Pleasant Memories: Working for the CBC in the Fifties and Sixties

It felt good. The CBC was a church. The President was the Pope and the Vice Presidents the cardinals. Middle managers were high priests and a few Mothers Superior and the rest of us were monks and nuns.

The Mandate was our Gospel and the Broadcasting Act our Scripture. It asked us to “provide radio and television services that inform, enlighten and entertain.” We were idealists. The word “elitism” may have been invented but we had never heard of it. Ratings did not exist. We knew we did not have a mass audience. We didn’t mind. We told ourselves those who liked us were people who mattered.

We were interested in Quebec and were very much aware of the solitude of those outside the big cities for whom we were the only game in town. We believed that Canada could not be a nation without a broadcasting system of its own. We believed that it must be of high quality and insulated from government and other extraneous influences. The airwaves were a scarce commodity that belonged to the public. In journalism we cared about balance and fairness. Our ethics had not yet been codified. We worried whether we should give the communists equal time. (We did not.)

The women in my department – Talks and Public Affairs – were the predecessors of the Women’s Movement and deserve to be remembered. They were determined to make the afternoon programs they masterminded not women’s programs but general information programs, preferring national and international affairs to diapers. Head Office thought divorce was a taboo subject and had to be outwitted by calling it marriage.

Our salaries were low but adequate. We thought we were richly rewarded by being allowed to serve the public. Our work was stimulating and we enjoyed the friendships with many of our colleagues.

Those who served other churches, or none, were pagans.

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5 responses to “Pleasant Memories: Working for the CBC in the Fifties and Sixties

  1. king townsend

    As one of the monks I recall that the Broadcasting Act at that time prohibited any discussion or even mention of birth-control. We never, however, suffered the political restrictions then in force in Britain such as the “14 day rule” which forbade any broadccast discussion of any topic on the House of Commons agenda within the following two weeks. Until 1956 when a transatlantic telephone cable came into service, the CBC relied on BBC short-wave facilities for transmissions to Canada. But sometimes, as when Princess Margaret’s relationship with Peter Townsend was international news and the BBC was barred from mentioning it, we relied on shipments of audio tapes for delayed coverage. Technology has, indeed, changed the world. Freedom has become licence. At that time the CBC was a relatively happy family although patriarcal values still prevailed in administration so that if two employees married the woman was deemed to have resigned. Living together happened, but was not a widely accepted option. However, Eric quite rightly mentions the mighty Women’s department founded by the formidable Elizabeth Long and one of the most creative programming units of the Corps.
    Eric must be careful about his religious metaphors. The Dead Sea Scrolls of reminiscence are endless. The above is only a small sample.
    With apologies!

  2. Jan Krouzil

    If ‘those were the days, my friend..’, one can only wonder what sort of
    an ‘undivine’ metamorphosis has transfigured the CBC’s ‘church’ like edifice.

  3. Fred Langan

    When I joined the CBC on March 22, 1968 I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Several years later the local supremo was a man named Eric Koch. He suggested a ballet to explain inflation. I was too dumb to get it, but I do now.

  4. So true! We were so mesmerized in believing that we were doing God’s work, so much so that, when I left the corporation in 1966, I was expecting the country to disintegrate, without me. To my great surprise I found a big world out there, with decent people, talented individuals, and wide opportunities, especially for anyone with experience acquired at the CBC.
    Those were the days!