of view to the world.

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By the early 1940s, this need was also recognized by a series of Parliamentary Broadcasting Committees. Finally, in 1942, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that Canada would begin a shortwave radio service that would keep members of the Canadian Armed Forces in touch with news and entertainment from home. The CBC International Service became a reality with the signing of an Order-in-Council on September 18, 1942.

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Designed by CBC’s chief architect D. G. McKinstry, the building opened in 1944 and was scheduled to be closed in 2012. A portion of the large RCI shortwave antenna system is visible in the background. The antennas were removed in 2014

By the end of 1944, both the production facilities and the transmitting plant were ready for test broadcasts. These tests, which began on December 25, 1944, were broadcast to Canadian troops in Europe in both English and French. Psychological warfare in German to Europe began in December 1944 as well. The German section was staffed by refugees such as Helmut Blume and Eric Koch and would go on to broadcast “denazification” programming as well as broadcasts aimed at East Germany during the Cold War.

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In early 1945, it was announced that the CBC International Service was ready and would go on the air for real on February 25 using the name the “Voice of Canada”.

By 1946, the CBC International Service had expanded to include regular transmissions in Czech and Dutch. Beginning in July, special once-a-week programs were broadcast to Scandinavia in Swedish and Danish and later in Norwegian, as well.

In November 1946, daily broadcasts started to the Caribbean in English. There were also Sunday night programs broadcast to Cuba, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador in Spanish and to Brazil in Portuguese.

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Daily Spanish and Portuguese transmissions began on July 6, 1947. At around the same time as the expansion into the Caribbean and Latin America, the CBC International Service became involved with the newly formed United Nations. United Nations broadcasts through the CBC International Service continued until November 29, 1952, when they were transferred to larger shortwave facilities run by the Voice of America.

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Early Cold War broadcasting (1950–1967)

Throughout its early years, the CBC International Service concentrated on broadcasting to Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II. By the early 1950s several international shortwave stations began to beam programs into the Soviet bloc countries in an effort to circumvent heavy censorship of world news to their citizens.  The CBC International Service’s Russian-language transmissions were jammed during the 1950s and into the mid 1960s stopping about 1967. On March 4, 1961, the Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish services were all discontinued. In addition, the German service was reoriented from its previous emphasis on West Germany to focus on East Germany. New English and French programs directed to Africa were added giving the International Service direct coverage to every continent except Asia.

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The Cold War era (1967–1991)

The CBC International Service played a major role in covering Canada’s Centennial celebrations in 1967. Ceremonies from coast to coast were carried over short-wave to the world on July 1, 1967 as Canada marked its 100th birthday.

In July 1970, the service was renamed Radio Canada International.

The change took place because it was felt that RCI should have its own identity, separate from the CBC domestic network, even though RCI had just been fully integrated into the CBC system.

On November 7, 1971, RCI inaugurated its new 250 kW transmitters which were five times more powerful than the existing units. This significantly improved RCI’s signal quality in Europe and Africa. Canada recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1971. Before beginning its Mandarin Chinese service, RCI produced a 40-week series called Everyday English which was broadcast in 1988 and early 1989 over local stations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. With an estimated audience of almost 20 million, the course was a huge success.

Just 10 months after beginning the Chinese broadcasts, RCI started a series of Arabic broadcasts to the Middle East. This coincided with the United Nations effort in the Persian Gulf to support the Gulf war, of which Canada was a participant.

RCI under threat (1991-2006)

In early 1991, facing further budget deficits, the Government of Canada ordered an across-the-board budget cut. Every ministry and Crown corporation, including the CBC, was required to participate.

After evaluating its own budget, the CBC decided it could no longer pay for Radio Canada International without extra funding from the federal government.

To save the service, RCI Program Director Allan Familiant announced a major restructuring that took effect on March 25, 1991. Six of the 13 languages – Czech, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, and Portuguese – were discontinued. And while the English and French services survived, all RCI-produced programming, except for news broadcasts, was eliminated and replaced with CBC Domestic network programs. Since then some RCI-produced programs in English and French have been restored. RCI then began a two audio stream, later three audio stream programming delivery structure after 2000.

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