VORG - Gander's First Radio Station
by Frank Tibbo
“This is VORG, the Voice of Radio Gander, 570 on your radio dial, stay tuned for local news. After that we will bring you the BBC news as relayed by short-wave radio. Now here is a pleasant ditty from ...”
The Voice of Radio Gander, sometimes referred to as The Voice of RCAF Gander, didn’t carry very far. The small 25-watt transmitter, once part of an aircraft’s equipment, had just enough power to do what was intended – to reach personnel stationed at the base.
Very few people realize that had this station failed to materialize, there may not be a CBC station in Gander today. So why was it born? The Commanding Officer of the base at that time, Group Captain C.L. Annis, O.B.E., answered that question in 1944:
“I have always been anxious to have a broadcast system on this station because it is so large physically. I have felt that if we are to maintain and exploit the Happy Gander Family principle, we must do something to make the station smaller so far as intercommunication, exchange of ideas and singleness of purpose among family members is concerned, and by providing a means less stilted in style than the D.R.O.s 1 and more flexible and all-embracing than the telephone system.” (D.R.O. Daily Routine Orders )
The first transmissions were heard in March 1943 when the station came on the air on a non-scheduled basis strictly for test purposes. The official opening was on January 1, 1944, and it was on that day that the foregoing quotation was heard as a part of the first official broadcast.
The call-sign of VORG was selected because VO was a Newfoundland government prefix and all the Newfoundland radio stations commenced with these two letters. VOWR and VOCM are still with us. The RG represented Radio Gander; however, the RCAF were ready to change that to RCAF Gander.
The following is from the RCAF Station Log:
“It was first intended to announce VORG as VOICE OF RADIO GANDER but it is now understood that the USAAF here are about to apply for permission to operate a small station of their own along the same lines as ours, in which case we propose to adopt VOICE OF RCAF GANDER.”
Since the station was established by and for the RCAF personnel, the bulk of the material came from Canada. Features were also carried from the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The following is from the RCAF Station Log:
"The organization and administration for the Gander Broadcasting System, as well as the name, were first established at a meeting of all interested personnel on December 20 (1943). A committee was formed consisting of five members – Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Chief Engineer, Program Director, Secretary. The call letters VORG were chosen for the station identification, with operating frequency of 570 kcs. The initial transmitting equipment is an aircraft transmitter with approximate power output of 25 watts. The inaugural broadcast was made on January 1, 1944, at 1230 hours with an opening address by the Commanding officer. The studios are temporarily located in the Commanding Officer's cottage. The main purpose of the broadcasting station is to provide news and entertainment for Service personnel in the immediate vicinity. At present broadcasting is being done on a six-hour basis with an increase in schedule contemplated in the near future. Lines for remote broadcast have been installed in the Recreation Hall, Chapel, Theatre and Hospital Recreation Room. Programs will emanate from these locations shortly. Work is now in progress to provide more substantial transmitting equipment.”
The chairman of the committee was Flying Officer E.C. Skowby, the program director and announcer was A.C.1 Bob Harvie, the chief engineer was Flight Sergeant F.E. Anderson, the publicity and special events coordinator was Flying Officer Patterson, and the secretary was L.A.W. Eleanore Martin.
A lot of local productions soon became features, such as dances and shows from the RCAF Theatre, services from the Chapel, sports events from the drill hall and a Sunday evening program called "The C.O. Plays Host."
Initially the broadcasting hours for the day were 1230 to 1430 and 1700 to 2000 hours; however, in December 1944, the station was on the air 16 hours a day.
In May 1944, a new studio and control room was established in the Airmen`s Canteen. A week prior to that a new more powerful transmitter had been installed. BBC news broadcasts were aired at 9 a.m. 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. through the facilities of a short wave receiving station.
Some of the other volunteer workers were Grace Babbitt, Henry Christensen, Ron Cook, Ken Dillenbach, Herb Ellis, George Hill, George Kent, Dave Mansfield and George Miles.
The station became inoperative for a brief period following the war. In March 1948, it was acquired by the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland and reactivated on a frequency of 1450 kc. (It was later changed to the present-day frequency of 1400.) The first manager was Mr. Harold Morris from VONF, St. John’s, He was not only the manager but he was also the lone employee for a while. Mr. Arthur W.F. Barrett of the staff of VOWN in Corner Brook was the next manager, and Mr. Barrett said the only other employee at that time was Miss Felicity Heath. Mr. Frank Galway (manager of the Newfoundland Broadcasting System) and Mr. Richard Bunt (chief engineer) engaged Mr. Jim Strong, a radio technician with the Department of Transport in Gander, to perform the engineering duties until full-time staff was hired. VOWR became the third location for the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland – the first was VONF in St. John’s (VONH short-wave) and the other was VOWN in Corner Brook.
After April 1, 1949, when Newfoundland joined Canada, the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland was absorbed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation resulting in the call-sign being changed from VORG to CBG.
CBG was located at 98 Sullivan Avenue, now at the Gander Mall. Its first location, as mentioned earlier, was in the Commanding Officer’s basement on Chestnut Road (Canadian Side); next it was moved to a building which was attached to Goodyear’s Canteen adjacent to the Drill Hall (Canadian Side); then it was located in the Airlines Hotel on the American Side for a short time, and then to Broadcast House on the American Side.
contributed by F. Tibbo