CBC Radio One celebrates 82nd year broadcasting across Sask. by revisting origin story

·3 min read
The CBK station in Watrous, Saskatchewan in 1945.  (Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre - image credit)
The CBK station in Watrous, Saskatchewan in 1945. (Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre - image credit)

This week CBC Radio One is celebrating its 82nd year of broadcasting across Saskatchewan.

Everyone has an origin story. The story of CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan begins in the town of Watrous. There CBK-AM, CBC's pioneer western radio, opened in 1939.

When CBC looked to expand into Saskatchewan, it chose Watrous because the town's soil had impressive conductivity elements due to the Manitou Springs. The town is also a solid central location in the province. These two elements helped CBK's signal reach as far west as the Alberta Rockies, as far east as Winnipeg and as far south as Montana on a clear night.

Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre
Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre

A state of the art tower with an impressive 50,000 watt range and an art deco station building were built. The station officially launched on July 29, 1939.

The transmission tower was massive for its time, and the CBK building was said to impress many visitors, including a young Dwight Kornelsen.

Kornelsen was first given a tour of the station by one of then-technician Orin McIntosh's children.

"As kids they pretty much knew that building inside out. And I was just completely intrigued by everything. Just the scale of everything was so large. Like I was used to CB radios, which were the size of a small breadbox or cake pan. Well, here's a transmitter that fills an entire room," Kornelsen said.

From that moment on, Kornelsen fell in love with broadcasting technology and the Watrous CBK building. The art deco-styled building had a fallout shelter in 1964, large transmitters and a giant map on its floor. The map was cut out of linoleum into the floor and had every radio station in Canada at the time marked on it.

Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre
Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre

Orin McIntosh was a long-serving technician for CBK in Watrous. Although he was instrumental in helping to ensure the signal was broadcast clear from 1939 onwards, disaster struck in 1976.

On the night of June 4, a severe storm rolled into town and brought with it plough winds reaching over 100 mph. The next morning for the first time in its history, CBK in Watrous went silent when the tower crumbled.

"I could see it clearly day and night from the farm where I grew up and looked on the horizon. And that tower wasn't there. [In the morning] we drove down there past the transmitter site and here is this massive tower laying on the ground, all flattened and crumpled. And it was a sad thing to see and not to see that those tower lights on the horizon that made the night sky look very different around here," said Kornelsen.

Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre
Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre

Orin McIntosh's son Brian McIntosh remembers the disaster clearly as well.

"I was watching the lightning flash and my dad, of course, would have been listening to the radio station to see if it's still on. And of course it disappears ... That was basically the longest outage at that station ever," said McIntosh.

When technology advanced to the point where the transmission tower didn't need as much guidance as it did, Orin McIntosh retired. Today, he is revered among many Watrous residents, not least of all his son.

"He never bragged. He never thought that anything he did was special. Yet even myself as his son, even up to when he passed away, I was in awe of his skills as basically an artist, an engineer. His ability to repair and fix things and manufacture things for people," McIntosh said.

Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre
Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre

Due to the structural issues and asbestos problems, the art deco building had to be demolished in 2015. However, many of the artifacts and memories remain courtesy of the Watrous Manitou Beach Heritage Centre.

Today, Kornelsen continues his love affair with broadcast technology by working as CBK site supervisor in Watrous, performing maintenance on the transmission tower when needed.

"It makes me feel kind of important when they can actually call me and I can go out there and help ... it makes me feel like I've put in my little two cents worth to help keep feedback on the air," said Kornelsen.

Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre
Watrous and Manitou Beach Heritage Centre
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