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Friday, 11 March 2011

CJOB now officially a senior citizen !

(This post was originally written in 2011 for the 65th anniversary of CJOB. It was updated in January 2015.)

The 1940s were a decade of great growth in Winnipeg's radio market.

CKRC was already on the air, created in 1940 when the Winnipeg Free Press' Sifton family bought an existing station from the Richardson family. So were CKY and CKX, the Manitoba Telephone System radio stations in Winnipeg and Brandon.

As for the national broadcaster, French-language CKSB began broadcasting in May 1946 and English-language CBW came in 1948 after the CBC bought out CKY and CKX from MTS.

Image of John Oliver Blick (source). Headline Aug. 27, 1945, Winnipeg Tribune

The application for a new Winnipeg radio station was made in August 1945 by an ex-air force flight officer named John Oliver "Jack" Blick.

Blick was born in Edmonton in 1915 and got his start in the radio business there at CJCA. When war broke, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. No. 4 Initial Training School in Edmonton, a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facility, and served for four years. Upon his return to civilian life, he decided that the broadcasting business was for him.

He convinced a number of Western investors, including E. B. Osler who became vice president of the company, to put up the $125k required for a licence application and furnishing a studio.

It is sometimes said that the J-O-B in the call letters were for Blick's name, something he officially denied. Instead, he said, it stood for "jobs", something that he wanted to create for Veterans and in the community at large by supporting local businesses and initiatives. The fact that the initials were the same as his just "sealed the deal."

Above: March 11, 1946, Wpg Free Press

CJOB's first studios were on the tenth floor of the Lindsay Building. To reduce street noise from such a busy location, a seven inch rubber floor was laid and the studios built on top of it. Sills were refitted with triple-paned windows with each set at a slightly different angle. 

Their 250 watt transmission station was located at the edge of Whittier Park in St. Boniface. It was from there that Mayor Coulter flipped the power switch at 6 a.m. on March 11, 1946 and CJOB began officially broadcasting at 1340 am on the radio dial.

Top: Lindsay building ca. 1953 (source)

Station manager J.B. Coyne summed up CJOB's mission to a dinner crowd later that month:

"The policy of CJOB has been and is to recruit its personnel so far as possible from service men and women, to give the best possible service and programmes, to refrain from spoiling programmes by inopportune commercial announcements, to give general and local news every hour, and to forward the interests particularly of Greater Winnipeg"
(March 21, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press)

Blick did not just pay lip service to wanting to help Veterans. All of the 36 original employees of the station - average age 24 - were ex-servicemen and women. For the first week, the station played no commercials or syndicated programming, instead dedicating their 20-hour broadcast day to promoting community groups and service organizations working with soldiers and their families.

1946 - 47 CJOB programming

CJOB's early programming did have some syndicated shows but stayed away from musical and comedy variety shows in favour of talk radio, such as Formby or sitcoms like The Smiths of Hollywood. Most of their broadcast day, though, was filled with locally produced content.

There were the typical musical recitals and interview shows and preachers on Sundays. Club 1340 was their dance record club show on Saturday nights. CJOB also broadcast concerts in support of events like the Salvation Army, the anti-T.B. campaign, and the construction of Tec Voc High School. 

In 1946, CJOB began a 26-week series called Stars of The Future, a local talent show to showcase young singers and musicians. Acts were pre-auditioned by a panel to ensure that the top entrants made it to the show. Each week, one vocalist and one instrumentalist performed. Contestants were judged and the best from each category made it to the finals. The winners each received $250 musical scholarships. A new series was repeated for at least two more seasons, in 1947 and 1948.

To avoid playing commercials each CJOB show was sponsored by a local company.

CJOB ad in Wpg Free Press, October 7, 1957

Blick's vision for local radio included community news. From day one a unique feature of CJOB was "news at the top of the hour".
Soon, their reporters were in the field with news cruisers able to broadcast remotely.

CJOB transmitted for nearly two weeks continuously during the 1950 flood despite its St. Boniface transmitter being swamped. A temporary transmitter was set up on the roof of their building and technicians lived in tents next to it to ensure that it remained on the air.

October 7, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1957, CJOB reinvented itself for a new era in radio broadcasting.

The studios in the Lindsay Building were expanded, (it wasn't until 1962 that they moved to 930 Portage Avenue.) The single St. Boniface transmitter was replaced with three new ones on Highway 75 giving it 20 times the signal strength. 

On October 8 of that year they moved to their current home on the AM dial: 680.

From CJOB ad in Wpg Free Press October 7, 1957

CJOB also overhauled their programming and a mix of music and 'easy listening programs' were blended with the harder news and talk shows. A number of their on-air personalities became trusted household names, such as Red Alix, Bob Washington, Cliff Gardner and George McCloy.

In July 1961, Blick Broadcasting sold CJOB to Frank Griffiths of B.C. for $875,000.

Jack Blick died at Deer Lodge Hospital on February 20th, 1981. John McManus wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press of February 25, 1981:

Within three years he revolutionized radio. He took it out into the streets and on to the front lines of community happenings. He piped showmanship and professionalism into Manitoba homes and made radio an essential community component. He attracted listeners with an innovative style of broadcasting, staffed by war veterans with broadcast experience.

Sixty-eight years later, Blick's station is still the most listened to station in Winnipeg.


May 27, 1948 Winnipeg Free Press
May 27, 1948, Winnipeg Tribune

Blick's pioneering radio ways were not restricted to the AM dial. 

In 1948 Blick was granted the first private FM licence in Western Canada and set about creating CJOB-FM at 103.1 FM. At 8:30 pm on May 27, 1948 a ceremony was held of the roof of the Lindsay Building, Mrs. Blick broke a bottle of champagne over the base of the new tower and broadcasting began.

Winnipeg Free Press, July 17, 1965

Initially, the FM station simply simulcast the AM signal. In 1960, the company got permission to move to 97.5 FM and broadcast original programming. They chose a country, folk, ethnic music mix, (at the time, CJOB AM was talk and classical music.)

In 1965, CJOB got new owners and the FM station was relaunched as "The Town and Country Sound". It was Canada's first FM country music station and featured well known  CJOB personalities such Red Alix and George McCloy.

CJOB became CHMM-FM in 1976 and continued on as a country station until 1981 when it switched to adult contemporary. Its call letters eventually changed to CKIS, then CKJR but it always remained CJOB's FM sister, now owned by Corus Entertainment. 

The station may come full circle as it is expected to relaunch the station in 2015 as country music station 97.5 Big FM.


Winnipeg's 97.5 FM comes full circle! West End Dumplings 
CJOB History timeline Canadian Communications Foundation
John Oliver Blick Manitoba Historical Society
CJOB 65th anniversary video CJOB
20 years of CJOB LP YouTube


CreativeNige said...

CJOB's original mandate included refraining "from spoiling programmes by inopportune commercial announcements," he said. These days, that's a laugh.

Christian Cassidy said...

yeah, I chuckled at that to. Nowadays it's more a commercial stream interrupted by snippets of radio programming !

Unknown said...

Working at CJOB in the 60s was fantastic! I remember the Easter Parade & St Patrick's Day Parade when all the staff paraded down Portage in convertables, wearing lovely hats. We were happy to volunteer at the Winnipeg Auto Show, the Boat Show, Red River Ex to meet the people and give away promos. No pay - just fun. Radio was in its hey day and 'OB competed mostly with CKRC and CKY at that time. Then 'OB went to 'HI FI' on its FM station and subsequently dumped rock & roll on AM in favour of easy listening. Staffers could buy cast off records for 25 cents. In those days people still smoked in buildings and it was fine to pay women less than men for identical work. That has changed thankfully, but you could not beat the media for a fun place to work.
Y. Baert, still loving Winnipeg