Yukon Nuggets

  • The Book Cover of Duff Conacher's 1999 Publication.

1999 Hougen's history


Firsts in satellite technology

In a region where darkness reigns nineteens hours a day in winter, where there are only 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants at any one time spread out across thousands of miles of countryside, staying connected to each other, let alone the rest of Canada, is no small challenge. Canada's north did not see a radio station, and then it was a U.S. military station, until the Second World War. And residents had better access to English news broadcasts from the Soviet Union in the 1950s than they did to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The Whitehorse TV station (WHTV) operated hand-to-mouth from the late 1950s on, broadcasting local news, weather, and sports to four hundred subscribers. In 1965, Rolf Hougen, owner of a local department store, extended his earlier involvement in the station by taking it over with the help of several investors. He moved the studio, invested in new equipment, began the costly process of taping and shipping programs from Vancouver north to be rebroadcast (a practive approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission [CRTC] but protested by Vancouver stations), and eventually expanded to colour broadcasts over three channels.

Technological barriers prevented further developments at WHTV, until they came up with the idea of using Canada's world- leading and relatively new domestice communications satellite (Anik-1, launched in 1972) to gain direct access to the broadcasts from southern stations (see the story of Anik-1 in Canada Firsts). A 1979 feasibility study revealed that it was not only residents of the north who desired improved TV reception, but also people living in smaller communities across the country who suffered similar isolation. In order to finance the development of the service, Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. (Cancom) was created, including representatives from broadcasting companies in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Hamilton, and Montreal.

After overcoming many regulatory and technological barriers, Cancom launched in December 1981. Financial troubles almost derailed the company early on, but when Cancom went to the stock market in 1983, the four million shares sold at five dollars each provided a solid capital base for the company.

Since then the company has constructed the first scrambled satellite television network in the world featuring Canadian signals in French and English, built the most technologically sophisticated commercial master control centre in North America, and supported aboriginal broadcasting by providing free satellite transmission for five native radio services and a free satellite uplink in Whitehorse fro TVNC, the world's first aboriginal television network.

Rolf Hougen's dream of TV service for the north has been more than fulfilled, as WHTV now offers its customers twenty-seven channels in colour, connecting them to the whole country, and to all five U.S. networks. In all, Cancom distributes thirty-five Canadian and U.S. signals to over 2,500 cable systems across North America, and it is involved in efforts to bring direct-to-home satellite television to Canada.