By Dan White – Special to the Sydenham Current
I recently had the privilege of listening to Michael Alexander speak about his grandfather and their relationship. Michael is the grandson of Jack Beardall, the man who brought radio CFCO to the airways in the early 20th Century. It may be taken for granted by those who have lived their lives in this community, but it was news to me that the call letters for CFCO actually stood for something, Coming From Chatham Ontario. Michael informed me that a woman suggested the name in the late 1920’s and won the significant sum of $25.
Jack was recently inducted into the CKACN Arts and Culture Heroes Wall of Fame in the builder’s category. It was at the induction ceremony that I first heard Michael speak and then met him. Michael is an articulate, interesting man who makes a living as a lawyer. I listened to him describe the accomplishments of his late grandfather and touch on the man that Jack was. Joni and I were fascinated by the story and touched by the wisdom of the grandfather guiding his grandson.
CFCO first graced the airwaves in 1926 at AM 630 and it has been on the air for the 97 years since then. In the 20’s signal variance could fluctuate by up to 50 kilocycles above or below the actual broadcast numbers. So, you might find CFCO anywhere from AM 580 up to 680. This was unacceptable to Jack and he devised a way to reduce the signal variance to 0 KC. This meant if you wanted CFCO, it was always at exactly 630 AM on your dial. CFCO was the first station in Canada to accomplish this and it was Jack’s innovation.
CFCO was also the first station to have a government-approved weather station and the first to create a transformer that converted AC current to DC directly from a wall outlet.
A fascinating story that Michael shared was the use of DX Broadcasts. I am no expert, but as I understand it, the station would bounce a shortwave signal off the atmosphere at night and request that listeners send in a letter from wherever they received the signal. CFCO received 20,000 fan letters from places as far away as New Zealand. Again, a reminder that this was in the 1920s and early ’30s. An incredible accomplishment!
In the 1930s, the BBC would broadcast an annual Christmas Day Program and it would usually be hosted by the CBC in Canada and CBS in the USA. Recognizing its early achievements, CBC selected CFCO to provide the Canadian feed for the 1937 Program. Among the performers that day would be the Black Legacy Choir from Buxton. The program reached over 50% of the world’s radio listeners as the feed went to the British Empire as well as CBS.
Early on, Jack knew the importance of community and, at his expense, lines were strung to several churches to allow for Sunday services to be broadcast on the radio. Sundays were also free of advertising. Much of what Jack Beardall did in the early days of radio was revolutionary and he was recognized for his innovation and leadership in the industry as he helped create the rules that governed broadcasting and was twice elected to sit as one of the six directors on Canadian Broadcasters society.
But this was only a part of Jack. Michael noted that for the first 13 years of his life, he spent Friday night and most of Saturday with his grandfather as well as frequent visits through the week. Often on Saturdays, the event was as simple as heading to watch what Michael called the “lazy diesels”. Michael would implore Jack to take him to watch the trains and they would sit, sometimes for two hours, watching the trains as they listened to the radio and waited in the hopes that a diesel would move. Inevitably it did, but Jack did not “adult” his grandson and explain why the train may not be moving, he simply gave the child time to discover an explanation.
This, Michael explained, was the gift he received from Jack, ”JACK DID EVERYTHING BY INDIRECTION AND WITH IRONY. THERE WERE NO JEREMIADS, NO SERMONIZING, NO BIG MORAL LESSONS. HE NEVER ONCE RAISED HIS VOICE TO ME. HE SET UP EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE SO I COULD EXPLORE WHO I WAS AND WHAT I WAS INTERESTED IN. BUT HE NEVER LET ON THAT HE WAS DOING IT.”
Finally, Michael noted, “The real story of CFCO is not all the technological innovations. It’s not the fact that the station has operated in the black for almost 100 years. It’s not that Jack drove a Rolls-Royce and lived a good life. Those are the epiphenomena. The real phenomena was Jack’s way of looking at the world. ‘You are the master of your own fate. You can invent your own life. If you do it the right way, everyone else can share in your success. Your only limit is your own imagination, and it is potentially unlimited.’ That’s the real legacy of Jack, the real legacy of Jack Beardall and CFCO”
I thought it fitting to announce here that I will be doing a monthly arts update on CKXS in Wallaceburg, Sponsored by Glasstown Brewing starting soon. If you have arts events from across CK that you would like to promote, email me at email@example.com.
A few arts updates:
Add these to your calendar.
Brock Stonefish Blues at the Mary Webb Centre for The Arts – Nov. 25 at 8 p.m.
Wallaceburg Concert Band Annual Christmas Concert at WDSS – Dec 2 at 7 p.m.
Wallaceburg Brass Quintet and Friends Christmas Concert at First Baptist Church – Dec 9 at 2 p.m.