Two looks into media history - Keith Roulston editorial
It was fascinating, just before the holidays, to watch CTV London celebrate the 70th anniversary of what was originally known as CFPL London.
There were so many faces that had come and gone over the years that I’d forgotten until they returned to the air for the anniversary. People like Bill Brady were familiar in years gone by. I remember when my friend Jim Swan left CKNX Radio to co-host CFPL’s morning show. I was also on Ross Daley’s weekly farm show to discuss the play Another Season’s Promise, about the high-interest-rate crisis when it played at the Blyth Festival in 1986 and again in 1987 before it went on a national tour.
Several famous actors grew up in London, including Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, but I was surprised when I learned that London-born Hollywood actor Victor Garber’s mother Hope had a show called At Home with Hope Garber on CFPL before Victor gained his fame.
However, the early years of CFPL are missing for me because we didn’t even have a television in 1953 when it began and when we finally got one in the later 1950s, we had a local station at CKNX that dominated our local watching in those days when just getting a signal was an expensive challenge - almost impossible to imagine in these days of cable and satellite TV when we can choose from 100 or more TV channels.
I was privileged to interview the legendary local broadcaster W. T. “Doc” Cruickshank for a story in one of our publications in the 1970s. An adventurous and creative man, he had established CKNX radio in the 1930s and, by the 1950s, dreamed of having his own TV station in Wingham.
He succeeded when he signed on in 1955, presenting CBC shows in prime time but also providing local content, with two country-and-western TV shows - Circle 8 Ranch and The Ranch Boys - giving a television coverage to two bands that were also employed by CKNX Radio and were at the heart of CKNX’s Travelling Barn Dance. Many talented guests were hosted on the shows, including one of the earliest appearances by Sudbury’s Shania Twain.
Both radio and TV stations were located in the former high school building until March 8, 1962, when the building caught fire. Although nothing could be salvaged, CKNX TV was on the air again later that night with the help of equipment loaned by nearby stations. One of the greatest contributors was Walter J. Blackburn, then-owner of CFPL television and radio and the London Free Press.
In 1963, Doc Cruickshank opened a new station that is still home to CKNX radio on Carling Terrace where CKNX TV continued for several more years. But he was getting old and none of his children were interested in taking over. Eventually he sold the TV station to Blackburn and retired - though he operated the Lyceum Theatre for several years as a hobby, something he had been involved with way back before he began the radio station.
So, this history of CFPL’s 70 years also recalls CKNX’s history. Although both stations are now owned by national networks, neither would exist if it hadn’t been for visionary local individuals who imagined they could be successful and worked hard to make it happen. They helped create a culture in the London area and in Western Ontario which wouldn’t have existed without their efforts - even if we didn’t have the same sort of creative geniuses to keep both of them locally owned.
Speaking of memorable characters, Jill and I were saddened, during the holidays, to attend the wake for Lorna Whitmore.
Lorna was the first Blyth resident I met when I heard that the newspaper The Blyth Standard was for sale. It was 1971 and I was the 24-year-old editor of the Clinton News-Record, but I was eager to have a newspaper of my own. When I came to Blyth, Lorna was in The Standard’s office alone and I had to wait for her husband Doug to return to express my offer,
It was a time of great change in newspapers as offset printing separated newspapers from the printing operations that had held them together for a century. In addition Doug’s father and mother, who had taken over the business 40 years earlier, had both died and he had less interest in running the newspaper than they’d had. He and Lorna came up with a generous offer that lured Jill and me northward. Lorna even helped Jill run the paper for several months while I continued to run the Clinton newspaper before the Blyth paper would support our growing family.
Blyth Printing, the printing business left after the Whitmores sold The Standard, is now run by Lorna’s son Ken and is one of the few print shops still surviving, 50 years later.