1941 Yukon Nuggets
Radio in Dawson City
It’s hard to believe but there was a time when American armed forces radio (AFRTS) or radio Moscow were the signals of choice in the isolated north. They were the only choices.
In 1944, Whitehorse got a military-operated volunteer radio station called CFWH. However, in the rest of the Yukon, including Dawson City, nobody could get radio reception except from the United States or Russia . And that was only on shortwave.
In the 1940s, radio ruled and the US had plenty of popular programs. American culture was king in the Klondike, too.
In Dawson , there was a Canadian military signal-corps operation designed to keep track of enemy signals during the impending cold war. One signal man, Chuck Grey, had a room on the second floor of the Pearl Harbour Hotel. He also owned a gramophone, lots of old records, and a one-watt radio transmitter.
So he hooked up the record player to the transmitter, dropped a wire from his bedroom window and went on the air. Once they got a microphone, the signal corps boys said:
"This is Dawson City Radio. We hope you enjoy the music."
The primative broadcasts could be picked up around the corner at the signal office. Actually the signal reached all of Dawson, but that was it. Bear Creek, nine miles away, was out of luck. People began to notice. The hotel room became a Mecca for youngsters who wanted to see where the broadcast was coming from. Radio sales in Dawson boomed. Then, someone advised communications regulators in Ottawa about the pirate station. They quickly sent an order to cease and desist.
So the signal corps' pirate radio station went off the air. But the local population now knew what local radio meant. They put pressure on the federal government and the order was withdrawn.
Not only that, but Ottawa shipped the signal corps a 100-Watt transmitter and local Dawson radio was back in business — all the way to Bear Creek. It was popular, but still without a name until the boys talked it over, and decided on CFYT as the call letters. It meant Canadian Forces Yukon Territory.
Most of the programming was still American Armed Forces Radio shows on sixteen inch transcription disks. They also broadcast the occasional live program when the Yukon’s famous Bill Anderson joined the volunteer staff.
Then in December of 1958, the CBC Northern Service took over all community-operated transmitters in the North. CFWH in Whitehorse became the first CBC North Radio station on November 10th, 1958, and a month later, CFYT, with Wee Willie Anderson as its first employee, joined the CBC Northern Service.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.