Andrew Cowan earned country-wide acclaim during World War II, as one of the few Canadian reporters working the front lines in Europe. When he returned to Canada, he stayed on with the CBC, working his way up the ladder to a top management position. In the mid-'50s, he began the long bureaucratic process of bringing network radio to the north. It took a lot of arm twisting to convince the aloof brass in Ottawa and Toronto that the silent outposts in the North deserved the network radio service.
Cowan was firmly committed to public broadcasting and was determined to see that the North would be served by the CBC. On November 10th, 1958, Cowan's hard work paid off. CFWH became the first in a series of network-linked radio stations owned and operated by the CBC to broadcast across the North. CFWH, standing for Canadian Forces Whitehorse, went on the air in the mid-'40s as a military run, but volunteer staffed radio station. My first stint there as a volunteer was in 1956 when, as a grade nine student, I was assigned the Saturday night shift and hosted a rock-and-roll record show called Night Train. Elvis got his first big break in the Yukon on that radio show.
When the CBC took over, I lost my job. Four other Yukoners, Terry Delaney, Tom Horny, Earl Stephanson and Joe Craig became the CBC's first on-air employees in the North. Craig had been the morning man on CFWH as a volunteer and retained that role with the CBC. Terry Delaney became the voice of sports in the Yukon, and went on to cover many memorable events such as Senator Robert Kennedy's famous climb of Mt. Kennedy in the St. Elias Mountains. He was there reporting first-hand to the world the devastation caused by the Alaska earthquake of 1964.
When I got my job back at CFWH in 1962, as a summer relief announcer, the legendary Wee Willie Anderson was known throughout the Yukon for yelling 'Yahoo' at the top of his voice to open his popular daily western roundup show. Cal Waddington was producing timeless Yukon historical radio programs. Terry Delaney was calling local hockey games, and Ted North was sending news reports "outside" to the network.
The first location of CFWH, as a CBC station, was in an old air-force building across the Alaska Highway from the airport. In the early '60s, the CBC moved into a brand new building on Third Avenue, next to what was then the bus depot. As new as the building was, it was never meant to be a radio station. Sound proofing was non-existent and hallway conversations could be heard during local station breaks. The daily 6:30 departure of the bus, parked between the bus depot and the radio station, coincided with the broadcast of the local 6:30 newscast. I could always distinguish the bus drivers who liked the CBC from those who did not. Friendly drivers calmly let the engine idle. Unfriendly drivers revved the engine at maximum torque until the newscast was over.
In April of 1966, the CBC moved to its present location on the corner of Third and Elliot. The building was state of the art for its time. It was sound proof. If a bus went by, or a hallway conversation became heated, the noise couldn't be picked up by the vintage Northern Electric microphones, which predated the coming of the CBC to the Yukon in November of 1958. Perhaps they were the same microphones which Andrew Cowan, the CBC's first Northern Director used in his war-time reports from Europe.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: Radio in Dawson