Blackburn Radio Inc.
When Josiah Blackburn purchased the Canadian Free Press newspaper in London, Ontario, and renamed it the London Free Press, it was the Blackburn family's first step along the media road that would eventually find them as major players in the Ontario radio market
On Josiah's death, his son Arthur succeeded him, and while growing the daily paper over the next two decades, Arthur was increasingly aware of the growing power of radio.
Under Arthur's leadership the Blackburn's first radio station, CJGC-AM London, opened on September 30th. Its studios were located in the London Free Press office on Richmond Street, and the station broadcast on 430 metres, with a power of 200 watts.
CJGC moved to 910 kHz, and its power was increased to 1000 watts.
By 1931, CJGC's power on 910 kHz had increased to 5000 watts.
By this time, Arthur Blackburn and his senior management team were feeling that there was insufficient growth in the radio medium to suit their business aspirations, and they made a deal to merge their CJGC operation in London with that of CKOK-AM Windsor, from which came a new station, CKLW-AM, serving both markets.
The loss of their local station in London did not sit well with a large number of local businessmen and residents, and by the end of the year the Blackburns had withdrawn from their partnership with the Windsor shareholders, and opened a new station, CFPL-AM, to serve the London area. It operated on 730 kHz, with 100 watts of power.
Arthur Blackburn died in January. His son Walter, who was only 21, and had just graduated with an Honours BA from the University of Western Ontario, became both the publisher of the London Free Press and the owner of CFPL-AM.
CFPL became an affiliate of the new Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)'s Dominion Network.
On March 29th, CFPL moved to 1570 kHz.
CFPL-AM increased power to 1000 watts. At the time, the London Free Press was owned 80% by the Blackburn family and 20% by Southam Press.
On September 1st, CFPL increased power again, this time to 5000 watts.
The London Free Press broke new ground with the purchase of a twin engine Cessna Crane aircraft, to move print and radio reporters to the scenes of breaking news stories.
The Blackburn Group acquired a licence to operate a new FM station in London, to have the call letters CFPL-FM.
CFPL-FM London had its official launch on May 15th at 93.5 mHz, 4400 watts. The new CFPL studios in London were originating two shows for the CBC network in addition to their own local productions. For over a year, CFPL-FM and AM would simulcast the same program schedule.
On February 20th, CFPL-AM moved from 1570 to 980 kHz, and CFPL-FM from 93.5 MHz to 95.9 MHz, at 4400 watts. In September CFPL-FM began broadcasting some degree of separate programming, notably classical music.
The CBC (then the regulator of all broadcasting in Canada) approved CFPL-FM's request for permission to program two and three-quarter hours of programming separate from CFPL-AM, each night.
The London Free Press Printing Co. Ltd. filed an application for the operation of a television station to serve the London area. They proposed the use of channel 10 with an effective radiated power of 177,000 watts video and 19,600 watts audio through an antenna 576 feet above average terrain.
The CBC Board of Governors approved the CFPL application in March, saying the application was satisfactory and the station would extend national service coverage as well as provide local service. CFPL-TV officially signed on the air November 28, at 6:30 p.m.
In January CFPL-TV became the fourth and newest link in Canada's network of TV stations as the microwave relay system constructed and operated by Canadian National-Canadian Pacific was completed to the city. The network now stretched from Toronto to Montreal, via Ottawa, servicing CBC TV stations in each city, and four new microwave transmitters (Milton, Galt, Woodstock and London) completed the span from Toronto to London.
CFPL-TV had an effective radiated power of 325,000 watts video and 195,000 watts audio. Ownership of London Free Press Printing Co. Ltd.: W. J. Blackburn 33.4%, A. R. Ford 33.3% and H. R. Davidson 33.3%. Walter J. Blackburn was president. Murray T. Brown was manager. Bob Reinhart was operations manager and program director.
CFPL increased power on 980 kHz to10,000 watts (day) and 5000 watts (night).
The CBC's Trans-Canada and Dominion radio networks merged. CFPL remained an affiliate.
By this time, Walter J. Blackburn was President of the London Free Press Printing Co. Ward Cornell was General Manager of CFPL, as well as hosting CBC Television's Hockey Night in Canada.
Walter Blackburn had planned in the early 1960's to move CFPL-AM-FM and the London Free Press to new modern facilities. The plan called for the radio operations to move to the TV facility, south of the city. However, Blackburn changed his mind and kept the radio and newspaper operations downtown to prevent an exodus of business to the suburbs. It was this year that the Free Press and CFPL 980 and 95.9 moved to their new home at 369 York Street.
Walter Blackburn's son, Walter Jnr. died, and Walter Snr.'s younger daughter Martha became the heir apparent to the Blackburn organization.
On March 1, CKNX-AM Radio in Wingham, Ontario, along with CKNX-TV, Television was sold to the Blackburn Group subsidiary, CFPL Broadcasting Ltd. CKNX-TV was having trouble attracting selective time to attract national accounts and it was hoped that with the ability to sell Wingham in conjunction with CFPL-TV, London, this situation would be improved. The London Free Press group also promised to air some French language programs on CKNX-TV from the CBC as it had done on CFPL-TV London.
With CFPL Broadcasting Ltd's purchase of CKNX-AM-TV in Wingham, CKNX Broadcasting Ltd was created to operate the Wingham broadcasting units.
Before the end of the year, London Free Press Holdings Ltd. became 100% owned by the Blackburn family when they purchased the 25% interest held by Southam Newspapers.
Murray Brown of London was President of CFPL Broadcasting Ltd. and CKNX Broadcasting Ltd., and the General Manager for CKNX-AM-TV was now long-time staff member Ross Hamilton. He had been CKNX-TV's sales manager.
Martha Blackburn became controlling shareholder in the Blackburn group.
CKNX Broadcasting Ltd. opened CKNX-FM, “FM 102" on April 17. The station broadcast on a frequency of 101.7 MHz and had an effective radiated power of 22,000 watts. Studios and offices were in the CKNX Radio & Television building at 215 Carling.
Martha Blackburn's husband, Peter White, became President of the Blackburn Group. Walter Blackburn died on December 13th, and Martha Blackburn became Chairman of the Blackburn Group Inc. and Publisher of the London Free Press.
London Free Press Holdings Ltd. and subsidiary CKNX Broadcasting Ltd., were merged into the Blackburn Group.
On April 11, the CRTC approved an application by CFPL Broadcasting Limited for a TV network licence for CFPL-TV London and CKNX-TV Wingham for the purpose of providing a microwave feed to distribute programs from London to Wingham for broadcast on CKNX-TV. This represented no change in the programming available to Wingham viewers, but an improvement over the practice of sending programs by video-tape.
Martha Blackburn purchased her sister's shares in the Blackburn Group, and thereby owned 100% of the stock.
C. Ross Hamilton retired September 1. He had been president of CKNX Broadcasting Ltd. He was replaced by Robert Elsden who was also president of co-owned CFPL-TV in London. A. N. (Al) Skelton, former manager of CKNX-TV, was appointed vice-president and general manager, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company.
Approval of applications by CFPL Broadcasting Ltd. and CKNX Broadcasting Ltd. to disaffiliate their television stations from the CBC Television Network was granted. As a result, the CBC was granted the establishment of rebroadcast transmitters of CBLT Toronto to replace the signals of CFPL and CKNX. The disaffiliation of the stations took place August 31, and the replacement CBC stations began broadcasting.
On September 28, an application by CFPL Broadcasting Ltd. to purchase CHCH-TV Hamilton from Maclean-Hunter Ltd. was denied. The trio of CHCH, CFPL and CKNX would have formed a mini-network. CFPL and CHCH had worked together over the years in areas such as program acquisition and news, so they already had a good working relationship. The CRTC gave Maclean-Hunter until March 28 (1990) to either keep CHCH-TV or find another buyer.
On October 19, an application by Kenwal Communications, a partnership of Maclean Hunter Ltd. (65%) and The Blackburn Group Inc. (35%), to purchase independent stations CHCH-TV Hamilton, CFPL-TV London and CKNX-TV Wingham was denied by the CRTC.
Robert V. Elsden was appointed Vice-President, Broadcasting, of what was now the Blackburn Group Inc.
In early May, Martha Blackburn, chair of the Blackburn Group Inc., announced the sale of CKNX-TV and CFPL-TV to Baton Broadcasting Inc.
Martha died suddenly of a heart attack on August 15 at the age of 47. She was the daughter of the late Walter J. Blackburn and had become head of the company following his death. Despite the death of Blackburn, the proposed sale of CFPL-TV/CKNX-TV to Baton was to proceed. The future of the London Free Press newspaper and CKNX / CFPL radio stations was up in the air.
On January 26, approval came for Baton Broadcasting subsidiary South Western Ontario Broadcasting Incorporated's purchase of CFPL-TV and CKNX-TV, from The Blackburn Group Inc.
On December 19th, Rogers Communications received CRTC approval to acquire the broadcasting assets of Maclean Hunter. An element of the deal was that Rogers would sell off the Maclean Hunter subsidiary Bluewater Broadcasting, which owned CHYR Leamington, plus CFCO Chatham and CKTY/CFGX Sarnia. Bluewater would be acquired by Blackburn Radio Inc.
A Local Management Agreement was concluded between Sarnia Broadcasters, owners of CHOK Sarnia, and Blackburn Radio, owners of CKTY and CFGX-FM, whereby all three stations would be managed under one umbrella, with CHOK president Wayne Steele running all three stations.
Late in the year, Blackburn Radio announced it had placed CFPL-AM-FM on the market. Ernst & Young Corporate Finance was engaged to assist in the sale. CFPL/CFPL-AM were in a Local Management Agreement (LMA) with CFHK London 103.1 the Hawk, which was not involved in the sale but would remain a partner within the LMA.
On December 18th Sarnia Broadcasters was sold to the Blackburn Group Inc, with CRTC approval. This gave Blackburn ownership of all three Sarnia radio stations, CHOK, CKTY and CFGX.
On January 21st, the CRTC approved the conversion of CKTY Sarnia to FM, on 106.3 MHz, at 35,000 watts. The station began test broadcasts in May, and was launched on June 16th.
Shaw Communications agreed to acquire CFPL-AM/CFPL-FM and CFHK-FM London from Blackburn Radio. Blackburn operated the two CFPL stations and had an agreement to purchase CFHK from Vern Furber. Late the previous year, Blackburn had announced that CFHK would not be part of a sale as the company was only operating "The Hawk" through a local management agreement.
On August 23, the CRTC approved the purchase of CFHK-FM St. Thomas by Blackburn Radio Inc. from CFHK Radio Ltd. and the purchase by Shaw Radio Ltd. of CFPL-AM and FM London and CFHK-FM St. Thomas from Blackburn.
On September 1st a new company, Corus Entertainment Inc., was formed to own and handle all the media assets of Shaw Communications Inc. Corus became a separate and distinct, publicly traded corporation. The Shaw family continued to hold the majority of voting shares in Corus.
Corus took ownership of the Blackburn stations later in the month.
On March 17, the sale of Sarnia stations CFGX, CHKS and CHOK (and several other stations) by Blackburn Group Inc. to Affinity Radio Group Inc. (subsidiary of Radiont Inc.) was approved. On May 29, Affinity announced that it would not be able to close on the purchase. The stations would remain in the hands of Blackburn.
On February 7, Blackburn Radio Inc. was denied a licence for a new FM station at Wingham. It had been proposed that the station would operate on 94.5 MHz with ERP of 21,200 watts. Although the CRTC said it recognized the potential value of the proposed service to Wingham and the surrounding area, it considered that approval of the present application would preclude CBC from using this frequency, which would restrict its ability to provide its French-language service to this region in the future.
Notwithstanding the position the Commission had taken the previous year in respect of a similar application, on September 10 Blackburn Radio Inc. was given approval for a new FM station at Wingham, operating on 94.5 MHz with an effective radiated power of 21,200 watts. The new station would offer a hybrid Adult Rock format blending Classic Rock and New Rock music that would complement the Country and Adult Contemporary formats currently offered on CKNX and CKNX-FM respectively (also owned by Blackburn).
In late February the new Wingham station, with call letters CIBU-FM, began testing on 94.5 MHz. CIBU-FM “The Bull 94.5” signed on the air on April 1.
On March 22, a change in control of Blackburn Radio Inc. through the transfer of all of the issued and outstanding shares of Blackburn Group Incorporated (the parent corporation) from the Estate of Martha G. Blackburn to a corporation controlled by her son, Richard Costley-White, was approved.
With CRTC approval, on March 22nd Blackburn acquired effective control of Bea-Ver Communications Inc, and with it ownership of CFCO-AM, CKSY-FM and CKUE-FM, Chatham, and CKUE-FM-1 Windsor.
On October 18, CKUE was given approval to decrease effective radiated power from 42,000 watts to an average ERP of 36,400 watts and decrease antenna height to 91.2 metres. CKUE-FM-1 Windsor was given permission to increase average ERP from 400 to 1,950 watts and increase antenna height to 74.5 metres.
On September 28, Blackburn Radio Inc. was given approval to change the frequency of CKUE-FM-1 Windsor from 95.1 MHz to 100.7 MHz and increase the average effective radiated power from 1,950 watts to 3,840 watts. The changes were designed to reduce the interference zone, thereby providing a better signal for the travelling public in and around Windsor and Chatham; improve signal reception in Windsor auto plants and other large buildings; provide extensive interference-free coverage to the city of Windsor and its fast growing suburbs; and eliminate most of the persistent co-channel interference to CKUE-FM Chatham and CKUE-FM-1 Windsor.
On January 2 at 11:00 a.m., CKUE-FM-1 Windsor completed the frequency change to 100.7 MHz. Maximum effective radiated power increased from 6,000 watts to 9,000 watts. The “mother” station (CKUE-FM 95.1 The Rock – Chatham) increased its effective radiated power to 42,000 watts. With both transmitters now on different frequencies, the zone of interference between the two was eliminated.
On July 9th the CRTC approved an application by Blackburn Radio Inc for a licence for a new FM station in Leamington, Ontario, where the company already owned CHYR-FM. The new station would operate at 92.7 FM, at 960 watts, and would have the call letters CJSP-FM.
CJSP-FM began on-air testing in November.
CJSP-FM Leamington signed on on March 3rd. These call letters had been those used by what was now CHYR when it began operations on AM in 1955.
On May 9, the CRTC approved the application by Blackburn Radio Inc. for a broadcasting licence to operate a new FM radio station to serve Windsor. Blackburn proposed to establish an English-language commercial FM radio programming undertaking in Windsor that would operate at 95.9 MHz (channel 240B1) with an average ERP of 3,550 watts. The call letters would be CJWF-FM.
The Commission considered that Blackburn's proposal for a local country music station represented a viable business opportunity that would add diversity to the Windsor radio market and that could repatriate Windsor area residents who tuned in to Detroit area stations.
On December 2, the CRTC denied an application by Blackburn Radio Inc. to change the frequency of CKNX-FM-2 Centreville/Meaford, from 104.9 MHz to 102.7 MHz and to increase average effective radiated power from 5 watts to 250 watts.
On February 2, the CRTC approved an application by Blackburn Radio Inc. for a broadcasting licence to operate a new FM radio station to serve London, Ontario. The licence would expire August 31, 2015. A number of competing applications were denied. Blackburn's new station, CKLO-FM, would be branded FREE-FM, and would operate on 98.1 MHz, with an average effective radiated power of 4,000 watts.
On June 16 the CRTC approved an application by Blackburn Radio Inc. to increase average effective radiated power for CIBU-FM Wingham from 70,100 watts to 75,000 watts. The directional antenna would be replaced with an omni-directional antenna. Effective height of the antenna above average terrain would be decreased from 217 metres to 215 metres. The changes would reduce the protected area that currently existed between Blackburn's CKNX-FM and CIBU-FM and Durham Radio's CIWV-FM (Hamilton/Burlington). Both companies agreed to eliminate the protected area to allow for maximum use of their respective channels.
CJWF-FM Windsor signed on the air November 16 after having tested its signal since September 22. It was known on air as "FM 95-9".
On November 30th, Blackburn Radio Inc acquired a 29.9% shareholding in My Broadcasting Corporation, owners of twelve small and medium market radio stations in southern Ontario. (See separate listing below).
On October 5, the CRTC renewed the licences for Blackburn Radio Inc. stations CFGX-FM Sarnia, CHKS-FM Sarnia, CHOK Sarnia and its transmitter CHOK-FM-1 Sarnia, CKNX Wingham, CKNX-FM Wingham and its transmitter CKNX-FM-2 Centreville, CKUE-FM Chatham and its transmitter CKUE-FM-1 Windsor and CFCO Chatham and its transmitter CFCO-1-FM Chatham, from 1 December 2010 to 31 August 2014. This short-term renewal would enable the Commission to review, at an earlier date, the licensee's compliance with the Radio Regulations, 1986 and with its conditions of licence.
On January 12, the CRTC approved the application by Blackburn Radio Inc. to change the authorized contours of CKLO-FM London, by increasing the effective radiated power from 4,000 to 12,600 watts (maximum ERP from 7,000 to 40,000 watts), by increasing the effective height of antenna above average terrain from 106.5 to 150 metres, and by changing the transmitter site. Blackburn stated that these technical changes were required as the original transmitter site had become crowded, and that the addition of CKLO-FM to that site would create interference.
98.1 Free FM (CKLO) began on-air testing on June 22, and the station was officially launched on July 5th.
In April, CKUE Chatham changed from Lite FM to COOL-FM, featuring the best-of-the-best from the ‘80s, ‘90s and today.
Richard Costley-White passed away in June at the age of 48. Richard joined the Board of Directors of his family’s holding company, Blackburn Group Inc. in January 1996, three and half years after the death of his mother, Martha Blackburn. Costley-White served as both chairman and president until ill health forced his resignation in 2014.
On March 1, the Radioplayer streaming app launched in Canada and featured more than 400 Canadian radio stations, including those owned by Blackburn Radio.
Bruce Pearson (86) died on February 23. The former chairman of the Blackburn Group oversaw the divestiture of the company’s extensive assets in the 1990s, following the death of chairperson Martha Blackburn. The London Free Press was sold in 1997 and the company sold its three London radio stations to Corus in 1999.
In July, CKLO-FM London changed branding from Free 98.1 to Classic Rock 98.1.
On April 3, the CRTC gave Blackburn Radio approval to delete a condition of license on CKLO that stated "The licensee shall ensure that at least 10% of musical selections broadcast during each broadcast week are from content category 3 (Special Interest Music)". The condition was originated when CKLO aired a Triple A format and was no longer relevant to its existing Classic Rock format.
CHOK Sarnia returned to a country music format in December. It had been playing classic hits since 2013.
CHKS K106.3 Sarnia replaced its 21 year old Mainstream Rock format in the summer with Variety Hits COOL 106.3.
In September, CIBU dropped Classic Rock for Variety Hits as COOL 94.5.
Also in September, Blackburn confirmed that a number of employees furloughed earlier in the year due to COVID-19 would not be returning. While the company declined to say how many furloughed employees had been permanently laid off, sources said 10 to 20 staff positions were eliminated.
Blackburn Radio Inc. Radio Stations
(Click on the call letters to view individual station histories)
Blackburn Radio Inc. Television Stations
(Click on the call letters to view individual station histories)