A Brief History of the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland
THE BROADCASTING CORPORATION OF NEWFOUNDLAND was created in 1935 to provide the failed Dominion with radio service. The British Commission then ruling the island perceived a need to inform, entertain and unite the demoralised people of Newfoundland. They bought the remnants of the bankrupt VOSJ, Newfoundland’s first private station, and moved equipment and personnel into an abandoned abbatoir on Duckworth Street in the heart of St. John’s.
With the building of a repeater station on the Funk Islands in 1936, the BCN’s service quickly expanded to include stations in Gander, Grand Falls and Corner Brook. The public broadcaster became an essential part of the island’s cultural life, serving the people well through the Depression, the Second World War and the Great Debate over Confederation with Canada. For many, this was the BCN’s finest hour, dramatising and broadcasting in their entirety the proceedings of the National Convention in 1947-48.
Under Section 31c(ii)-49/GB of the terms of union between Newfoundland and Canada, the future of the BCN was ensured by a $5,000 annual appropriation in perpetuity, to be jointly provided by Ottawa and the province, and a 99 year license to broadcast on 520 AM. Although the BCN’s radio service has remained popular, the administration’s fateful 1954 decision that “televisual pulses have no future” kept the corporation out of television.
By 1966, the BCN’s annual appropriation was sufficient for only five hours of programming per day, much of it done by volunteers. In that year it was discovered that the late Ron Gellately, long-time host of the BCN’s flagship show, The Great Eastern, had left his considerable estate to the corporation, and the station was able to expand its service significantly thanks to the Gellately Trust.
More recently, under the innovative direction of Ishmael Lundrigan, the BCN has undertaken a series of joint ventures with Radio Iceland and the Broadcasting Corporation of Canada. In a time of contraction for public broadcasters everywhere, this bold modernisation programme has given the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland hope for the future.