Alumni of the University of Alberta and other visitors to our Alma Mater will note a new and arresting feature of the skyline just south of Pembina Hall. Two slim, grey, lattice-work, steel towers spring from the high ground to a height of eighty feet and are surmounted by steel masts twenty feet in height with an aerial swinging between. Midway on the ground is a plain little frame structure with power wires winding into it. Such with the visible evidence to the casual visitor that the University of Alberta has seriously entered the newest field of education: that of instruction by radiophone, or to use the common expression, is going on the air with its own broadcasting station.
When, a few years ago, radio first made its appearance, it was regarded with feeling of mingled delight and apprehension — delight because of its capacity to lengthen the reach of entertaining and instructive effort; apprehension lest another distraction had been added to our already fevered modern life. For the first year or two educators were slow to appreciate the significance of what had happened. Entertainment took possession of the air. Broadcasting stations sprang up like magic and millions of dollars were spent on receiving equipment. In the United States, particularly, development was so rapid that, soon the ether was filled with a veritable anarchy of contending waves all challenging attention, and a problem of controlling the latest invader of our peace appeared. Aerial highways ignore national boundaries, and we share with our neighbours their difficulty. The Mother Country chose the wiser plan of establishing control before the situation got out of hand.
So far as North America is concerned the air has been almost captured by interests of all sorts which have special axes to grind. Particularly we are beset by advertising of many sorts more or less cleverly designed. Religious sects have been quick to seize upon a way of spreading their views at comparatively small cost. Service agencies such as newspapers have combined commercial broadcasts with news summaries market reports, weather forecasts and the like.
When the first novelty of the radio wore off, the question appeared of what fields of permanent usefulness were open to it. It is fairly safe to say that it is no longer a toy or luxury. Many homes would miss the radio more than any other piece of furniture In remote corners of the Peace River district the writer has sat at dinner and listened to lectures, which brought that hitherto out-of-the-way place into instant contact with the farthest corners of the earth. Survey parties in the far north carry small receiving sets by which they take daily time signals from Calgary, hundreds of miles away.
Meanwhile, what were educational authorities doing? At an early stage some broadcasting stations tried to combine instruction and entertainment. Lecturers were employed to give addresses on many kinds of educational topics: These were interspersed with amusement features. The result was sometimes incongruous to say the least. An illustration will suffice. One program contained a serious discussion of how to control tuberculosis which was followed immediately by a black-face minstrel skit. But universities, particularly those already interested in extension work, were watching developments closely and soon set to work. At first, individual lectures and musical programs of a superior character were introduced. Soon organized courses were presented with or without correspondence supplements These courses were worked out for credits so that today it is possible to get a liberal education by combining radio lectures with directed reading. While the old handicap of correspondence instruction, because it lacked the inspiration of personal contact, has not been removed by radio, it has been very much lessened.
Three years ago the Department of Extension in co-operation with the Edmonton Journal, began to present educational material, having the free use of the broadcasting station CJCA. With mutual satisfaction, this arrangement continued for three years. Last year nearly one hundred short lectures, on a wide range of subjects, were presented. In addition, musical programs intended to illustrate the works of great composers were put on, as well as national evenings on the feast days of the patron saints of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. But the increasing cost of broadcasting service and the consequent need of augmented income for CJCA made necessary a change in the existing arrangement. A careful investigation brought the conclusion that the University of Alberta should erect its own station and augment its service. A license was secured and the call letters CKUA were assigned. Mr. W. W. Grant, of Calgary, was engaged to install the new station, in co-operation with the technical staff of the University. Unexpected delay was encountered in the delivery of the aerial towers so that the first program was not broadcast until November 21st. By arrangement with CJCA and CHCY, the other Edmonton stations, CKUA will be on the air each Monday evening from 8 p.m. until 10:15 p.m. with a general lecture; and musical program. On Thursday evening from 8:30 until 10:30 will be farmers' night. Each Thursday until May 31st there will be two short lectures on agricultural topics. These will be interspersed with musical and other features of an entertaining character. Each Thursday afternoon there will be a woman's hour and each Monday an organ recital from the war memorial organ in Convocation Hall As rapidly as circumstances will permit, definite courses of instruction will be offered to supplement directed reading. A beginning will be made with a course for farm young people who are following the course outlined in connection with the University Week for Farm Young People. The next course will probably be supplementary to the correspondence course now offered in Economics and other subjects. There is almost no limit other than that set by resources and staff available to what can be accomplished in many fields. Alumni can help by making the service known, writing their criticisms of programs offered and by suggesting new developments.
Published November 1928.